Traditional SamuraiWhat exactly makes a Martial Art? There are thousand of different styles of Martial Arts – some studied for hundreds of years, and some being created right now. So what qualifies as a Martial Art and what do they have to offer?

Defining Martial Arts

The term Martial Art doesn’t come from the east, but actually the west – specifically rome; the term “Martial” is derived from “Mars”, the Roman God of War. This means that a martial art is any art-form or method used for warfare. This can be just about anything; from how to position troops on a battlefield to the actual techniques used in combat.Even shooting and use of modern weaponry can be considered a Martial Art since it’s used (or was used) on a battlefield.

In western lexicon, we associate Martial Arts to combat or fighting. Images of hand to hand fighting and self-defense come to mind. Most think of various fighting styles, like Boxing, Karate, Aikido, Jujutsu, Muay Thai, etc.

However, as long as it’s related to warfare, it is technically a martial art.

Types of Martial Arts

With so many different Martial Arts, it may seem impossible to classify the many different styles (and even harder to pick one to study). However, in general you can either classify a Martial Art as either a Sporting Art or a Combat Art, and this is how to choose the best for you.

Martial Arts for Sport

A Sporting art is a Martial Art that has been modified to be practiced with rules in competition. After all, if there were no rules – losing would mean dying, and not many want to put their lives on the line for the sake of competing. Usually this is simply outlawing certain techniques that would otherwise cause permanent injury to an opponent (although injuries can still happen). Focus is put on the techniques that are “allowed” in order to win the match. Depending on the rules of the match, even the strategy of how to fight can change based on the rules of the competition.

Although these arts don’t focus on warfare directly, many of their techniques were or still are valid on the battlefield. So they still classify as a Martial Art.

Martial Arts for Combat

Combat Martial Arts could be considered truer to their label of being “Martial”, as they are intended for use on a battlefield. That is not to say they are more effective in combat per se; only that their focus is for life and death fighting more so than their counterpart.

Combat vs. Sport – Which is Better?

Comparing these two types of Martial Arts is really apples and oranges because they are indeed different. And of course one type of martial arts are superior to the other if used for it’s intended purpose; it’s safe to say that for fighting inside a ring, a Sporting Martial Art tends to do better, while outside the ring, you’d likely fair better learning a Combat Martial Art. The difference is in the focus of training.

There is of course significant overlap; Brazilian Jujitsu can still be used successfully in real combat, and something like Krav Maga can be used in the ring (and it is by some fighters). However, when you take an art outside of it’s intended purpose, it runs into challenges that the Martial Artist maybe hasn’t trained for – or focused on: a technique that utilizes an eye gouge or groin kick will be effective on the streets, but can’t be used in a cage match; and using Brazilian Jujitsu to submit someone in a match is extremely effective, but on the streets if they have a friend you might get a kick to the face.

The Deciding Factor

So the real question you have to ask yourself is why do you want to take Martial Arts Classes? If you want to compete and fight in the cage – a Sport Martial Art is for you. If you want to learn Self-Defense, go with combat martial arts training. Remember, the way you train is the way you fight.

By the way – We’re Biased

We should warn you – we’re biased. We are a Bujinkan school, and Ninjutsu is very much a combat oriented art, and we prefer that. We rely heavily on techniques that make us very effective for self-defense, but does limit our usefulness in competitions – it’s not what we train for. But if you’re looking for self-defense and not competition, we invite you to come and check out a class. Otherwise, we hope you find the training that’s right for you.

Shidoshi Hamilton

Scott Hamilton is an 8th degree black belt in the Bujinkan, and travels regularly to Japan to train. In addition to being the owner and head instructor of Todai Dojo, Scott is also the CEO of a national manufacturing company. He has also received training in other martial arts, and in-depth modern weapons training.

2 thoughts on “Defining Martial Arts

  1. chadsnetwork says:

    Thank you for posting another great article Shidoshi. I agree. It makes practical sense to study a proven and effective combat martial art (Ninjutsu) that has stood the test of time by persevering through the centuries.

    As a student at TodaiDojo.com I feel that Ninjutsu helps protect us from everyday threats inherent in today’s society. It provides critical knowledge and tools necessary to protect ourselves and our loved ones from danger. Ninjutsu encompasses much more than self defense. It involves training our body and mind and developing vital life skills that enable us to thrive in our daily lives and help others do the same.

    I was recently told by a resident Shidoshi-Ho that the spirit of the ninja involves persevering through whatever comes our way and taking the (im) out of impossible. Now that’s inspiration! Thank you and God bless.

  2. chadsnetwork says:

    Thank you for posting another great article Shidoshi. I agree. It makes practical sense to study a proven and effective combat martial art (Ninjutsu) that has stood the test of time by persevering through the centuries.

    As a student at TodaiDojo.com I feel that Ninjutsu helps protect us from everyday threats inherent in today’s society. It provides critical knowledge and tools necessary to protect ourselves and our loved ones from danger. Ninjutsu encompasses much more than self defense. It involves training our body and mind and developing vital life skills that enable us to thrive in our daily lives and help others do the same.

    I was recently told by a resident Shidoshi-Ho that the spirit of the ninja involves persevering through whatever comes our way and taking the (im) out of impossible.
    Now that’s inspiration! Thank you and God bless.

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