Years ago, while watching videos of Kung Fu practitioners sparring against each other, I noticed that many of these arts tended to look like kickboxing during sparring. Sometimes this was a rather rough transition. At other times, depending on the art, it was more seamless.
My take on this is that some of these arts are difficult to apply in real-time against a resisting opponent due to the manner in which they are traditionally trained. Some arts have footwork and stances that may only works under certain rare conditions. Others, due to training with insufficient resistance, fail to acquaint their practitioners with the proper approaches to apply them in real-time in a self-defense or combat sport situation. Others styles have strayed from the combative and reside firmly within the realm of the ritualisitc–wherein the combat theory of the art becomes a matter of religious conviction and the mythic history of the art’s past glories and champions becomes the basis of its legitimacy as a fighting art, rather than the ability of its living practitioners to “show and prove” that their progenitors’ skills are alive and well in the current generation. Some stylists train to fight against low-skilled opponents and are unable to apply their training against high-level opponents. Finally, too many arts only train against practitioners of the same style. This may not be a problem if the parameters of one’s fighting (in tournaments or in the street) is limited to one’s fellow practitioners of this same art. However, it become an altogether more complicated matter when faced with stylists of other arts with which one may have limited familiarity.
My thoughts are that this problem of translation, that is of transiting from training to combat, can only be satisfied by building the combative into one’s training–that is of (1) training with varying degrees of resistance, (2) by regularly sparring against various styles or approaches to fighting, and (3) of relinquishing doctrinaire mindsets that prevents one from thinking critically or analytically about one’s art, its combat theory, its strengths and weaknesses.
Interestingly enough, those arts renowned for their effectiveness, particularly in the context of sport, such as Western Boxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling, or Judo reflect the principle of training in a manner that approximates combat application. This is achieved via training with varying degrees of resistance. These arts are key parts of the skill set of mixed martial artists due to their interoperability with and effectiveness against other styles. Finally, these arts’ histories evidence various changes and adaptations over time as new knowledge and technique came into play. It is not to say that this has not occurred in many other traditional arts, but often quasi-religious commitments prevent such adaptation. However, where it has taken place, such arts continue to demonstrate their relevance as combat arts.