What does the term "Martial Art" mean to you?

Steve

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In another thread, Seasoned asserts that "A true MA would involve all aspects of self defense." I disagree.

I believe that many (most) martial arts are not strictly, or even remotely, for self defense.

First, I agree that a self defense oriented art should address all ranges of combat to include striking, clinching/trapping and grappling (standing or not). The training should be realistic and should involve pressure testing and resistance.

Some martial arts meet this standard. Many don't, but are still "true MAs."

Of course, martial arts should teach a recognizable martial skill. In other words, something related to combat, and in my opinion, should involve resistance and pressure testing. This combat skill, however, doesn't have to encompass all ranges of combat to be a "true MA." Kyudo is a martial art, as is archery. Boxing is, in my opinion, a Western MA even though it includes limited striking and no grappling beyond a clinch. Muay Thai has no grappling outside of the clinch and no ground work. Fencing, kendo, and any other sword arts don't really even include striking. No striking in Judo or BJJ. Etc...

What does the term "Martial Art" mean to you? Self defense? Warfare? Must a martial art address all ranges of combat? Do specialized arts such as BJJ, Judo, TKD or others qualify as martial arts? Do combat oriented arts not related to self defense quality (such as MCMAP or military combatives)? Do arts that teach clear but perhaps obsolete combat skills still qualify (such as swordplay or archery)?
 

Bill Mattocks

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I think the term has come to mean unarmed self-defense. But if you actually break it down, martial means military and art means an intentional product of creative discipline.

But the term 'martial art' has become so all-encompassing that it no longer has a firm definition, I think. Boxing wasn't considered a 'martial art', but now it is. Same for wrestling. Some consider martial arts as more the kicks, blocks, punches, etc - some consider a more holistic definition of the philosophy of self-defense in general, to include traditions and all the trappings.

Personally, I don't care. I study isshinryu karate because it appeals to me and I take it as I find it - with tradition, kata, bunkai, kubodo, learning Japanese, bowing to the shomen as well as the senseis, and etc. If isshinryu included learning to make and pour tea, I'd do that too. I also enjoy the self-defense aspects of it - to me, it seems devastatingly effective when practiced by a master.

If others eschew the gi and the bowing, preferring to go straight to the meat and potatoes, that's OK with me.

I think both are 'martial arts', but if others disagree with my definition, that's fine. I'll call what I do 'dancing' just to soothe the hotheads if it makes them happy.
 

Daniel Sullivan

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Today, martial arts is a marketing term that is applied to armed and unarmed fighting systems, which may be taught as combat, self defense, self improvement, sport, fitness, fine art, children's activity, or a combination of any of the above.

Combat: Students learn the art as it is/was applied on the field of battle against an enemy.

Self defense: Students learn the art as it applies to the needs of the average citizen to protect themselves in the event of an attack.

Self improvement: This encompases the cultural aspects of the art as well as fitness benefits and philosophy. Often, meditation and spirituality play a much larger role.

Sport: Students learn to fight in a one on one setting in a ring and according to a specific rule set. The techniques are focused on what is most effective in that environment under that rule set.

Fitness: The students are taught the rudiments of the art and to apply them to burning calories and toning muscle rather than overcoming an adversary.

Fine art: Students learn more of the cultural aspects and focus on the beauty and precision of the art. It is performed in such a way as to accentuate the visual impact and to convey perhaps meaning or emotion.

Children's activity: Students are deposited at the school by parents who want an hour of time to themselves. The kids are babysat and given activities that resemble martial arts.

Realistically, the vast majority of schools in the US should advertise that they teach 'martial way' rather than martial art. Most schools teach something that ends in 'do', rather than say, jutsu or method. The focus of most schools is on self improvement, fitness, and sport, with self improvement being the main goal of the sport aspect. I cannot speak for how Kung Fu is taught, but given that the term does not even translate as 'martial' anything, I'm sure that kung fu schools run the gammut from gentle tai-chi classes focused on low impact fitness to deadly killing techniques focused on .. well... killing.

So, I study ken-do, I am learning a martial sport, a kata set that is a cross section of what the various kenjutsu ryu were teaching at the turn of the twentieth century, and the mindset of those who codified the system. As I have devoted a fair amount of time studying kendo, I have learned historical information, philosophy, and certainly improved my fitness. Meditation and breathing techniques are also a part of kendo. Needless to say, if I were to enter a sword fight and fight like I do in a kendo match against a trained soldier who has experience actually fighting in battle with a sword, I would likely find myself at a great disadvantage.

