There is an intrinsic problem that exists in many forms of non-competitive, "self-defense" martial arts - mostly older martial arts styles, but can be applied to any martial art that does not contain or emphasize a competitive sports component.

The problem is what we dub the "self-fulfilling death loop", where a martial art only exists to exist as an art form, and not exist because it is particularly useful (when compared to more evolved martial arts that exist - but more on this later).

A martial art that merely exists for artistic or self-defense reasons is usually a martial art that upholds traditions, culture, customs, and techniques / concepts from a certain time period of human history, but rarely provide any more value beyond this.

There's nothing wrong with this on it's own, but when practitioners of these said arts pretend there's more to it than it is (which is often), is when it becomes problematic.

The Problem With "Self Defense Only" Martial Arts

Self-defense only martial arts (styles that do not have a sparring or competitive component), such as (but not limited to) Aikido, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, Systema, Krav Maga, and many old Traditional Chinese Kung Fu / Martial Arts styles such as Wing Chun, etc., are largely "static" styles or systems that exist in a vacuum.

Static styles exist to carry on tradition or a limited set of techniques first and foremost, focusing on form first, while function, practicality, and adaptability take a backseat.

Which is to say, they do not evolve with the ever-changing landscape of martial arts progress and human / sports science development.

The martial art may have been created and used to solve a specific problem or was deemed useful at one point in human history (Aikido to disarm attackers wielding swords and weapons, for example), but since that point, it has either lost much of its effectiveness or relevancy (nobody carries swords anymore, or nobody fights like they used to fight anymore), or other martial arts have simply popped up on the scene and became much more effective and efficient in comparison (full contact striking arts such as Boxing, Muay Thai, Sanda Sanshou, and full contact grappling arts such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Sambo, Wrestling, Shuai Jiao, etc. - which all went through phases of evolution themselves).

This does not mean these self defense only martial arts do not still contain value or viable teachings.

That is not what we are implying. In fact, far from it.

However, what we are saying is that many of these rigid or old styles are merely scratching the surface, or emphasize only the basics of human potential.

Due to the static nature of these old styles - these arts are largely "dead", unchanging, lack "aliveness", and thus are doomed to lose value and interest over time (and replaced by newer, better arts or training methods).

In order for a martial art to stay "alive" and relevant to human beings and societal needs, it needs to constantly attract new practitioners to the art to help it evolve over time, or at the very least, pressure test the art and take it to new heights.

"Traditional" martial arts that are stuck in its dogmatic past or martial arts that do not allow free sparring, simply do not provide this possibility.

The Self-Fulfilling Death Loop

Allow us to further explain using this 5-step infinite death loop that illustrates the self fulfilling doomed prophecy of "static" martial arts styles.

  1. Most teachers emphasize only on teaching the art, the traditions, the history, and the concepts. There is a lack of / no emphasis on "aliveness" sparring or sports competition built into the martial art. It does not encourage creativity, but rather rigidity.

  2. Practitioners make progress but have no public platform to test what they've learned or to prove themselves against opponents, thus creating a black hole or echo chamber, where the art cannot be tested against itself and/or with others, and results don't matter or do not exist.

  3. Lack of a competition standard creates a stagnant training environment where quality or progress cannot be adequately measured. The incompetent are not punished and the competent are not rewarded. Practitioners may become frustrated at their progress due to lack of a high-quality, elite standard to aim towards, and/or may be confused about progression or start to question their own level of competency. (For example, training forms and compliant drills for 10+ years but never sparring, and realizing one cannot even fight with their martial art, is concerning to say the least)

  4. The static nature of the art, combined with the wishful but ultimately fruitless promise of a dangling carrot that never materializes into true real-world results, drives away young, talented athletes as they are not incentivized to improve and would rather find something more rewarding / challenging to spend their time, with an outlet to showcase their skills.

  5. Older, non-athletic practitioners stay and occupy the martial art, act as its teachers / gatekeepers, hamper progress and/or bring the quality of the art down, watering down and/or killing the martial art outright with either commercialism or phoniness, or both.

The cycle restarts only with less potential star pupils willing to take up the art due to its tainted track record and/or lack of quality representation.

As a result, the number of people who wish to join dwindles, as well as the quality of prospective students, as they flee to learn other better / higher perceived quality martial arts styles.

Therefore less and less people are willing to discover the martial art's true qualities or to elevate its status, thus ensuring the martial art's death.

