BJJ - martial art or sport?

The difference between a martial art and a sport can be discussed and argued ad infinitum. Some say they are as different as night and day, that sport is all about winning while martial arts are about self improvement*, using combative techniques and other aspects of fighting as tools to challenge and sharpen the soul. Proponents of martial (or combative) sports criticise those who fly the "martial arts" banner with words such as "goofy", "silly", "outdated" or even downright "boring"! Likewise, budoka** highlight that most sports people only have a limited career within their chosen sport and since most martial arts are non-professional hobbies and most participants will never make a living off their sport it is an unwise use of their time and energy. Why train so competitively and risk injury when your life (or livelihood) doesn't depend on it? It's safe to say that both sides have lots and lots of arguments to support their point of view.

It is my opinion, however, that this split is all based on an illusion of perception. Most of those who aspire to be combat athletes have never done much actual Budo training and vice versa. To do Budo you have to challenge yourself thru the austerity of your practice, otherwise you are not doing it right! To truly seek perfection, you have to work hard and toil away your imperfections of technique (and ultimately character and spirit). Budo is not about doing away with hardships and challenges, but rather seeking and facing them! I blame this misunderstanding on lazy ass practitioners of Karate, aikido and other branches of Budo who hide behind ancient slogans and crisp, white uniforms.

I'll give you one thing, budo as it's practised today does have a lot of pillars behind which we can hide, from uniforms to belts, titles to hierarchy and foreign (often Japanese) terminology to foreign customs! If you want to practice Budo lazily, you probably could find a place a dojo where the kiai shout gets more attention than the accompanying punch technique!

The opposite is true too. The sportive party is just as guilty of misrepresentation of their practice to the world as the budo side is. Watch any combat sportive event and look at how the winners and the losers behave. Winners jumping over (or onto) fences, shouting and pounding chests in celebration, while losers pound the canvas and shout at the referees. I doubt BJ Penn ever celebrates anything like this every time he taps someone at the gym, even if it was some big name visiting the "Prodigy"s gym! That would be absurd, yet we don't find strange when it happens in the octagon.

What both sportive and self-perfection seeking practitioners of the martial arts need to realise is how much they have do, or at least ought to, have in common. To become better, or even the best at your sport, you have train with a fully honest view of your abilities and development areas. Similarly, to truly to challenge and perfect this self you speak off*** it is vital to challenge it. To truly and honestly challenge it. Neither can grow without pushing outside their comfort zone. So whether you are practicing BJJ, boxing, karate or any other martial art for competition or as budo, get off your ass and work harder than you have ever worked before. There are no short cuts to excellence.

*When fighting arts (bujitsu) changed to fighting ways (budo) it was a change of purpose.
**Practitioners of Budo.
***Zen, associated with many martial arts, actually talks of discovering thru training that this self does not exist.

Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

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A.D. McClish said...

You know, I really agree with you. Does there have to be a distinction? I can see how a person can get a bit of tunnel vision with the sport aspect of it and forget some real world "street" adaptations--like how a grappler has to adapt when punches are being thrown--but if it is a hobby, then who cares how strictly it is defined? For me, bjj has ABSOLUTELY been a mind sharpening tool, both in the areas of problem solving and self confidence, but those were not things I expected to gain when I first started out. They happened naturally just by being forced to face myself in the gym every day. And, even though I do this for fun and have only been training less than 2 years, I can already see how this sport will help me should I ever need to defend myself. I think it all blends together.

A.D. McClish said...

And also, as far as hiding behind slogans and such, I think that all goes back to marketing. Make everything sound fancy and official and people will believe its legit. They're catering to people's pride and sense of idealism. In the US, people are always trying to get the best for as little work as possible. But like you said, real growth only comes through sweat and time on the mat. Unfortunately, they won't know their mistake until they see the real thing, if ever.

The Part Time Grappler said...

Hmm. I know what you mean, but I love marketing. I feel it gets a bad rep.

The way I studied Marketing and Social Marketing at university, Marketing rests on honesty. If something is worth creating, then it has certain advantages and features that could be of benefit to someone, but if you don't know these, you don't know to get it or even search for it. Marketing is the art of communication what is so good about a product, service or message.

I've never been to the US (but it's on my list :) ) but I've never met an american I didn't like. My own perception aside, I feel trying to get the best for as little work as possible is clever use of leverage :). My issue is with those who look at that little work that is actually needed to achieve the best and then try to wingle-wangle around it!! I mean c'mon!

Whether we are working to achieve a better life thru training or working towards sportive achievements, the operative word is "working"! You hit it on the head: "real growth only comes through sweat and time on the mat".

The Part Time Grappler said...

"Best defence, not be there"

Mr Myagi!