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Mass Marketing of the Martial Arts

 

by Christopher Dow

As with almost every aspect in the world today, mass marketing has touched even the martial arts. This situation developed through history in a steady progression—like life itself—from single-celled organisms to creatures as complex as humans, though perhaps not quite human. But before we look at the sorry state of affairs that now is beginning to manifest in the martial arts, let’s take a look at the history and follow the development of martial arts marketing from the olden days until the present. I’ll focus mainly on Tai Chi because that’s what I practice and the martial art I know the most about. But many other martial arts have followed a similar progression.

The history of the formalized martial arts in general—as with the specific origins of many martial arts styles—is steeped in the fogs of time that obscure and confound all but the most prominent details. But we can organize the martial artists of then, as now, into several categories: 1) those trained by the military, law enforcement, or bodyguard services, 2) those trained in Buddhist and Taoist temples, 3) those trained in schools or in traditional family arts, 4) those who are criminals, and 5) those who are lone, singular, or itinerate martial artists. The idea here is not to distinguish particular types of training, though such things must be mentioned. Nor is it to assign a ranking of the relative qualities of the different martial arts categories and styles—an impossibility, anyway. A great martial artist might be a criminal, but he’s still a great martial artist. Instead, we’ll look at the methods that these types of martial artists have used over the centuries to promote their art and, sometimes, earn a living at teaching it.

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