Join Date: Jun 1999
Location: Anchorage, AK, USA
Just found this OLD essay of mine...
“Why Must Martial Arts Evolve?”
Martial arts must evolve because martial arts are a response to man’s environment as well as our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. Martial arts can help to fulfill our physical needs in terms of health benefits and physical safety and security. Mental needs benefit from peace of mind and confidence in the face of challenges (also noteworthy is that science shows that physical exercise is beneficial to our state of mind and improved blood flow benefits the brain just as it does other organs). Emotional and spiritual needs are also assisted by the aforementioned peace of mind and confidence. While many elements of the human experience and condition remain relatively stable, man’s environment and his responses to them do not. Martial arts then must change to suit the environment in which we live, if they do not, they will begin to die.
Given that a primary focus of martial arts, and the one which I emphasize in my pursuits, is the resolution of physical conflict let this be addressed now. A classic example of the evolution of martial arts is seen in weapons dominant vs. mixed or empty hand dominant styles. Many people believe that martial arts are only those arts that do not use weapons. This is of course untrue. In point of fact martial arts included the use of weapons throughout their history and when the definition of martial arts is more properly applied it is seen that this remains with us today. Indeed, the focus has shifted several times and the weapons have changed as well.
Initially swords, knives, staves, and more were very commonly used. However, given the modern social environment it is not practical to carry swords, pole arms, or bow and arrows, and thus their use in the martial arts has declined. Yet, they have been supplanted by use of the firearms. Failure to at least recognize this evolution, if not participate in it, may lead to the unenviable result of showing up at a gun fight with a knife (this was experienced in feudal Japan following the introduction of early frearms). However, the restrictions society places not only on knives, swords, and the like but also on the use of firearms has resulted in the current dominance of empty hand styles. There do exist schools truly worthy of the martial arts heritage who exist on the frontiers of modern martial arts evolution, however, their dissemination is restricted again by the aforementioned social conditions, and again, the result is the continuing dominance of empty hand styles.
The evolution of martial arts in response to changing spiritual and emotional needs can be seen in the pre-WWII vs. post WWII Japanese arts in which there was a distinct shift in emphasis from –Jutsu styles to –Do styles. –Jutsu styles generally being more combat oriented and –Do styles generally being more sports or spiritual oriented. A classic example of this is Jujutsu vs. Judo or Aikijutsu vs. Aikdo. In fact for most Japanese martial art –Do styles there exist a –Jutsu parentage. What happened, why the change from the –Jutsu styles to the –Do styles? Evolution is the key. Pre-WWII Japan was a very war like culture and the martial arts thus emphasized the physical conflict resolution side of things. In the post-WWII Japan, having been conquered and forced to a large degree to abandon the warrior elements of its culture the martial arts were redirected, internalized, and sporterized (to allow for a redirected peaceful outlet) and thus evolved into the –Do forms. This new evolution then emphasized the spiritual, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of their practitioners. In my observation, -Do or sport styles change more slowly than combat styles. However, they do indeed change; however, their evolution is primarily driven by tournament rules changes or equipment changes.
Another important form of evolution of the martial arts not yet addressed above is again primarily related to the physical conflict side of things. This concept is perhaps best exemplified by Brue Lee’s JKD concepts in which he recommended that one find that which works and keep only it, paring all else away. Bruce Lee was also a big fan of assimilation. As a handy mnemonic, I refer to this as the assimilation/elimination effect. You assimilate what works and eliminate what does not. Both JKD and Krav Maga are excellent examples of this philosophy of increased efficiency, simplicity, and effect via assimilation and elimination. They are not special because they have so many techniques, or so many that work so well, but precisely because they have so few that do not.
An alternative to the assimilation/elimination evolutionary path is the adaptive evolution path. I see two adaptive paths, internally responsive and externally responsive. Internally responsive adaptation changes and modifies a style’s techniques in relation to itself. For example, a punch is simplified, or a particular technique emphasized or de-emphasized. Externally adaptive styles are driven by the desire to adapt to counter other techniques outside one’s own style. This seems to be exemplified by Wing Tsun’s teaching counters to various wrestling/grappling and boxing techniques.
In conclusion, the reason why martial arts must evolve is in order to remain relevant to and responsive to our environment. Martial must serve a human need or they would not have been invented and they will perish if they do not. These needs are varied as mentioned in the first paragraph. However, in each category of human needs which the martial arts address the necessity for evolution remains. The Darwinian motto of “evolve or die” is certainly true for the martial arts.