“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
There is a newer trend that is evolving martial arts as we know it. The phrase “reality-based” as a preface to a system or style is leading the pages of martial arts magazines and tabloids across the world.
To understand this new trend in martial training one must understand martial history and with that comes the realization that this trend is here to stay.
The word martial that we get from the phrase, martial arts comes from Roman mythology and the god Mars who was the God of war.
Soldiers of that era were often referred to as Priests of Mars (being that they were following the deity of war) and eventually the phrasing became followers of the Mars arts and finally martial arts. The word art in turn merely references a field of study.
Throughout history, anyone that is involved in any military unit or battle has learned some form of armed or unarmed combat that would fall under the category of these Mars arts which is martial arts.
Now, having passed the etymology of the title for martial arts we need to cover the various typologies of martial study.
Throughout the history of the arts there has been three stages of progression: martial sport, cultural arts & martial theory.
First, we find the cultural arts (often referred to as traditional martial arts,) found worldwide and made popular here in America by the martial action stars of the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s. Names like Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Steven Segal, Jean Claude VanDamme, Jackie Chan and many others.
As we mentioned before, any style of battle or combat fits into the umbrella term of martial arts. Cultural arts or traditional arts vary in that they were designed by a specific people in a specific region for a specific battle; using weapons and tactics equal to their opponent.
In essence, this means that if there were a geographic region where the troops would ride horses, then there martial style would involve lots of jumping and high kicks in order to successfully attack someone riding a horse. We see these maneuvers in the styles coming out of Korea like tae kwon do and hapkido.
In Japan, there was an era in which the samurai or that region’s version of the knight carried a sword as their main weapon which gave way to a whole slew of sword based Arts branching from that geographical region.
Karate, Kung fu, Aikido, Kendo, Tang Soo Do among others, are examples of cultural martial arts.
Although gunpowder lent itself as a tool to the Shinobi or Ninja, the invention and rapid evolution of firearms stifled the progression of combative arts until only a century ago.
Next we have martial sport covering every style of spectator competition from Pankration and Olympic wrestling to Boxing and MMA.
The benefits of martial sport is the ability to test the peaks of human performance. You pit two individuals of a similar size against each other to test their skill, strength, speed & power.
There were a few cultural or traditional martial arts that have crossed over from traditional into the sports realm like Tae Kwon Do and Judo with point sparring in the past few centuries and other arts like Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu that have entered our modern arenas of MMA.
Other popular forms of martial sport here in America would be boxing from the older pugilistic arts of the immigrants of Ireland and Spain. America also has a free form wrestling based on older Greco-Roman wrestling.
One of the oldest recorded martial sport geared for the arena was Pankration from Greece with records over 3000 years old. It may not be the oldest martial sport, but it is believed that it is the oldest form of mixed martial arts as it used striking, kicking & grappling as well as using elbow and knee combinations with joint locks.
What defines a martial sport is that you have a sanctioned event where you know your opponent as well as their weight class and you know that you were both going by the same rules with the same restrictions and fell and ultimately you only have to make it 15 minutes or so.
The training is real, but you are training for a fight that isn’t. In fact, the modern MMA fighters have some of the top physical prowess in sports entertainment today.
Lastly, we have martial theory which is what I believe to be the premise of the surging fad of ‘reality-based martial arts.’
Martial theory is the adaptability of the martial arts; the evolution and forward progress of the martial arts.
Almost like the study of music theory if you play an instrument, Martial theory is all of the immutable laws and rules bound by physics and anatomy present in every martial art.
Martial theory states that a stick would beat a rock and a slingshot would beat a stick and a bow would beat a slingshot; firearm would beat a bow etc.
That is, unless the stick was in the hands of an Escrimador but stick fighting is an entirely different article.
The progress of chain mail to brass and iron armor to Kevlar and polypropylene would be martial theory. The advancement, forward growth and evolution of the military, tactical, combat and Mars Arts.
Pioneers in the history of the martial arts have attempted to teach these military tactics and apply them in the street for civilian use and self-defense for the masses.
In the fact of the original Shaolin style of kung fu was created by monks to combat the thieves in the area attempting to steal the wealth and offerings of the temple.
In the past hundred years or so with the involvement of handheld firearms the principles of Combat have progressed to the point where you must be trained to be able to fight against a knife or a firearm or a baton or explosives or and in amount of variables rather than a specific small set of weaponry or fighting style.
These new “styles” or “systems” of reality-based arts are attempting to be as simple, direct and effective as possible without The necessity for the inconvenience of learning complete styles taking many years as were in traditions passed.
With Israel using Krav Maga, England using Gross Motor CQC and the US using Contemporary Jeet Kune Do and Gracie Combatives, it looks like reality-based systems are here to stay.