Which begs the question, what are they actually doing? If it’s not true martial arts, my humble opinion is this (and it's just one man’s opinion). They have taken some basic moves that martial artists are taught from different styles as well as some boxing techniques, slammed them all together and called it "mixed martial arts." And in reality, it's really just a replica of what people around the world have been doing for years when fighting dogs and roosters (both of which are illegal in most countries now, but in the name of money they allow it to continue with humans). And it won’t be stopped until someone gets seriously hurt or killed in the cage. You hear all the time people saying "if you have something to say let’s take it to the cage!" That in a nutshell proves my point. Martial arts are about making peace with your enemy, not fighting. A true martial artist will only fight when he has exhausted every effort to end a conflict peacefully. With that being said, I would like to take the time to explain my journey in martial arts.
When I say that I've been studying the arts for 30 years, I don't just mean on the mat. In addition to my training, I have watched film tapes, and studied in depth the movements of many prominent martial artist, such as Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Steven Segal, Mas Oyama, Morihei Ueshiba, Gogen Yamaguchi, Jigoro Kano and Kyuzo Mifune (just to name a few), much like a quarterback sits in the meeting room and studies film on his next opponent's defense. Even for all of my training in various systems under many instructors, I am nowhere near or do I claim to be an expert. In my early years of training, I was offered black belt ranks in many different systems but wouldn’t accept them due to the fact I wasn’t ready to devote my life to the arts.
Then something happened to me that changed my life for the best and set forth a chain of events that I, in my wildest dreams, could have only imagined. Right when my life was at its darkest, I met this stranger (my wife) and everything just clicked. That switch flipped and we have been together ever since. Now, you may ask what this has to do with martial arts. To that I say behind every great man, there is a better woman. She inspired me to do what I love and to chase my dreams.
A few years later I was in a bad accident, and I thought my martial arts career was over. After 18 months of grueling rehab and doctors telling me that I'll never be able to do this or that again, I set out to get better and prove them wrong, and in doing so I turned back to the arts and the healing powers that’s offered in taiji (commonly spelled tai chi). I started studying under an instructor in a school close to me. He showed me the way to get better. As one of my mentor’s said to me later “Tell me what I can’t do and I will show you what I can do” Through this instructor, I met in a great man, "Papasan" Jack Stern. Some may think his greatness is controversial, but in my opinion he made one mistake that unfairly haunted him for the rest of his life. After all, we're all human and make our own mistakes. That man showed me it was possible to make mistakes and recover from them and be better because of it - that no matter what others thought of you, you could impact a someone’s life for the better. This man was all but perfect, and he would be the first to tell you so, but when it came to the arts even his haters couldn’t deny who and what he was. This man trained with the best and there are pictures and documents to back it up, so here I found myself training under a master that trained with a lot of the great masters I used to study on film like Oyama, Yamaguchi, Mifune, and wow was I blown away! So it is in his honor I carry myself in the manner that I do, and will not claim a rank that I haven’t earned.
Which now brings me back to the arts. I was told by my Sensei that he had been asked this question millions of times and I asked him myself. "What is the best system of martial arts? What is the best system in the world?" His answer was always the same: “The one that works for you.” He said that you have to try out different arts and find that one that you fall in love with, the one that intrigues you and challenges you so that you will stay with it and continue to grow. No system is better than another, even though every master would love to say theirs is the best in the world. This is where the entire concept of mixed martial arts competition comes from, but the master that tells you that is not truly a master, for he hasn’t learned the true essence of martial arts.
This in fact reminds me of a famous man in U.S. history, Abraham Lincoln, who once said, “Four score and seven years ago our fore fathers set forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Those few words strengthened our country at a time that pitted brother against brother, and it’s a fight were still faced with today. And it’s the same way with martial arts. All systems and styles should be considered equal. They each have their place, and need to be respected. Until we as martial artists buy into that theory, we will be fighting this fight for years to come. We as martial artist have a chance to do something no other sport or activity can do, as martial arts knows no boundaries We cross them all regardless what creed or color, religious beliefs, what continent or country you call home, there is some system of martial arts there and if we stand together united we could change the world.
A true martial artist lives by a code like no other. His actions define him the way he walks talks and carries himself. It makes him what and who he is, he respects others and he earns the respect of others. He exudes no ill will so that he doesn't have to endure ill will from others. He treats others in a good manner and upholds the honor of the ones who came before him and entrusted him with all their knowledge. He is humble and is always eager and open to learn from others.
So many times I see martial artist stand on the mat while another master is teaching and say, "we do the same techniques" as if to disregard what the other instructor is teaching. In all rights, yes you may but just like you this master worked hard to get to where he is, and gave everything to the arts. The least you could do is give him the respect he has earned. Watch, and he just might show you an easier way to do the same techniques you already teach, and when it comes your turn to get on the mat he might pay you the same respect.
Ultimately, that is what separates true martial arts from the MMA community. Instead of competing to see who is the most athletic, we strive to help each other grow and share information. We strive to live by a code of honor and respect. While MMA is certainly entertaining and takes hard training, it lacks the very essence of what martial arts is and therefore, they will always come up short.
Stay tuned for part 2, coming soon!
Kaiso Dell Sharpe is the Chief Examiner of the US Association of Martial Arts. He is also the President of the World Organization of Mixed Martial Arts, founded in 1960 by "Papasan" Jack Stern. He is the founder of Kobura Ryu Bujutsu and Soke of Kojido Jitsu, both of which are headquartered at his dojo in Central Florida, Cobra Tai Martial Arts Academy.