View Full Version : What is a Martial Art

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03-19-2007, 12:51 PM
I am interested to see how many different definitions those here on aikiweb have for the term, "martial art." It's obvious that there is more than one, so I am asking for your personal definition.

03-19-2007, 02:10 PM
For me it is simply this

Various training methods for unarmed or armed combat.

Kevin Leavitt
03-19-2007, 02:19 PM
Mine is really the same as Don's.

Let me share this, as this thread and a few more have gotten me thinking about this. It is an extract taken from our Army Combative's Level II instruction manual as written by SFC (retired) Matt Larsen.

Please keep in mind, that it is not written as a direct criticism or judgement about any particular martial art, but is from an Army/Warrior perspective.

- The Modern Martial arts

Although we have been talking specifically about the Japanese martial arts, this evolution from Jitsu to Do or in other words from concentrating on actual fighting ability to actual ability being of only secondary importance, is indicative of most of the modern martial arts world. If you read or listen to almost anything put out by someone in the contemporary martial arts community about training, it will almost invariably be colored by this change in the reason for training.

To put things in perspective, imagine an accountant somewhere in America trying to decide whether or not martial art training is practical. If training cost him$50 a month, he will spend $600 per year. What are the odds that he will be robbed in a way that his training could stop for $600 per year. Therefore from a fiscal perspective it makes more sense to save his money. Now consider his chances of becoming injured in training, as compared with his chances of becoming injured by an assault and you soon see that in a practical sense it really doesn’t make much sense for the average citizen to train in the martial arts.

There are of course many good reasons to train that have little to do with the practical need for fighting ability. There are thousands of people across America who are training to fight with a samurai sword. Very few of them believe they may need to defend themselves against sword wielding ninjas on the way to their car at the mall. They train because they enjoy it. For the same reason that people play baseball, or re-enact civil war battles or any other leisure activity. This of course is completely different from the situation of the Army.

Modern Combatives training therefore stands apart from the vast majority of martial arts training in that producing actual fighting ability is of primary concern. Both the mental and physical benefits of training gain their worth from their usefulness in producing more capable soldiers.

03-19-2007, 06:08 PM
To me it's simply the study of conflict.

03-19-2007, 09:05 PM
It has to be capable of helping defend you from a typical attacker one is likely to face, as well as it has to, more importantly, teach a non-combative mindset that avoids fights, avoids stupid situations, and wittles away the ego. It also has to be made part of your entire life, not just sport, not just brawling. For example, a connective philosophy that helps you make intelligent decisions, good exercise, balance, learning about other cultures, and sensitivity.

03-20-2007, 02:55 AM
Academic studies of things pertaining to War or Conflict.


03-20-2007, 09:48 AM
Development and expression of self through martial training.

03-20-2007, 09:59 AM
To me it's simply the study of conflict.

For me, I would put it as "the study of how to resolve confict"

martial arts have different ways of resolving conflict and you see martial artists in their studies come to different conclusions about how to best resolve conflicts.

03-20-2007, 10:30 AM
Development and expression of self through martial training.

Almost a circular definition. What is martial training?

03-20-2007, 10:56 AM
My interpretation of the term, "martial art," is the study of activities related to militaristic activity (war). My understanding of the term is derived from its literal meaning, which is a reference to the Roman god of war, Mars. The term, "martial," refers to a thing of militaristic origin or design, which may also be considered organized warfare. Therefore, a martial art is a militaristic art. I think "martial arts" as a reference to aikido is a misnomer in many ways. Literally, very little of what we train in aikido would be "martial." In fact, much of what we do, if it was martial, would be poor combat training. I believe that many martial arts are better classifed as sport or exercise, rather than anything that resembles combat. However, for some reason we continue to plug on calling ourselves martial artists, even though we wouldn't last two minutes in combat.

Of my friends who have retired from military duty, one of them has a saying, "I may not have be a great soldier, but I could be a hellofa shoe shiner." Obviously, the joke is in reference to his time in the service, much of it spend performing meanial tasks. But those tasks helped keep his mind from wandering on less pleasant things, like his probablity of being killed in combat, his family who he wents months without seeing, or his best friend who was severely injured in combat. The "do" of aikido is a thing that allows us to temper the warrior spirit in our bodies and expend that energy constructively. Sometimes, we practice combative situations, or even sport contests, but we do not practice war any longer. I appreciate Kevin's post because it does cast a more somber light on what truly is a martial art, and what we do.

