Do martial arts hang onto their traditional roots just for the sake of it? Does it enhance or impinge your learning experience? What would it do to martial arts if there were no uniforms, no stances, no bowing etc? Have a think about how you would feel?

Where there is Martial Arts there is a tradition! As Bruce Lee  said “Learn the old to understand the new!”  Martial Arts is not about self defence. Though it is a nice by-product of learning a system of combat and it is important to learn the techniques properly, Martial Arts is primarily an art form that will enhance the quality of your life.

There needs to be a middle line taken with tradition. At one end you have the super traditional that are so enslaved by their dogma that any actual resemblance to what may be a martial art is completely lost….I see so many instructors continue to call all the techniques and numbering in Japanese or Korean, surely this is a waste of time  unless you plan on training over seas.  At the other end you have schools that call themselves martial arts yet they have removed any form that may relate them to martial arts and are more akin to fighting/blood sports and have about as much in common to martial arts as boxing does.

The the tradition is a great adjunct to the training and not a hinderance then it is  good thing. When you have to sit in seiza for hours on end because it’s tradition….I wanna puk!!  With out tradition the art of martial arts becomes little more than a sport or a modified version of structured street fighting.

And another thing…unless the martial arts master/sensei/sifu/or any of the other fancy names starts addressing his or her own ego and takes active steps to include some essence of stillness into their lives, be it meditation or what ever, their ego will only intensify and they will never be any more than an advanced student of fighting.  Martial Arts and meditation/healing, go hand in hand, now that is a tradition that cannot be separated from martial arts. So for all you martial arts teachers out there, where are you at…are you still trying to find the best technique? Are you still living your glory fighting days and telling the same stories over and over again to your students? Or has there been a glimmer of something real that transcends all structure and form and opens the door to the most important  lesson in martial arts?



  1. Catherine on May 6, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Ah yes, a fascinating issue. OK, upfront, I think tradition is important. Largely within tradition lies some kernel of wisdom or grain of truth about the human condition or perhaps what we need as an individual human acting in society. We find traditions like hierarchy, repetition (like bowing, lining up, donning a uniform)somehow soothing – these things speak to our need to “belong” and “be part of” and to know where we are in the group. And really, where ARE our traditions in modern society as a whole? – for many of us the traditions of, say, religion, have fallen away from our lives, may never have been part of them and hence we have no rituals, no rites of passage to look to and to affirm or acknowledge change etc … Of course the rider to all this, the proviso, is the shades of grey – at what point does tradition become unnecessarily binding and restrictive? How often and when do we decide, as a group or a society, that tradition no longer serves us? Perhaps the point is that we still have to see that tradition serves us well, that it contributes to social harmony, that it is “alive” in us somehow….

    How would I feel if there were no uniforms or bowing or stances? Not bereft, but I am also sure it would feel “lesser than” what we do in Shinbudo. From time to time when I travel to Melbourne for work I take in a Muay Thai class in the CBD there. It’s fun – lots of kicking and punching pads – but I have found over time that I have to take my own focus to the room – that those small things like bowing are the signals that facilitate that “being in the moment”. On the other hand, to be fair, the lack of uniforms can at times feel quite freeing but in the final analysis that is a very poor occasional offset when compared to the benefits of the small markers of tradition in Shinbudo…

  2. Andrew Blanch on May 6, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    Do martial arts hang onto their traditional roots just for the sake of it?

    I believe tradition is the sum total of a culture’s experience over centuries, like healthy habits on an evolutionary scale.

    I am yet to experience anything in Martial Arts that does not have a true purpose.

    Does it enhance or impinge your learning experience?

    It enhances it. Deepens it.

    What would it do to martial arts if there were no uniforms, no stances, no bowing etc?

    It would become a system too much about fighting and self defense and not enough about how to live truly. Calm amidst chaos is not easily realised.

    The deeper lessons of Martial Arts are built on such traditions as; the uniforms with the belt grading for respect and for setting mini life goals; the bowing for respect and as a process to focus purely on Martial Arts for the session (which improves focus); the stances like bowing in for focusing away from outer Chaos into inner stillness; attention stance for regularly bringing one’s self back towards this stillness, ready stance for focusing this stillness and readying for explosion from zero to 100% and back to Zero again; fighting stance for committing to action (drawing your sword).

    All of these physical actions help me with my skills re this inner shifting. I have found it so effective it is what I treasure most about what I have learned so far. Not just in the dojo but in realising more calm in everything I do.

    Have a think about how you would feel?

    I imagine it would feel more like a sport and less like a wise system of living. I don’t believe I would be doing Martial Arts without the tradition.

  3. Leigh on May 7, 2010 at 1:32 am

    Those who do not believe tradition is important can always go to boxercise.

