Olympic Judo Dojo



Martial Art vs Martial Art Sport:

For the purposes of this article we will use the terms Martial Art vs Martial Art Sport. Many people think of Judo as Martial Art Sports because they are included along with other major sports in Olympic competition. Boxing, Wrestling, Judo, Taekwondo, are examples of Martial Art Sports in the Olympics. I often hear martial artists who use the term "sport" as if referring to a game with little combat usefulness. The implication is that a sport is only for "play" and cannot be effective for self-defense, fighting or combat. Many martial artists think that the distinction between Martial Art vs Martial Art Sport is that martial artists train for real life combat.

Actually the distinction is more complex and rather surprising. This discussion will make generalizations that may not apply to the way you train in your sport or martial art. However the hope is to give you a new way to look at the true value of “sports principles” for martial arts training.

One of the primary differences between Martial Art and Martial Art Sport is in the value of unadulterated competition available in Martial Art Sports! Because of their alleged danger or lethality, many martial arts engage in artificial and even counter-productive training which involves "pulling" techniques, modifying the point of contact, and adding in a “prearranged” precautionary element of movement. This type of training can inhibit a natural action and thus the ultimate effectiveness of a technique. Slow, careful, non-contact or prearranged training is not an effective approach to prepare for actual fighting situations that that by its very nature require one to be prepared for the “countless” unexpected reactions of an untrained or well-trained, uncooperative, belligerent or even hostile combatant!

This type of training has to substitute a “highly subjective judgment” as to whether or not a “strike” would have been effective and to what degree. Someone has to “judge” what the effect would have been and how the opponent “would have reacted”. This leads to a false sense of self confidence in a techniques that probably will not work without trial & error training! How many times have we all seen what anyone would call a “knockout punch” delivered, shaken off and the recipient coming back to obliterate the opponent! We do not accept this in football, boxing, wrestling, etc. In fact we go to extreme lengths in all other contact events to eliminate “judgment calls” as much as “safely” possible. Yet in many martial arts we have instead adopted highly stylized, ritualistic, and even dysfunctional training methods requiring just that!

So, ironically, martial art sports can provide the superior training in effective techniques because martial arts can't be practiced in a real life way without injury. One cannot practice eye gouging! Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, was very concerned about preserving those self-defense techniques that could not be used with full force in competition. Jigoro Kano stated, “Studying the various jujitsu styles of the time & realizing that every one of the jujitsu schools had its merits and demerits, I came to believe that it would be necessary to reconstruct jujitsu even as an exercise for martial purposes. So by taking together all the good points I had learned of the various schools and adding thereto my own devices and inventions, I founded a new systems for physical culture and mental training as well as for winning contests. I called this 'Kodokan Judo'.”

To this day, Judo remains a remarkably effective self-defense training, even after the development of other modern "combat" methods, and even when Judo is practiced today largely as a sport. Jigoro Kano applied modern sport training methodology to the traditional koryu jujutsu and found that it produced a better combat art, which has proven itself again and again over the last 120 years.

In martial arts sports, one purpose of competition is to take the place of the older shinken shobu (life-and-death fights) in developing technique, knowledge, and character. One can learn how to win from defeat! Competition can provide a safe, controlled glimpse at this kind of defeat. Fighting spirit can be developed only through fighting. Surely it is not the same as the battlefield, but it serves a similar purpose, and it is closer to a combat situation than any other form of training.

Of course this can go wrong. Winning and losing can become too important and start to pervert the training process. The ultimate goal should not be the winning of medals. Using sport competition as a metaphor for real fighting can be quite different from playing it as a game. Matches, along with free practice and sparring, are simply different methods for training the mind and body to deal with the adversity of fighting situations.

Although Martial Art vs Martial Art Sport both have loftier goals, it is still a fact that many people train in martial arts primarily for self-defense. For those who have never used sport training methods, it is easy to discount it effectiveness. As martial artists we should continually seek opportunities to challenge ourselves by examining the weaknesses in our training and keeping our minds open to other methods. I encourage you to discover for yourself how "playing" with a partner in sparring or free practice, and competing against an opponent in a contest, can be the most effective method of training for self-defense.

Some of the wording used here is taken from highly respected sources.

 I have taken the liberty of modifying text that does not reflect O.J.D. philosophy

 (Sources Available Upon Request)



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