Dedicated Cosplayers Rather Than Martial Artists 

Cosplay, a portmanteau of "costume play", is an activity and performance art in which participants called cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character.

Commenters on our Dynasty MMA YouTube channel remark:

"Most Kung Fu practitioners are super dedicated cosplayers. The way they train is like saying they are basketball players when they only practice dribble and shoot drills without ever playing a game, or saying they can drive a car when they never went on the road and only practice in a parking lot. The only way to fix Kung Fu is to make sports like Shuai Jiao and Sanda mandatory in schools like wrestling in America or Judo in Japan."

"Honestly they just need to spar a hell of a lot more and stop believing so much in "Oh my style is too dangerous for sport" and lineages and all that other crap. Stop deflecting to the bullshit excuse of "Well Kung Fu / Gong Fu / Gung Fu isn't just for fighting, it's for health as well." Obviously, but it is a martial art. If it didn't include methods to fight, it might as well be Yoga or Dancing."

Breaking The Cycle

The most famous example of a martial art breaking away from its own death loop is Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and Judo.

Summarized very briefly, a man named Jigoro Kano removed all the "deadly self defense" techniques from Japanese Jiu-Jitsu that could not be effectively practiced at 100% force / resistance, turned the art into a combative sport where only the techniques that could be drilled / used at 100% force were kept, creating a much more effective fighting style named Judo.

Judo practitioners were known as competitive combat sport athletes who could really fight and use their techniques under pressure, while Jiu-Jitsu practitioners were simply "self defense" martial arts practitioners who could not apply their moves once thrown into a "live fire" environment.

In a surprising turn of events at the time, the new Judo players beat all the old traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu practitioners in sparring / challenge matches, signalling the dawn of a new era of sports science / combat sports fighting.

To put it another way - would you rather learn a martial art that was all theory, no application, and has stayed mostly the same for a very long time, or a martial art that has been through many hours of combat testing, refinement, can actually be used, and continues to get better?

Strangely enough, Sanda / Sanshou is the natural evolution of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts / Kung Fu styles, yet even the Kung Fu community doesn't consider it to be "real Chinese Kung Fu".

Competitive / Free Market Economy

Gordon Ryan is the best grappler alive on earth today. His success in grappling competitions is visible to the market / martial arts community and sets a new bar of what's possible with his martial art. Without his accomplishments in competition, we would all be worse off by being unable to see and learn from the evolution of his chosen martial art style(s).

Here's another way to look at this problem with "static" martial arts, and why they often fall flat in face of live resistance.

A martial art that is "alive" is similar to a society with a free market competitive economy with clear decisive winners and losers (and those in between) based on how hard you work and how much value you create or contribute.

A martial art that is "dead" is similar to an economy of non-competitiveness where everyone receives a participation medal for merely existing (but not contributing), and thus no human / societal / scientific / technological progress actually happens.

Love them or hate them, people such as Bill Gates, Jack Ma, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos have done more to advance human society than most. The technologies / services / products they have created have changed the way we live.

In a competitive society or environment, even "losers" of said society can still benefit from the innovations, value, discoveries, and teachings provided by its "winners" or best representatives. For example: We can use services like Amazon or AliExpress from our Microsoft PC computers, and drive smart cars from Tesla, even though we never invented these things ourselves.

In a static, non-competitive society, no one benefits because no one is incentivized to win or contribute, and thus no one needs to actually work hard, so everyone equally loses.

Counter-Argument is a Non-Argument

The counter argument to this would be of course, "combat sports" are a sport, and they have rules!

JKD Waldo guy gets knocked out by Wing Chun teacher

JKD Waldo guy gets knocked to the ground by a Wing Chun Kung Fu teacher for telling him how to do his Wing Chun "properly". The JKD guy obviously has no fight experience because he performed poorly once the Wing Chun teacher defended himself from his taunts.

While true, this argument largely falls apart in practice because, as we know through video evidence, self-defense "experts" can't effectively use their so-called "deadly" techniques in a live environment, because they can't train / drill their "deadly" moves on a regular consistent basis anyway.

If you can't use your techniques in a controlled environment, what makes you think you can use them in an uncontrolled environment?

We won't waste any more time on this argument on this post but you can read our past post about this here.

