Many branches of the Martial Arts we know today sprouted from that seed planted by Tamo all those centuries ago. Kung Fu, Karate, Kenpo, and TKD are just a few that can easily trace their ancestry back to the Shaolin Temple. There are many similarities between different Martial Arts styles and, at the same time, differences resulting from specific external pressures during their overall development. The result is that each style has unique beliefs in what they feel makes for an ideal form of self-defense.
As a system grows and evolves, it is only natural that the participants should want to test what they have learned. That is where the sport aspect of the Arts comes into play. Sure, we practice with our training partners in drills and kumite, but there is a lot to be learned by lining up across from an opponent equally as determined to “win.” This is the opportunity to test what is taught in school.
When competing in sport, there are many different options. In a standard Karate tournament, you’ll see unarmed katas, weapons forms, freestyle sparring, and perhaps even a couple other categories. At a Muay Thai match, you’ll witness an impressive display of stand-up striking and even some clinching. If you go to an MMA event, you’ll see a combination of the striking and grappling arts in practice.
The thing to keep in mind at all these promotions is that they are sports and consequently have rules. Now, I have nothing against this. We need rules to enable competitors to get the most out of the competition and remain safe to train another day. Some traditionalists say that the rules eliminate their most effective techniques. I can see where they’re coming from, but I say remember that in life when the fight comes to you, it will most likely be when you have at least one disadvantage. You’ll have a bag of groceries in one arm and your kid in the other. Perhaps you’ll be seated trying to get out of your car when two attackers strike.
The point is that the situation will likely take away part of your arsenal in real life, similar to the way the rules of sport combat take away weapons. So, why be shortsighted and rule out sport competition as a waste of time or unrealistic? Competing elevates the heart rate, makes the practitioner deal with anxiety, and makes one familiar with the adrenaline dump that dangerous real-life situations will cause. For these reasons, sport competitions in the Arts are an excellent supplement to training in the dojo as a means of testing and honing skills for life.
Another benefit of the sport aspect is that it garners interest in the Arts. Imagine if Chuck Norris had never competed. Would he have been in movies motivating millions to take up the Martial Arts? How about Cynthia Rothrock with her magnificent forms and resulting movie career? What if Bruce Lee hadn’t been invited to the Long Beach Invitationals, where hundreds of Martial Arts fans were gathered? For that matter, just look at the UFC today. How many people do you suppose have taken up grappling or kickboxing because they were inspired by Randy Couture or Georges St. Pierre?
I believe it is obvious that the sports associated with the arts do two things exceedingly well. They allow practitioners to test much of what they’ve learned in a safe environment, and they generate interest in the Arts as a whole. This is a win-win.
The thing that we must keep in mind is that the sport is only a fraction of the art. It is a tool to sharpen and share that which we love.
However, one thing we don’t always see in the sport side as much is the student’s spiritual growth. This is where instructors, whether they be for sport or strictly self-defense, must step up. While some schools are excellent at instilling the mental and spiritual aspects of their teachings, others are more laxed in that department and focus almost solely on the combative elements of their style. A Martial Arts school should do both. Students should gain a solid skillset to defend themselves (even compete if they like) and at the same time grow spiritually as individuals. If students aren’t being led to do both, they miss out on at least half of the magnificent benefits of training in the Martial Arts.
I hope to see you on the mats or in the ring soon!
Ian Lauer CSCS
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