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martial (or combative) sports criticise those who fly the "martial arts" banner with words such as "goofy", "silly", "outdated" or even downright "boring"!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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