Institute of Martial Arts & Sciences

Promoting professionalism and quality in the martial arts worldwide

Traditional Values and the Value of Tradition

February 5, 2011

Tradition can be the most wonderful of things. It can enrich our lives in so many profound ways lending them depth perspective and meaning. One of the things I particularly love about different peoples and cultures is getting to know a little more about their various traditions. In many ways, tradition could be said to be the thing that actually encapsulates and defines the culture of a society or people. You can study their language until you can speak it like a native, but it’s only when you begin to appreciate their particular customs and beliefs that you will truly begin to understand the people themselves rather than just the words they are speaking.

The martial arts, as the military secrets of their day, have undergone a great deal of transformation over the centuries. They have evolved hand in glove with the tactics, strategy and armour of the times. Therefore, these changes were completely valid as they were nothing short of a necessity!

Change, as we already know, is a natural and integral part of the growth process. However, in recent years a lot more changes have occurred in the world of martial arts and some of these have not been for very worthwhile or valid reasons at all.

For example: There seems to be a growing disregard for the philosophy and traditions underpinning the technical prowess. Such aspects are viewed with suspicion and derision by a number of modern practitioners. Yet, it is these very things that form the solid foundation of the arts we practice and, while some of them might not appear to have any practical value, they are still important as they help us to reach out and touch the past, and remember those who have gone before. After all, practicality is not exclusive to being able to beat another person in a fight: In fact it has far more to do with helping people to improve their levels of confidence and self belief, improving their standards of health and fitness, and encouraging them to achieve. In this manner, they will be far better prepared for whatever life might throw at them, and retain the ability to “pick themselves back up and get on with it”.

Today, people are much more concerned with being able to execute flash, loud and (for the most part) completely ineffective movements to massage their own fragile ego and impress the neighbours rather than actually buckling down to study a traditional warrior system that might take a lifetime to even begin to understand let alone master. In other words: “I don’t have the time, patience and determination to become part of a valid and accepted tradition, so I will just have to invent my own!”

Reinventing the wheel (again!)

We live in what has been called a “throw-away” society, an age where we demand instant gratification for our efforts, yet, we need to be sure that we don’t end up throwing away the baby along with the bathwater! Obviously, the modern martial arts have also fallen foul of this attitude with people who are little more than beginners claiming knowledge and skill they simply do not possess. Yet, because they claim to teach a form of “fighting” that offers exciting techniques and an almost meteoric progress through the “ranks” people flock to them. I have lost count of the amount of times I have had somebody lecture me regarding the “practicality” of a particular technique they have seen me demonstrate, most of whom would be completely unable to fight their way out of a paper bag, even if it was wet!

The simple truth of the matter is this: If a recognised senior instructor shows you something and you can’t get it to work as well as it should, then the problem is not to be found in the technique itself, but rather in your inability to understand and apply the principal in an efficient enough manner. Any technique requires the student to be dedicated and determined enough to practice it until they eventually become proficient (This is called the “learning process” and I would heartily recommend it to anyone hoping to master a martial art or anything else for that matter!) I know this will be a difficult concept for some people to accept (being the meek, humble souls they are!) but this doesn’t make it any the less of a fact.

“My “No nonsense” system”
“The deadliest martial art”
“Practical self defence”
“Fear no man”

You all know the type of thing I am talking about. The sad fact of the matter is:

  • In my time, I have studied numerous martial arts, and have yet to find any “Nonsense” contained in any of them, only certain aspects I am yet to understand properly
  • Any martial art, practiced well and executed by a competent student in the right type of situation is, most certainly, “deadly”
  • Looking both ways when crossing the road, having an efficient fire alarm, eating well, getting regular exercise and being able to smile at life has much more to do with “practical self defence” than any amount of grunting and kicking has
  • I have never had any reason to “fear” my fellow human-beings, even though I have had to restrain and even fight a fair few of them on occasion. I am a student of the way of the warrior, and so have learned to love humanity and nature, even when they are at their most brutal and base. However, if I did happen harbour such an irrational fear, then I would seek the aid of a properly qualified therapist rather than the egocentric opinion of any self-proclaimed “sensei”

I have managed to learn these things through long, hard years of study, and have enjoyed every moment of this rich and varied experience. Guarded and guided along the way by the kind, wise people who took the time and trouble to teach me. I have reached these conclusions through a thorough grounding in the history, philosophy and traditions of the ancient warrior caste, and not just their extensive repertoire of armed and unarmed techniques. In my own small way, I have tried my best to carry on this tradition, taking martial arts to many different groups from Monks to Commandos, and professional security personnel to students with learning disabilities.

To completely disregard the rich traditions laid down by our forebears is to throw away the most valuable weapon we have in our personal battle towards true enlightenment. Because: As long as tradition serves humanity, then it can only be a good thing. The reason why anything becomes a tradition is because A: It is useful, and B: People like it. The corruption creeps in when this becomes inverted, and humanity ends up serving a tradition. I have seen this happen in the martial arts many times with instructors teaching their students in precisely the same way as they themselves were taught. Adult students being asked to do ballistic stretching in their very first lesson and young children being forced to do press ups on their knuckles on a hard floor etc etc. All of which serves to demonstrate that the instructor in question actually knows very little about anatomy physiology and exercise science and next to nothing about child development! All because their own instructor told them this was right and correct. All because of tradition! In such a case, the sooner this tradition is discarded the better for all concerned!

Just because something is new does not necessarily mean it is any better: Not all change is good. We need to modify and improve the way we think, act and behave in our daily lives in much the same way as we modify and improve our technical skills and abilities when practicing on the mat.

Sometimes, we do need to move forward in order to make progress. Sometimes though, we need to move backward, re-tracing our steps because we might just have missed something important or not appreciated as much as we should. Sometimes, we just need to stay exactly where we are for a while, and simply admire the view and acknowledge how far we have travelled.

After all: You have come such a long way on your journey and even the most dedicated traveller must sometimes pause and enjoy the rest.

Jaimie Lee-Barron

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