With the popularity of MMA and the Olympics, people tend to equate combat sports with martial arts. To be fair, there are quite a few similarities. However, this would be the same as equating FUN88 codes with Steam codes – there is some overlapping, but they are really different. Here is how.
Martial arts, in their various forms, have existed for a few thousand years, and not just in Asia. There have been many forms of martial arts that focused on wrestling, grappling, punching, kicking, throwing, and using weapons.
The purpose of these martial arts, though somewhat romanticized in movies with Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, and Mark Dacascos, to name a few, was to allow physically smaller, weaker, and often unarmed people to fight. Martial arts like Muay Thai were designed to train an army of people with very few resources against the invaders and Capoeira played a huge part in the revolt of African slaves in the Americas.
As time progressed, martial arts lost some of the mystique surrounding them. That mystique was there to intimidate would-be aggressors and to keep the secrets of techniques that were most effective and not damaging to the user’s body. Pretty soon, some martial arts were converted into combat sports. Competitions were held and the focus was shifted from defense and immobilization to points and aesthetics. You could still win by knocking your opponent out, but you would also have a chance if you scored more hits or pushed them out of the ring.
Many combat sports have a ban on techniques that would normally be used in a fight for the sake of being sporting and not letting the form devolve into a brawl. For example, Taekwondo uses kicks in the sporting tournaments, but the martial art also uses punches, grapples, throws, joint-locks, and sweeps. None of these are allowed in official Taekwondo tournaments. Training in combat sports, as exhausting as it is, is not as dangerous as training in martial arts used to be.
Make no mistake, though, combat sports can still injure and kill a person. That’s why there is always a referee of some sort in the ring and why many of them have protective gear, like helmets, gloves, shin guards, jockstraps, and so on.
The end goal of practicing martial arts and combat sports is also very different. Martial arts are a way of life. The purpose of martial arts is to live healthily and to be virtuous, so as not to abuse your knowledge and to build a better world by improving yourself, without limiting yourself to fighting techniques. Tai chi, for instance, is a Chinese martial art made popular for its health benefits and you are likely to see people outside practicing it the same way they do Yoga.
Combat sports also aim at peak physical condition, but their goal is more about what’s in front of us than it is about what’s to come. Combat sports don’t have the same culture as the martial arts and they are more about competitions and proving you are better than someone else. One could argue that combat sports are an aspect of martial arts, much like the forms, or the philosophy. To put it simply and bluntly – there is more to martial arts than just knocking someone out.