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Friday, March 30, 2012

MMA, Muay Thai, And Traditionalism...Again


The recent news that the Thai government has banned MMA has, not surprisingly, sparked a great deal of controversy among fans and practitioners of both sports. Mostly it's business as usual: one side says "MMA roxxorz, Tradition suxxors", while the other says "your ignorance of the historical and socio-cultural dynamics of these ancient and sacred physical practices betrays an uncivilized intellect and a generally low-class upbringing."

I think this conversation and issue is probably a bit more nuanced than either side is making it out to be.

On the one hand: MMA guys, this is the price of having a tough guy thug image. Most of us who have been around the scene since it's inception long ago recognized that using the fact that you train MMA as an excuse to act like a complete asshole doesn't do you or the sport any favors. Guys like Randy Couture and George St. Pierre proved that you can be extremely successful without acting like a tool. A lot of MMA schools and fighters, understandably disillusioned with the shoddy training they received from "traditional" martial arts schools, threw the baby out with the bath water and ditched some of the basic tenets of respect and honor that are associated with these practices. In the process, they also managed to create some of the worst training environments I've ever seen. I've had guys come in from other MMA schools to train with us who literally had mild PTSD from the ass-kickings they received in the guise of training. These were perfectly capable athletes who were coached with an eye towards "fighting" without any of that other silly stuff, and they were traumatized as a result. It's stupid, and irresponsible, and the sport will continue to be held back as long as people act like that.

On the other hand: there are plenty of "traditional" martial artists who take those ideals of respect and integrity and twist them to create little cults for themselves. Who translate "respect" into "never question your sensei" and "honor" into "don't forget to pay up for your next belt test". Given that large numbers of these guys are incapable of fighting off an enraged five-year old, it's not hard to see why much of the post-MMA generation became completely turned off to everything within the "traditional" martial arts.

And let's face it; when MMA first started in the US, a lot of boxing coaches and commissions opposed it, citing concerns about "barbarism" or "human cock fighting", when really what they were concerned about was that MMA was going to hurt their wallets. Muay Thai is a huge industry in Thailand, and not everyone involved in it is of a pure and noble spirit. I'm sure that there are those who are genuinely concerned that having competitive MMA in Thailand would erode the art, but I'm sure there's also plenty who are more concerned about the erosion of their bank accounts.

I have this wacky idea that the "traditional" guys can take some good from the MMA guys, the MMA can take some good from the "traditional" and we can just all get along. Probably won't happen, but I can dream.

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