It has become fashionable to debate the merits of each martial art. This is a pass time as old as martial arts themselves, but YouTube seems to have provided something of a resurgence. It was during a chance search through YouTube that the Joe Rogan Show gave pause for concern. Joe Rogan made two observations about martial arts: firstly he conflated Tai Chi and Wing Chun; and secondly he called them inadequate in the face of other martial arts, such as wrestling. This was all a little dispiriting, as Joe seems to know what he is talking about – except for the conflating thing. Joe claimed that Wing Chun would be unable to deal with true aggression. This was in response to his commentary on a MMA vs. Tai Chi fight – I have referred to this previously in MMA vs. Tai Chi: the story of master Wei Lei and Xu Xiaodong.
The thing about comparing martial art forms is that it is very much like comparing an artist’s brushes. [This might romanticise the martial arts slightly more than is justified, but let’s stick with the analogy.] Different brushes benefit different effects, as martial arts have more or less value depending on the situation, but ultimately success or failure remains in the hand of the artist. A fight is between two men does depend solely on a technique. It is not sufficient to say that a man expert in Judo will defeat a man expert in Karate. Nothing is so clear-cut.
MMA has acted as an advertisement and training ground for the martial arts, but it has also led to a slight distortion in people’s perception of what constitutes a worthwhile martial art. I have no doubt whatsoever at the quality of the athletes, though it is a contest and as such occurs in a specific environment. In early Chinese martial arts contests, combat would take place on a raised podium with no walls. The idea behind this was that if wall existed, then this would serve as a place to entrap an opponent and thus influence the effectiveness of different styles. The closed environment, padded floor and gloves, do have some dictate on what is perceived as effective.
But then again, I might be taking Joe Rogan’s criticism a little too seriously. I heard him also criticise Aikido, because he felt it had developed as a weapon of last resort to an unarmed samurai. Aikido could be used in an attempt to disarm an opponent, if a samurai found himself without a weapon. I’m not sure quite how the efficacy of a martial art can be judged by its origin, but guess what a samurai would much rather have had a sword than use Karate or Judo either. The unarmed martial arts originated by their nature as of last resort.
I always find these arguments over the efficacy of a martial art slightly suspect. It’s a prideful “hey, my martial art is better than yours,” which is never likely to meet with a warm reception. A martial art is really a personal expression; it might work for one and not for another. I think my number one take away though, is let’s not conflate Wing Chun and Tai Chi, they’re pretty distinct.