It started off nice enough. After the screening of the documentary “The Black Kung Fu Experience” had finished, audience members gathered around two of the film’s stars to ask them questions. And of course, with one of the stars fielding questions none other than martial arts grandmaster Ron Van Clief – a man who once stepped into the Octagon to face Royce Gracie at UFC 4 – the subject of MMA was brought up. Then it got ugly. Traditional martial artists, you see, fear us.
Maybe it has something to do with the effectiveness of American Goju Karate in a limited-rules combat setting. Maybe it has something to do with the time they spent studying Five Animals Kung Fu compared to the time Joe Ground-and-Pound spent training in his style, and who can really kick whose ass. Maybe they just fear the culture of TapouT tattoos and cauliflower ear – something the average aikidoka can’t understand. Regardless, when traditional martial artists gather, even for something as benign as a film shown at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, NY, and the topic of MMA is brought up, it gets ugly.
“I think what separates traditional versus non-traditional martial arts is that you were taught fighting in a cultural context,” the moderator said to the assembled kung fu men. “The movements could be whatever… But is there the presence of a cultural frame? An ethical, spiritual and cultural frame? The people who do MMA, they just have contempt it seems to me. They don’t even want to bow. It’s terrible.”
Yes, terrible. Never mind the fact that UFC champ Georges St. Pierre came from a Kyokushin Karate background, or that author Matt Polly studied at a Shaolin temple in China before taking up mixed martial arts. Never mind that there are traditional kung fu practitioners gathering in secret fight clubs and trying MMA competition out on their own terms. No, for those apprehensive of the inevitable evolution of combat sports, and the incarnation such evolution has taken today, the common links we share matter little.
The only thing that matters is fear.