In the first episode (Episode I: The Phantom Podcast) of our podcast, we jumped into the deep end and tried to define what "martial arts" means. We talked for about 40 minutes, and in the end, I think we made some headway, but still didn't define the term very well, at least in any way that would include everything that is "martial arts." Everyone on the episode had different lines drawn in the sand for what was and was not a martial art. I've been trying to think of an answer to that question since the recording. I think what we have to do is devise categories of activities that all fall under the umbrella of the term martial arts. The categories I made are based on the goal of the art, so what I'm going to do is tell you about the goals, give you some examples, and let you sort out how your own art fits in there. Next time, I'll write about the cross-goal martial arts.
Civilian/Self Defense Martial ArtGoal: Safety, protection, and survival, of you and your loved ones.
I have to admit, I borrowed the use of the term from Iain Abernathy. When he uses it, he's describing practical karate, but I think the term applies to other arts as well. If you are really practicing self defense, then there is a whole host of things that need to trained BESIDES the physical part. In fact, if you get to the point of a physical altercation, most of your self defense has failed already. Awareness should be your first line defense. Avoidance your second. De-escalation your third. When it does get to the point of physical altercation, then your goal should be to do what you can to get out of the situation and run. Not as romantic as our vision of what a martial artist is, but much more practical. Legal concerns, as it is citizens performing the art, should be a part of the training as well.
Also, the art itself is designed to be used against unskilled opponent, in a non-fighting situation. These arts are not meant to be used in a ring, cage, or octagon. The demands of these situations are very different from self defense situations. Aikido fits directly into this category. When older arts "were modified" from the battlefield arts of the past, they became civilian arts. And they should have been. They have become antiquated for battle arts, but with modification, they can still retain their usefulness in self defense situations.
Military Martial Martial ArtGoal: Eliminate the Enemy
Military members have completely different requirements of martial proficiency. Their allowances for injuring, or even killing someone else are very different than civilian or even Law Enforcement Officers (LEO) martial arts. Granted, right now, our (US at least) military seems to be acting more as a police force than a military force and as such their martial requirements are closer to the LEOs... but that's a different subject altogether.
Many of us practice, what is Japanese is called koryu or old military art. It was designed to be used in life or death battlefield situations where you killed your opponent by any means necessary. All koryu would also fall into this Military category, maybe even a sub-category called historical military. This is not to say that the skills learned cannot be applied to self-defense situation, but they do have a different purpose. If a civilian were to use these skills the way they were intended in a civilian situation, and "eliminate" the threat, they would have a whole world of legal issues to deal with.
Sport Martial ArtGoal: A test of athletic, martial skills in an artificial setting
Sport martial arts include things like Tae Kwon Do, Boxing, or MMA. Their goal is to be able to win competitions. This means that they are effective in limited settings of no-weapon, single skilled opponent situations. I've found that usually the physical attributes of sports martial artists are usually higher than those of other martial artists. This is because they usually have a specific date that they know a fight is going to happen. Again, not to say that the skills cannot be transferable to other goals, but that is not the focus of their training.
Self-Development Martial ArtGoal: Self-Development
Its been known for a while that warriors of times past, through their martial training, had to learn of philosophy, personal responsibility, and develop mental strength. Warriors are powerful, enviable people, not only for their physical prowess, but the other aspects that are developed through training. Now, with personal safety a smaller concern than any time in human history, the self defense, or killing aspects is not as important as it was in the past. Many martial artists realized they could still maintain the mental and physical benefits while eliminating the more violent aspects of the arts. Karate, as it was taught in the Okinawan school system, fits this description.