"Dead" vs. "Alive"

"The best martial arts are ones that work on other martial artists, not just on untrained people." - Joe Rogan

"The best martial arts are ones that work on other martial artists, not just on untrained people." - Joe Rogan

Self-defense only martial arts (martial arts that don't promote sparring or any live resistance training) or "traditional" martial arts usually rely on a set number of techniques or moves as passed down by its teacher / forms, but are rigid and do not provide any further information or answers to deal with any circumstances outside of the very techniques presented.

For example, a static, rigid martial art may have answer 1, 2, or 3 to counter the opponent if they attack in 4, 5, or 6.

But if the opponent attacks in a 7, the "rigid" martial art may not have an adequate answer for it, and the limitation is capped at that point.

The "static" martial art will always place itself as the most important thing to pay attention to, rather than the practitioner who is using the art.

Conversely, a martial art that is alive, and open to evolution, promotes creativity and spontaneity, and encourages the practitioner (the individual) to respond accordingly to any scenario they may find themselves in.

Bruce Lee Be Water

This is why Bruce Lee, The Godfather of MMA, was so ahead of his time when he famously invented the philosophy of "Be Water" - "absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own."

Self Defense Martial Arts Are Marred By Their Own Political Dogma

Because they never need to be tested, bullshit artists run amok in non-competitive martial arts communities and hold the martial art back from its own potential.

As a practitioner, if you try to "fix" or "evolve" these old styles of martial arts to address their weaknesses or shortcomings, you will be met with heavy resistance from other community members or gatekeepers telling you that "it is not {insert martial art you were trying to fix/evolve}".

For example, if Joe Smith invented "Dog-Jitsu" in the year 2020, then by dogmatic "tradition", it can only contain X number of techniques / applications. If you try to modify anything, you are committing heresy and will be banned from the "Dog-Jitsu" community.

How many times have you heard some elitist traditionalist say, "That's not Wing Chun" or "That's not Kung Fu"? It doesn't really make any sense in reality, because martial arts is supposed to be using what works, not simply using what "someone" deems is part of the original martial art or not (which again, is completely subjective).

The practitioners of these self defense / "traditional" martial arts are limited only to the techniques they learned from someone at some point in time, and as soon as they modify the movements and/or techniques to deal with live pressure or resistance, they may no longer be "practicing" or "applying" the original "traditional" martial art, because they will be judged by how they've changed how it looks or how it is performed.

Doomed To Fail

That is why, static, rigid, self-defense only martial arts will always be doomed to fail, one way or another, sooner or later, because they teach students that the answers to problems are always buried in the art's past (your mileage may vary depending on how outdated its past is, especially if it promises "secret techniques" - which are often shrouded in mystery and bullshit mysticism), rather than in its future and forward facing potential (sports science development and statistical evidence).

It's non-competitive nature shuns away / naturally rejects serious practitioners and persistently makes it easy to reward frauds and pretenders.

You basically gain status or popularity points simply for being "traditional" for tradition's sake, even if you may suck at the martial art you claim to be a teacher / master of.

Meanwhile if you're good at it, you might be deemed a heretic because you made too many of your own discoveries and modifications.

Martial Arts That Evolve, Stay On Top

Sanda / Sanshou Kung Fu represents the natural evolution of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts / Kung Fu. It is alive, by welcoming techniques and adapting itself to the ever changing landscape and evolution of martial arts fighting.

Martial arts that continue to evolve year after year such as Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, Muay Thai, Shuai Jiao, Sanda / Sanshou, etc., thanks to their rich and regulated combat sports culture, promotion through live competition /  competitive nature, and their ever-expanding collection of techniques and positions thanks to their openness / free market economy, will always continue to be the "kings" of the martial arts world and attract the best and most promising practitioners.

In other words, non-competitive martial arts are doomed to attract the worst martial arts practitioners, and competitive martial arts are programmed to bring out and develop the best martial arts practitioners.

That is, unless they go a few steps too far and turn it into modern sport Karate or sport Taekwondo where the only thing that matters is point scoring over dishing out actual damage, or modern sport BJJ (as opposed to submission only) where scoring points and stalling out positions instead of submitting your opponent grants you the win.

Sport point sparring, no matter how "unrealistic", is still better than no sparring.

However, we argue that because they are competing in a sports / athletic endeavour, it is still better than martial arts that do not promote competition at all.

You May Also Like To Check Out: Why Fake Martial Arts Exist (And Why They Always Will)?

- Dynasty Team

December 18, 2021 — Dynasty Team

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