Practicing traditional Chinese martial arts is an exercise in participating in historically honored traditions, even if the rice straw mats have been replaced by foam martial arts mats, the public events are not watched by a handful of immediate observers but by millions with access to the Internet, and the competitions within one particular form have evolved into competitions between 2 or more particular forms of martial arts. Is this the new martial arts?
“Change is the only constant” has been attributed, perhaps incorrectly, to a Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, but regardless of its origin, may have a point regarding martial arts in the 21st century. As we watch MMA fighters take on boxers in the United States and Tai Chi practitioners in China, we are left wondering if this is a natural evolution of the arts or a perversion. Chinese police stopped a publicized brawl between MMA fighters and Tai Chi artists even before the event could take place. The MMA proponents claimed that traditional Chinese martial arts have no place in modern combat sports. Is this true or is it entirely missing the point?
Take away the foam martial arts mats, the live-streamed access to competitions, and the intermingling of martial arts styles and what are you left with? In some cases, you are left with a pure form of a martial art as it was developed ages ago. You are left with a contextual glimpse into history and the opportunity to see how and why a martial art form was created and eventually evolved. Claiming one martial art is superior to another is comparing apples to oranges. Superiority was not the intention. Differences in styles had more to do with location, need, purpose, and background. One does not need to be “superior” or more relevant than another. In their contexts, each is as valid, artful, and relevant as the other.
Imagine pitting a mountain biker against a Tour de France rider in a race through sand. Pointless. The invention of the mountain bike does not make the racing bike obsolete or inferior. They serve different purposes. Focus on your art because it is important to you, not because you believe it to be superior to another.