Combat Sports or Martial Arts; is there really a difference?

What is the difference between Combat Sports and Martial Arts?

While some Practices claim being “Combat Sports”, others consider themselves as “Martial Arts”.

At first glance, the answer may be quite easy: “Competitive styles are combat sport, non-competitive styles are Martial Arts”

-That is what most would probably say-

Let’s go step by step

Defining Arts
Considering Training Methods and Approaches
What about Competitions
The ultimate Goal

Defining Arts

Before we analyse different approaches and try to see that topic from different angles, let us check what “Arts” actually are;

The Oxford Dictionary gives, amongst a couple others, the following definition of the word “Arts”:

“A skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice.”

“Works produced by human creative skill and imagination.”

Considering the aforementioned definition, Combat Sports as well as Martial Arts are actually “Arts”. Both, Combat Sports like MMA and “Martial Arts” like Aikido (let us stick to these examples, as they seem to be the most different) require practice to acquire and sharpen your skills.

Now to the “creative skills” and “imagination”; are they required in MMA or Aikido?

Well, with MMA becoming more and more “professional” and well organized, many practitioners have a common base when it comes to Striking, Kicking and Ground fighting … Even though, you should develop your personal approach, be creative in your workout and game.

Aikido on the other hand seems like a highly codified Martial Art. With set moves and techniques, principles and exercises. However, does this mean that you cannot be creative or bring your own imagination into it?

Considering Training Methods and Approaches

Let us have a look into their Training Methods, to see if we can get a little closer to the answer;

“Martial arts” mostly descend from battlefield applications. This involves that the Training had to be adapted to make it less lethal. Alternatives had to be created: how to train a full impact strike without actually “killing” your training partner, to give a very basic example.

“Combat sports” also remove the dangers but has an approach that emphasizes more on speed, reflexes, endurance – just to mention these –. Don’t get me wrong, I am really aware of the fact that in some “Martial Arts” the practitioners have a tough conditioning part, no doubt on this fact.

Even though you never want be in a situation where you have to apply your skills, we finally train to be ready for fight. Now what should we go for? A battlefield rooted “Martial Art” that has codified many applications

As Martial arts have been stylized and combat sports on the other hand prepare for fight, do combat sports provide superior training when it comes to real life application, because martial arts in their original form cannot be practised without the risk of injury?

What about Competitions

Fighting spirit is an essential element. The best way to develop it is (probably) through fighting. Competition is a modern day form of fighting, thus having many safety aspects that protect you from major harm. For sure, in a competition you are far away from an actual battlefield, but it may be the closest experience that you can make in safe environment.

Do not get me wrong, the ultimate goal should not be to win medals. Use it as a metaphor for real fighting. Free practice, sparring and matches should be a tool to sharpen yourself.

But what about our example “Aikido”? They do not have any form of competition (at least none that I am aware of), but that does not mean that they do not develop a fighting spirit. It takes a lot of skill to handle a bunch of attackers (like they do in their practise and Randori), handle a staff not getting hit with it… Staying calm in that kind of situation is also a skill related to “Warriors”.

On the other hand, in a Competition you try to beat your opponent with superior skill, endurance, speed, power and more. “Self Defence” is not necessarily a major element in Competition. Nevertheless, if you try to rob a well-trained MMA guy, you will probably have a hard time and get beaten up seriously.

Let us analyse Judo for a moment:

Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, was very concerned about preserving Self Defense techniques, as well as Helio Gracie and his brothers when it comes to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Kano applied Sport Training methods to traditional Jiu Jitsu to create a “better combat art”. Thus there are elements from both; sports and fighting.

We can see that the difference between “Combat Sport” and “Martial Arts” cannot be defined that easily.

The ultimate Goal

Be open-mined! If you are a practitioner of a “Traditional Bujutsu”, look on modern Sport Training Methods! Try some of them who may fit your goals and needs. If you are an avid Combat Sport enthusiast, have a look on those old school Bujutsu principles, approaches and methods.

Most probably, all of us can discover some very useful stuff by looking beyond our own nose. Develop your skill, be imaginative. Be an artist, because after all, the ultimate goal of art is to express yourself! Continually seek opportunities to challenge yourself!

Put all the issues aside. Stop arguing if Martial Arts have more moral values than Combat Sports, Combat Sports are more well-rounded than Martial Artists … You better invest that time and energy into actual Training!

Keep on going!


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