The world of martial arts is vast, and with that comes just as many different points of view on those arts. There are times when we can become biased against another style or system because they differ from the ones taught in whichever school we train in. Unfortunately, this can be caused by the culture within the school or group we train in. This can be toxic and doesn’t help the world of martial arts. Before we start judging a system or style too quickly, we should keep in mind, ALL arts have their place. And people get into the study of martial arts for different reasons.
I will admit, I have not always had this open acceptance toward all arts. Though I have been focused in my training, I have been exposed to several different styles. Some I liked and some I didn’t. Like most people around my age, I began my formal training in TaeKwonDo [TKD]. This is a Korean art which, for the most part, is more sports based than self-defense based. I am not a sports person. I got into the martial arts to learn self-defense not to compete and win trophies. Not all TKD schools are like this, but the one I trained in was very much about competition. This soured me toward TKD. I trained in it for about two years before finding something more to my liking. Which was common among a lot of people I’ve met. One person I know, when I mentioned I started in TKD, he said, “Oh, TKD, well everyone needs to go to Kindergarten.”
It wasn’t until recently I had a change of thought. I can’t say what changed my mind, or when I changed it. It was more of me becoming aware the change of thought happened and I was okay with it. Because not all martial arts are created equal, and even similar styles, even those by the same name, can offer more or less than their counterpart, I began to categorize those who study martial arts.
In general, I place martial art practitioners into three categories. They are either…
- Martial Artisans
- Martial Artists
- Martial Athletes
Martial Artisans focus on self-defense, the defense of others, and then personal development. The concept of becoming a Martial Artisan is devoid of any sport aspects. The self-defense comes from being able to translate kata or forms into functional self-defense. If kata is not part of the training, then the active practice of practical and self-defense should be present. This will allow the artisan to be able to protect themselves, their family, or others. The personal development aspect comes from the life skills learned through classes, and from the dedication put forth in studying kata and performing them beautifully and thoughtfully.
Of course, I am playing on the name of my school, Artisan Martial Arts, by the naming of this category. Even beyond that, comparing it to the others. Early on when I chose the name Artisan, it wasn’t just a play on my last name, I also wanted it to describe and be relevant to my art. I once came across an article comparing artists and artisans. They both create works of beauty, but the artisan creates something functional. My art is functional, I consider myself a martial artisan.
The term Martial Artists is a more common title for those who practice the martial arts. Pretty common sense naming if you ask me. Martial Artists focus on much the same things Martial Artisans do, but add in the element of sport and fitness. Much like the comparison of an artist to an artisan, martial artists are more focused on personal development than self-defense. Not to say that self-defense isn’t taught as part of a curriculum to a martial artist, but it is not the same focus and most of the time the self-defense and the kata or forms are separate.
Martial Athlete is not a term I came up with, but a term that surfaced sometime in the early 2000s. It was a term several people in the industry were trying to promote as the “new” term for martial artists. However, it didn’t catch on as they hoped, at least from my perspective, but it does describe the type of martial arts practitioner whose primary focus is on fitness, sport, and competition. Regardless if their style has forms or not, these individuals rarely focus on the self-defense aspect of martial arts.
In the end, the reasons behind why someone takes a certain martial path are theirs. It is not for us to judge why they are studying a certain style. If you have not already experienced this, you will find as you move along your martial journey, your interests may change as you are exposed to new and different systems. What I would hope is that you remember, there is not one ultimate martial art, even though some people may think there is. Some arts come close, but each style has its pros and its cons. It’s your job to identify what those are based on your perspective and respect them as they are, even if you think what you do is better.