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Tom’s Fitness & Paris Martial Arts

The Popularity and Usefulness of Martial Arts (Part 1)

Posted: March 19, 2015

Everyone likes action movies. You know, the kind where the hero does those awesome choreographed martial arts sequences. It’s one thing to just shoot em up, but if they can do it with their hands, now that’s pretty cool.

Of course, the kids love the Ninja Turtles, too. And everyone’s going to see the new Star Wars movie when it comes out. From the Expendables to movies like Salt and the Matrix series, we like seeing martial arts done well.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) shows are getting huge numbers for both their free on FOX specials and their pay-per-views. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a time when more people were aware of the martial arts.

Most popular martial arts have their origins in the Far East, many centuries ago. China, Japan, Korea and Okinawa all have well known and popular martial arts with a long history. But the fighting arts really go back much farther than that.

Scholars believe the earliest martial arts can be traced back to India across the “Silk Road” merchants used for trade between China and India. Many of the Oriental styles originally came from India, but were then refined and developed in Buddhist Temples.

Monks used the martial arts to defend themselves from marauding bandits. They also trained as a way of disciplining themselves and staying healthy. Little by little, each particular art found its followers, and was passed down to the next generation, often through families.

But martial arts aren’t just Eastern in origin. In the Bible, King David was a mighty warrior, as were many of his top men. We can see fighting documented back almost to the beginning, when Cain slew Able.

As long as there have been people, there’s been fighting. And as long as someone’s wanted what someone else had, people have had to learn how to defend themselves.

The art I’m most familiar with is Taekwondo. Literally interpreted as “Kicking, Punching Way,” it’s become Korea’s most well known martial art. I’ve been training since 1983 with the American Taekwondo Association (ATA), the largest martial arts organization in the U.S.

Occasionally, a new fighting style will emerge, like Krav Maga, an Israeli self defense system gaining popularity in the U.S. Created in the 1930’s, Krav Maga takes the fight directly to the offender, meeting them head on with brutal efficiency.

Like most other martial arts, however, Krav Maga is really a combination of effective moves from a variety of other fighting styles. In this case, it pulls from the Japanese styles of Karate, and Aikido, as well as Boxing. Perhaps the biggest influence though, is the no rules art of “Street Fighting.”

The best known newer martial art, Brazilian JiuJitsu (BJJ) has taken the world by storm. With original techniques from the Japanese arts of JiuJitsu and Judo, BJJ is really increasing in popularity. The Brazilians, especially the Gracie family, have become famous for their refinements that allow much smaller opponents to win on the ground.

Ten years ago, I realized that while I was pretty effective on my feet, if a bigger, stronger person took me down, I was in trouble. At that point, most of my skills meant zip. So for a little guy like me, BJJ was a nice style to learn and add to my toolbox.

The ground skills found in BJJ perfectly complemented my Taekwondo style. Some of the TKD techniques even had a use on the ground, if you could just survive first. The trick was to learn how to flow seamlessly from one to another. That’s where the newest fighting style, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) comes in.

MMA isn’t really new, however. People have been combining martial arts since the beginning. But since the formation of the UFC in the early 90’s, people have realized how important it is to be well rounded, especially in a cage fight!

Used by the Gracie’s to promote their style of BJJ, the UFC had a rocky start due to its perceived brutality. But after the current owners instituted better rules and weight classes, it exploded in popularity. Now, millions of people see MMA fights on television and pay-per-view almost every week.

The three predominant styles in MMA are wrestling (which goes back to early Greece), striking from Boxing and Maui Thai, (which is an ancient fighting style from Thailand), and Brazilian JiuJitsu (mentioned earlier). Now we’re also seeing a resurgence in dynamic kicking techniques from Taekwondo, which makes me very happy!

The best practitioners have skill in all three areas. These areas are so important that they have their own names: your standup, your ground game, and your wrestling. While great fighters are usually great in one area, they have to be competent in all three to be competitive at the higher levels.

For this 52 year old grandpa, the missing link between my Taekwondo and JiuJitsu was the transition phase. This is called the clinch game, which comes from Greco-Roman wrestling, and sometimes, Judo.

Once someone has moved to where they can grab you, you have to understand things called underhooks, leverage, and body position. The real trick is knowing when things are about to change, and then respond appropriately.

It’s the transitions that let you to stay ahead of your opponent and control the situation. It takes longer to react (or respond), than it does to act or initiate the action. So you like to be the one dictating the fight, all things being equal.

But things aren’t always equal. Youth, size, and strength and conditioning all play a role, as does skill and experience. There’s also what I like to call the “sneaky factor” which you’ve got to have if you’re facing someone with a lot of those other things on the list.

So why do I continue to train in martial arts after over 30 years? Next week, I’ll tell you. I’ll also tell you about a recent trip to Spring Nationals in Las Vegas, for some more martial arts training. Really, it was training. Until then, I’ll see you in the gym. Or in the dojo!