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Are You A Martial Artist Or A Martial Sportist?

Most martial arts practitioners believe they know what a martial art, and therefore a martial artist, is.

I think they’re probably wrong.

What Is "Martial"?

Let’s begin by examining the word martial:

  1. inclined or disposed to war; warlike: The ancient Romans were a martial people.
  2. of, suitable for, or associated with war or the armed forces: martial music.
  3. characteristic of or befitting a warrior: a martial stride.

~ (from dictionary.com)

From these definitions, let’s look at a random sample of martial artists:

Are they disposed to war? Are they warlike? Doubtful. Suitable for or associated with war or the armed forces – sometimes, yes, and those practitioners have my highest respects; but once again, in a standard sampling – no. Befitting a warrior – there are MANY martial artists. I say there are few true warriors.

Now don’t take this the wrong way if your thing is, say, sport fighting. There’s nothing wrong with that; it takes a unique and hard-earned set of skills to successfully compete in the ring. It teaches sportsmanship, perseverance and humility.

But it isn’t war. And you aren’t a warrior.

A New Term

Perhaps what the world of martial arts needs is a new term, something along the lines of “martial sportist”, to differentiate between someone who trains for competitions and someone who trains to be a warrior.

Just to confuse things a bit further, a martial artist can also compete in tournaments and matches. This however doesn’t make them a martial sportist. A person who spends the majority of their time training for the ring – that’s what makes a martial sportist.

A martial artist trains for many reasons. They can train for personal development of body, mind and spirit. They can train in order to become warriors. They can train because, as happens to many who are bitten by the martial arts bug, they cannot NOT train – it’s in their blood. If these types of martial artists were to suddenly stop training, the withdrawal symptoms would be far worse than the average person stopping smoking or giving up alcohol.

The martial artist also trains with more than physical techniques in mind. They are aware of and keenly interested in the history of their style; they know all the preeminent Masters of their style; they’ve usually spent many years perfecting their art, and usually they have given back, in some method, to the art they love.

Scholar-Warriors

A warrior, first and foremost, trains to fight. In real fights and real wars. They aren’t in it for status, or points, or purses. They train to conquer and survive. Theirs is not so much an art as it is a means of achieving victory on the field of battle. This means learning techniques that would never be taught in modern-day dojos – killing techniques. Nothing fancy, just straight-on methods of ending your opponent's life. They have no time for refinements like philosophy or history – they need the tools NOW, in their hands and feet, in order to fulfill their role as warriors.

When, as has happened throughout history, the war is over, these warriors may find the time to investigate the more mental and spiritual aspects of their lifestyles; they may discover a history alive with warriors who developed just as they did, and went on to master not only the battlefield arts but the scholarly arts as well.

These few individuals were given the name “Scholar-Warrior”, in honor of their having achieved such a difficult and noble path. They sought a balance between physical techniques and mental comprehension, between war and peace; between Yin and Yang.

Proposed Terms

So this leaves us with several terms that can be used in the martial arts world, terms that may be used to define the intent of one’s training:

  • Martial Artist
  • Warrior
  • Martial Sportist
  • Scholar-Warrior

Each is essential to the balance of the entire martial arts world. Each has their own unique path to follow and obstacles to surpass. In knowing exactly what and where they are at any given point, the martial practitioner will be able to chart their course of advancement far more efficiently and easily.

Martial Arts | Martial Arts Philosophy


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