On the thread refered to in the OP, Kyudo came up. Practitioners of modern kyudo are not trained to use military tactics, such as lining up the class and firing a volley of arrows at an approaching enemy. Nor are they taught to gallop around on horses and shoot from horseback at other foot soldiers or cavalry. Nor are they taught to quickly reload in order to fire the next shot before the enemy that has not yet been dropped by the first arrow gets to them and kills them. They shoot at fixed targets from varying distances using a daikyu. If it sounds a lot like Olympic archery, well, it probably is with the addition of meditation and perhaps philosophy and spirituality.

Like kendo, if I go out and use that style of training on a battlefield with trained soldiers who fight with bows and arrows for real, I would be at a great disadvantage and poorly prepared.

And that is the difference between a martial way and a martial art.

The term 'martial arts' in the west goes back to before the renaissance and refers to arts in the sense of skill sets, not painting pretty pictures. The term specifically referred to the art of war, how to fight in war, both as an individual soldier and as a part of a unit. The art of the duel (what modern fencing developed from) was specifically geared towards civilian duels to satisfy honor.

The term 'martial way' goes back to the late eighteen hundreds and reflects a shift in philosophy in Japan, as the nation westernized and modernized its military culture and the various schools were forced to shift to teaching the arts for self improvement by government mandate.

It is martial way that predominates the landscape of dojos/dojangs in this country. Most of the popular KMA's are paterned after the Japanese model and are taught as martial ways.

Students of martial ways have all of the tools to do what they'd need in battle. But they have not been trained to use those tools in that way. They're trained, at most, to use them for personal defense against an assailant, and often, not even that in any sort of effective way.

I accept the fact that 'Martial Arts' is a term applied to a whole host of things that really are not martial. When people point out how the word martial comes from the Roman god of war, Mars, and refers to warfare, it is the equivalent of me correcting a gay person by telling them that the word means 'happy'.

Gay means same sex romance and martial arts now means self improvement, fitness and daycare (though it also still means self defense, warfare, and killing techniques too, whereas nobody uses the word gay for happy anymore). It is simply the way that coloquial language has devoloped. The technical distinctions are meaningful only to those of us who understand them and are interested in parsing those distinctions.

Daniel
 

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Exercising one's skill and creativity for the purpose of, or purposes related to combat. Maybe I'm being too literal or vague.
 

K-man

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mar繚tial (m瓣r
prime.gif
sh
schwa.gif
l)

adj.
1. Of, relating to, or suggestive of war.
2. Relating to or connected with the armed forces or the profession of arms.
3. Characteristic of or befitting a warrior.

art (瓣rt)
n.
1. a. A system of principles and methods employed in the performance of a set of activities.
b. A trade or craft that applies such a system of principles and methods.
2. Skill that is attained by study, practice, or observation.

So, within this definition, I would go for the third point of martial, 'Characteristic of or befitting a warrior'

If the applications being taught would be befitting a warrior, then they would be 'martial'. Anything pertaining to systematic learning of those applications would consitute 'art'.
In the present day could we apply those definitions to the different "MA"s and the answer is probably yes, to a greater or lesser extent. Therefore we do practise a 'martial art'. The question then becomes, "Is what we learn an effective or practical martial art?" Sadly, the answer to that in many cases is probably no. :asian:
 

Bruno@MT

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The question then becomes, "Is what we learn an effective or practical martial art?" Sadly, the answer to that in many cases is probably no. :asian:


Depends.

Kyudo is probably a very good art as far as archery goes. But it is not an effective street skill.
Iaido is a very effective killing art but not much good on the street either beyond basic timing / positioning.

Yet both are true martial arts and effective within their context.
You could ask 'are they effective for beating up someone in an armed fight' (which is how many people define 'effective') and the answer would be no.
But that doesn't make them any less of a martial art.
 

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If they want to redefine the word Martial, I'm all for it. No need for a long winded explaination from me. It means warrior or war like in it's simplest form. If you call an art Martial, then Season has a point, but as with any word, people can redefine anything.

