martial art or art form?

I find Kyudo an interesting art and an interesting subject for discussion of the term “martial art”. While Kyudo has its roots in combat archery and does use a weapon, it is obviously a spiritual and meditative pursuit rather than a combative skill. While Kyudo is called a “martial art”, I doubt that any Kyudo practitioner has delusions of being “combat effective” or believe that they are training in an art that will provide them with “street survival” skills. However I do believe that there are practitioners of various stylistic, meditative and “traditional” arts that DO believe such things. These are the people who believe that working on their “Chi” rather than their punching skills or physical conditioning will help them survive a confrontation. They are the people who think that a fight will somehow adhere to the protocols they follow at the dojo. These are the people who equate “martial art” with “combatives”.  A Kyudo practitioner is not the same as a historic Japanese combat archer. A sport fencing master is not automatically someone who could survive a real sword fight and a master in a “martial art” who has never faced a resisting opponent should not be presumed to be more likely to prevail against someone who has.

20 thoughts on “martial art or art form?”

  1. The narration puts me in the mind of yoga actually. I would say it fits under the heading of martial arts, but it’s in the vein of Tai Chi (Chi Gung/health focused versions) as a very “internal” art form drawn from combative roots.

    I know that olympic marksmen/women and archers both use a lot of visualization and biofeedback (mediation) in their training too. Same with bi-atheletes.

    1. Yup. I think that this is a good illustration of what “martial art” as a definition can imply. Many people believe that studying a “martial art” equates to fighting ability and thats not always a fact depending on the art. Some “arts” can be used for combat “out of the box” depending on their training approach. Others are not even intended to be combative.

  2. If people want to practice tai chi, kyudo, or any other aesthetic art for entertainment. fine. this is not combat. I suggest the sportsmen or aestheticians put on a badge, like I do everyday and come out to fight the sociopathic drugged out criminals where there are no rules or ref’s and see how well the techniques stand up.

  3. Not meaning offense, but the distinction is wrong. I won’t argue over Kyudo or some of the other super-specialized Japanese arts, but in general, one should distinguish by teachers, not by arts. Certainly the vast majority of Tai Chi teachers have no comprehension of the fighting roots of Chen style, let alone being willing and able to teach them. So most of the time this assumption is correct. But it’s not a safe assumption. I have studied with purists and police unarmed combat instructors with decades of state police experience, and I know serious Tai Chi students who could hand an officer his head if anytime they felt like it even if they spotted the officer a baton. Tai Chi orginally became famous in China when practitioners used it to defeat all comers.

    That’s just an an example, many arts are the same way. They have or lack martial applicability due to the teacher and the student, not the art. I know a mixed-art Korean teacher whose black belt students are so stiff and slow I could barely believe it, though the teacher himself is most capable. I’ve seen a Kung-Fu purist teacher with virtually no fighting experience completely dominiate an obnoxious Krav-Maga practitioner who came to show off, while the Kung-Fu teacher actually followed one of the forms he taught move for move just to drive the point home.

    This is a difficult area for prospective students. Unfortunately it’s even easier to lie about fighting experience than it is about baloney chi powers. You can ask for a demonstration of mysterious powers, but not so much for fighting skill. A student has to already know what they’re doing to be able to detect the crap.

    1. No offense taken, but where do you see me naming “Tai Chi” or any other “internal art”? Of which I am assuming you are a practiconer.

      I stand by my initial statement though, if all a student does is forms and “chi cultivation” he is going to get his ass handed to him by someone who knows what its like to take and recieve real strikes from a resisting opponent. If your version of Tai Chi actually spars or trains against opponents who are not “playing the same game”…more power to ya.

  4. “a master in a “martial art” who has never faced a resisting opponent should not be presumed to be more likely to prevail against someone who has”

    Indeed, this point is often overlooked, there needs to be resisting opponents in training otherwise it can become like Kyudo, when hitting the target is irrelevant, where the process has greater relevance than the outcome. In a street confrontation there needs to be competence at dealing with someone attempting to ‘knock your block off’, meditative practices don’t lead to that competence.

    I like the use of Kyudo to highlight that point, nice post

    1. There are still two Ryu-ha in Japan that carry on the tradition of Yabusame, archery on horseback. The Ogasawara Ryu and the Takede Ryu. This is fantastic to watch if you ever get to see it live. And these guys hit the target. It’s not about meditation.

      The idea that hitting the target is not important is not really true in Kyudo. There are several schools of Kyudo where it’s very important.

  5. There are still two Ryu-ha in Japan that carry on the tradition of Yabusame, archery on horseback. The Ogasawara Ryu and the Takede Ryu. This is fantastic to watch if you ever get to see it live. And these guys hit the target. It’s not about meditation.

  6. Kyudo is a Budo like any other. Bu and do… there is no separation. Though we no longer wish to shoot another person, we must still hit the mark; but not just the mark we can see, but the mark within ourselves as well (bu and do); if one of these marks is missed, then it is missed. But if I were to choose which one to miss, it would be the one we see.

    1. If someone was shooting at me I would prefer that I hit him vs achieving some form of “inner perfection”.

      Look. I am not belittling anybodies pursuits or saying that Kyudo has no value. What I am saying is that the pursuit has become FAR more “Art” than “Martial”.

      1. I think their might be some understanding about Kyudo and the pursuit of “inner perfection” in the West.

        One of the main conduits of this idea came from the teachings of Awa Kenzo via Eugen Herrigel’s book “Zen in the Art of Archery” which was translated from the original German into English.

        Earl Hartman, a 5th dan in Kyudo and the translator of Yamada Shoji’s book “Shots in the Dark”. had this to say on the topic:

        “It is true that Awa did not believe that technique was the be-all and end-all of kyudo. However, by making technical training the foundation of his entire philosophy, it is clear that he viewed it as the bedrock upon which everything was built, the essential thing without which nothing is possible. That is, without physical archery, spiritual archery is impossible to attain. Awa saw his archery as an integrated practice, where one naturally progresses from a physical understanding to a spiritual one. Again, this seems completely normal to me. My teachers all told me the exact same thing. I can’t see what the fuss was all about.

        For Awa, the shot was everything. No technique, not shot. No shot, no way to get to the upper spiritual levels. By passing over the need for perfecting form and technique as the prerequisite for proceeding to the next levels, Herrigel gives the entirely mistaken impression that Awa cared nothing for technique and didn’t even teach it. By doing this, he gives his readers the idea that one can hit one’s own arrow in the dark just by becoming “enlightened”. This rhetorical sleight-of-hand, where Herrigel creates an entirely false picture of kyudo by cherry-picking his experience in order to create a certain “mystical” impression, has done incalculable damage and is one of the fundamental causes of the misunderstanding of Japan and its arts in the West.”

        The original can be found here:

        However, you would have to become a member of the forum before viewing messages there.

        In other words, it is not possible to reach “inner perfection” or some spiritual level without good form and being able to consistently hit the target.

        Still, real war takes place on a battlefield with Predator drones fitted with Hellfire missiles, MRAP vehicles, etc. Anything less is would be less than “martial” as well in the modern world.

      2. Even taking that into account, Kyudo seems as “martial” as Olympic style pistol shooting would be to modern combat shooting.

  7. I think that for an art to be martial, it’d have to have applications in a martial environment. That being said, I also think that if an art draws roots from something applicable in a martial environment, it is in some form a martial art. Forgive me if I’m not making much sense, but i guess I feel anything related to combat in some way is a martial art.

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