Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Are All Fighting Systems 'Martial Arts'?

When I was a kid, the term martial arts meant fighting forms designed for self-defense that had distinct Far Eastern roots. We all came to know that judo, karate and kung fu were martial arts. In time, non-Eastern forms would be included, such as Krav Maga, Sambo, and Capoeira. Recently, a thread on reddit asks if Mike Tyson was one of the top martial artists of the last century. It really begs the question: Is boxing a martial art? For some, this broadens the definition of martial arts too much.

Of course, some martial-art styles don't engage in contests. Iaido, a Japanese sword-drawing art that utilizes pre-arranged solo forms, is one. Others such as Aikido is strictly defensive in nature. Traditional Aikidoka do not engage in contests like in sport Jiu-jitsu or Judo. In Karate, point-style matches are scored where strikes — particularly punches and kicks to the head — do not make full contact. Adherents would be foolish to think that training exclusively this way would prepare you for the real thing. It would be like thinking that playing flag football could get you ready for the NFL.

Bruce Lee, Miyamoto Musashi, et al., have said that in the martial arts the way you train is how it happens in real life. Musashi was a 17th century duelist who faced over sixty men in his life. Lee, who died in 1973, had a combat resume that's a bit sketchy. Joe Lewis, one of the great full-contact fighters who briefly studied with Lee, said in an interview that while Lee was a great teacher with a wealth of knowledge, he was not a fighter. Lewis is using the term fighter in the same way you would call a boxer a fighter. Lewis himself was a fighter of course, as was Bill "Superfoot" Wallace and Benny Urquidez, other karatemen who later became full-contact kickboxers.

So should all fighting systems be regarded as "martial arts"? Martial arts have roots in militarism. Are members of US Navy SEALs and Special Forces martial artists? Indeed, the Marine Corps has created a martial arts program dubbed the Ethical Marine Warrior, which has a philosophical core of honor, courage, and respect. Certainly, these are virtues that are consistent in the Japanese budo, the traditional martial arts and ways.

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