The difference between traditional martial arts schools and commercial schools is great. Some would ask when were commercial schools introduced into this country? And what is the difference between these two types of martial arts training schools?
When I first began my martial arts training, little or nothing was known about the martial arts in the United States. The only reason I discovered it, was because I was born and raised in lower New York City along what is known as the New York Bowery or the beginning of the Chinatown area. My reason for searching out martial arts was because when I was very young at the age of nine, I was severely beaten up, and was on the verge of losing my life without medical intervention. After many months of recovery, it was some Chinese friends that I had come to know in Chinatown that advised me I should learn how to defend myself better to survive in the rough New York streets.
I will bypass my training years here, and move ahead to the time the martial arts was first exposed to New Yorkers. This story is going back and arose about the 1960s, in New York City. There was a few great promoters of the martial arts at that time, namely a man called Aaron Banks, Edward Parker and Gary Alexander. Banks was from the New York City area and ran a school known as the New York Karate Academy in midtown New York. Master Edward Parker, was located on the West Coast in the California area. The two had decided to run a huge tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The name of this tournament was called the East Coast versus West Coast. Every known school of the martial arts was notified on both the East and West Coast to attend this competition. By that time the martial arts have spread somewhat in both the East and West Coast and I would venture to say at least 2000 contested showed up at the front door ready to fight. Most everyone who attended were shocked to see the amount of martial artists all in one place. We all felt this was going to be proven as one of the best fights and martial arts histories in New York City.
Needless to say, once the fighting began it was furiously hard and devastatingly brutal. Both the East Coast and West Coast were out to prove who had the best martial arts. At that particular time in martial arts history, there were no rules per se, other than the rules that came from the Orient which stated there were no rules other then to get the knock out winning blow. This meant you stepped into the ring, with no protection whatsoever, because that's the way we were taught we would fight in a street condition. No cups, no mouthpieces, Just two hands and two feet and a eagerness to win was all you enter the ring with.
As the fights progressed the physical damage increased. Contestants incurred injuries ranging from shattered teeth, ears pulled off, bones broken, and in a few cases, almost blindness. By the time the fights had ended many ended up in the hospital. It was so brutal that at one point, the New York Police Department was called after the tournament had completed because they thought they would be a major riot going on in the streets.
Because of this brutal melee that had occurred at Madison Square Garden, New York City voiced its opinion that such competition would not be permitted. It was so violent New York City would not allow this type of tournamants to go forward, as they beleived such fights were a danger to human life. . New York City wanted a set of strict rules and regulations had to be put in place before any other tournament would be allowed. This was to ensure that such brutality would not occur again. If this demand was not met, it was decided that martial arts tournaments such as this would not be permitted again in city limits.
Some months later, I was informed that a governing body would be organized known as the I.C.M.A., which stands for the international convention of the martial arts would be organized. This meeting was held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The top names in the martial arts were invited to attend this meeting to establish a set of rules that would safeguard the martial arts tournaments to continue within the city limits. Attending this meeting were the top names in the martial arts, some of which you may recognize as, Chuck Norris, Joe Louis, Gary Alexander, Alan Lee, and myself, which represented Westchester County.
After a great deal of deliberation and haggling back and forth as to what we would permit and not permit in tournament fighting, we came up with a set of rules. Only light contact to the face would be permitted and groin strikes, throat strikes, spine strikes and kidney strikes would be forbidden. Forceful body blows would be permitted to the midsection to declare a clear-cut hit. Once the city was notified that we had a set of firm rules in place, only then did they permit the martial arts organizations to compete with one another in martial arts tournaments. And so started numerous martial arts tournaments to be organized and run within New York City. However, even with all the safeguards we put in place, still many injuries resulted, as old habits of training die hard, which meant many still went all out to win and to hell with the rules. It took many years of refining the rules and enforcing them that helped prevent serious injury within the ring.
Today, tournaments are run with much more safeguards in place, such as, mouthpieces, groin protectors, and body armor. This was a far cry from the old way martial arts tournaments have been run through the centuries. However, tournament promoters were fearful of occurring hugh lawsuits for bodily injury, so heavy contact became a thing of the past. Because of these changes in approach, many martial art schools that opened in the tri-state area would limit the amount of excessive contact. Point fighting, which meant , just come close but no contact is made to the individual was commonplace. The only schools that followed the old ways of full contact became known as traditional schools. Fighting contests within the school resorted back to the old traditions, just two hands, two feet and win no matter what.
Today, it is extremely difficult to find a traditional school, most have been replaced by commercial schools which do relatively no contact fighting at all. If competition fighting was allowed at all, the individual had to be heavily protected so no bodily damage would occur. The real useful street techniques that would stop an attacker in the streets were forbidden. Needless to say it is these very techniques are the ones that can protect oneself in a brutal attack on the streets. These target area's were forbidden in commercial schools, even though these still remain your best bet to survive a street attack. Area's, such as the groin, throat, eyes, kidney, bladder were no longer taught as primary targets.. Commercial schools forbid attacking these vital areas which completely waters down the arts effectiveness in real street fighting conditions.
Some of the other differences between a commercial school and a traditional school are mainly associated with money. Traditional schools rarely charge for much of anything other than one monthly fee to attend the school. There were no contracts, your word was your bond. There was no such thing as children's classes, only adults and usually they consisted of males only because of the extreme training involved. Techniques were taught the way they have been for centuries. This meant strikes were permitted to the vital areas of the human body, namely throat groin and even the eyes to some extent. Anything that was effective to bring down an attacker in the streets was taught. Many of the old traditional schools went by the wayside because Masters no longer wanted to teach a watered down art. Commercial schools grew in number, offering children's classes, children's birthday parties, and only tournament point fighting where vulnerable areas of the human body were forbidden to hit. Even in what is called cage fighting today which is considered extreme fighting, the vital areas of the body such as the growing eyes and throat are forbidden.
You must keep in mind that the martial arts was taught for strictly for life or death situations. It was never considered a sport, but rather a tool to protect oneself from brutal street attack. The streetfighter has no rules whatsoever, they will do anything to attain the upper hand in a street fight. Street fighters have no qualms in using knives, guns, broken glass, or anything at his disposal to win. Traditional schools, realize these facts of street survival and also would use anything available to defend oneself as well as attack primary areas to survive. Sadly, traditional schools are shying away from the original methods of self-defense. Commercial schools would rarely teach these methods for defense, thereby making there techniques less effective in real life. And yet commercial schools today outnumber traditional schools fifty to one.
It became so difficult to find a traditional tournament in the United States that at one point in my life, I decided to travel to Taiwan where I could compete in an old-style traditional tournament. Tournaments in Taiwan are under the control of the Taiwan government, and fought in the traditional way. There was no protection, in fact, you had to sign a waiver that if you were killed in the tournament, the government would not be held responsible. The ways of the warrior has gone by the wayside in this country, and i am sad to say because of it the techniques taught in commerical schools could well fail to stoped a brutal attackers in the streets.
With each passing year in this country it is becoming increasingly harder to find a traditional school, as most of being replaced by the commercial school. If you are looking for a school to baby sit your children,commercial schools suit that purpose perfectly. However, if you're looking for a school of pure self-defense with time-tested techniques that work, I suggest you try to find a traditional school. The techniques taught in traditional schools are indeed violent, but needed if the smaller weaker person has any chance at all in defending against the larger, stronger opponent. To negate the practical techniques of the defense is like sending a soldier to war, but not issuing the ammunition for the weapons. How do you think he would fare facing an opponent with a loaded gun and you with an empty gun? I think the answer is obvious.