Most of my training was done at home, some self-taught, but mostly by family and family friends. I studied freestyle kickboxing with our neighbor Jason. There was an apartment next door, and there was a large circle in the grass left by a long-gone pool. Those interested would meet up and use that as our daily sparring ring. It was just what we did as friends before the internet and cell phones. There was me, of course, along with Kaleb, Otis, Beetle, Caleb, Sam, Brandon, Kato, Andrew, and John John, just to name a few. We always had family friends who would come to show off their skills and just have fun. Those like Neal and Frank are of note, but there were so many more. That backyard was our first dojo.
Martial arts! This vehicle was fully loaded and gassed up, ready to take us in any direction we chose. Be it sport karate, traditional martial arts, or MMA. The world of martial arts was wide open. The problem is where these paths lead. Thinking back to that dirt ring... I remember them as the best days of my early life, and that inspired me to write this opinion piece based on my observations of how things have been the last few years.
When it comes to Kumite, I mean, there is no individuality there either. The rules are geared to not allow for a showcase of the arts and their characteristics. Fighters are confined by a set of rules and emphasize techniques that score most based upon those rulesets, regardless of how they would truly work in real life. Sport and competition are excellent and worthy goals to work towards. Still, without the viability of new techniques or innovative ideas, it's like an arms race where everyone is looking to develop the nuclear bomb, and everyone is spying on the other, copying their work in hopes it gets them ahead.
It will build some crazy false idea that you are invincible if it doesn't get you hurt. Lofty ideas and fantasy are great for carrying the torch, but not applicable. It's like carrying a firearm for protection, but because you were raised on cowboy movies and stories of your ancestor taming the west, you carry a cap and ball revolver. You're going to think you're safe and noble when really you're in more danger because of the fantasy you've built. Training in a traditional martial art, adhering to strict regimens of kata and choreographed ippon kumite without the freedom to explore and the pressures of real violence leads to studying what was just a shell of its former self.
Finally, I come to Mixed Martial Arts... A very popular sport these days, selling out the same stadiums as the prize fights of the 70s and 80s. I'm sorry, but not sorry to say MMA is not a martial art; it is a sport. A combat sport, but it certainly isn't a martial art anymore than boxing or wrestling is. It is missing too many elements to have the ability to be called a martial art. It ends up as a glorified street fight.
Elements like Bushido, the common principles of being a good human being, Precepts of the Bubishi, etc. are all missing. There is more to being a martial artist than physically knowing how to hurt another person. You may be a fighter, but you aren't a martial artist. Budo is about developing one's spirit, building compassion and mercy through the study of violence. A true martial artist turns away from violence because they have seen the horrors of it, or at least simulated such in training. A true martial artist doesn't get into a ring or a cage to hurt another human being for money.