I saw a segment on MMA in our area. Not familiar with MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)? There are two sides to MMA, the bouts we see on TV and the training side (for individuals and families). Certainly, we all know the martial arts have a history spanning centuries and cultures. The martial arts play a key role in defining certain cultures, and not just Japan, China and Brazil. However rich and long this history, MMA (a branding of the arts) as a spectator and participatory activity has without question transformed martial arts. The transformative aspects of MMA on martial arts offer great lessons for other arts, including music.
While the cage fight side of MMA takes center stage on Pay Per View (PPV), MMA has created a resurgence of interest in the study of martial arts. Look at the success of one school in State College PA (2500 facebook fans, tons of programs, teachers, classes, clothing lines and more). What can music programs learn from martial arts? Well....read on.
I am in no way involved in martial arts. Maybe there's a side of me that has always wanted to learn a martial art, but, I have never explored this path. What I do see though, is a model for involvement that works. There are several key components to the martial arts "model" that I believe music programs can embrace. By doing so, I believe we can help those sitting on the musical ropes take a step toward the center of the ring.
Five martial arts program characteristics to learn from.
1.) Community is Key: Too often, we depend on schools to teach everything to kids. Fact...they can't. What if the only place kids could learn martial arts was in gym class? Would we have an upward national trend in involvement in martial arts? I think not. Like the schools linked above, community centers, gyms and training centers in our towns and cities are best equipped to provide high quality experiences. Not just for kids either. Community based, pay to play and learn programs, bring in the masses, of all ages and abilities, backgrounds and lifestyles. Martial arts programs even manage to get past the brutality of the MMA cage fights to attract families to the classes.
2.) Mind and Body Unite: Martial arts employee the mind and body in all aspects. A friend of mine, Rich Maye, is an amazing Ju-Jitsu practitioner. He is also one smart guy. A few years ago, I went with him to a class he was teaching at the Y to take some photos. I was simply blown away with how strategy and the power of the mind was stressed in gaining an advantage over an opponent. Watching Rich submit an opponent, seemingly effortlessly, was amazing. He later told me how your own strength can be a weakness, especially when you don't know how to apply it.
3.) Learning, Practicing and Performing As One: Attend any martial arts class and you see an amazing instructional event. Students learn, practice and perform all in one session. The group is a powerful aspect of the learning, but when it comes down to demonstrating your skills, opportunities for one on one and on your own demonstrations....those methods are key. Throughout martial arts classes, these are enjoyed, and not really optional.
4.) Failure is Expected and Valued: To have fought with skill and determination while following the guidance of your instructor is victory. These are values taught through martial arts. Participants sweat, strain and get hurt. They show their mental and physical abilities and weaknesses. When class is over, those who submitted walk out with heads high....not forced, proud.
5.) Dynasties Embrace Transformation: Centuries of martial arts history have not been tossed aside at the expense of MMA. In fact, an appreciation for that history comes along with the reinvention of this participatory art. Now, teachers must excel in multiple arts. Students will learn to recognize the arts by style and purpose. When doing so, they learn of cultures and values beyond their own and to a breadth not addressed in the past. The MMA "movement" has in my mind, demonstrated the true value of rethinking the oldest of arts, packaging them into a modern iteration to ensure a continued legacy.
I'll leave you to think about what each of these characteristics can do for your music programs. The challenge is on us to create programs that mirror those that grew from the exposure to martial arts created by MMA. From my seat, community based programs that stress learning, practice and performance, for all ages, where the mind and body are equally important to improving the art are paramount to ensuring musical arts continue their living legacy.
Now...back in the ring!