One question I often get asked is “are martial arts sports?”. It seems not only to confuse the general public, but also many practitioners who don’t actually know whether what they are doing is sport or not. The answer is really quite simple. A sport by definition is “an activity involving physical exertion or skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”.
I tend to categorise martial arts into three groups:
1. Practical (for a real life self defence situation)
2. Sport (training for and entering competition)
3. Show (choreographed performances for demonstrations, displays and movies)
Although people have many different motives for training e.g. fitness, social, fun, etc. these are the three main applications of the many different martial arts.
“Practical” is not a sport as practitioners do not compete against each other. The main aim of the training is to be able to protect yourself if attacked although some people do it just for fun.
Obviously the second is definitely sport by it’s very name. Competitors step into the arena and try to beat the other person in an organised match with organised rules. This includes MMA.
“Show” martial arts is less obvious than the other two as it can be both. Much of the time it is used for giving demonstrations and displays but, most competitions these days have a section for “kata” or “forms” whereby entrants perform their routine to a panel of judges who then score the performance similar to dance and gymnastic competitions.
So basically if you enter competitions or organised matches then you are practicing a sport, otherwise it is a leisure pursuit. In ALL cases it is a way of life.