When I was young and first got into martial arts, the martial artist was seen as some sort of super hero. They tended to be meek and mild individuals, with high consideration for life and a desire to protect and defend the downtrodden. Billy Jack, in the movie of the same name, was a half-breed American Indian protecting the town and veterans. Kwai Chang Caine in “Kung Fu,” was the exiled priest who found himself fighting for the innocent in the old west. Bruce Lee in “Way of the Dragon” defends a family restaurant from a syndicate king pin intent on taking over the business.
All of these characters and many more were steeped with honor. They all held life sacred. Sure, they punched and kicked their way toward good, but they avoided killing if they could. Perhaps it was the media code of the day, only the truly evil villain could be killed. They all had the capabilities to beat the bad guys, and they knew it, but they always showed a reluctance to resort to violence except as a last resort. They were really super heros.
Over the decades, martial arts became a bit ubiquitous. Spies like James Bond had a Karate chop or a Judo throw. Batman was as much a martial artist as a gadget king. Before long, if there was an action sequence in a movie or tv show, there were some martial arts components in it.
In the late 1990’s, MMA, Mixed Martial Arts, began to appear. As a martial artist, I rather enjoyed it. It was nice to see the raw art achieve some general recognition. In the 2000’s, MMA grew from a unique, underground event, to a world wide sport. With that growth came all the associated attachments, stare downs, smack talk, back story, and raw brutality. It began to supplant the “Gentleman’s Sport” of Boxing and became World Wide Wrestling on steroids.
Now fighters talk about how dark their thoughts are. They boast on how much damage they intend to do to their opponent, with little or no respect for their opponent’s abilities. When they win, they jump up on the cage and pound their chest like King Kong, seeming to threaten the audience that all should fear the victor. There was a time when they would pay respect to their opponent for providing them with a good fight. Those days are gone.
Long gone are the days when the meek and mild martial artist kept his secrets secret, and used them only when the weak were in need. I lament how the honor in martial arts has grown into a dishonorable behavior.