Traditional Martial Arts?

Pankration fighters on Greek urn Greek urn circa 500 BC, featuring Pankration fighters. The same technique is used in many martial arts today.
Master Choi Yong-Sool

Grandmaster Choi Yong-Sool, founder of Hapkido, demonstrating an inverted arm bar.

A lot of people today talk about “mixed martial arts” as if the skills involved are a new creation. They dismiss “traditional martial arts” as being irrelevant and hidebound.

What are “traditional” martial arts? If “traditional” means dictatorial instructors who treat students like slaves, then I’ll go somewhere else.

If traditional means being dogmatic:-  adhering to techniques that don’t work and never did, but insisting on them because “that’s how it’s always been done,” – then I agree with the MMA folks – I don’t need it.

If traditional means techniques designed for conditions that no longer exist, such as armored opponents wielding swords, then what’s the point? Historical research? I could watch the History Channel.

If traditional means learning forms but never practicing application because no one knows what the forms mean… (*shaking my head*)… life is too short.

As for prostrating to shrines, I’m sorry but I have my own religion.

On the other hand, if traditional means emphasizing respect, character and self-discipline, then count me in. If traditional means combat skills that work on the street and the battlefield (as opposed to the sports ring) then I’m all for it.

The human body is the human body. It hasn’t changed in the last 10,000 years. Fighting techniques developed millenia ago are just as effective today, and often more so as they have been refined over time.

Traditional martial arts ARE martial arts, period. Mixed martial arts are also traditional martial arts – the skills are simply cross-trained and mixed together. Traditional Jujitsu, Hapkido, Karate or whatever are just as relevant as they ever were. But the method of teaching must be flexible and adaptive, not stuck in the past.

One of things I love about Hapkido is its approach to weapons instruction:  cane, belt, knife and staff or short stick. Classical weapons but still practical today.

Do you agree?

Wael Abdelgawad, Founder
Hammerhead Hapkido


  1. I’m a traditional martial artist AND a mixed martial artist. There is no contradiction, and indeed no difference.

  2. Will you be teaching stick fighting in your class.?

    • Hi Paul. Thanks for attending class yesterday and for your other comment on this website. I might incorporate stick fighting at some point in the future, maybe at 2nd degree black belt level. Right now I don’t feel qualified. I have about 3 years of stick experience, so I have a good grasp of the basics. I need a few more years under my belt before teaching it officially. With the knife, on the other hand, I have almost 10 years experience.

      If you have Sunday afternoons free you might consider attending Philip Hartshorne’s Pekiti-Tirsia Kali class, which he teaches at Woodward Park every Sunday at 1 pm. The focus is almost exclusively on stick fighting, with some knife work as well.


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