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Questioning the art of MMA

There are people who greeted the news of MMA's licensure in Ontario with terrific enthusiasm, and then there are those who would prefer to keep the dust settled on their antiquated ideas of sports and entertainment. An editorial by Morgan Duchesney in the Ottawa Citizen falls into the latter category.

As a "licensed karate instructor," Duchesney doesn't take the McCain tack of characterizing MMA as civilization's great ruin. He just doesn't believe there's anything artful about it.

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Who says mixed martial artists can't learn spiritual lessons and make a decent living, as Bruce Lee (also known as Green Hornet sidekick Kato) did?

"While many MMA competitors are experienced and introspective martial artists, I have not witnessed much martial arts philosophy in MMA beyond good sportsmanship and camaraderie among the athletes," Duchesney writes. "Winning and earning money and glory seem to be the ultimate goals, not following an inner journey of introspection toward personal enlightenment or satori." Martial arts, he adds, is about spiritual development, not paychecks.

Duchesney's mistake is placed right in his own copy: Seem to be is hardly an absolute, and there is no reasonable method for determining whether a fighter experiences a philosophical change from his study or whether he simply wants fame and material things. Even a grunt like Brock Lesnar -- who hardly represents the stoic and introspective manner popularized by Bruce Lee -- can't objectively be labeled a mercenary. He made millions from wrestling; he chose fighting because it carried a psychological benefit for him. He also seems to despise his fame.

But let's assume some athletes are exactly that: bounty hunters. Should the motivations of one segment of an industry represent all of it? Several of the athletes who wound up making a small fortune entered the sport at a time when they would have been lucky to keep up a car payment. Chuck Liddell's debut predated sanctioning in Nevada by three years; Georges St. Pierre debuted several years prior to "The Ultimate Fighter" indirectly making a lot of people very, very rich. If they got into fighting for money at that time, their brain damage was already significant.

Jiu-jitsu -- a cornerstone of the sport -- is almost more religion than martial art, with many grapplers taking spiritual lessons from concepts they've applied on the mat. Does fighting for money somehow negate that language? Can Duchesney verify that these men haven't really received any emotional education?

What someone gets out of martial arts training is entirely personal, and issuing blanket proclamations like Duchesney's is simply arrogant. Of course some athletes are driven only by dollars; likewise, some consider financial security little more than a pleasurable side effect of a career they would have pursued for no pay. (Or close to it.)

As a purist, Duchesney sees the commercialization of these arts as a crude evolution. And when a television camera pans across a bunch of Vegas knobs who appear to have dressed themselves in the dark, it's hard not to concede his point. But the UFC has done more than simply feed the aggressive tendencies of a young demographic -- it's the only place the public is likely to see an expression of honor and respect in the practice of combat.

Example? After calling into question everything from Anderson Silva's black belt to his background, Chael Sonnen still saw Silva bow to him. In 2010, there is no louder or prouder expression of martial arts than in MMA. It's there if you choose to find it.