Wednesday, May 09, 2007

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A New Landscape

We are living in interesting times. These are times when there is more information available to us than at any other time in the history of mankind. There is no excuse, for any serious martial artist to be ignorant of what is going on in the larger martial arts landscape of today. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we all need to go down the ‘reality based’ path, the MMA path, the sporting path, the traditional path or follow any current or particular trend; but it does mean that we each should understand where we sit on this vast and ever-changing landscape.

As the saying goes, ‘Ignorance is bliss’ – but I say ignorance is just downright lazy; and at worst, dangerous. It is unfortunate, even profoundly sad, that many people are practising one thing, thinking they are practising another. There is just so much great resource out there nowadays that we can all get whatever we want or need; exactly what we want or require, without the need to compromise or ‘make it up’. The only problem is that it costs time and money to get some of this training; hence the tendency to take shortcuts, pretend or massage the truth.

However, with so much information available, there are certain problems that begin to arise. I sympathize for the newcomer, for the person who has made the decision to take up martial arts practice for one reason or another, but is not sure where to start. Now, that person has one tough job ahead of them. Unless these newbies are introduced to the arts through a friend already training, they will likely take to the yellow pages or martial arts mags and base their decision on an advert that takes their fancy. The thought of this gives me the shudders. I see people advertising their secret-filled, instant combat courses, wearing their military cam’s, and bragging how they teach special forces, law enforcement, etc (although in reality the military/law enforcement agencies have never heard of them), and they are signing up droves of the unsuspecting as fast as they can lay the contracts down in front of them. These unscrupulous operators are all about making outrageous claims and serving up qualifications that they themselves don’t even have. It seems that marketing skills are the order of the day, not actual teaching skills or real-time experience other than the odd seminar here and there.

This new breed of instant martial arts instructor, is best at muddying the landscape, and making it more and more difficult for the average person to make a good decision when trying to choose a place to train. They know how to run a good advert, they know how to tell people what they want to hear; they are experts in misdirection when you try to pin them down on their actual qualifications, coming back with answers like, ‘I teach kickboxing, grappling and reality-based self defence’, when asked where they learned these things, they reply ‘with lots of people.’ They say things like, ‘we don’t wear black belts cause belts don’t mean anything’ – the reason they say things like that because many of them have never earned a black belt themselves. The information age is definitely a two-edged sword. It’s difficult for people to work out who’s who in the zoo; and I don’t see things getting any better.

I guess my blood sugar levels must be low right now, because usually I am much more upbeat that this. But sometimes the whole story must be told and not just the good bits. Nevertheless, I shall finish on a good note.

The landscape of today is vastly different from the landscape of yesterday. The next big wave in the martial arts will be the MMA boom. This will be driven by the fact that the 15-30 year old demographic tends to be quite switched on to whatever is happening and according to some of the latest stats from the USA, very interested in the reality-based fight game. When more people in this age group tune in to the UFC-like broadcasts on cable TV, than tune in to the American Football games, you can bet the big-money sponsors will not be far away. It won’t be long until this wave hits tsunami proportions and everyone will start offering MMA as part of their schools curriculum. This is both good and bad. My personal viewpoint is that although this will mean a loss of traditional martial arts values, it will make for better outcomes for those people taking up training for the self defence aspects.

The challenge of the next ten years will be for instructors to create training environments that do a good job of balancing good values with potent real-world combative methodologies. The landscape may be muddy but there are many serious and dedicated instructors out there who will continue to strive to make a positive difference and contribute at the pointy end of martial arts evolution.

Train Hard – Train Smart.

John B Will 2007

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