Do Traditional Martial Arts Matter?

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Dunn-KarateEvery week I work in Jiu-Jitsu with Professor Danaher on Saturday afternoons. Before training this week, we spoke about Garry St. Leger, an amazing judoka and true friend of this program.

So Mr. Danaher had a lot of great things to say about him, but the one thing that stuck out was when he said, “I really trust him.”

When I asked what he meant, he said, “Well, it’s because he comes from a traditional martial arts background.”

This was a very powerful moment for me, mainly because I remember messing it up.

I’m sure that Mr. Danaher could tell stories of how I myself spent years disregarding and disparaging my own traditional martial arts experience. It was a time when I was so enamored of the power and physical effectiveness of Jiu-Jitsu that everything else blurred into the background.

And although I had been steeped in the protocol and etiquette and respect of karate, I’m embarrassed to say I put those principles aside because I thought I didn’t need them.

So what I heard in his compliment to Garry is that these elements still matter. They fill out something in the training. Call it personal growth, or character development, or budo spirit – there are a few things that aren’t strictly technique that still make sense to practice.

Today we believe there’s a value to the effort to bring some of these more traditional components of practice into the work of Jiu-Jitsu. It doesn’t need to be stodgy or rigid or decorative. It doesn’t have to be reactive or retrospective or stuck in the past.

On the contrary…our feeling now is that it’s forward-facing.

There is more to training than just training. It’s not a dilution; traditional, canonical principles like trustworthiness and humility aren’t artificial add-ons. They’re an expression of the values implied in a great martial arts experience. They add something very valuable.

We get the chance to learn trustworthiness, to gain the respect of the teacher, to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We also get demanding, serious, mature training. And having had the experience of practice with and without those things, it’s my belief that they help.

In the end, we need both.


For more about our larger project of cooperative Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts training, visit the Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.

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One Comment

  1. Herman Petsche

    Osu Shihan! Without a strong foundation the building is certain to fall, The basic traditions of the Martial Arts provide us with that solid base and strong foundation.

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