Morality and Martial Arts

Martial Arts Experience

My brother and I have been actively training in martial arts since 1988.  Since then, we’ve studied in depth a variety of styles including Shotokan Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Wing Chun Kung Fu, wrestling, Muay Thai Kickboxing, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Having started off in traditional marts arts (TMA) and then transitioning in to more modern martial arts, we’ve had the opportunity to see differences not only with fighting techniques but also in philosophical differences (in terms of principles taught (morality and martial arts) in relation to the curriculum).


As we trained in Shotokan Karate and Tae Kwon Do in particular, an emphasis was placed on teaching tenets/principles in each class. Respect, honor, and discipline were among the many principles that were taught in class along with the techniques.  Then as we began training in the more modern arts (i.e. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) immediately we began seeing difference compared to the traditional arts. Two important differences stuck out for us right away.  First, the modern style placed a heavy emphasis on the importance of being an effective fighting style.  Case in point, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was originally developed as a way for the Gracie family to showcase their style as the most effective in real combat.  Secondly, there was no emphasis placed on teachings of a morality code.  However, it is our understanding that Gracie Jiu Jitsu had a defined code of ethics especially for its instructors.  In our years of visiting and training at other academies and participating in seminars, rarely ever did an instructor teach any principles of morality.  There very well could be many Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academies that incorporate teachings of morality codes on a regular basis, but they are few and far between based on our experiences.

Traditional Martial Arts vs. Modern (Combat) Arts

Traditionally, martial arts were defined as fighting arts that originated in Asia that had moral codes in which the art’s philosophy was a way of life and that one would train in the physical, mental and spiritual ways of the art.  Some would argue that if you did not train in all three aspects you were not considered a complete martial artist.  More modern forms of combat like boxing and wrestling were therefore not considered martial arts.  The definition of martial arts has slowly changed over the last decade with the emergence of mixed martial arts worldwide. More and more fighting arts are being recognized as martial arts even without the existence of a morality code.  With the change, modern martial arts are popping up everywhere as practitioners change traditional arts, adding or taking away techniques and giving it a new name.  By providing these changes the modern martial arts philosophy is more about survival, whether in the street or in the cage.   Many martial arts purists would argue that many modern martial artists aren’t martial artists but are rather highly skilled technicians of martial arts techniques.

Modern Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

The question that stands is do you feel the style you train in should be considered a martial art at all?  If you are a “mixed martial artist” that trains in muay thai, wrestling, and jiu jitsu for example should you be considered a martial artist?  Mixed Martial Artists definitely have many of the same qualities of their traditional counter parts such as perseverance, dedication, hardwork, discipline, and so on.  However, do they necessarily have the other moral codes (i.e. honor, respect, etc.) associated with traditional martial arts?


Pendergrass Academy of Martial Arts teaches Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai Kickboxing for kids and adults in Wake Forest, NC. For information about our academy you may visit or call us at 919-819-1908.

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