Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sport fighting vs Martial arts

This was a discussion that came out of our Bujinkan class last week. Oftentimes, people argue that one is better than the other. And regardless of which side you take, arguments can be given to support both perspectives. However, I contest that they should be used together to make a better warrior.

My martial arts experience started when I was 10 years old, with taekwondo. After that, I have accumulated many years of experience in wrestling & boxing (as both a participant & coach), then escrima, & then the Bujinkan. Thus far, the Bujinkan has been the biggest evolution in my martial arts training. I have lived in Japan for 3 years studying in the Bujinkan Hombu Dojo under Hatsumi-sensei, Nagato-sensei, & Someya-sensei directly. I have continued to train in other martial arts as well, including judo, shorinji kempo, karate, & kyudo while in Japan, & brief interludes too short to mention in various other martial arts & military combatives. My sports & hobbies over the past 20 years have always been related to combat, so I hope my opinion carries some clout.

This link ( is quite possibly one of the best articles about how the martial arts have evolved over the past few decades because of the influence of sport fighting. It's a bit of a long read though. In summary, the argument presented in the above article states that traditional martial artists were getting defeated repeatedly by boxers in tournaments. As would be expected, if you force a martial arts practitioner to fight with rules that prohibit half of his techniques because they're too deadly, then only allow him to fight with his remaining non-lethal techniques, of course he is @ a major disadvantage. But keep in mind, boxing punching is good for sport fighting, where the goal is to score points & not kill the opponent. So in an effort to retain students & do better in tournaments, martial artists started punching like boxers, which is ineffective in a life or death scenario. Real combat & self-defense cannot be accurately tested in a sport fighting environment because the goals of combat (immediate incapacitation of your opponent, including death) are mutually exclusive with the goals of sport fighting (prove who is better without serious injury, & entertainment for spectators).

However, through my observations I have noticed the kinds of fighters each method of training produces are very different, often polar opposites. It is an argument of practical application versus academic understanding. On one side, sport fighters are typically highly conditioned athletes who are very good @ applying ineffective techniques. What eventually happens is that you get women's self-defense groups, LEO, & military learning how to score points when they should be learning how to incapacitate. On the other side, traditional martial artists in today's world are typically poorly conditioned (often overweight or obese) who are very knowledgeable of but not skilled @ applying effective techniques. This eventually leads to elitist martial artists who convince themselves they are skilled but who lack the conditioning to survive a physical encounter & without even knowing what it is like to get punched in the face. Either way, it is scary. A useful analogy would be the difference between sport paintball versus target shooting. In paintball, you learn how to fire & maneuver, team tactics, & how to use cover fire but with weapons that have poor range, zero accuracy, & almost unlimited rounds. In target shooting, you learn how to fire an actual firearm, aim correctly, & conserve ammo but without any tactics or movement whatsoever. We need both skillsets, not just one or the other...

To create the ideal combat-ready warrior, we must train in a martial art with effective technique & use sport as a way to test ourselves. Sport is great to experience the fight, to feel those butterflies in our stomachs from our fight-or-flight response (SNS activation), to get thrown to the ground or punched in the face & realize that it will hurt but we can persist & keep going. The stress of the fight must be experienced in a safe manner. For that, sport is sufficient in the psychological & physical conditioning for combat in a training environment. Having a martial art without an element of sport leads to elitism & bulging waistlines. However, when the martial artist does test himself in a sport environment, we must always be aware that the purpose of sport is not to win tournaments, but to evaluate our skill & conditioning without killing each other in training.

In a martial art's history, a major evolution, or rather de-evolution, happens when the rules for sport become standardized & people start training with the purpose of winning tournaments. We have already seen it with both taekwondo & judo in the Olympics, & are witnessing it today with BJJ in MMA. If the purpose of sport is merely to test our combatives skills, then we should adjust the rules of engagement regularly to prevent exploitation of the rules. Some days, we should do striking, boxing style. Then another day, slow it down & do striking but with only one movement pattern (like a block to a neck strike), but with an active attacker who will react & try to avoid the counter. Then weapons fighting. Then ground fighting without being allowed to stand up. Then grappling with the purpose of trying to take the other person's flag (or rubber knife) located on their hip. Then long weapons with striking. Then just omote gyaku for a takedown with control, while the attacker allows the takedown but tries to escape afterwards. Then grappling with small weapons, etc. But regardless of the skill being tested, there should be a test against a resisting opponent. Merely going through the motions with a compliant training partner is not nearly enough. Remember, the original purpose of sports in general was to test combatives skills in times of peace, including such events as wrestling, running, chariot racing, & javelin throwing. Let's continue the tradition & train with purpose...


  1. Thanks for the great post. I have been visiting your site often.

    martial arts training

  2. I have a great love and respect for the world of martial arts. Ever since I first saw Bruce Lee as a child I have always been fascinated with the combat arts. Of course when I would see those rather skinny movie martial artists on screen, I believed that one had to be lean and fast rather than strong to be good fighter. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Connecticut

  3. You will learn self defense techniques that can be incredibly useful in a life or death situation. And very simple to learn!Subscribe Now

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Does the art have a full range of deadly martial arts techniques? Can the instructor take down attackers whether they hold weapons, kick, punch, or try to grapple?Singapore Wushu

  6. Advanced Karate has developed into a blend of numerous martial arts. Generally, there were just two sorts of kicks - the back kick and the front kick.martila arts school in lees summit mo

  7. Kung Fu - A Chinese martial workmanship. There are several styles accessible, the most famous today being Wing Chun. Bruce Lee was a well known example of Kung Fu.How this power couple is helping to change Natomas