Just my view.
 

seasoned

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In another thread, Seasoned asserts that "A true MA would involve all aspects of self defense." I disagree.

I believe that many (most) martial arts are not strictly, or even remotely, for self defense.

First, I agree that a self defense oriented art should address all ranges of combat to include striking, clinching/trapping and grappling (standing or not). The training should be realistic and should involve pressure testing and resistance.

Some martial arts meet this standard. Many don't, but are still "true MAs."

Of course, martial arts should teach a recognizable martial skill. In other words, something related to combat, and in my opinion, should involve resistance and pressure testing. This combat skill, however, doesn't have to encompass all ranges of combat to be a "true MA." Kyudo is a martial art, as is archery. Boxing is, in my opinion, a Western MA even though it includes limited striking and no grappling beyond a clinch. Muay Thai has no grappling outside of the clinch and no ground work. Fencing, kendo, and any other sword arts don't really even include striking. No striking in Judo or BJJ. Etc...

What does the term "Martial Art" mean to you? Self defense? Warfare? Must a martial art address all ranges of combat? Do specialized arts such as BJJ, Judo, TKD or others qualify as martial arts? Do combat oriented arts not related to self defense quality (such as MCMAP or military combatives)? Do arts that teach clear but perhaps obsolete combat skills still qualify (such as swordplay or archery)?

Your point is well taken. But, no apologies extended here, for something that was perceived as an incorrect use of the widely used term, Martial Art. This term Martial Arts may, more accurately be coined, as you state, and this I will concede. This term Martial Arts has vacillated many times in many threads and posts since the inception of the web site, back in 2001. No one until now has questioned its out of context use, so for this, I will extend credit, where credit is due, for a very informative find on your part.
 
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Steve

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The term 'martial arts' in the west goes back to before the renaissance and refers to arts in the sense of skill sets, not painting pretty pictures. The term specifically referred to the art of war, how to fight in war, both as an individual soldier and as a part of a unit. The art of the duel (what modern fencing developed from) was specifically geared towards civilian duels to satisfy honor.
I can understand every point you've made and they are all reasonable. This, I think, was particularly interesting. Aren't self defense and war functional opposites? While there are certainly skills that overlap, the mindset and tactics are completely different.
The term 'martial way' goes back to the late eighteen hundreds and reflects a shift in philosophy in Japan, as the nation westernized and modernized its military culture and the various schools were forced to shift to teaching the arts for self improvement by government mandate.

It is martial way that predominates the landscape of dojos/dojangs in this country. Most of the popular KMA's are paterned after the Japanese model and are taught as martial ways.

Students of martial ways have all of the tools to do what they'd need in battle. But they have not been trained to use those tools in that way. They're trained, at most, to use them for personal defense against an assailant, and often, not even that in any sort of effective way.

I accept the fact that 'Martial Arts' is a term applied to a whole host of things that really are not martial. When people point out how the word martial comes from the Roman god of war, Mars, and refers to warfare, it is the equivalent of me correcting a gay person by telling them that the word means 'happy'.

Gay means same sex romance and martial arts now means self improvement, fitness and daycare (though it also still means self defense, warfare, and killing techniques too, whereas nobody uses the word gay for happy anymore). It is simply the way that coloquial language has devoloped. The technical distinctions are meaningful only to those of us who understand them and are interested in parsing those distinctions.

Daniel
So, the question I have after reading your post is what styles today are martial arts at all? It seems that, by your definition, every martial art is actually a martial way, except for those practiced by active military members for use in combat.
 
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Steve

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So, within this definition, I would go for the third point of martial, 'Characteristic of or befitting a warrior'

If the applications being taught would be befitting a warrior, then they would be 'martial'. Anything pertaining to systematic learning of those applications would consitute 'art'.
In the present day could we apply those definitions to the different "MA"s and the answer is probably yes, to a greater or lesser extent. Therefore we do practise a 'martial art'. The question then becomes, "Is what we learn an effective or practical martial art?" Sadly, the answer to that in many cases is probably no. :asian:
I don't think it's sad or wrong as long as it is marketed truthfully.
 
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Steve

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If they want to redefine the word Martial, I'm all for it. No need for a long winded explaination from me. It means warrior or war like in it's simplest form. If you call an art Martial, then Season has a point, but as with any word, people can redefine anything.

