Sunday, July 7, 2013

Nationalism and Martial Arts

               Those who watched the Silva vs. Weidman fight last night were treated to some odd happenings. Chief among them was the major upset of Silva losing to Weidman in the second round. There was also the notorious showboating and taunting that Silva is known for, though I think he took it to a new level.

               What I found most odd about the fight was the crowd's reaction to Weidman winning.  As Weidman lifted the American flag over his head portions of the crowd began chanting 'USA! USA!". Personally, I was one of the louder spectators, cheering as I saw Silva go down, but it never occurred to me to see Weidman's win as one more point for the good old USA. It felt eerie; the droning chant, the US flag held upside down. It gave me the feeling that some of the people present were headed away from patriotism, toward nationalism. When I say nationalism I mean: excessive or fanatical devotion to a nation and its interests, often associated with a belief that one country is superior to all others

               What place does nationalism have in martial arts? If we look back twenty, thirty years, the martial arts world was a different place. Martial arts were separate and distinct, usually being associated with a particular nations or geographic region. A bias that had the same flavor as nationalism was present in many schools. Bruce Lee's films were known to highlight his use of Chinese boxing against western boxing thugs.

                I experienced this to some extent as a young man growing up in Montana. The only real martial art that was practiced in my town was wrestling, and only at the high school level. Because we were so isolated all wrestlers had an inherent arrogance when it came to their ability to fight. They saw boxers as pushovers, Jiu-jitsu as 'gay', and any martial arts that utilized kicks as stupid (because they'd be taken down easily). This faulty worldview was helped along by the early success of some wrestlers in the UFC using ground and pound tactics. My illusions of wrestling's superiority to all other martial arts was shattered when I began training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and other striking arts.

               For anyone who is a follower of MMA competitions, I think many of these feelings have been dispelled. With such an open rules system, what works in physical combat is kept, while what doesn't work falls into obscurity. The lines are not drawn so think anymore. Everyone trains a grappling art, everyone trains take downs, everyone trains striking. Where the punch, armbar, or double leg originated from is becoming less and less important.

               Though people are losing their fanatical support for certain martial arts styles, many still cling to the country of origin of fighters. This is obvious when GSP fights in Canada, or any Brazilian fights in Brazil. It may have something to do with the collective wanting to share in the victory.

               An example: Weidman won, Weidman is American, America won, I’m American, I won.  

               I feel connected to the fighters, not because of ethnicity, nationality or martial arts styles, but because they are martial artists. I have that connection whereas many people who do not train regularly, don't. As far as ideals and desires go, I probably have more in common with a Brazilian martial artists than I have in common with most Americans. The fights are there so that I can witness whatever truth comes out of the fight. The truth that was presented to me last night was that if you drop your hands and act silly long enough, you'll get knocked out, eventually.

               But back to nationalistic feelings and fighters. I feel more connected to people based on shared disciplines, rather than our shared country of origin. I feel connected to anyone who is struggling and working hard at becoming what they want to be. I wonder if more people focused on bettering themselves through disciplines, if nationalism might fade away. Then perhaps we could start seeing everyone as human beings, not as American, Iranian, Ugandan, or Brazilian.

              Quick word on logistics. I've changed the comment section so anyone can post. I'd love to hear what anyone has to say on this subject.

1 comment:

  1. "An example: Weidman won, Weidman is American, America won, I’m American, I won. "

    Honestly, outside of the Olympics or any sport where there are true, nation-based teams, I find this a little sad. I heard about the "USA" chanting and was curious what was up with that. Now I doubt that it was anything good. It's just more proof that some fans really don't get what's going on in the octagon...I won't say that I do since I only come to MMA when a BJJ fighter I like is out there, but if the physical location of someone's birth is the biggest connection someone can find...well I question how well they understand the concept of the fights in the first place.

    I will say though, that I don't know of many other popular sports where there is no clear team/country to cheer for (maybe cycling?), so I'm guessing that fans just really have never learned how to connect with an individual like MMA encourages.

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