What Is a Sport Art?

One poster on a forum said that long range arts are mainly sports. That got me to thinking, “What is the difference between a sport art and a combat art?”

I don’t think we can classify methods as either sport methods or combat methods just on their preferred fighting range. The first example that comes to mind is larga mano, which is long range, but originated as a fighting art. One of the most famous practitioners of larga mano was the late GM Giron, who actually fought hand-to-hand against the Japanese in WWII, and survived. An art cannot be any more combat-oriented than that.

But I think the poster’s point was that in a long range method like boxing, the fighters are counting on the referee to break them up if one of them holds, and the referee will intervene if someone falls to the ground. On the street, there are no referees, and it’s definitely not over when its hit the ground. Western boxers as well as Thai boxers admit up front that what they practice is a sport.

So are close range styles combat oriented? Judo is close range and a declared sport. Despite the brutality of the MMA and the octagon matches, it is still a sport. Yet who would say that Western boxing, Thai boxing, judo, and MMA don’t have any combat value?

And there are those arts that are declared combat arts, yet are found to be deficient. I admit that my bias is toward long range arts, yet there are long range styles that have no close range defense –that is not acceptable to me. It is a deficiency that must be addressed.

Let me cut to the chase here. What makes a combat art?

1) Intent. The artist and those who teach and develop the style must have life-or-death combat as their ultimate goal.

2) An Awareness of Your Assumptions. If you train barefooted, you kick with the ball of the foot. If you live in feudal Japan, the assumption that you will fight barefooted is valid. If you are in Michigan in the winter, your assumption is crazy.

Related to awareness of your assumptions is awareness of the rules. MMA is often billed as no-holds-barred, but there are still rules, like no eye gouges. What happens when your opponent doesn’t follow those rules? Also, if you train in a sport art, like Western wrestling, you could ask yourself, “What rules could I break to give me the advantage in real combat?

3) A Commitment to Reality. When I first trained in Tapado with GM Vasquez, I soon reached a point where I was confronted with the realization that given my level of knowledge and my technique, I could not realistically expect to counter a Tapado stylist. When I sparred with GM Maranga in close, I realized that certain long stick close range techniques would not work. Neither of these realizations was comfortable for me. It meant accepting the fact that my art was lacking.

So I had a choice, I could kid myself, puff up my ego and say, “Yeah, I could have taken him out easily,” or I could admit the truth that I had encountered a superior method, or a flaw in my system. I chose the latter.

It wasn’t easy, but that is the path that leads toward growth. I want to start this year with greater intent to train harder, to become more aware of my assumptions and biases, and to commit myself to follow combat truth, wherever that may lead.


One Response to “What Is a Sport Art?”


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