Martial Sports Versus Military Arts


Since the earliest of times, man has been compelled to defend himself, his  family, and his clan, against those who would kill or enslave him, and his.  

To meet the need for self-protection and self-defense, tribal fighting systems were developed.  These were the earliest form of military arts.

As people settled into villages, and later towns and cities, the problem of self-defense increased.  More so again, with the development of city-states and nation-states.  As culture and civilization grows more complex, so too does the complexity of training in the military arts increase.

Thanks to television and the motion picture industry, when the term “martial arts” is used, people generally tend to think in terms of fighting arts from Asia.  This is obviously a conditioned response by those outside Asia, where such an association has no basis in fact or logic. Every city-state and every nation-state was formed by, or was facilitated by, indigenous military arts.  The Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Persians, to name just a representative few, all had highly developed fighting systems based upon their culture and technology.  Thus it has always been, and so it remains today.

Today, however, in the so-called post-modern world, a period still seeking it’s own identity and culture, we are faced with a dichotomy.  That is, that in a period of world-wide uncertainty wherein many educated and politically-aware people correctly perceive an increasing need for the ability to defend themselves and their loved ones, national governments are increasingly imposing restrictions on the ability of their subjects to do so. 

Any dependence on government is an indicator of powerlessness.  To depend upon government for one’s own safety, is also to ignore the lessons of human history.

“Bu” is the Japanese word for war (in Korean, “Mu”).  “Jutsu” is generally translated as “the techniques of”.  Bujutsu, then, are the techniques of war.  This is what was studied by the ruling class of Japan, “Bujutsu”.

The techniques of war are always what is studied by the ruling class.  That class which always enjoys the greatest personal freedom.  Demands for peace always emanate from those who have their freedoms, temporary as they may be, doled out to them.

There were a number of knowledges and skills which comprised the learning of a traditional warrior.  Indeed, this is true in most warrior cultures, not just in the Japanese.  I am only describing the Japanese because it is – currently – the most widely recognized. 

The warrior needed to study tactics and strategy, what we would describe as scoutcraft skills, and the various strictly military fighting skills, both armed and unarmed, mounted and dismounted, on land and in water.  It also included medical skills for dealing with disease, often found – then as now – in remote areas and in military camps, and with injuries from travel, training, and combat. 

Nor were the liberal arts ignored.  Obviously, the ability to read and write was important, otherwise how could the military classics be studied or orders, reports, and  messages written.  Painting, calligraphy,  music, and mathematics, were also part of the armormentarium of a well-schooled warrior.  Just as obviously, it took many years to develop a properly educated warrior, albeit a lot less time to train a low level “samurai” or a common soldier.

Armies, however, do not usually fight themselves.  In Japan, moreover, there was not just one army.  For most of its history, there were many.  Each of whom developed its own philosophy and its own school of fighting. 

In 1592, Japan began a series of invasions of the Korean peninsula, for the stated purpose of conquering first Korea and then China.  Japan failed.  What it did accomplish, however, was the looting of much of Korea and the taking of tens of thousands of prisoners.  These prisoners were monks, scholars, nuns, artisans, builders, craftsmen, etc., whose forced labor on behalf of Japan would result in an explosion of “Japanese culture”. 

Those prisoners also included instructors in the Korean military arts.  The exploitation of those instructors, by the schools of the various Japanese  military formations, elevated the quality of the Japanese training tremendously. It was the true beginning of fighting styles that we now consider traditional Japanese martial arts.

About the same time as the War Between the States in the United States, the Emperor seized control of the government.  We refer to this as the Meiji Restoration. 

In doing so, he also ordered the dissolution of the Samurai system in Japan.  It would have also spelled the end of the Japanese martial arts, except for one man – Kano Jigoro.