Just my view.
Guardian, thanks for the reply. Can you be more specific? Where has anyone tried to suggest that a martial art be other than martial or redefine the term?
 
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Steve

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Your point is well taken. But, no apologies extended here, for something that was perceived as an incorrect use of the widely used term, Martial Art. This term Martial Arts may, more accurately be coined, as you state, and this I will concede. This term Martial Arts has vacillated many times in many threads and posts since the inception of the web site, back in 2001. No one until now has questioned its out of context use, so for this, I will extend credit, where credit is due, for a very informative find on your part.
I certainly am not fishing for apologies, nor am I trying to parse the term unnecessarily. You were clear and defined the term in a very concrete and specific way. I didn't agree with your definition and thought it would make for an interesting discussion.

You said that a "true" martial art, in your opinion, is one that involves all ranges of combat specifically for self defense. Would you care to elaborate on that?
 

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I can understand every point you've made and they are all reasonable. This, I think, was particularly interesting. Aren't self defense and war functional opposites? While there are certainly skills that overlap, the mindset and tactics are completely different.
I suppose that it depends on how one looks at war and what part one plays in war. If an aggressor nation seeks to conquer another nation, the defending nation is at war, but is technically defending itself. The soldiers are technically defending themselves as well, though in more of a big picture sense than a personal sense.

So, the question I have after reading your post is what styles today are martial arts at all? It seems that, by your definition, every martial art is actually a martial way, except for those practiced by active military members for use in combat.
If we are using the word martial in the strict and accurate sense, comparatively few (given the myriad of systems extant today).

Amongst those that I would say are actual martial arts, it would then break down on a school by school basis. For example, taekwondo is technically a martial art. It is the system taught to the ROK army. But try finding a school in the US that teaches it that way. It is very difficult.

It all comes down to terminology and the meaning that one puts into it. Most people do not know the origin of the term martial. To most people, martial means fighting. This is not the same as the original meaning.

The modern definition of the term martial arts is not the same as the original meaning of the term, which is why I used the example of gay=happy vs. gay=same sex romance.

Nobody would question whether or not Elton John is gay in the modern sense of the word. But the meaning of that word is different than the meaing that the word had fifty years ago. By the correct definition of the word, Elton is only gay when he is in a good mood and happy. By the coloquial definition, he's always gay by virtue of his gender preferences.

To use a more on topic analogy, MMA means literally, mixed martial arts. Yet, we all pretty much know that MMA is a rule set for a certain type of competition that would have no direct analogue in either personal self defense or on the field of battle. But I am not going to contend that what is done in the UFC is not MMA. It is MMA in the current idiom of the term.

So martial arts, in the modern and coloquial western idiom would include BJJ, TKD, Shotokan, Wushu, Krav Maga, Hapkido, Aikido, and all of the other systems that are traditionally grouped under the heading.

In the strictest sense, many of these are not martial arts, but civilian self defense or civilian self improvement. But martial arts is a term that I can use and be understood by both practitioners and nonpractitioners alike.

Society communicates much more in coloquialisms than in technicality, so I do not feel the need to be a stickler about the meaning martial arts and what qualifies.

I do feel that it is important, particularly for those of us who practice, to understand the distinction. The distinction reflects the evolution of the term and the way that fighting systems have developed in the modern era.

Understanding the distinction also helps us to identify bogus claims, like people who claim that their modern karate was used by the samurai or that taekwondo was used by the hwarang.

Understanding the distinction also helps us to be more realistic about what we expect a fighting system to enable us to do.

Daniel
 

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The 'martial art/s' that I study are not the sum total of my 'martial training'. Instead, they are a base to build upon; I elect to committ to a framework of integrated principles in those arts when selecting what else to add to that training.
 

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Of course, martial arts should teach a recognizable martial skill. In other words, something related to combat, and in my opinion, should involve resistance and pressure testing. This combat skill, however, doesn't have to encompass all ranges of combat to be a "true MA." Kyudo is a martial art, as is archery. Boxing is, in my opinion, a Western MA even though it includes limited striking and no grappling beyond a clinch. Muay Thai has no grappling outside of the clinch and no ground work. Fencing, kendo, and any other sword arts don't really even include striking. No striking in Judo or BJJ. Etc...

I agree with this. I think that martial arts having the word "art" in it can employ certain forms that do not necessarily have any true combat applications. I wouldn't train in them, but that's just me.
 
