In the 1970s the popularity of Bruce Lee exploded in cinemas and subsequently the popularity of martial arts grew exponentially. But before that, finding a martial arts club was next to impossible and enthusiasts had little choice but to practice in small gyms or halls with just a handful of friends. You needed to have an “in” to access these training groups and if you didn’t, you weren’t likely to find somewhere to learn or train. Bruce Lee revealed the speed, excitement, and power that this sport represents and the world was forever changed.
Indeed, martial arts gyms started popping up everywhere. Everybody wanted to be Bruce Lee, but nobody seemed to understand the years of dedicated training required to achieve his level of skill. Nevertheless, martial arts schools, specifically karate schools were seen in a different light. Instead of secret backstreet gyms, karate schools became established and respected. You could train in school or church gyms, and competition between schools became fierce. Western culture was enamoured with the sport and it boomed.
Still, this instant boom faced the fate of most fads and interest in martial arts was bound to fade. The commitment required to become an expert was too much for most. Membership in martial arts gyms dwindled so that only the most serious practitioners remained. Schools were still common, and the sport maintained a level of respect so that it could slowly and surely rebuild its following. And then, in 1984 The Karate Kid hit the cinemas.
The film was a fairly simple story. A boy, who was new to town, struggled to find his place. He was bullied and ostracized until he met an unassuming Japanese janitor. Mr. Miyagi was more than a janitor, he was a karate master and he took this young man under his wing. Rigorous, disciplined training ensued and by the end of the film the boy had found a girlfriend and overcame his bullies. The status of martial arts resurged.
Today, all styles are practiced. While karate continues to be the most well-known form of the sport, taekwondo, judo, kung fu, jiu jitsu, and kickboxing are also regularly practiced throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Moreover, the emergence of mixed martial arts (MMA) seems to suggest a successful future for the sport. There are many traditional styles, but the sport continues to grow and evolve. For every new style, we can see a new generation of enthusiasts who want to learn self-defense and self-discipline while improving their fitness. But it is about more than physical health. It teaches respect for yourself and others as well as confidence. It can help you become a happier, more well-rounded individual.