Can We Update Traditional Martial Arts?

I love all legitimate martial arts.  I ran a Kung Fu school, upholding tradition for over 20 years.  I feel compelled to lead by example because there is so much misinformation from unqualified sources saying what is useful and what is not. 

kungfutpWhat is Kung Fu and what makes a system relevant or irrelevant can be answered only by a master.  You don’t need to wear silk outfits and wear sashes to be doing real Kung Fu.  You don’t need fans on the wall, a weapons rack and Sun Toi (alter) in the training area for it to be authentic.  Kung Fu was never meant for the masses; it was never designed for mass consumption.  It was designed to be relevant for the times.  


It’s a gift few people will ever experience or acquire.

The most important step is finding and training with a real master.  The master can set you on the path; this path can only be traveled by the practitioner.  Whether training in a hallway, in the park, in a backyard, wether wearing jeans, shorts or sweat pants makes no difference.  Kung Fu does not exist in movies and magazines – it exists in the practitioner.

Old school is the best school, but it’s important to stay relevant.  The answer is always on the floor. Sometimes you must take from the past to be relevant; other times from today’s technology.  

For those martial arts teachers who are running schools, are they “selling out” by not changing or adding the missing pieces in their system?  Do they choose to leave their system unaltered as they learned it because of dogma or because they are afraid to lose students, or do they truly believe that what they do works?  

Are they “selling out” by making changes to further develop the system?  Martial arts have developed over centuries by masters who modified their system to keep it relevant.  Times change, weapons change, and some things never change.  

Sometimes the new is a combination of old things.   The major turning points in martial arts history are made by masters who have taken what they learned and added something else to it:

  • 400 years ago the founder of Praying Mantis Kung Fu, Wong Long watched a praying mantis defeat the larger, stronger cicada, and was so impressed that he decided to study these movements. He combined the best of 17 other martial arts styles and the movements of the praying mantis to create Praying Mantis Boxing. 
  • Hou Yuanjia co-founded the Chin Woo Athletic Association, which had a basic curriculum that drew from several styles of martial arts, giving practitioners a well-rounded martial background in addition to whatever they wished to specialize in.  I feel Hou Yuanjia highly influenced Bruce Lee.
  • Bruce Lee created Jeet Kune Do by combining Wing Chun and the best of other martial arts styles. 
  • 10th degree Grandmaster of Kajukenbo John Hackleman created Hawaiian Kempo which is a mixture of Kickboxing, Boxing, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Kempo and Wrestling.  One of John’s top students, Chuck Liddell went on to become a UFC Hall of Famer.  Bruce Lee’s philosophy “use what is useful and discard the rest” is a common theme in Hawaiian Kempo.
  • Iron Mantis is a combination of 7 Star Praying Mantis Kung Fu, Hawaiian Kempo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Sports Performance Training.

Many systems have success due to adapting their system to the times.  The ones who have made a difference in the history of martial arts are those innovators who have been consistent in their training.

Whether you keep it “traditional,” or put the “M” in your “MA,” stay true and relevant to yourself and your students.  Enjoy your training and the time spent with your teachers and students.  

Don’t be a hater: remember to be for and not against.  Lead by example.  

When in doubt talk less and train more.  

Martial arts changes lives for the better, one black belt at a time.

– Sifu Hughes