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Open-mindedness is vital to success in the martial arts

As a former technical consultant and features editor for what were the four leading martial arts magazines in the U.K. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of great martial artists with an open-minded approach to training and evolution.

I also et a lot of their students and, interestingly, a lt of these students were arrogant in the extreme, and polar opposites to their instructors. Similarly I have met instructors who believe that their arts are the only arts.

This arrogance and close-minded has – in my opinion – led to the massive upsurge in the MMA styles. This is because many people truly believe that their arts are THE arts to study. Unfortunately, many of these arts lack either the physical skills e.g., grappling, clinch work, ground game etc, or the mindset required to step up to the line and fight full-out, full contact, especially after weeks of pre-fight build up.

These students go into a match with their eyes fully closed and suffer a defeat that is not only physical, but also deeply mental and spiritual. Years of training are ‘wasted’ in just a few minutes. Or seconds. Then, rather than looking in the right places and with an open mind, these students then quit their more traditional clubs and start to study the MMA style of choice. They are then just as likely to be a close-minded about the style they are doing.

None of this does any good for any art. Without open minds, martial arts cannot help but fail. They face being left behind as society, and the attacks that are common in society, change. They face becoming obsolete, becoming nothing more than ‘arts’. Once they become pure arts, they truly face defeat if their students face off against skilled, or determined opponent. One example of such an arts is Kyudo, Japanese archery. This former martial art has devolved into such an art, that the emphasis has been placed on the release of the arrow, not whether it hits the target or not.

For me, Taekwondo is at the risk of such a devolution. Already, after only a few decades, much of what was originally a core aspect of the art has been either lost or deliberately removed. Throws, close in strikes such as elbows, pressure points, sweeps, and low leg kicks have all been removed from the syllabus, with only the most open-minded clubs and organisations using these. Most of these clubs have only been rand for a few years as the growth in such applications has occurred in karate, and has been occurring for than a few years.

The ITF, for example, have taken what General Choi said as pure gospel, with the emphasis on the sine wave – which has been mathematically debunked numerous times – almost dominating the style, and completely changing the appearance of patterns, the delivery of strikes, and the ability of students to hit hard if they use the sine wave.

Similarly, the focus on breaking, sparring and the performance of patterns, has robbed the art of some of its most important, and relevant aspects. GM Choi Jung Hwa admitted in an interview with me that he feared the emphasis on competition had been detrimental, with people choosing to concentrate in the pure sporting aspect. This is clearly seen in the development of pure Olympic sparring. Students do the bare minimum to get their black belts and then train in nothing but sport.

Within the Chang-Hun patterns, a clear indicator for me that the performer knows nothing about the origins of the pattern that they are doing, is when they replace low or mid-section kicks with high kicks. Another case of flash over functionality. Ever more depressing is seeing these performers being scored higher than the more functional but less visual performers who do the patterns correctly.

Fortunately though, I am seeing an upsurge in interest in making our art not Bly fun for people to do, but also functional, practical and worthy of the claims of being able to teach people self-defence.

This weekend alone, I hosted Professor Rick Clark of the Ao Denkou Kai, a man I have known and respected for nearly two decades. At the seminar were not only members of my own club,but a number of bees from clubs affiliated to NITA, under Master Clive Harrison. My own club is affiliated to Naster Russell Perks and the TKDSOE, an organisation I chose for its open-minded approach to training in Taekwondo.

Hopefully, the more senior instructors will start to realise that open minds are not an inhibitor, or a threat, but are a sure fire way of ensuring that their arts survive, the more you to offer your students, the less likely they are to get bored and leave.

About mattsylvester

Father of two beautiful daughters and married to the beautiful Karen, Matthew has been reading and writing fantasy and science fiction since he first read the Hobbit at the age of 7.


2 thoughts on “Open-mindedness is vital to success in the martial arts

  1. This is very true, the sad thing is that the very essence of the Martial arts from their early roots is open-mindedness, if didn’t keep an open mind and always be open to learn and accept new things, then to be frank you probably got killed!


    Posted by Phil Miles | May 28, 2012, 7:59 am
  2. Hello Matthew,
    Things are starting to change in the ITF. Many instructors are re-evaluating their cirriculum and search for the Tul (pattern) and selfdefense-connection. Good to bring this sublect up, as often as possible. There is a lot of work to do!
    Here an example of a selfdefense Tul-application video I made last year:
    ITF Taekwon-Do is not lost yet, haha.

    Kind regards Robert


    Posted by Robert Boer | July 18, 2012, 7:58 am

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