Can a Martial Art Evolve Past Its Origins? By Michael Aloia

The short answer would seem to be a simple yes. And on many levels, this is entirely true. Once an art form passes from teacher to student, in its most basic application, it has evolved past its origins. Additionally, once that art form begins to move around and relocate, it has evolved past its origins. Obviously geographically, but more so similarly as it would pass from teacher to student and so on; with each new encounter, evolution occurs.

However, the question really lies with whether or not an art can move past both its country and cultural origins or is it that regardless of how far an art form travels and no matter how much an art form changes, advances, influences, and grows, it will always be tied to its initial place of birth.

Again, the simple answer would appear to be yes; said art form will always be linked to both country and culture of origin no matter what.

So, if an art form can evolve past its origins but at the same time remain tied to those origins, is there any real reason for such a discussion?

That answer is also a yes.

Over the course of the past thirty years, the martial arts world has become a thriving global industry, primarily because of the introduction of the internet and a varied form of mixed martial arts. These primary factors have infiltrated all martial arts, traditional and modern in some degree, as well as having created a level of social awareness that has exposed the good, the bad, and the ugly. Such exposure has heightened and leveled careers. But what has it done for the arts themselves? Are they better for it? Have they been able to evolve?

Many arts have been forced to take a good hard, honest look at themselves, determining their point, purpose, form, function, and validity to exist and to continue. This evaluation and re-evaluation has, at times, not been easy. Much of what has been learned and taught has come into question and has come under fire by both peers and the general public. Case in point, go to any martial arts demonstration video on YouTube and it is not at all uncommon to read comments of a less than supportive nature in response to many traditional styles, often coming across the popular remark, “Now try that with a resisting partner,” among other similar sentiments.

Yet all the negatives aside, reflection is a form of evolution. Such a practice creates a forum to question and an opportunity towards betterment; to grow, expand, and build on what we know or think we know. This level of soul searching creates a level of honesty within the training. There is always room for improvement. As individual practitioners, we do this all the time as a means to progress and to better understand. This is evolution.

The definition of mixed martial arts is in the name and so is its evolution – a mixing of various forms of martial systems and methods. In essence, given both the definition and the eclectic criteria for mixed martial arts, there is an infinite number of possibilities for creating a way, form, art, style, system, or method of doing something which essentially establishes a new variant with every single practitioner; an endless and limitless evolution.

Mixed martial arts demonstrate the possibility of evolving past both country and culture of origin. Practitioners or combatants are not tied to regions of birth, but rather develop an array of skills that best suit their needs and arsenal. The question that usually follows is whether or not said form can then be classified as the art or is it a hybrid or worse yet, a bastardized version of the art, thus alienating itself from any traditional channels of recognition and acceptance. Evolution, in this case then, is ultimately punished, disowned, criticized, and ostracized by the establishment as not being part of a time-honored approach. Thus, skill and effectiveness is often overlooked.

Evolution can be a difficult task when position, power, rank, comfort, and compliance are in question.

In today’s martial arts world, it appears that no art form is truly pure, and were they really ever? Styles, systems, and methods, as well as masters, teachers, and students have all borrowed from somewhere else and more often than not, someone else at one point or another.

Evolution is defined as “the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.”

We learn by doing, we grow by evolving.

If we tie ourselves to this or that for the simple sake of origin and or tradition, we run the risk of missing out on opportunities to grow. True training is character perfection; it is a life long journey of exploration and discovery; of defining, refining and redefining again and again. It’s evolution.

In the end, the choice to evolve is an individual one, a decision to endure the endeavor and embrace all that can be possible; allowing it to grow and allowing it to evolve.

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