Whilst martial arts, combat sports and self-protection share many aspects and elements, it would be naïve to believe that they are in fact the same. In this article, the differences between the three are outlined and examined. It is important to outline here that no “style” will be deemed better or more effective than any other. Each has aspects to offer the committed combatant, just has each has its relative weaknesses.
As with all martial arts, practice should be undertaken with proper supervision and tuition, and safety should be emphasized at all times.
The martial arts are increasingly popular for those wishing to learn traditional fighting systems, get fit or learn to defend themselves. There is absolutely no question that martial arts training can result in increased fitness, better conditioning and stronger fighting skills. Nevertheless, martial arts are primarily (although not exclusively) designed with one of two scenarios in mind: battlefield combat and one-to-one duels (which differ from combat sports, however, in that they were often intentionally lethal). Furthermore, there is a long-standing link between martial arts practice and religious or spiritual awareness. Traditional Karate, Ninjutsu, Escrima and certain styles of Kung Fu (e.g. WIng Chun) are examples of martial arts.
Whilst many martial arts are classified as either striking, grappling or weapons-based systems, in actuality most styles or branches incorporate some element from across the range of these. The martial arts were intended to be effective, debilitating and frequently lethal. However, many of the techniques were codified in kata (or patterns or sets) and have been misinterpreted over time. Furthermore, many of the techniques and applications have (understandably) been watered down over time, for the purpose of safe training. Alongside the fact that many martial arts utilize weapons (and occasionally armor) that were common at the time of inception, this has led many people to question the validity of historical styles in modern society. As a result, many styles are now undergoing something of a rethinking in order to utilize traditional techniques in modern contexts.
Perhaps an inevitable progression from the martial arts, combat sports have proven popular amongst audiences across the world. The sporting aspect has a long and respected history, ranging from the eastern arts of Judo and Thai Boxing through to Western Boxing and Wrestling; MMA and “Ultimate Fighting” fall firmly into this category.
Like martial arts,the techniques used in combat sports can generally be categorised into one of three categories: striking, grappling, weaponry. However, unlike Martial Arts, the rules of a combat sport can limit precisely which of these areas is acceptable in combat; fencing limits combatants to weaponry, Judo to grappling, boxing to striking. Even the MMA competitions limit the combatants to grappling and striking. Furthermore, combat sports can limit what is allowed within these categories; they may forbid certain strikes or targets, or certain methods of gripping or throwing.
Thus, whilst combat sports may provide a solid basis for defensive training and conditioning, it should be remembered that the techniques used in the styles are not meant to be lethal or debilitating in the long term, but rather designed to bring about victory or submission in the short term. Furthermore, many ‘semi-contact’ and points-based sport systems train proponents to make quick strikes that lack any real stopping power.
Though self-defense is subsumed within self-protection, it is by no means the limit of this aspect. The idea of self-protection is not only to be able to extricate oneself from difficult or dangerous situations, but ideally to avoid getting into them in the first place. Thus, good self-protection teaches not only physical defense techniques, but also awareness of surroundings, the psychology of violence, verbal de-escalation techniques and the importance of timely scarperjitsu- the ancient art of running away.
The actual defensive (and offensive) techniques taught by self-protection instructors will often be simple and relatively small in number, so as to avoid causing students technique-jam should they actually be attacked or threatened. Such techniques have the added advantage of being easily drilled for automation. However, those being trained in self-protection defensive measures should also realise that these techniques are intended to provide enough time to escape safely and will not hold up for a protracted fight against an experienced attacker.
Choosing a Martial Art
Choosing the right martial art can be an intimidating proposition and cannot be found in just sportsbook. There are a huge number of different martial arts out there, from traditional arts such as Karate and Ju-Jitsu, to sporting arts such as Judo, and modern combat arts such as Krav Maga.
There is no one “best martial art”. Each art has its own style and purpose, and will attract a different kind of martial artist.
Finding the Right Art
The first thing that a student should consider is the kind of art that interests them. Karate is a good striking art for beginners, and will provide a solid foundation for those wanting to explore other arts in the future. Tae Kwon Do is an interesting art for those interested in kicks, and Ju Jitsu is good for those looking to learn about joint manipulation.
Those interested in the sporting side of martial arts should consider Judo or Kick Boxing.
Those interested in mixed martial arts fighting or self defence may be more attracted to a mixed martial arts school that covers boxing, Brazilian Ju Jitsu, or Muay Thai.
For flashy moves, and a rhythmic feel, the art of Capoeira is a good choice.
Finding the Right School
When selecting a school, it is a good idea to take part in a taster class. Most good schools will allow prospective students to attend one or more sessions for free to help students decide whether they are interested in studying in the long term. If the school refuses to allow you to join in a session without signing a contract, this is probably a bad sign.
Beware of schools that make big promises, or have restrictive policies. If a school says that they teach deadly martial art secrets, and do not allow their students to participate in tournaments outside of their school, then this should set alarm bells ringing.
A good school will allow prospective students to sample their classes before committing, and will encourage students to explore other aspects of the martial arts world as they mature in their studies.
The most basic moves of a martial art can be picked up quite quickly, but to truly master a martial art takes a lot longer. Becoming a black belt (or a high level sash or cord in other arts) should not be thought of as the end goal. Even black belts learn something new with each class they attend. Martial arts are about self improvement, as well as self-defense.