REMEMBER OUR ROOTS
Like many of you, I love riding bikes. I started on a road bike 40 years ago and switched to a mountain bike nearly 20 years ago. Back in my early days in the sport, it was us against them, with us being anyone who pedals around on two wheels and them being anyone who drives around on four. When mountain biking split off from regular biking and got big, it was us (mountain bikers) against them (road bikers). On the trails, it became mountain bikers vs. dirt-bike riders, quad riders and four wheelers. Here in California, things splintered even more, with equestrians taking sides against wheel users and trail runners hating on all who are bigger, faster and noisier. Now, with the growing popularity of battery-powered mountain bikes, traditional mountain bikers have a new opponent.
It’s interesting how similar the bike community is to the martial arts community. In the early days of the arts in America, everyone stuck together. It was us (martial artists) against them (non-martial artists). Then tournaments popped up around the country, and it was martial artists who competed vs. those who didn’t. And we got a dose of country-of-origin-based factionalism: “I practice taekwondo, and you practice hapkido. They’re both Korean, so we’re on the same side. Can’t say the same about those folks who do kung fu.”
To some extent, all that was pushed aside when MMA came on the scene. At first, strikers battled grapplers in the verbal wars. Soon it became all traditionalists vs. mixed martial artists. The whole time, the combatives guys have tended to look down on traditionalists and competitors but not on MMA guys. And there’s a portion of the self-defense world that thinks any training you do without a gun in your hand is just dancing.
Why am I griping about this now? Because it seems to be getting worse. We can’t run a story or post an article without someone being outraged. It’s a sign of the times, I guess. On his podcast, Joe Rogan — I’m a fan, even though I disagree with much of what he says — has commented that people seem to be looking for things to get outraged about. Case in point: The cover of our previous issue featured a small photo of Conor McGregor along with five other martial artists. Inside was a piece about him being named MMA Fighter of the Year. A few people quipped that this was a sure sign Black Belt had gone MMA and no longer had anything to offer traditionalists. They’re evidently unaware that we’ve published just one MMA-related cover in the past four years.
How can we end this divisiveness? On a national level, we can’t, what with the network news doing its best to foster a state of general discontent. All we can do is think local, and I say we begin by remembering our roots. In the old days, we were all just martial artists. It didn’t matter if we did this art or that, if we focused on kata or kumite, if we wore a white uniform or a black one. When one of us spoke, we all listened because we figured we could learn something from that person’s experience.
The best thing about this prescription is it’s easy to swallow. For starters, keep reading Black Belt. It’s our mission to pick the brains of the best people from every corner of the martial arts world and present their best lessons to you. For evidence of how that works, turn to Page 46 and read Dr. Jerry Beasley’s story on the lessons traditionalists can glean from MMA. You’ll be off to a fine start.