I get asked this question pretty frequently. Such a simple question, yet no real simple answer for me. To most people, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) refers to the extreme fighting bouts televised by formidable marketing franchises like the UFC.
To start I have to bring up one of the people that had a big influence in my martial arts, the man who was my first mentor, my martial arts “Father”. Before I met him I had trained in a few martial arts — a little Muay Thai, a little Judo and a little Aikido, mostly learned from friends; the one I had the most formal training in was Tang Soo Do — I just loved to kick.
I was hanging out with a buddy when I saw a poster on a telephone pole with a picture of a guy kicking. It read, “Korean Karate Demonstration, Master Tae Hee Lee (Yi) 6th Dan Black Belt, Tae Kwon Do”.
I walked into the crowded high school gym and could see a bunch of guys in the middle of the floor in white uniforms. They were excited, nervous. Off to the side, standing in front of a folding table, was an Asian man reading over some notes. His uniform was slightly different, it had black trim around the edges. There was an International Tae Kwon Do Federation patch over his heart and a tiger patch on the other side. (Later I found out that it was a ROK Marine Tiger Division patch and that he had returned from a 3 year tour in Vietnam where he was the Field Combat Tae Kwon Do instructor for the Korean Special Forces.) This man’s face was chiseled and he wore a goatee. He had a very different attitude. He was calm and focused. He looked friendly yet not particularly approachable.
Over the next hour he and his small group of students demonstrated his martial art, jumping, kicking, sparring, breaking wood. When Master Lee’s students would hit the pine boards, they would often break. When he hit them, they would just explode. At 5’7” and 129 lbs, Master Lee was (and still is) one of the most formidable martial artists I had ever seen. One word came to my mind: warrior. My teacher had appeared.
I mention all this because as devastating of a Martial Artist that he was, he was equally as kind, honorable and gentle. He would often show up at the Dojang in a suit, looking more like a pleasant businessman than a warrior. And he didn’t want us dressing or acting like, what he would call, “gangsters”. Sometimes, he would show one of his gangster wannabe students how tough they weren’t, to keep them in line. He believed that Martial Arts training was mostly for people who needed it for confidence and self defense. He believed that family members of all ages should be able to participate and get the many benefits that Martial Arts training has to offer.
Master Lee also did not like sport karate too much. He would say, ”It’s OK but… this jumping around hitting 15- 20 times is not real Martial Arts. Hit one time and pinished. (Koranglish for ‘finished’) Maybe make a mistake – hit two time – that’s it!.”
So this is the man who had a major influence on how I believe Martial Arts should be taught. To teach a serious Martial Art with serious self defense skills. To continually strive to live the tenets, COURTESY, INTEGRITY PERSERVERANCE, SELF CONTROL, INDOMITIBLE SPIRIT. To develop compassion for others and to help others when able.
MMA, as entertaining to watch as it might be, does not always represent these qualities. However, one of the things I appreciate about MMA is that it brings to the public eye the importance of fitness and how Martial Fitness can be an amazing way to get in great shape.