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What’s the difference between a Martial Art and a “martial art”?


English can be a really funny language, and by “funny” I mean “strange” not “humorous” (see, already I’m proving my point). English has words that have multiple definitions that can only be guessed at sometimes from either knowledge of the speaker/writer’s intent – or context.

I have been told that ALL languages have their idiosyncracies ….. so I’ll accept that as fact. Unfortunately, I only speak and write in English, so here’s what I think of as a good example of English being “funny”.

There is a difference between a Martial Art and a martial art! The capitalization makes the difference.

When capitalized, Martial Art refers to a whole range of movements that have been used in various cultures by their fighting classes (soldiers, rebels, military, guerrillas, etc) to kill people on a battlefield or in a physical struggle. These movements, or techniques, have been “de-fanged”, stylized, and codified to make transference easier OR to preserve important cultural understandings.

Japanese Martial Arts, such as Aikido, Kendo, Jodo, Iaido, etc. are excellent examples of studies that had origins in killing forms that are now used to develop other aspects of a person. From physical fitness to social adroitness to spiritual grounding to self-development the Japanese Martial arts all have excellent reasons for being an object of endeavor.

The Japanese concept of a “Do” or a “Way” is embodied in all of these disciplines. All are performed with certain rituals, choreographed moves, and an essential attitude of committing oneself to small, daily improvement. None of them are designed to be short-term projects or passing fancies. To truly benefit from any of these Arts requires years of diligent practice and humble intent.

And NONE of the actual Martial Arts are what many people think of when they say, “martial art”.

A “martial art” is never really an art at all, and here’s why:

Mirriam-Webster defines an “art” as:

  1. A skill acquired by experience, study, or observation, e.g. – the art of making friends
  2. The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects, e.g. – the art of painting landscapes

English Language Learners defines “art” as:

  1. something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.
  2. works created by artists : paintings, sculptures, etc., that are created to be beautiful or to express important ideas or feelings.

There is nothing about modern “martial arts” that, in any way, reflects those definitions.

Here’s what “martial” means:

mar·tial /ˈmärSHəl/


  1. of or appropriate to war; warlike.

It would be much more accurate to call modern martial arts a “martial sport” or a “martial style of fighting”. 

MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) is NOT an art – it is a conglomeration of techniques and movements that are the core of a brutal sport that exists to encourage one person to do legal damage to another until a winner is either decided on by judges or is the consequence of physically disabling the opponent. Art? I don’t think so!

Krav Magda is NOT an art, and I don’t think its practitioners would want to portray it as that, excepting for the lack of understanding among the general public. It is a style of fighting that is deadly and efficient. There is no “art” to it.


Martial Arts are not “martial” arts!





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