Kano was the most extraordinary Japanese of his era.  An educator by profession, he started studying Jujutsu in his teens.  As a remnant of the old samurai days, he twice had to take a blood oath never to reveal the “secret” Jujutsu techniques that he was about to receive, one oath for each of the two styles of Jujutsu that we know he studied.  It is reported that other styles opened their books to him also, an act which would have been impossible just years earlier.  While still in his 20’s, Kano opened his school for the study of Kano-ryu Jujutsu.

The reputation of Jujutsu had sunk so low, however, due to its use or adoption by street gangs, criminals, punks, and former samurai, that Kano was unable to persuade the upper-class parents of his college students to allow them to study Jujutsu.  Thus he changed the name of his style to Kodokan Judo.  With this name change came a complete change in his philosophy with regard to the martial arts.

The Japanese word “Ju” is sometimes translated as “gentle”, making Judo the “gentle art”, not a good translation by the way.  A better translation would be “suppleness” or “flexibility” or even “giving way”.  The Bamboo bends before the storm and survives.  The Oak stands strong and hard against the storm, and breaks or topples, and dies. 

Bujutsu, as I have noted, speaks to the techniques of war.  Kano, however, described Kodokan Judo in terms of  “Budo”, breaking with centuries of tradition.  In Europe, a tradition had grown about the “knightly virtues”.  Virtues ascribed to a medieval class of warriors, who seldom possessed the qualities now being attributed to them.  If it worked for the Western Europeans, why not for the Japanese.

Thus, “Bujutsu”, the “techniques of war” gave way to “Budo” the “way of the warrior”. 

Henceforth, within Kodokan Judo, the techniques of fighting would no longer be taught – nor learned – simply for the purpose of self-defense, but rather for the more noble purpose of improving one’s self as a total person.  It was simply brilliant.

Unfortunately, the Emperor was also impressed with this compelling concept and put it to use for a much darker purpose. 

Kano made additional changes in the way that his martial art was taught.  Many of which were adopted by other arts and styles, and for which Kano is given little or no credit.  This

includes the introduction of the “belt system”, by the way.  At the end of the day, Kano’s fighting system was recognized throughout Japan – and the world – as the most effective system of self-defense.

It is appropriate to note at this point, for ChungTongKwan Yudo practitioners especially, that Kano himself went to Korea to teach.  The Kodokan – Judo’s headquarters – opened a branch on the Korean peninsula, from which it supervised Judo in Korea.  With the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule in 1945, the Choson Judo Association was formed, by Kano’s Korean students and Kodokan high dans. It became the yudanshakai (promoting authority) in and for Korea.  In the 1960’s, the Choson Judo Association was divided (by the Korean government) into two separate organizations (sport and traditional). Chung Tong Yudo was jointly chartered, as the first international Korean military art, by both of these organizations.

In the 1930’s a government official visited Kano and informed him that the decision had been made that Japan would enter the Olympic games, and that he, Kano, had been selected as the one to bring this about.  As a loyal Japanese and subject of the Emperor, Kano set forth to make this happen.  Some unknowledgeable historical revisionists have attempted in recent years to make it appear that this was a quest by Kano to have Kodokan Judo made an Olympic sport.  That is the opposite of the truth.  Kano was violently opposed to having Judo made a sport, as one of his senior students was to learn in an incident that has been widely reported.  Kano clearly understood that sport judo was the opposite of what he intended for his cherished martial art.

Kano Jigoro, probably the leading Japanese personality of the last century, died in 1938, the first year of World War II.  In 1945, having been militarily crushed, and no longer an empire, Japan was occupied by United States military forces.  This occupying power ordered all martial arts training facilities closed, as part of the effort to excise the martial character of Japanese culture, from the nation’s cultural fabric.

In the following months, the Kodokan requested permission to reopen on the premise that it was not teaching any martial art, but rather that it was a sport training center.  This was done under the pretext that if the Olympics, which had been scheduled in Japan, but were cancelled because of Japan’s invasion of China, had been held, a demonstration of Judo would have been conducted.  Thus, they asserted, Judo was almost an Olympic sport. 

