21
Jul
09

Real world value of traditional martial art expertise

Before the success of UFC, other than a few mega celebrities within martial art world (e.g. Chen Xiaowang), not many people can make a comfortable living as professional martial artists.  Even for the UFC guys, other than the top fighters, it’s exactly a good, easy life.  For poor people, is it a way out of poverty the way basketball, football, baseball are? For middle class people, is martial art a perfect alternative to undergrad degree in business or computer science? For rich people, why would you want to train this hard?

It’s all about need. In today’s world, if your objective is just to get somewhere fast, would you fly, drive, take a train, or even bike, versus going by long-distance running? And if your objective is to kill, injure, incapacitate the people trying to do the same to you, are you going to fight them with bombs, war planes, rifles, pistols, or your empty hands?

So that leaves out practical needs.

Then we get to entertainment: people will pay money to see real, high level basketball, football, baseball skills. People will not pay money to see REAL, high-level martial art skills. Martial art is art of violence. In a civil society, that violence needs to be controlled. So as a sport, many of the best martial art skills, especially those on the striking side, the one does most damage to opponents, cannot be used (my Tongbei uncle’s motto: “I only want two things from my opponent – his eyes and his balls”). We are literally tying our own hands there. Luckily grappling does not have that problem. But again, look at success of grappling as sport entertainment before UFC, it’s mostly for entertainment – WWF. The average person prefer to see that versus seeing two guys wrestling on the ground with blood gushing all over canvas. Sure, single young men loves UFC, but it that something you can watch with your spouse, children, parent, at Thanksgiving? So it’s not family entertainment, like most other sports.

So that leaves out most professional opportunities.

So lastly, we have personal fitness. Martial art is a skill. And it’s designed to kill, injure. So automatically half of the population – women, are not going to be that interested. If you just want fitness, there are so many other alternatives that are more fun while you’re doing it: surfing, skiiing, rollerblading… Most amateurs lead busy lives, to achieve fitness/conditioning, there are much more efficient alternatives: swimming, running, etc. We are amongst few people who practice martial art for what it is, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to say the benefits we receive are mostly physical fitness and mental training – ancillary goals of CMA training.

And what about the social aspect? Do martial art as a profession have the same level of respect as other professions (business, law, medicine, architecture, IT…)? Can you impress strangers by telling them you do traditional martial art? You can’t, because you are engaged in an entirely unreasonable pursuit. The general public, for perfectly valid reasons, do not have familiarly, understanding, or appreciation for this outdated skill.

All those 19th century martial art heroes we’re talking about, they were professionals. If they are born today, most likely they won’t be the same people, simply because the appropriate environment (physical necessity, economic incentive, competitive pressure, social acceptance) is not there.

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