Mind-Ops Content 4/26/16
Loyalty in Modern Martial Arts – Widely spoken about in most modern martial arts academies here in the United States, the topic of loyalty brings heated debate, personal opinions, and causes rifts. We all know what loyalty is at its basic level but we often find that there are many definitions of loyalty depending on the worldview of the athlete, the coach, the athletic organization, the public opinion, and the culture of the team. The fundamental, and relatively new question (within the last 50-60 years) I choose to address here is; In an age of martial art fusion, competitive viability, and ever increasing demands on the martial arts athlete to be an expert, at minimum familiar with, a variety of martial arts, how does loyalty come into play? Does a martial arts athlete stay loyal to their coach, team, and gym from beginning to the end of their career often at the risk of limiting themselves? Or is it acceptable for the athlete to choose whatever path is best for their personal martial development and competitive career? For centuries, martial artists have primarily been inclined to study under a singular master or lineage for a variety of reasons including but not limited to pride, culture, availability/isolation, family heritage, global location, or a specific cultural climate. However, in the more modern age with organizations like the Ultimate Fighting Championship, The World Series of Fighting, Invicta, and Spartan Combat League gaining mainstream notoriety, more and more martial artists these days are seeking a more well-rounded approach to their combative skills. And why shouldn’t they? Bruce Lee taught us to be “formless” and to use what is effective from a variety of martial arts while discarding what doesn’t work. It doesn’t take long to see from a variety of online video examples that the more well-rounded fighter usually beats the martial artist of singular study. So what’s the big deal about loyalty to a gym then given the logical evolution of the modern martial artist? Well, we are still human after all and feelings do get hurt. Coaches and teammates who devote countless hours to the development of an athlete often suffer a severe flood of emotions when that athlete decides to switch gyms for their training. Coaches and teammates can feel betrayed and disrespected. Oftentimes these athletes feel that they need to grow and can’t do it in their current training environment and so they make their switch based on personal preference, effectively taking control of their martial development into their own hands. This spurs the question of whether a martial artist should be in charge of their own development or if their instructors should be responsible for this aspect as it has been done traditionally for thousands of years. This question however, can be addressed in a later blog. I can also see another side to the debate, one that brings the martial arts into the new-age sporting context found here in the United States. If the martial arts are to become a viable sport at the same level of the NFL, NBA, MLB, and other professional sport organizations in the United States, it will have to take on some of the same structural fallacies and benefits. Let’s take the NFL for example and attempt to draw parallels to modern martial arts competitors. In the NFL, athletes are traded from team to team, go into free agency, negotiate contracts, and ideally get to have a say in how and where and under who they want to develop their skills. Mixed Martial Arts is similar in that the athletes, as they progress in skill through their careers, change gyms/teams, go into free agency and allow promotions to enter contract negotiations with the athlete, and have the ability to choose who they train under at any given time. These can be great things for the sport as well as the athlete as they evolve and find better ways to make themselves more financially valuable, hopefully someday to the same levels as NFL and other organizations. But does it ultimately do more damage to personal relationships and to the tradition of the arts? That is for society and the martial arts world to determine but it is an interesting question to pose. I see this most prominently in Mixed Martial Arts and not so much in competitive Jiu-Jitsu or Judo. Fighters of these types seem to find more value in the tradition and lineage aspects and tend to stay close to their instructors and teams. Perhaps this will change in the future as well as these sports become more popularized through professional sport organizations such as the Fight2Win Pro Tournaments and the Eddie Bravo Invitational Exhibitions. But for now and for the near foreseeable future, it may behoove martial arts coaches and gym owners to focus the majority of their emotional investment in their Jiu-Jitsu and Judo athletes rather than the MMA athletes if they want to experience less heartache when their MMA athletes inevitably seek their own paths with other teams. As I see it now, in MMA an athletes’ loyalty is to themselves first and foremost. They must do what is best for their personal development, for their families, and for their careers. A competitive traditional martial artists’ loyalties are to the lineage, their instructor, their team, and then to themselves. Neither is wrong, but the distinction seems apparent when observed and scrutinized.