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I suppose that it depends on how one looks at war and what part one plays in war. If an aggressor nation seeks to conquer another nation, the defending nation is at war, but is technically defending itself. The soldiers are technically defending themselves as well, though in more of a big picture sense than a personal sense.
On a macro level, surely this is true. But on a personal level, one on one, the mindset on a battlefield is to kill first. Not to defend, but to attack and defeat.
I agree with this. I think that martial arts having the word "art" in it can employ certain forms that do not necessarily have any true combat applications. I wouldn't train in them, but that's just me.
Well, it's kind of a 'to each his own' thing. Some people are motivated strictly by efficacy. What works? What doesn't? While I don't understand why someone would do "Cardio Kickboxing" I can understand the value in something to some people even if it has been supplanted by a more efficient or effective process. The difference being that "Cardio Kickboxing" (or tae bo or whatever) teaches no actual martial skill. Some "martial arts" are little more than this.

Woodworking is a great metaphor for this. There are people who still build furniture "the old way" without any use of power tools or modern equipment. The guys who do this take great pride in building a piece of furniture this way. And even though a comparable piece of furniture could be made using modern tools in much less time, the final product is often a work of art. Even though there are, arguably, better ways to accomplish the same goal, there is value in doing it "the old way". And both are, by any definition, still considered woodworking. Even though the low tech wordworker is doing it the hard way, or depending upon your definition, the best way, it's still a demonstration of carpentry.

In the same way, a combat art like Kyudo may not be the most effective way to kill someone on the battlefield considering the weapons we have available to us now. However, it remains a demonstrable martial skill. It is a great example of what is still an effective martial skill that has been largely ritualized over time. The crucial thing here, in my opinion, is that the person who studies Kyudo CAN put an arrow through the target. They could, in theory, still take a guy out from a long distance away, which is at its core, the point of the martial art.
 

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In another thread, Seasoned asserts that "A true MA would involve all aspects of self defense." I disagree.

I believe that many (most) martial arts are not strictly, or even remotely, for self defense.

First, I agree that a self defense oriented art should address all ranges of combat to include striking, clinching/trapping and grappling (standing or not). The training should be realistic and should involve pressure testing and resistance.

Some martial arts meet this standard. Many don't, but are still "true MAs."

Of course, martial arts should teach a recognizable martial skill. In other words, something related to combat, and in my opinion, should involve resistance and pressure testing. This combat skill, however, doesn't have to encompass all ranges of combat to be a "true MA." Kyudo is a martial art, as is archery. Boxing is, in my opinion, a Western MA even though it includes limited striking and no grappling beyond a clinch. Muay Thai has no grappling outside of the clinch and no ground work. Fencing, kendo, and any other sword arts don't really even include striking. No striking in Judo or BJJ. Etc...

What does the term "Martial Art" mean to you? Self defense? Warfare? Must a martial art address all ranges of combat? Do specialized arts such as BJJ, Judo, TKD or others qualify as martial arts? Do combat oriented arts not related to self defense quality (such as MCMAP or military combatives)? Do arts that teach clear but perhaps obsolete combat skills still qualify (such as swordplay or archery)?

What does the term mean to me? An unarmed or weapon based system designed for self defense purposes. The primary function of these systems, upon creation, was fighting. The byproducts such as inner peace, self control, fitness, etc., are secondary to the primary goal.

You're right...some systems address fighting better than others, even if those other systems are still billed as SD oriented styles. Pretty much every style out there addresses all aspects of fighting, however, there are styles out there that address areas better than others. Ex: BJJ and Kenpo. While there are grappling ideas, if you want to really hone your ground game, a ground based art will be required. The same for weapons. I'm not going to go to BJJ to better my knife defense, anymore than I'd go to TKD or Shotokan.
 

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Guardian, thanks for the reply. Can you be more specific? Where has anyone tried to suggest that a martial art be other than martial or redefine the term?

Howdy Stevebjjj; I wasn't necessarily meaning anyone here. If you go to the dictionary and look it up, you come up with some meanings as someone put down, if you google it, you will see it also has reference to a Roman Poet of some fancy name I'm to tired to look up tonight again. That's what I mean by any name can be redefined into what someone wants or tweaked alittle to sound different. That's all I mean't by that.
 

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