by Tim Crane

Looking over the long and interesting history of martial arts one could make the argument that all martial arts are mixed. They grew and changed over time in response to change in the terrain, environment and culture. In modern times Bruce Lee was the most active proponent of blending techniques in the martial arts his motto being “take what is useful”. His style was more suited to the pure self defense practitioner, or even street fighter. Later his idea of a style of no style led in another direction entirely, I believe, to MMA- Mixed Martial Arts. What is deemed useful to MMA are techniques that will win a full contact combat sport contest fought in an octagonal ring- the octagon- surely by now we’re all familiar with this arena. This is an entertaining variation on the boxing matches my father loved to watch in my youth. And to martial artists it is instructive to see how how contrasting styles interact- the grapplers vs the boxers, etc.

Bruce Lee also criticized traditional martial arts, calling them “organised despair”. If we don't see traditional martial arts forms as practical in modern times why bother doing them, why do they persist, why do the Karateka train a style that was developed to defend against samurai armor for example? So Bruce Lee’s quote bothered me till I realised what  traditional martial arts finds useful goes to the core of human development- useful things like confidence, focus, humility,  respect  and compassion. It’s not entirely about winning or losing a contest or even about self defense, not entirely. Few activities in modern life actually hold true to such core beliefs. Team sports are supposed to “build character” but that is way down on their list of actual priorities, way behind winning. While in the traditional martial arts you learn how to lose and how to win because life is not like the Octagon, where there are rules and your opponent is the same weight and wearing the same shorts and has been searched for weapons, and there is a referee to make it a fair fight.  And it’s not all about self esteem either where everyone is always a winner. Because life isn’t fair and sometimes it kicks your butt, and there is no referee. Martial arts is not to make you a winner or loser it’s to make you human- it’s truth in movement.

Sure I’ll take “take what is useful” but just add to the list:  “Practice, Patience, Perseverance and Purity.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at