In the 1970's and 80's martial arts were riding high, largely on the coattails of Bruce Lee's popularity. Since then there has been a lot of change within the M.A. community, but little growth in general popularity. On the other hand, yoga has built steadily on foundations laid in the 80's and 90's and now has an unprecedented reputation. Part of this is its appeal to women, as opposed to the heavy testosterone atmosphere of the dojo.
Another reason is the organizational skills behind yoga, which resemble in some ways the early growth of Japanese and particularly Korean arts. Bikram, Ashtanga and Iyengar are known for their individual styles, though each is basically a form of Hatha. Just yesterday I heard a good example of yoga's explosive growth from a student of Deepak Chopra. Apparently only two years ago he began certifying teachers in his personal method at his academy in southern California, and today there are over 700 teachers worldwide. Classes can be found not only in major metropolitan areas but in resorts as well, so people can keep up with their practice while vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, or become exposed to the art there and then continue when they get home.
Contrast this with the FMA, which have been called "the next big thing" in martial arts since the mid-1980's. While FMA has undoubtedly spread, it has never achieved any sort of widespread recognition on its own merits. Furthermore, the historic secrecy of these arts, combined with the desire to closely control the information, has kept most schools small and local. Serrada is a good example. While Deepak Chopra has developed 700 teachers in 2 years, how many teachers have several generations of Serrada practitioners produced in the last 20?
Don't think Chopra has made it easy. Students train 10-12 hours a day in his program, split between several hours of yoga practice, studying anatomy and Ayurvedic medicine, and beginning with 2 one-hour sessions of meditation daily, build up to four hours per day. This is a highly focused and disciplined approach, yet people clamor to get in.
Certainly it helps that he's a best selling author, and as a doctor has strong credentials. As an ethnic Indian he has the feel of authenticity to draw in those seeking wisdom from the East. On the other hand, he also made a commitment to building an organization to spread his message that is generally lacking in martial arts, or where there is the will to do so, other factors such as lack of business acumen or excessive ego hinder such development.
Martial arts are not lacking in similar potential. The popularity of Tai Chi for health shows it crosses that bridge, and many Aikidoists are drawn to their art for the spiritual orientation associated there. What is lacking is the broader commitment to creating a holistic lifestyle, one that calms the mind and heals the body, along with the singular benefit of providing potential life-saving skills. There are few martial arts program that demand - and receive - the widespread dedication of these yoga organizations. Their secular yoga classes are full, as are the more spiritual ashrams. In contrast, how many martial art teachers are struggling to pay rent, running classes with only a handful of students? Sure, there are martial arts camps and seminars, but are there waiting lists to get in? Where is the buzz?!!
Taekwondo is a notable exception, and that style is famous for the support of a national government for its international organizations. Similar to yoga, there is both an infrastructure for steady growth, and a focus on building inner discipline and character in students. If there is draw for Westerners in Eastern wisdom, it is perhaps found there, in developing those qualities no longer demanded by the institutions of our culture. Our schools don't teach it, families don't demand it. The void many people feel within themselves is filled with pop culture and junk food, until they have enough and seek alternative paths to nourish mind and body.
The challenge for martial arts is to become relevant to people's needs, not just a fad or a bandage for insecurities. Perhaps if there has been a failure of leadership in this community, it reflects the deeper martial culture's distrust of others. While yoga focuses on unity, martial arts is more often about overcoming adversity. Certainly the knowledge and skills to bring forth a similar message are an integral part of the art, but it is elusive and hidden at higher levels of understanding and skill. Beginners rely on strength to oppose others; it takes time and experience to learn to blend one's energy with that of others to achieve results, and then introspection to see how this applies to other areas besides physical combat.
Perhaps if the arts were able to show the soft hidden within the hard sooner, more people would be drawn in, perceiving the balance they desire. Instructors need to know not just the mechanics of their style, but how to talk about the inner game. It has often been said that a master knows not just how to destroy, but how to heal. Many people have wounds which cannot be seen on the outside. When martial arts can show a path for healing within, there is less need to rely on the brute strength of destruction towards the world. This is the meaning of the traditional kung-fu salute, the fist within the palm of the open other hand; sword within the sheath, power tempered by knowledge. The most important knowledge is not how to conquer others, but how to conquer oneself. The world is a mirror, and when we find inner peace, we also see less conflict on the outside. The less fear with have within, the more options we find available for dealing with the stress of living.