The Kodokan Judo Institute was allowed to reopen, and the staff of the Kodokan immediately set about turning their clever falsehood into the truth. Henceforth, Kodokan Judo would be an Olympic sport, not a martial art.  Kano Jigoro, and his life’s work, were betrayed.

Today, the International Judo Federation, not the Kodokan Judo Institute, is the world headquarters for Olympic Judo.  Belt ranks issued by the Kodokan Judo Institute are not even recognized by the International Judo Federation, except through their own governing body in Japan, and then just as another school. 

Judo promotions are now based upon participation in athletic competition.  Participation either as an athlete, a coach, a referee, or other game official.  Advancement is not upon knowledge, nor upon skill in performing the gamut of techniques of what used to be a military art.

What then is the difference between a military art and a martial sport?  I have described the traditional school of the warrior.  In the traditional Korean military arts, that traditional school of the warrior is now called a kwon.  There are different kwons within each art, such as ChungTongKwan Yudo or HaeMuKwan Hapkido or JungDoKwan Taekwondo.  The learning of these arts is a lifetime study within these kwons.

As an aside, the titles above are the proper manner in which to to cite a Korean military art.  One does not say “I study Yudo”.  One says “I study ChungTongKwan Yudo”.  The kwon is always named.  If a practitioner cannot name his kwon, each of which is registered with the governing body of the art in Korea, he or she is practicing a martial sport or at a rogue school.

Some of the subjects studied by the ancient warriors were listed above.  Now let us look at some of the current subject ares required for dan (black belt) promotions in the traditional Korean military arts.  These include: etiquette, historical studies, anatomy and physiology, defenses against assorted weapons and multiple attackers, weapons familiarization, the development of physical power, methods of teaching, ki development, swimming with hands and feet bound, underwater swimming and fighting techniques, defense techniques from the seated position, defense against attack with rope, defense with a cane, emergency treatment of bone and joint misalignment, resuscitation techniques, defensive techniques from a kneeling position and when lying down, training with the sword, archery training, massage for stimulation of muscles, massage for healing (100 hours of massage training), accupressure (400 hours of accupressure training), spear training, study of herbal healing (800 hours: including herbal teas & tonics, bolus, compress, extracts, decoctions, infusions, ointments, oils, hydrotherapy, poultices, herbal syrups, salves, powders, and tinctures), acupuncture (1200 hours), development of new techniques, jumping from great heights, long jumping techniques, high jumping techniques, the study of physical education, bone breaking, fan training, stone & coin throwing, knife throwing, needle & chopstick throwing, and horse back riding. This listing does not include the subjects leading up to the black belt level, nor does it list specialized training.  Nor is this listing complete.  It is merely provided as an example of what the minimum requirements are, and why it is referred to as an “art”.  In point of fact, the traditional Korean military arts are both art and science.

In contrast, the martial sports are sports derived from the military arts.  The knowledge component of the martial sports is a very, very small fraction of that required for the military arts.  The skill component of the sport competitor is also very limited as compared to the traditional military art.

An Olympic swimmer may swim very fast, but he or she does not have the competencies of the military combat swimmer. The Olympic competitive shooter may do very well putting holes in a paper target, but he or she does not possess the skills of a military sniper.  The Olympic Taekwondo competitor may kick to the head very successfully, but the first time he or she tries that technique on the street against a practitioner trained in one of the seven active traditional Taekwondo kwons, their first injury will be a fractured or dislocated knee or hip.  Bringing sport training into a battle is the same as coming to a gunfight armed with a knife.

It is also important to point out that all traditional Korean military art practitioners cross-train.  One does not find a Master or a Grandmaster in a Korean military art who is not also a Master or a Grandmaster  in two or more other Korean military arts.  The Korean Martial Arts Instructors Association, to which all the recognized traditional military art bodies in Korea belong, facilitates cross-training and mutual education, by the instructional standards to which its member organizations adhere.  There are no one-trick ponies in the traditional Korean arts, as there are in martial sports.

