There are many martial arts from many different countries, each with their own unique techniques, methods and philosophy. However, there are those that wear the moniker “Martial Art” that have no “Martial” aspect. So where is the line where something no longer is a martial art? Here is an opinion.

In our page on Martial Arts, we discuss the two general types of Martial Arts that exist; “Sporting” arts and “Combat” arts. However, there is also a third category: “Non-Martial” art. As we discussed, the term “Martial” refers to warfare, meaning that something is a Martial Art if it has some connection to past or present methods of combat. And while those methods may no longer be effective, or the martial art has evolved to become more for sport – we can indeed can still say they fit the “Martial” part of the term. However, what if its an art that has virtually nothing to do with nor any connection to warfare? This may be where we find and cross the line.

This idea was sparked by some videos I came across about swordsmanship and samurai. In the videos we see individuals wearing stereotypical martial arts clothing: gi, belt, hakema, etc. And on their hip they have a katana. Is this a video about tameshigiri (live sword cutting?) Is it a demonstration on iaito (sword drawing)? Then the music starts up, and I realize what I’m about to watch.

It starts with an elaborate choreographed bow, and a lot of kiai – well shouting that’s supposed to be a kiai. Then a bunch of big fancy sword moves – often  where the sword is thrown in the air and caught- with a lot aerobatics. All of which take enormous practice, skill, talent, athleticism, artistic ability and have ZERO to do with Martial Arts.

It reminds me of something my Sensei told me about another Martial Arts school that marketed itself as teaching self-defense. The teacher at the other school was talking about some aerobatic move he was teaching the students. My sensei replied “why are you teaching that at a self-defense school?” To which this teacher retorted “because it looks cool”. And while it may, if you ever attempted to try those flashy aerobatics moves in a self defense situation – you would end up dead.

While competitions that specialize in these displays can be considered sports – they still aren’t martial arts. Kendo is a martial art sport that is derived from sword fighting; If a kendo practitioner was throwing the sword in the air and try to catch it, he would get a good beating from his opponent. Why? Because Kendo retains the Martial aspect of it’s training, while open sword form competitions like the one I watched on youtube do not – it’s all about what “looks cool”. If you replaced the sword with a batton and took away the martial arts uniform and dress, you would assume you were watching a cheerleader, or a gymnast. And while those take a lot of skill and are visually impressive, that in itself doesn’t make them martial artists.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with this. And if you like it and want to practice it, by all means you should pursue it. However, realize that it has very little to do with Martial Arts, and absolutely nothing to do with self defense.

So what do you think? Should things like this be considered Martial Arts? Is there a line that can be crossed where it no longer qualifies as a Martial Art? Let us know your opinion in the comments below

Shidoshi Hamilton

<p>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.</p>

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