I once heard an American Shihan say that he began training aikido because it helped him enter back into society after years of training in combat. Aikido allowed him the grace of constructive rehabilitation from a thing which most people would revolt from in horror. I've never heard the Shihan compare aikido to combat, nor will I likely ever.

03-20-2007, 04:03 PM
For me, I would put it as "the study of how to resolve confict"

martial arts have different ways of resolving conflict and you see martial artists in their studies come to different conclusions about how to best resolve conflicts.

I agree. I think the resolution of conflict is central to its study. The only time I can think of where the goal would be to prolong a conflict would be for the purpose of exercise, but even that should lead toward an improved sense of resolution.

03-20-2007, 05:29 PM
I'll say it like a pleb for you: "Learning to fight".

03-20-2007, 10:29 PM
OK, I think we can sort what 'martial' is fairly easily (that is of or relating to the military). I would intentionally leave out any idea of war here because it is quite possible for wars to exist without a military, and at least possible for a militaries to exist without war. But to hash out what are the conditions for something to be an 'art' is a different thing all together. It is really going to boil down to what someone is willing to count as 'art' vs. 'non-art'. I don't really like to classify anything as art because people can never seem to agree on what it is or what it is not. It seems to me that either everything is art, or nothing is and given that it is a fairly empty term. That being said I do use the term to identify different martial traditions and disciplines (that is to say aikido, hapkido, tae kwon do, karate, fencing and whatnot).

Kevin Leavitt
03-21-2007, 09:07 AM
Breaking it down you have to look at the original purpose of martial training. That is to render a combatant on a field of battle incapable of further effective action to use force. It may or may not incompass rules of force or ethics (laws of war). That is, minimum or maximum force.

On on hand it may be skills used to kill or incapactitate.

Going to the art or, more appropriately defined DO or way side....

Then you get into the whole "STOP HARM/DO NO HARM" philosophical reasons for studying.

I think it is important to understand these two distinctions when we look at it.

Most of us from a civilian standpoint would be concerned with the latter, which is strictly a MARTIAL WAY which may or may not have anything to do with the Military aspects of training.

We may also be invovled in it for sport (because we like it and it is fun).

We may be involved in it for other intrinsic value (Historical context).

We may garner some self defense skills out of it as well. (although i'd contend that studying primarily for these reasons defies logic and the MARTIAL WAY is poor delivery system for this.

there are a multitude of reasons why we might study it!

03-21-2007, 09:54 AM
The "Art" of it shouldn't be looked at as something of technical merit, or of aesthetic value. It should be looked at on a personal level of development. You could attach "art" in this since, to any activity: cooking, carpentry, pig farming, bus driving, paper stacking.

It's art because it comes from deep with in you, and is an expression of your whole being. So it's no matter the activity, only your relation to the activity (even if that's technically poor painting, or technically poor fighting).

L. Camejo
03-21-2007, 10:42 AM
Taken from http://www.meriam-webster.com.

1 : of, relating to, or suited for war or a warrior
2 : relating to an army or to military life
3 : experienced in or inclined to war : WARLIKE

1 : skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
2 a : a branch of learning: (1) : one of the humanities (2) plural : LIBERAL ARTS b archaic : LEARNING, SCHOLARSHIP
3 : an occupation requiring knowledge or skill
4 a : the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced b (1) : FINE ARTS (2) : one of the fine arts (3) : a graphic art
5 a archaic : a skillful plan b : the quality or state of being artful
6 : decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter

So one can possibly define martial art as - Skill acquired by experience, study, or observation relating to, or suited for war or a warrior.

I think this sums up what we practice in the dojo quite succinctly.

Regarding the Japanese designation of Aikido as Budo

From Aikidofaq.com

Bushido was the combined whole of the samurai lifestyle, a code of conduct geared toward developing military administrators, professional armies, and elite soldiers. Budo, on the other hand, is the application of samurai knowledge as a way to improve one's life, and the life of others. If Bushido is the "Way" of the samurai, then Budo is the "Way" of the modern Japanese martial artist.

This also describes what we do in training. Both concepts coexist quite nicely for us. Budo is about learning to resolve and transcend conflict (manifest peace) through deep investigation and understanding of conflict itself imho.