Is Martial Arts a Sport? – What Makes Each Martial Art Considered a Sport?

Martial arts have been trained all over the world for as long as human beings have walked the earth.


Originally used to train soldiers and ancient civilizations in the art of hand to hand combat, many of the martial arts (particularly in the East) later came to be thought of as disciplines to train the mind, the body, and the soul all at the same time – all while developing those same deadly skills.

It wasn’t until a relative modern times that martial arts began to be considered as modern “sports”.

Sure, there have always been martial arts competitions – and certain martial arts (like boxing, for example) had a long-standing history and tradition as a competitive organized sport, too.

But does this mean that all martial arts are sports?

Let’s dig a little deeper into that hypothesis right now.

Are Martial Arts a Sport?

is martial arts considered a sport

As we highlighted above, martial arts have been trained throughout time for as long as human beings have been engaged in hand to hand combat.

We have a tendency to think of martial arts today as MMA, boxing, judo, jiu jitsu, karate Taekwondo,  or Martial Arts – forgetting about wrestling, tae kwon do, and literally hundreds of other disciplines and arts that have to do with “combat sports”.

Because our cultural frame of reference when we hear the words martial arts revolve around the competitions we see on television, like at the Olympics, it’s not hard to start seeing these combat disciplines as sports.

We think of them the same way that we think of every other sport out there, that their entire purpose is designed to separate winners from losers in competition, when really nothing could be further from the truth.

Legitimate practitioners of martial arts will tell you that while they love the idea of these competitions getting more people into the world of martial arts, the competitive aspect is one tiny piece of the puzzle.

Let’s unpack that a little bit.

Understanding the Difference Between Fighting Arts and Sports

is a martial arts a sport or a type of discipline

You see, dedicated practitioners of all martial arts (especially martial arts like karate, for example) recognize that their disciplines have become “watered down” when used in sporting competitions.

Karate lessons and karate training teaches you to unleash your mind and your body in a way that could (quite literally) kill an opponent, using everything that you have learned and everything that you have trained yourself to be capable on to render an enemy incapacitated – or worse.

Obviously, the world of sport that’s not a great idea.

We don’t have games where people compete to the death any longer, and while we do have sports like MMA that are bareknuckle, brutal, and significantly more “hard-core” than things like boxing or kickboxing or muay thai we still aren’t interested in seeing someone actually die the ring.

Because of this, a lot of people that train martial arts from a sports standpoint are learning how to pull their punches and how to “play” their moves out without a lot of force behind things.

They train themselves to efficiently and effectively move their body and use their mind while at the same time restraining themselves from doing what karate was designed to do in the first place.

This results in a sort of dumbing down of these ancient disciplines, producing athletes that are quite capable that scoring points in winning competitions but not really honoring the original point and intention of martial arts like karate the first place.

All of this creates a lot of tension in the world of martial arts, especially between practitioners that want to be able to complete and want to be able to dominate opponents without hurting or killing and those that want a “pure” experience.

Martial Arts Can Be a Sport – But Are Often So Much More

can mma martial arts be a sport

At the end of the day, it’s probably fair to say that while martial arts certainly can your sport they are so much more than that.

Martial arts are, after all, very much combat disciplines that teach you how to use your mind and your body to either attack or defend yourself in a variety of different situations.

These disciplines, when fully trained, quite literally turn you into a weapon – hopefully a weapon that has a lot of restraint and has a lot of discretion about how you use your new skills and abilities, but a weapon all the same.

Yes, you’re going to keep seeing things like karate, boxing, and kickboxing at sporting events like the Olympics.

That’s not going away anytime soon.

is martial arts a sporting activity

And yes, you’re still going to see a lot of martial art training schools and teachers that train their students in such a way that makes them very proficient when it’s time to score with the judges, even if that means sacrificing a bit of their viability in a street fight.

But when you get right down to it, it would be impossible to describe martial arts purely as a sport.

These disciplines are not a game. The end result of using these disciplines the way they were intended is not to win a match or bring home a gold medal.

These disciplines are designed to help you enhance your boxing techniques to give you far more mastery over yourself and your spirit, to give you confidence and peace of mind as you walk through a world that is increasingly less safe feeling, and to provide you with the means to defend yourself and others in the (hopefully unlikely) situation that you need to.

All in all, it’s probably fair to say that martial arts are both a sport and a life discipline – both a training regimen designed for athletes to compete at the highest levels as well as a lifelong commitment to excellence, dedication, and hand-to-hand combat that can change or even save your life going forward.

So the next time that you see two people in a karate contest or are watching a high-profile boxing round just remember that what you’re watching is a choreographed “dance” engineered for sport as opposed to the brutal, efficient, combat arts system that people have been practicing for centuries.

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