Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Martial Arts Categories Part I

This post ended up being a lot longer than I initially intended, so I broke it up into two posts.  Here is part I.  Next week I'll post part II

   In the first episode (Episode I: The Phantom Podcast) of our podcast, we jumped into the deep end and tried to define what "martial arts" means.  We talked for about 40 minutes, and in the end, I think we made some headway, but still didn't define the term very well, at least in any way that would include everything that is "martial arts."  Everyone on the episode had different lines drawn in the sand for what was and was not a martial art.  I've been trying to think of an answer to that question since the recording.  I think what we have to do is devise categories of activities that all fall under the umbrella of the term martial arts.  The categories I made are based on the goal of the art, so what I'm going to do is tell you about the goals, give you some examples, and let you sort out how your own art fits in there.  Next time, I'll write about the cross-goal martial arts. 

Civilian/Self Defense Martial Art

Goal: Safety, protection, and survival, of you and your loved ones.
    I have to admit, I borrowed the use of the term from Iain Abernathy.  When he uses it, he's describing practical karate, but I think the term applies to other arts as well.  If you are really practicing self defense, then there is a whole host of things that need to trained BESIDES the physical part.   In fact, if you get to the point of a physical altercation, most of your self defense has failed already.  Awareness should be your first line defense.  Avoidance your second.  De-escalation your third.  When it does get to the point of physical altercation, then your goal should be to do what you can to get out of the situation and run.  Not as romantic as our vision of what a martial artist is, but much more practical.  Legal concerns, as it is citizens performing the art, should be a part of the training as well. 
    Also, the art itself is designed to be used against unskilled opponent, in a non-fighting situation.  These arts are not meant to be used in a ring, cage, or octagon.  The demands of these situations are very different from self defense situations.  Aikido fits directly into this category.  When older arts "were modified" from the battlefield arts of the past, they became civilian arts.  And they should have been.  They have become antiquated for battle arts, but with modification, they can still retain their usefulness in self defense situations.

Military Martial Martial Art

Goal: Eliminate the Enemy
    Military members have completely different requirements of martial proficiency.  Their allowances for injuring, or even killing someone else are very different than civilian or even Law Enforcement Officers (LEO) martial arts.  Granted, right now, our (US at least) military seems to be acting more as a police force than a military force and as such their martial requirements are closer to the LEOs... but that's a different subject altogether.
    Many of us practice, what is Japanese is called koryu or old military art. It was designed to be used in life or death battlefield situations where you killed your opponent by any means necessary.  All koryu would also fall into this Military category, maybe even a sub-category called historical military.  This is not to say that the skills learned cannot be applied to self-defense situation, but they do have a different purpose.  If a civilian were to use these skills the way they were intended in a civilian situation, and "eliminate" the threat, they would have a whole world of legal issues to deal with.

Sport Martial Art

Goal: A test of athletic, martial skills in an artificial setting
    Sport martial arts include things like Tae Kwon Do, Boxing, or MMA.  Their goal is to be able to win competitions.  This means that they are effective in limited settings of no-weapon, single skilled opponent situations.  I've found that usually the physical attributes of sports martial artists are usually higher than those of other martial artists.  This is because they usually have a specific date that they know a fight is going to happen. Again, not to say that the skills cannot be transferable to other goals, but that is not the focus of their training.

Self-Development Martial Art

Goal: Self-Development
    Its been known for a while that warriors of times past, through their martial training, had to learn of philosophy, personal responsibility, and develop mental strength.  Warriors are powerful, enviable people, not only for their physical prowess, but the other aspects that are developed through training.  Now, with personal safety a smaller concern than any time in human history, the self defense, or killing aspects is not as important as it was in the past.  Many martial artists realized they could still maintain the mental and physical benefits while eliminating the more violent aspects of the arts.  Karate, as it was taught in the Okinawan school system, fits this description. 


    Notice, the doctrines, strategies, and tactics (See Episode IX-Good, Bad, I'm the Guy with the Podcast)  are not mentioned in this discussion, only the goal of the martial art.  Each specific style of martial art can blend different aspects of these goals together.  Each of the four categories has its own drawbacks and benefits for what they impart, and what benefits the practitioner derives from their art. 


  1. Are you counting martial arts performance - everything from kung fu movies to traditional sword dancing to demo teams - as self development?

    1. No I am not. In my line in the sand, martial arts performance is just that, performance. Martial based dance is also not a martial art. Sure they could be actual martial artists, but that application is not. Their goal is to deliver a good show, not improve their self, or compete against each other, or deal with an altercation. Jackie Chan himself has said he doesn't consider himself a martial artist.

  2. I think you're grouping is interesting and would further comment that today's applicable self-defense based art should address the specifically defined as BDFI. If they don't they (the art) won't be good enough in a potentially life threatening situation.

    1. I'm not familiar with that term BDFI, can you clarify? I think I know what you're saying, but I want to be sure.

    2. It's not a term but the letters given to intersecting areas in the graph above.

    3. Ha ha! Using my own graph against me. Sorry, I was misinterpreting what you were saying. In my opinion, self defense, doesn't have anything to do with the military aspects. My idea of self defense is to enable an escape from a situation, not remove a threat. They can end up being the same thing, but the goals, and the way they train should be different.
      Military arts don't talk about de-escalation. They talk about psy-ops. They don't talk about avoidance, they talk about stealth. They could end up being the same ideas applied differently. Civilian arts are what I'm calling self defense. Practical Karate (going with Iain Abernathy's definition) is a pure self-defense practice...with other bits thrown on for fun.

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  4. J,

    Why I get what your saying I don't really agree. I think what you are trying to get at here is a "frame of mind" and is really disconnected from the actual combat system or martial art.

    1. Thank you for your reply (I like having discussions). It's not the frame of mind as much as what you are training for, and how you go about training for it. To put it another way, a painter trains to be a painter. He doesn't train in ceramics or, sculpture, even though they are all visual arts. There may be some principles that transfer between them all, but each has a separate set of techniques used.
      The purpose of the training, and some people can't pinpoint what they're training for, is what I'm talking about. What I think is a problem is when a person is training for sport or self development, and thinks their training for self defense be matter of their skills transferring to the other goal.
      One art can train with multiple goals in mind, as I'll talk about next time.

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