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Traditional Martial Arts, what does that mean?


The word traditional means many things to many different people when it comes to the Martial Arts. To the Martial Arts historian, traditional would only apply to battlefield weapons techniques using a spear, long, short sword, bow, and more. Some people believe that some Arts that are less than one hundred years old are Traditional. What is correct you might ask? It depends on the individual’s perception of how old something needs to be to fall under the traditional category. In addition, it depends upon how the particular art has been preserved over time. Just because someone can trace their systems lineage back several hundred years, does not mean that it is being practiced the same as it was then. In addition, is it the training methods used by the different Arts in question as to validating their traditionalism or, is it the actual techniques we are talking about? With so much debate over which systems are traditional, which are highbred, and what is legitimate in general, we must understand how ALL of these systems we started. Originally, all Martial Arts systems were a culmination of practical battlefield techniques taught to soldiers. Yes, I said it ALL MARTIAL ARTS ARE HYBRIDS! Because war is as real as it gets as far as combat goes, especially when it was face to face close up combat, anything that did not work for real was discarded. Conversely, techniques and training methods discovered outside of any particular system that were found to have real combat value, were added. This was a matter of life and death to these soldiers, their families, and Masters. Because all of the techniques practiced were as realistic as possible, only techniques that could be used for their specific combat situations were of any importance. For example: If your enemy was wearing battlefield armor, certain types of techniques would be of no benefit like, striking to the body, kicking to the head, etc. Any tactics of any value would have to take into consideration how your attacker was dressed including vulnerable areas of the body armor, what types of weapons he might use, types of attacks from such weapons, and more. It was of no importance what a system was called and/or where the techniques came from. All that was important was whether or not it worked…period!!!


Throughout history these martial systems evolved to ever changing combat scenarios. It was imperative that these systems be adapted to the specific situations that would be likely for these individuals to encounter. When your attacker was not wearing battlefield armor, not armed, you were not armed, etc.; the tactics would have to be significantly adapted for these situations as well. Hence, we have more changes that made many more styles.


One of the next major changes was the sporting aspect of the Martial Arts. This phase still continues to this day and, is probably responsible for the biggest downfall of practical defensive tactics. How can you possibly have any reality left in you Arts if everything you practice must be safe enough for competition? A tournament where anything that is dangerous is taken out for safety is not Martial Arts. It should be obvious that techniques that are not dangerous will not stop an attacker.


All of the changes mentioned were common throughout the centuries in systems from all over the world. If the main goal in anyone’s Martial Arts training is to make what they have learned work for real, the system they practice must be conducive to defending against modern day attacks.

If you can wield a Katana in forms competitions, this training will be useless to protect you from a mugger or street thug when you are unarmed. In addition, just because someone can win trophies in competition, this does not equate even indirectly to said persons practical self-defense ability. There is nothing wrong with practicing the Martial Arts to preserve tradition however, if the tactics are not practical in today’s society, DO NOT CALL THEM SELF DEFENSE TACTICS!


It is extremely common today to find individuals bickering over what is legitimate, traditional, practical for self-defense etc. Every instructor in the Martial Arts has their own beliefs as to what really works and what does not. Unfortunately, most of these opinions are from individuals that do not have any evidence as to the effectiveness of what they teach (especially to modern day threats). People should be very cautious about studying any Martial Art that cannot prove its effectiveness in real combat. The old “our techniques are too deadly to really practice” is getting old. Hence, the students of these schools are basing their self-defense abilities and their lives (if they have to use their training for real) to techniques that they BELIEVE are valid but, never have been used even in the dojo. Furthermore, no one in their dojo has ever used any of these said techniques for real, including the head instructors. The only pivotal criterion for successfully defending yourself is whether you have practiced real techniques that actually work, and can apply them when the time comes. Whether these techniques worked hundreds or even thousands of years ago is irrelevant to your survival in today’s society.


Bottom line: Contrary to what many people might think, it is my belief that if you are practicing your art with modern day threats in mind, and practicing realistic techniques to neutralize said threats; this IS in the true sprit of the Martial Arts. Furthermore, if the main concern throughout history (at least until the sporting phase) was to do anything possible to defend yourself from any threat you might encounter, isn’t anyone doing just that Traditional?



Jim Barry

Budokai South Defensive Arts Institute

Budokai South Defensive Arts Institute
Minami Budo Ryu
Ju Jitsu / Aiki Jujitsu / Judo / Self Defense
Aiken, SC
Phone: (843) 864-3125
Email: newtobudokai@gmail.com

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