MMA vs Tradition – Part 4

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This is “Part 4” and final article in the series titled, “MMA vs Tradition”, examining the contrast between the recently popular Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) phenomenon and Traditional Martial Arts. I hope this series has been stimulating and enlightening. Please leave a comment giving your feedback, questions, or opinions. I look forward to continued discussions.

Shihan Pascetta - Cover of Banzai Magazine - Italia circa 1978


And last, there is always the risk in any martial arts training that the “Master”, “trainer”, or “coach” will develop individuals with functional physical skills but without the value system that must rightly be followed if the practitioner is to “survive” in society after any potential physical confrontation. Remember that in a civilized society, there are legal and social repercussions after a physical confrontation.

Many “traditional” martial arts systems address this thoroughly and systematically. Unfortunately, many, so called, “mixed martial arts” systems fall quite short in this area.

While there are those individuals who already have strong moral values and character coming into such practice, there are many more who appear to be more focused on the “macho” (“I can kick anyone’s butt.”) mentality more akin to the “entertainment sport” of professional wrestling than in “martial arts”.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that any aspiring martial artist should consider developing a foundation of skills in one system to begin with. Although there are exceptions, this is a seminal process that typically takes 3-5 years of serious study and practice, assuming you have a legitimate teacher.

The time needed can be paralleled with the 4 years needed to achieve a “Bachelor Degree” in any academic field. It is amazing that our youth can attend a 4 year study in a legitimate college, finish with the recognition that they still  have very limited practical work skills, yet seem to expect to have enough physical,  intellectual, emotional, and spiritual skills in much less time to defend their very lives. WOW!

Along with the physical skills should be included a value system that goes beyond self centered, selfish ends. I believe that this level of discipline is indispensable for success on both personal defense and in everyday life. Anything short of this would designate a much more limited study of martial technique or martial science, not “martial arts”.


Further, particularly if that person is attracted to the more “progressive” and allegedly “practical” aspects of the martial arts then he/she should be cautioned to seek out instructors/Masters who have truly honed their arts. Qualification is not necessarily measured accurately by how many “trophies” or “titles’ they have won nor “war stories” of valorous “street fights”. These accolades should certainly be taken into account but with a grain of scrutiny (i.e. many such “Titles” are achieved within a much more limited framework than the “Title” sometimes suggests while many alleged “war stories” seem to “grow” significantly after the fact).

Not to take away from such real accomplishments, however, the real test is in observing the mentor’s own life, his overall successes as well as his failures. Both are valuable but be aware that sometimes more is learned from an occasional failure than from success. This history will be a much better barometer as to what to expect from any alleged “Master” or “professional coach”.

Further, it is also significant to distinguish between someone who is an excellent athlete and an excellent teacher (someone who has the skill set and dedication to develop the student into becoming an excellent and skilled practitioner). If one sincerely wishes to maximize their own development they should search for a “shepherd”, not a “wolf”.  Remember that the shepherd is someone who protects and leads the sheep, someone who may put himself at risk to save the sheep. In contrast, a wolf is someone who preys on the sheep, hunts them down, and eats them!

This “shepherd” characteristic is a critical prerequisite in finding a legitimate Master teacher. He will have a history of putting the interests of his students ahead of his own.  He will have a history of developing individuals who have the potential to surpass his own accomplishments, not be limited by them. He will have a balance between legitimate confidence and prudent humility. His instruction will be about student development, not primarily self aggrandizement.

It has been my finding and conclusion that it takes a much broader understanding of human development along with significant martial skills to function well as a martial arts “Master”.  Such may well be a lifelong study and until then perhaps it is more beneficial to his/her students that such an “aspiring master” should continue his/her own study under the supervision and direction of someone who has been proven to achieve such experience, skill, and insight.

Measure the “Master” by the quality of the students. Measure not only the physical quality but also the students’ comprehension of principles and techniques, along with their appropriate emotional stability, and moral responsibility. Note that I stated: “students” not student.

Anyone by chance and good fortune might develop a physically talented or aggressive individual student. To achieve such quality with average students consistently is a more realistic indicator. The “Master” who can consistently develop excellent and balanced students out of the most average individuals, who can enhance those students’ characters, one who can selflessly point them toward a flexible blueprint for success in life is truly worthy of the term, “Martial Arts Master” and would likely be a worthy mentor.

Good luck in your quest.


(Go back to  PART 3 of this series)

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One Comment

  • Steve Phillips says:

    Hey Sensei – I moved down to the Myrtle Beach area about 8 years ago and was operating a dojo down here (The dojo was only open at night). I had started my school teaching stricktly GoJu and then spent six years studying Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. The mixed martial arts events were legalized in North Carolina about 4 years ago and I had structured some of my classes to accomodate many people knocking on my door to get into Mixed Martial Arts.

  • Steve Phillips says:

    I started many students with fighting in the cage (and even fought myself) in which many learned to throw their first punch and learn their first arm bar from me. I raised many like they were my own bringing them to jiu-jitsu tournaments and cagefights while sacrificing many hours to help them get better. I even allowed some who had financial difficulty to train for free. Well a local gym owner with absolutely no martial arts experience who has two mega gym facilities got into some of their ears and opened up a full time 10,000 square foot MMA only training facility with two cages, boxing ring, weights, etc. not far from my facility. He hired several of the guys that I invested time and money in to teach the techniques that they learned from me. All of the students have apologized time and time again but apologies do not pay the rent.

  • Steve Phillips says:

    My school has had trouble making the rent and I will now be relocating to one of our local gyms. Guess what? My GoJu students are still loyal and will be going with me. Many of my MMA students are gone but my GoJu students remain loyal. I have found that many of the mixed martial artists do not have the same values that many of the traditional students have learned. I had run two parallel programs – one that contained all of the traditions of our GoJu system and one that was geared towards the mixed martial arts aspect. I have found that it has been more rewarding helping the average person become a better person with my traditional program that it has spending many hours away from my family in the gym with other students who use you and walk away at what appears to be a better deal. Dealing with the traditional students have been half the work and twice the money.

  • Steve Phillips says:

    I have learned a lesson the hard way. So if anyone is thinking about changing from a tradtional school to a MMA training facility or even running a dual program think about the potential outcome first. By the way several students that left have told me that they are not happy with their training since they have left. They have inquired about coming back to me and I advised them that I no longer teach MMA.

  • Steve Phillips says:

    Hey Sensei – I appreciate the feedback that you have provided. In life it seems that we never stop learning even from our old Masters.

    Osu, Steve Phillips

    • rpascetta says:

      Thank you, Steve.

      In actuality we never stop learning. If we stop learning then we begin to move toward death. The fact is that the comments you shared inspired the present articles, "MMA – the GOOD, the BAD, and the UGLY", Part 1 & 2. Your comments and experience simply reinforced the validity opinions of many serious martial artists who question the impact of this recent popular various of martial technique. I hope that our discussion may provide a clearer view and an accurate evaluation for those who may not have fully grasps the language they may need to explain this phenomenon. But regardless, those who are committed to principle will see this latest fad as a challenge to review and scrutinize their own perspective on martial arts. As long as they do so in a logical and thorough manner, that will only serve to improve us all and benefit our students.