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An Ultimate Fighter's Take on Kung Fu

Interesting story here about an ultimate fighter who is sort of putting down arts such as kung fu.

I've studied martial arts since 1973 and in all that time, I haven't been in a fight. My last fight was as a junior in high school. As far as I'm concerned, I hope I'm never in another one.

In this article, it's implied that kung fu isn't effective because in a real fight, a "grandmaster" kicked a guy in the groin and bashed his head on the bar to end the fight rather than rely on the more elaborate techniques he had spent decades practicing.

So what?

In the current steroid and testosterone-driven view of martial arts that's a side effect of the ultimate fighting craze, we lose sight of some important principles.

For one thing, these are "arts." When you're young, you very often start learning a martial art so you can fight. As you grow older and wiser, your practice evolves into something different--fitness, spirituality, personal discipline, philosophy, mastery of self.

Sun Tzu wrote that the best fighter avoids a fight. It doesn't get any better than that.

Some of the best techniques are the simplest. If a kick to the groin will end a fight, it's much better than breaking someone's arm or neck, or putting them in a wheelchair, which the ultimate fighter in the article seems to think the bottle-wielding attacker belongs.

There's another important reason not to injure someone critically in something as stupid as a bar fight: the risk of a lawsuit. Injure someone critically in this day and age, and the guy you beat up could end up with all your money. This isn't the Wild West, and it isn't ancient China, where martial artists fought and the only thing to lose was your dignity and reputation (or your life). Here, you can lose your job, you can go to jail, you can lose your home and your bank account.

If you're willing to put all that on the line just to prove you can break a guy's elbow with a joint lock, go ahead, my friend.

One of my 15-year old students used kung fu against an attacker--a drunk adult who grabbed him by the collar and raised his other fist to punch. Before he could punch, my young student did a chin-na technique that we practiced in class and shattered the adult's elbow. The attacker spent a few days in the hospital, underwent surgery, and had a long recovery.

Maybe the ultimate fighter would have been happier if the kung fu "grandmaster" had caused the attacker in the bar to spend time in the hospital in surgery. It takes a lot of internal anger to think that way. Anger shouldn't even be part of the equation in a fight. But then again, ultimate fighters have never been accused of being philosophers.

There are many reasons to study and practice martial arts that have nothing to do with fighting and hurting someone. Too often, young guys full of "piss and vinegar," as the story says, don't have the insight, life experience, and the wisdom that comes with age to realize this. And so they put other arts down.

I respect ultimate fighting and the guys who pursue that sport. My kung fu school is right down the street, just a few blocks from one of the best ultimate fighters in the business -- Pat Miletich. I always cheer his guys on, because I think it's really cool that such a great teacher is in our town. He's very successful, and I think that's fantastic.

But let's get serious. There are rules in ultimate fighting. It's against the rules to instantly break the elbow or knee of someone you're fighting. It's against the rules to break their neck. Almost always, a fighter who is in a lock that might break a joint is able to tap out and end the fight.  And when did you last see an ultimate fighter jam a finger into his opponent's eyes? When did you last see an ultimate fighter, being held in a painful arm lock, bite a chunk out of his opponent? That would be real fighting.

Good fighters in any art are good fighters. But even an ultimate fighting match isn't "real" fighting. It's really cool, and it's mesmerizing to see two guys go at it, and the training you go through is brutal, but there are still rules.

If I was 20 again, I'd probably study ultimate fighting with Pat. For a while. Until I began missing too many practices because of the injuries. At my age (I'll be 54 in a couple of months) it would be silly to engage in something that would have me limping into work. You just don't see many ultimate fighters in their 50's.

Ultimate fighting is a young man's sport for several reasons. Your body takes so much punishment at a young age, it takes a heavy toll. Your joints can't take the punishment as you get older. You heal more slowly as you get older. And as you get older, you understand that the testosterone rush that causes you to do so many stupid things when you're young, also leads you to believe that extreme force and violence are the best ways to deal with a physical confrontation.

The kung fu grandmaster in the news story probably understood this, and that's why both he and his attacker survived the encounter without an injury more serious than a "simple" kick to the groin.


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I appreciate your website and insights on the internal arts. I would like to offer a few corrections my friend. The sport is mma (mixed martial arts). Not "ultimate fighting" as the media is found of calling the sport. It has been around for far longer than you give it credit. The first "modern" contests were in the early 80s in Japan and Brazil. Finally, don't question the effectiveness of mma techniques. They are simple and they are effective, period. Why else does the Army, Navy, and Airforce, not to mention a host of law enforcement agencies base their combatives on mma techniques? MMA is a godsend for the internal arts, it shows us what works and what doesn't don't react with hostility and insecurity, but rather, with joy! I've trained in bjj and muay thai (the basis of mma) for over a decade. I played judo for 15 years and yes, I have trained in Chen tai chi since I was 12. They all share the same theories!

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