Currently I go to an MMA gym (Muay Thai with BJJ). After a couple years, I always ponder about going to a traditional school. Just curious what are the benefits of going to a traditional martial arts school (TKD, Karate, Kungfu) my friends always ask me? I think they work more on form/kata, if anyone knows any other reasons feel free to respond.
MMA tends to focus on competition and involves a lot of full contact sparring. While this certainly is preferable when it comes to training for actual fighting competence, it has its limits. One of the main drawbacks is that with higher age, the impact this has on the body adds up to pathological statuses (esp. cartilage and joint damages in knee and hip, potentially brain damage). But there are other aspects:
1. Self-defense against weapons (and cheap shots)
While MMA should produce competent hand-to-hand fighters, what is completely missing is giving an idea of how to handle weapon attacks. Thus, depending on what traditional martial arts (TMA) you have in mind, it can be beneficial if your goal is self-defense. The same applies to the training of handling cheap shots (groins, eyes, others), which usually become a blind spot for those who train for sports competition, however applicable in self-defense the skills are otherwise.
2. Recreational sports up to a high age
While BJJ as an isolated martial art allows for that, the focus on competition and sparring in MMA won't let you do this forever. Your body will eventually tell you to stop. TMA generally offer forms of training and aspects to work on up to a very high age, retaining the health benefits of sportive activity without having to let go of the general fighting context.
3. Holistic concepts as a way of life
TMA tend to involve some kind of worldview which involves moral and other concepts that aim towards making you a better person, not just a better fighter. In fact, that is the reason why Jigoro Kano named his art Ju-Do, where Do means "the way [of life]": to highlight that it aims at forming the person as a whole, not a competent fighter only.
4. Balancing of physical and psychological abilities and well-being
I omitted the problematic word "spiritual" on purpose, as this may sound too esoteric. If we look at it from utilitarian perspectives, even the chi concepts of kung-fu do only aim to achieve physical and psychological balance via meditation and other practices. This may be part of good MMA schools as well, but it is part of the DNA of TMA, even though sometimes intertwined with religious connotations.
I’ll just add one more answer to the other good ones that are already here.
Regardless of their effectiveness for self-defense or fighting, traditional martial arts give students a path towards progress. Students can see themselves getting better at whatever it is their martial art has to offer.
That’s actually what attracts and keeps many if not most students. The actual material being learned is unimportant when seen that way. It can be anything. And when it comes to traditional martial arts, it can be all kinds of different, plausible sounding theories, each having varying degrees of real world effectiveness.
Most TMA don’t teach fighting. For that, you need to fight and fight often. What they do teach are theories which are embodied in the techniques, forms, drills, and other training methods. And those are things you can learn and improve in over time.
It’s that continuous improvement that would be something most people could look at and decide they’ll join up and see how far they can get.
Like I don’t do Taekwondo anymore. I have a black belt in it, though. And every now and then I think to myself how much fun it would be to get back into it and start gaining my physical abilities back over time. Things like speed, flexibility, kicking techniques, being able to reliably hit a precise location with my kicks, winning at sparring, and not gassing out so quickly. That stuff I could totally get better at with practice and hard work. It would be very rewarding having some of my old abilities and my old body back.
Hope that helps.
Parallel to Philip's answer, another major draw is culture. Most TMAs are tied to a particular country and culture. You will learn, and often practice, the traditions and language of another culture. In some styles, such as Capoeira, you will even learn to play and sing the music of the culture, as it's integral to the practice of the art. I'm not going to argue that the MMA community doesn't have a culture of its own, but it is one that, in some ways, lacks those deep roots of being tied to a particular country or society.