Finally, there are the matters of purpose, tradition, and lineage.  The bottom line purpose of any military art is success in the event, if one is forced to defend one’s self or family from attack.  The bottom line purpose of organized sports, is winning contests, recognition, and glory.  One does not find the illustration of a woman who disabled her assailant, posted on a box of “Wheaties”.  The successful defender against a home invasion does not get a free trip to Disney World.

The military arts have traditions which may go back centuries and lend credence and legitimacy to the system or style, the school, and the practitioner.  The martial sports are merely a spinoff from the military arts.  A sport competitor may ride a horse and know how to fence, but that does not make him or her a cavalry trooper.  With rare exception, the traditions which do exist in martial sports are borrowed, or stolen, from the original military art. 

Lineage is the bloodline of a military art.  In the United States, many ethnic Koreans moving to the United States broke with their own kwon in Korea, and issued rank certificates to their students which are unrecognized in Korea.  These students have been deprived of their lineage.  Other students study in schools under an instructor who broke away from his or her own instructor, issuing fancy rank certificates of no real value within the art which they study.  These students have no lineage.

There is another term for lineage, as applied to the military arts, that is “legitimacy”.

This then brings us to the core issue as it relates to military arts versus martial sports. 

Military art practitioners are students of an art and science, whose ultimate purpose is success in personal combat, and which possess martial etiquette, customs, traditions, and a legitimate lineage and heritage.  Rank in the military art is the external indicator of the level of knowledge and skill of the practitioner.

While there are any number of local, regional, state or provincial, national, and international sport organizations meeting the sports needs of athletes and their supporters, the pinnacle of sports is one of two organizations, the Olympics and the World Games, depending upon the sport involved.  Neither the International Olympic Committee (IOC) nor the World Games is a military art entity of any kind. 

The International Judo Federation (IJF) and the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), as two examples, derive their authority from the IOC.  The sole authority of the IJF is over the Olympic Sport of Judo, for which it is the international governing body (IGB) under the authority of the IOC.  United States Judo, Inc. (USJI) derives its authority from two sources, the IJF and the Federal Sports Act passed by the United States Congress and signed into law.  Thus USJI is the national governing body (NGB) for the sport of Judo in the United States.  Neither the IJF nor USJI can issue rank in any military art.  Neither has any authority over any military art.  This is especially true of the IJF and Kodokan Judo, since the IJF does not even recognize the Kodokan any more and, moreover, Judo under the Kodokan Judo Institute, has been a sport since 1945 anyway.

Sport Taekwondo has two international governing bodies.  One for South Korea, the World Taekwondo Federation, and one for North Korea, the International Taekwondo Federation. 

In South Korea, sport Taekwondo is known as “Kukki Taekwondo” or National Taekwondo.  Kukki Taekwondo is an amateur sport with its headquarters at “Kukkiwon” in Seoul, under the Korean Amateur Sports Association.  The WTF imposed a requirement on all WTF international competitors requiring a rank certificate from Kukkiwon in order to participate in international competition. 

Meanwhile, there are seven active kwons in Korea that practice the military art of Taekwondo.  These comprise the Korea Taekwondo Association. There are two additional, inactive, kwons.  One, whose founder, now deceased,  is considered a traitor by the Korean people, and another, which became more of an organized crime family, and whose current head is living in the United States.  These military art Taekwondo kwons do not recognize Kukkiwon rank certificates.  One would expect this, given the limited military art education of the sport practitioners.

While participation in organized sports may be a good thing, it is not a good thing for the athletes to imagine  themselves, or to portray themselves, to be a warrior.  They are not a warrior, they are an athlete.

The pentathlon started as a military game.  The Biathlon was a training course for mountain troops.  Orienteering was started as military training. These are all sports derived from military techniques.  Yet, none of the athletes in these sports portray themselves as military art practitioners.  What benefit is gained therefore by athletes, participating in other military sports, those derived from Asian military arts, falsely portraying themselves as military art practitioners? 

© 2010  Joseph F. Connolly, II.  All rights reserved.

Brought to your by:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s