Question Everything By Jaredd?
“What is a martial art?”
The term martial art is a vague and broad-spectrum term. It is used to apply to a variety of skill sets that come from numerous countries and cultures and have been adapted to different purposes. The connotation of the term is that martial arts are fighting methods from Asia, usually referring to China, Japan, and Korea. Although this is part of the term, it is also a very limited view of martial arts. The general term now includes more styles from more countries, such as Indonesia’s Silat or Arnis from the Philippines. There also has been a resurgence of European fighting styles; many of which were thought to be lost or inexistent. For example, Europe’s Renaissance fencing masters were definitely martial artists. The Native Americans also had martial arts, but almost all of the traits were lost with the decimation of their cultures.
Today, mixed martial arts are a modern example of something that has a definite martial aspect but doesn’t quite fit the connotation of the word. So is it a martial art? Although it involves many different martial skills, it is still a sport that has rules. Judo and Karate-do are both based on battlefield techniques used in Asia’s past, but are now pretty obsolete as far as modern combat is concerned. The use of firearms would be, in the strictest sense, the best example of what a martial art is; however, “gun fu” goes against the general feeling of a martial art. In my opinion, the term “martial art” is general cover word that encompasses three distinct, but not mutually exclusive categories of activities or skills: martial sport, martial ways, and martial systems.
Martial sports are those engagements whose purpose is to win a contest using marital based skills. These include Judo, Olympic Tae Kwon Do, Kendo, Muay Thai, fencing, kickboxing, boxing, wrestling and Brazilian Jujutsu among others. They exist as a form of combat within a specific set rules designed with somewhat safe conditions in mind. Depending of the system of study, the skills learned through these martial sports can translate very easily into self-defense situations; nevertheless, sometimes their sole purpose is just for winning a competition, e.g. fencing. Either way, their goal is the physical training and competition.
On the other hand, martial ways have a different purpose entirely. The goal of these arts is self-improvement. Through dedicated training, these martial arts improve the character of the practitioner. Occasionally, improved health is also a goal under the title of self-improvement. Many internal arts follow this pattern. These are usually derivatives of older combat oriented martial arts. In Japanese martial arts, the “–do” ending indicates a martial way which separates from their “-jutsu” ancestry. Karate-do, Judo, Aikido, and Tai Chi Chuan are good examples of martial ways. Again, self-defense may by a part of the learning process, but it is a side effect, or at least, not the main goal of these martial arts.
Finally, that leaves us with martial systems. These are usually archaic combat-oriented systems where combat effectiveness is the goal, yet these systems still involve only empty handed or melee weapon techniques. They are often from antiquated battlefields, or from combat systems that are now often useless, or at least rarely encountered in modern battlefield situation. Please understand that the art itself is extremely useful but not in combat situations (Go ahead; be the first guy in Afghanistan to charge Al Qaeda with your katana!) Martial Systems would also include those hand-to-hand and combat knife techniques currently still taught to soldiers. Even though the chance of that type of combat is rare on today’s battlefield, they are still taught. MCMAP, traditional Jujutsu, Kenjutsu, traditional Pencat Silat, and some forms of Arnis all are part of this group. Except for the dedicated weapons arts, they have stronger self-defense applications. Although these systems are antiquated, they can often serve as an important cultural and historical preservation purpose.
By now, you’ve noticed there are two groups of skills I have specifically left off. The first are martial dances, where many cultures blend combat movements and dance; for example, African cultures of the Angola region who perform these quite frequently as a cultural application. These Africans still had their own martial skills as well but chose to use dance as a peaceful way to display and to practice those skills. These martial dances evolved to form the Brazilian art of Capoiera. Another example would be the Scots who used dance movements to disguise their combat moves. Many of those “Lord of the Dance” movements are disguised sweeps and trips. Yes, I know Michael Flatley is doing Irish dancing, but the origin is similar enough. I specifically did not include these because many of the combat or martial intentions of these martial dances are now lost.
The second group that I left behind is what I consider the modern martial skills. Marksmanship and other firearms skills are skill sets used in modern combat and self defense situations. They are probably the most immediately martial skill sets you can have. And combat firearms skills are a different set of skills than those used in self-defense. However, the idea of marksmanship, or in fact, using a gun to defend yourself or those you love, goes against our common idea of a martial art. So I going to make a judgment call and rule them out.
In my mind, the three categories, martial sports, martial ways, and martial systems, all overlap in many aspects. For instance, training in Muay Thai can indeed improve your character through hard work and dedication, but that isn’t the main goal. Likewise, Aikido can be effective in self-defense, but again, that isn’t the goal. Judo is an unusual example, in that its goal is both to improve the self (a martial way) and to compete and win in competitions (martial sports). In the end, they are all valid martial arts in their own right. And that is the brilliance of the martial arts. It encompasses so many purposes and opens its arms to anyone with enough interest and dedication. So the argument that Aikido isn’t an effective martial art is a mute point because it is a great martial art, if your goal is self-improvement. Brazilian Jujutsu is a great martial art if your goal is to find yourself in an octagon one day. So I guess the real question shouldn’t be “What is a martial art,” but “What is your martial art goal?”