Thursday, 20 August 2009

Why it may be time to relook again at the traditional arts as seen in this months (October) Martial Art Illustrated letters page

I am like most martial artists who started in the early eighties, I actually started to study boxing in 1977 and in the early eighties fell in love with Muay Thai, an art I still train in. From there I got into JKD which was the first art that stressed how important it was to think about how and why you were training and also the only other art that seemed to rate Muay Thai at the time. Through the late Eighties and into the Nineties I trained in Filipino Martial Arts and various Silat systems.

Never one to casually train in any art, I spent at least five years in each art, trying to get the soul of the art. Along the way I met and trained with some great people, Dan Inosato, Bob Breen, Gary Derrick, Dave Carnell, Marc Mcfan and many others. I have been reading and contributing to MAI from the first issue, so I heard about people like Geoff Thompson early on and also what he said about traditional arts on the street.

I always had friends who trained in the traditional arts, you know the ones, who put on a gi three times a week and walk up and down the village hall shouting at each end and who take pride in looking like they live in the eightieth century.

I could never understand why they trained in an obsolete art; I knew it was fun from the one class of Karate I took years ago.

The years rolled by and I fought ten boxing matches, four Muay Thai matches, travelled to the states to fight top dog at a Dog Brothers gathering and coached Vale tudo/MMA fighters for early cage matches.

Here we are in 2009, I am now a senior manager at work and I like to think an accomplished martial artist. The last time someone attacked me in the street, I hit him once and he was finished. I then gave him first aid. All the above is not to make me sound great but to give you the reader some of my martial history.

Lately I have been looking at street defence and especially how people defend against knifes. Have you ever noticed how people, tend to draw from the traditional arts when weapons become involved?

Its funny isn’t it but the more you look, the more you see a person using the old method’s to deal with the old problem.

Now I am a modernist and one of my key concerns about that one karate class I attended was the fact they trained in an old fashion way, you know one and two step sparring, forms and that entire one strike, one kill rubbish. Worst of all they wore the pyjamas. I was training Muay Thai at the time and our class consisted of a warm up, shadow box, pad work and sparring. Karate and other traditional people came in and we would toy with them during sparring. They seemed so very rigid.

Lately as I wrote above, I have spent the last two years looking at knife defence, drawing on my old FMA and Silat training and I have noticed something. When you use a sport art like Muay Thai or MMA, you get stabbed a lot. Sport arts just don’t protect the zones they should for knife fighting. This should be no great surprise as:

One: you can’t use knifes in MMA.

Two: to cover your body from a knife attack you have to cover the low and high line with your hands. A tactic that you will get you smashed in boxing.

A funny thing occurs with distance in a street attack, it disappears! Muggings and ambushes start at hand range and move in from there. There is little time to use footwork until after the first beat or second, little time to defend and if you do not pre-empt, you will probably be overwhelmed and lose. Basically you get one or two moves and then its chaos. This is why most fights look the same.

The traditional arts work the basics over and over again but then so does Muay Thai. Silat and FMA put a knife and other weapons into the mix right from the first lesson. Traditional Japanese arts used to do the same. Something happened and the weapons were filtered out until you reached first Dan which could take three to five years, not the six weeks it does today... Even arts like Aikido and Jujitsu were changed and empty hand was separated from weapons. Even my beloved Muay Thai was a weapon based system before it became “sportified” (a word I just made up).

If you take an art out of the battlefield, it will become something else, normally a means of self improvement, shortly followed by a sport. I see this trend in Silat, in fact in all the old arts. The older generation dies off and the hows and more importantly the whys of training are lost, that is until someone rediscovers them again and calls them a new name like the spear or the shredder etc.

Perhaps if we looked again at the traditional arts we could come full circle and rediscover what we are losing every day. If we trained them with committed punches or stabs that had to be blocked like they were trained at the turn of the last Century, we would find real value.

At the end of the day perhaps it’s time we looked again at the traditional arts with open eyes. After all one punch one kill is cool.


Richard Sackville

Mike Faraone Silat - Palermo Maggio 2009