FIGHTING? Is fighting the primary focus of martial arts? While martial arts are about defense, the word “fighting” seems to denote a sloppy exchange of blows and possibly a sparring match in a tournament. The Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines “fighting” as follows: 1. To attempt to harm or gain power over an adversary by blows or with weapons 2. To engage in boxing or wrestling. While the first definition seems to be focused on pure violence and street fighting, the second definition can be associated with tournament fighting. While karate evolved as a system of self-protection, violence and competition were not its true, original aims.
are designed to prepare individuals for the eventuality of conflict. One
could make a case that they are also preparing for the inevitability of
conflict. Old style, “koryu” martial arts did not encourage sport
competitions because they were not truly representative of combative
reality. Martial arts have historically been more about protection of a
group rather than simple self defense. This makes use of weaponry
almost inevitable, as martial arts are designed to be used in a military
When I think of “fighting,” I think of crudely exchanging blows or maybe
competitive sparring. Sport competition was never included in the
ancient forms of classical jujutsu, and it is rarely found in the older
forms of budo. It goes against the grain of the very nature of these
activities, and you can read more about this idea in many of the late
Donn Draeger’s fine books. Yes, many modern budo systems utilize sport
sparring, but this is not a true presentation of combative reality,
which is one of the reasons that it is largely absent in the koryu (“old
style”) martial arts. Many modern systems focus on disciplining the
mind and downplay the more dangerous moves that were originally intended
for group protection.
True martial artists’ main goal is to skillfully control or neutralize
an attack as quickly as possible. In different contexts, the terms
“control” and “neutralize” take on different meanings. Skilled martial
artists are able to limit and sometimes altogether avoid conflict.
It may be sloppy terminology to refer to sparring or practicing as
“fighting.” The word “fighting” may not be an entirely apt term for what
happens between skilled martial artists. Rather, the rapid exchange of
techniques designed to avoid or neutralize conflict is an entity unto
itself, not to be confused with unskilled bouts of street fighting.