3 common misconceptions about martial arts

1. Martial arts encourage violence

Naturally, the tone of a class is set by its teacher, and there are always people who do things for the wrong reasons. This said, the martial arts community, including all disciplines, is one of self-control and compassion.

To put it into perspective:

Would a person who merely wants to go out and beat people up…

1. … download one of the many “100 ways to kill a man with your bare hands”-type e-books for free, search youtube for “street fighting tips”, buy a knuckle-duster and head out?

2. … pay monthly to practice complicated techniques, along with things like breathing and meditation, for twenty years in a martial arts school, together with children, middle-aged men, and women, in weird clothes, in a foreign language?

In theory, yes, if a raging psychopath practiced a serious martial art in a good school for 20 years, and then went out to beat people up, that person may cause some problems, but even if that would have been the original intent of the person, martial arts systems are designed to either change or root out such people, who are given plenty of time to grow and learn in a positive environment, often with many years before they actually learn anything they could simply take to the streets and use, giving the instructor plenty of time to get to know the students, and choose who gets to progress in the system.

2. Martial arts are only for fit, young people

Different martial art systems and martial art schools can differ greatly in content and quality, but something which joins almost all of them is that they are organizations that intend to help their members grow and develop, not test them. Most schools already have members of different sexes, ages and levels of experience and fitness, with the training being adapted accordingly. If a school is homogeneous, most likely it would still warmly welcome any new member, and adapt the training to suit the new needs.

In fact, the varied nature of the training, the often high emphasis on individual exercises, and the slow progression that tends to characterize martial arts often make them optimal for gradual physical development, for training at your own pace without having to feel like a burden for anyone else, and for complementing physical inability with technical excellence, something which almost anyone can achieve with enough practice.

3. Martial sports, martial arts and self-defense are the same thing

Often in informal speech, the label “martial arts” is used as an umbrella term for many things, including both modern and traditional systems from all reaches of the world, both armed and unarmed, combat sports, civilian self-defense, policiary techniques, the hand to hand combat of the military systems, the dance- or acrobatic movements of Capoeira and Kalaripayattu, and so on.

Understanding these terms is necessary for you to find what you are looking for, but separating them is not always easy. This article will make an attempt at clarifying the most important of these concepts and at explaining both their differences and the relationships they have to each other, so that you can find the school with the best prerequisites to help you reach the goals you are striving for.

Martial sports:

These are systems that are designed mainly or entirely to prepare you for optimal performance in a sport containing mandatory elements of violence. Some common examples include:

• Judo

• Taekwondo

• Boxing

• Wrestling

There are great differences between these different systems, and there can be almost equally great differences between different schools teaching the same system, but a few denominators are so common that they can be generalized with a fair amount of accuracy:

• They have strong elements of physical exercise

• Their techniques and exercises are bound by the rules of their sport, thus preparing their practitioners very well for that which is a natural part of the sport, while not to the same extent preparing them for things that are not a natural part of the sport

• They are designed for quick progress, potentially taking a practitioner from beginner to world class athlete in just a few years

• They include strong elements of competition, even in training

Martial arts:

These are systems that are not adapted to a sport, and often have elements that are not directly connected to self-defense either, such as certain rituals, meditation or philosophy. Some common examples include:

• Aikikai aikido

• Goju Ryu Karate

• Hung Gar Kung Fu

• Jiu Jitsu

Here as well as with the martial sports, there are great differences both between systems, and between schools, but here as well, a few denominators are so common that they can be generalized with a fair amount of accuracy:

• They are designed for slow progress, so that great prominence in the system can take many years to achieve

• They have at least some (in some cases even mainly) aspects that relate more to growing as a person than to being able to fight

• They have less focus on physical exercise than the martial sports

• They have elements that are more or less unique to their system


These are systems that have the ability to defend oneself as the primary goal of their training. Self-defense systems can be designed for quick or for slow progress. They can be a part of a martial arts-system, in some cases a very small part, and in other cases almost the entirety of the system, the system in those cases being perhaps best labeled as a “self-defense martial art system”. Self-defense training can also be included as an element in some schools focusing on a martial sport.

When it comes to the self-defense training itself, however, regardless of whether practiced on its own, or as an aspect of another system, some common denominators exist:

• It will teach the practitioner to use every tool available, including both impact- and grappling techniques

• It will teach the practitioner to perform realistic attacks, and to perform them well

• It will include pair-exercises containing both elements of cooperation and of resistance

• It will consist partly of pair-exercises performed with minimal equipment, meaning for example no vests, no helmets, and no thick gloves.

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