  4. adam on May 7, 2010 at 6:00 am

    … actually, i don’t think that it is necessary as such … these things create a mind-set, a state of preparation, of awareness and of respect to those who came before you and to those about to continue the teachings (student or master) – if you can set yourself in these ways, you don’t need the rituals to actualise them – unfortunately most ppl can’t – so hmm … i guess they are necessary!

  5. andrew m on May 7, 2010 at 7:37 am

    tradition?this is only important to how somebody wants to learn.As a student there has to be a genuine approach to discovery.Tradition is the passing of this want from one student to another, its a lineage from the past to the present, its the little things between other things..details that make the journey can pay attention or not,this is our choice.

  6. Jack on May 7, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Tradition to me is the soul of something.

    If there is no tradition, it’s like eating tasteless food.

  7. selma on May 8, 2010 at 4:02 am

    When you talk about tradition, in essence you speak of a certain culture of a certain people.
    It is important for us not only to embrace other cultures with respect and understanding but to also utilise aspects of those teachings (the good aspects) in our lives where possible.
    However having said this, it is even more important to hold onto our own individual roots firstly and use this as the basis for understanding and embracing other beliefs and traditions.
    Martial arts have deep roots in the eastern traditions. Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism etc… Some indicate that Martial Arts are rooted in the Occult.
    I agree with Catherine that we have lost much of our individual culture in the modern world.
    If you are going to include the cultural aspects of a particular martial art in teachings, then those things have to be very clearly defined and obvious from the start.
    For example, one can argue that bowing to each other in sparring, bowing at the start of the lesson and end of the lesson are ways of paying respect to one another.
    Andy teaches that it is a way of letting go of what just happened and moving on. This seems like an interesting way to emphasise that we need to be more forgiving but why are we being taught this in Martial Arts? Why are we being taught to be forgiving in violence or to be forgiving at all? We are all adults capable of forgiveness as we see fit, based on our own cultures and backgrounds, not on the cultures of the people many years before us.
    In self defence there is no forgiveness.
    Another reason can be that we are being conditioned to deal with something and move on straight away without dwelling on why that is. This may be useful in self defence where you probably don’t want to dwell on what just happened because you may still be in danger.
    However in life, it is important to reflect on the past to find out where we may have gone wrong, to learn.
    Another reason for this form of conditioning is to make a person to go from 0 energy output to max and to 0 again. Creating this link between the two means not only that we a physiologically able to defend ourselves very quickly but also the psychological aspect is that we become calm in violent situations.
    So one can easily become confused as to why we are being taught various things in martial arts and told to follow certain practices, routines, or even rituals.
    When the cultural aspects of what has been taught are not well defined, the student becomes confused and the key to manipulation is confusion.
    Martial Arts today, is not what it was many years ago. Our society is vastly different now due to technological advancements, industrialisation, globalisation etc…
    The real culture of certain martial arts was lost with the death of those people, the death of that time and of that age.
    What we see now are remnants of those cultures, watered down and altered through generations of people to suit their own time and purpose.
    These modified remnants may or may not be used in the modern world, depending on how they are presented, defined and honestly represented.
    “He who controls the history controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future.”
    Martial Arts just like any kind of learning is conditioning or programming of the mind. It is up to us to choose our teachers, who would have, by their own discretion, studied and wish to pass on their knowledge as honestly and openly as possible.

  8. Rach on May 8, 2010 at 8:40 am

    When i first started Martial arts i didn’t really like the uniform and didn’t want to wear it to be honest. I wasn’t bothered about the bowing either. I considered myself above such things and was too much of a ‘rebel’ and ‘individual’ to comply with rules. I didn’t think i was into tradition and considered it irrelevant. But i liked the training and teaching and as the tradition was relatively subtle at first and not ‘in my face’ i coped and went along with it. If it had been intense i am not sure i would have coped at that stage of my initiation. I have now trained in Japan many times where tradition is paramount. Somewhat ironically I find myself deeply ingrained in the tradition and respect. I somehow find deep comfort in the fact that i am practicing ancient, well tried and tested techniques and reassurance that the thread of something unchanged for many, many years is being passed onto to me. I feel the power of those gone before me and gather strength from that or them maybe? I also feel a responsibility to pass it on as i have learnt as faithfully as i can and feel privileged to be part of something much greater than my individual self. I really enjoyed reading other peoples perspectives on this.

  9. Faramarz Nouri Azari on May 9, 2010 at 6:17 am

    The answer is yes. Tradition is the foundation of martial arts. Without tradition, it can change direction or disappear easily, with the smallest wind. With a strong foundation and direction it can be passed safely from generation to generation.

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