The decline of martial arts

Long ago there was a state called Chu, that existed during the 4th century BC, and in this state lived a man named Zhuang Zhao, more commonly known as Zhuangzi. Zhuangzi called our perception of reality into question. His teachings were of nature and the nature of man. In nature things are created and sometimes rise to great heights but eventually diminish. Success breeds failure. Martial arts were created thousands of years ago, seeking to find ways to better destroy other people. As such, the methods that became effective thrived while those which lost were abandoned. No one has use for a knife that does not cut. Over the centuries each of these knives, which were once sharp seemed to lose their edge, but in reality it was the fault of those who wielded the knives who lost the understanding of those who first forged it. Just as the knife is crafted to cut, martial arts were crafted to fight. They were successful, they developed a following and eventually the quality diminished and it died out, to be replaced with something else, which in turn, is eventually replaced.
Today too many people look at history with a modern bias, as if we are sitting atop the pinnacle of development of all things, but in truth there is nothing new. Grappling arts, kicking arts, striking arts, have all been around for thousands of years, using the same human body, the same laws of physics and were developed and used during some of the most violent periods of history.
In 1958, Chuck Norris began studying Tang Soo Do, and he wrote his wife, who casually mentioned this to a local policeman in town who implored her to convince him to stop, for fear of Carlos becoming and uncontrollable killer. This was the mystique karate held in the sixties. It was difficult to find a school, difficult to achieve a high rank and the people that did so succeeded due to deep personal commitment, sacrifice and determination. The fights in those early days were hard and intense and the winners earned their titles. As the popularity grew, so did the number of schools and the quality diminished. Bruce Lee came along and the martial arts exploded in popularity. According to authors in 1986, the number of martial arts schools in the US went from 150 in 1972 to over 1.5 million in just a few years. Today, despite the presence of so many schools martial arts are looked at as ineffective and dismissed. Maybe something to keep the kids occupied, teach them some discipline. The 60’s had karate, the 70’s “kung fu”, the 80’s had the ninjas, the 90’s showcased Gracie Jui Jitsu, and now we have MMA. Every school in each shopping plaza seems to be offering some kind of grappling program. Already we see practitioners performing techniques and the experts will look at it and say where they are deviating from principles. This will follow the same model as the others and start to decline.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves why something doesn’t work today, yet worked hundreds of years ago. Shuai jiao (grappling) has existed in China since at least the Zhao Dynasty. Japan was exposed to Chin na around 900 AD and became the basis for Aikijutsu, which led to Juijitsu which led to Brazilian Juijitsu. Are we to assume the other arts that gained prominence were never exposed to grappling? Something changed, and since our bodies are the same, physics are the same, violence is the same, clearly we are not doing what the originators did. Yang Lu Chan was given the nickname “Yang the invincible” because he defeated so many opponents of so many different styles, which led to him being invited to teach the Emperor himself, yet tai chi practitioners are not taken seriously as martial artists. Why did it work for Yang but not today?
The ego leads us to seek fame and victory, it makes us seek tool that we can use to elevate ourselves. We proudly wield a copy of the knife yet do not spend the time to hone the edge like the original and wonder why ours doesn’t cut. For centuries, masters of every discipline have told us it is the individual, not the style. Rediscover the principles on which a style was founded, verify that they are sound, and adhere to them. Styles come and go, just as the State of Chu ended long ago, so will the latest “ultimate style” diminish but the principle will remain. History contains these lessons about ego, underestimating opponents, demonstrating the endless cycle of invention, prominence and decline, you can learn from them or suffer from repeating them.