MARTIAL ARTS AND MARTIAL SPORTS
Genuine martial art training, as with genuine yoga, is very hard to find.-- Terrance, England
Yes, genuine martial art, like yoga, is rare today. Strictly speaking, and this is my personal view, what many people regard as martial arts as practiced today, like Kungfu, Wushu, Karate, Taekwondo, Judo, Aikido, Boxing, Kickboxing, Muay Thai and Wrestling, are not martial arts; they are martial sports.
It was the late Don Drager, the well-known martial artist in the 1960s who highlighted this point, though he was referring more to the Japanese arts or sports. He divided them into two main categories, the “do” and the “jitsu”. Judo, Kendo and Bodo were martial sports, and they were derived from the classical martial arts of Jujitsu, Kenjitsu and Bojitsu.
Many people may accept Wushu and Kungfu as practiced today as sports because they consist of solo performance of forms without any sparring. But many people may be surprised that I refer to Karate, Taekwondo and Muay Thai as sports too. Aren't Muay Thai practitioners formidable fighters? They are. But that is a different issue. Formidable fighters may not necessarily practice martial arts, and martial artists may not necessarily be formidable fighters (though they should be).
A main reason I refer to Muay Thai as a sport is because it is mainly performed for entertainment. It is the same as Boxing in the West. Interestingly, many of those who practice Muay Thai for self defence do not realize this fact.
Secondly, as it is essential in sports, Muay Thai fighting is restricted by safety rules. If we were to take away the safety rules, Muay Thai fighting would look very different.
If it were a real fight of life and death as in the past, when a Muay Thai fighter hugged his opponent to give him continuous knee jabs, the opponent would jab a knife into the ribs of the Muay Thai fighter. If he did not have a knife at hand, he would gore out the Muay Thai fighter's genitals or eye balls. Or he might trip the Muay Thai fighter to fall and bashed the latter's skull on the floor.
A genuine martial artist will be trained to avoid getting himself into situations where such deadly attacks could happen to him. A martial sportsman is often ignorant of this important tenet in combat, because his training has been conditioned by safety rules. In the case of Muay Thai, the sportsman often gets himself into such precarious situations to give his opponent what we in Shaolin Wahnam call “free offers”.
Thirdly, a Muay Thai fighter does not know how to defend himself, or he does not bother to defend himself! This must be a big surprise to many people. Just watch a Muay Thai match. A Muay Thai fighter often lets his opponent strike his sides with knee jabs without offering any defence. Getting hurt in a match, or even in training, is taken for granted. This is ironical. In a martial art, one trains so that he will not be hurt at all.
Fourthly, a Muay Thai fighter can fight effectively only within the format of his style. If you use Judo throws or Aikido locks on him, for example, he may not know what to do because he has never been trained in his style to use these different kinds of attack and defence. A martial artist trained for real life and death fighting is different. He may not use certain forms of attack because of the preference of his style, but he is trained to handle any attacks, including against those attacks he himself may not want to use.
These four points described above apply to other martial sports too. Training in these martial sports frequently result in injuries. This is basically what should not happen in a martial art.
Please note that the issue here is not whether a martial art or a martial sport is superior or more important. To a professional Muay Thai fighter, for example, his martial sport of Muay Thai is more important than the martial art of genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu. He depends on Muay Thai for his living, whereas Shaolin Kungfu will only be a hobby to him.
We are also not saying that a martial artist is a better fighter than a martial sportsman. In theory a genuine, traditional kungfu exponent is a better fighter than a Muay Thai practitioner because the former has a richer variety of fighting techniques and combat principles. But in practice a professional Muay Thai fighter usually beats a kungfu exponent despite his inferior techniques because he has far better skills due to his daily training as a professional.