Regardless of the organisation, regardless of the weapon we use, at some point in time we need to sit back and have a look at what we are doing. We need to do this with a critical eye. Unfortunately as we become attached to a certain way of doing things in a certain group, we tend to become blind to alternatives which are just as valid, or in some instances even more valid than our own. This does not mean that we should change groups every time we find this, but we should at least look at what we are doing and with a critical eye. The purpose of this article is to ask question of whether that form of combat we are involved in is a "martial art" or a "martial sport". Both have their valid forms, but as stated we need to look at what we are doing with a critical eye in order to find the truth.
The first question to look at and one which will come up again and again is the question of consequences. In their original form the weapons and techniques used have and inherent lethality to them and the consequences for failure were for the most part dire. The presence of this level of threat, whether inferred or real is an important part of the form of combat. In the comparison between the martial art and the martial sport, this is a good place to start. In the martial sport, there are really little consequence for being struck, a combatant is struck, a point is awarded and the combatants re-start until a time limit is reached or one combatant scores a certain amount of points. This form is found in its extreme form in sport fencing. In the martial art, there are consequences present for the combatant who is struck, these are mostly simulated due to the nature of the real weapons, but are still present. A combatant who is struck with a lethal blow is considered killed, a strike to a limb results in the limb being useless for at least the rest of the bout.
In the further discussion of the idea of consequences in the combat, there is the question of the double-kill. Two combatants strike one another with equally lethal blows, what happens as a result of this determines the difference between the martial art and the martial sport. In the sport version both combatants are awarded on point each or zero points, the combatants then re-set and then continue the bout. In the martial art, both combatants are considered "dead" and the bout is ended with a loss recorded for both combatants. There is no reward and definite consequences for both combatants striking and failing to consider their defense.
Another place where the martial art and the martial sport differ is in the purpose of the pursuit. This is the reason behind what is going on in the activity. In the martial sport the reason is the results of competition, the hits, kills or wins in these competitions, besting opponents. In the martial art there is a more holistic approach to the pursuit, the lethal intent of the art is appreciated, and it is the skills which are taught which are the source of achievement. Most swordsmen like to cross blades with one another to test their skill against another person. It is the manner and purpose of this encounter which is the important factor, is it simple competition against an opponent, or a chance to test your skill and learn from the encounter? This is the important difference.
In the approach to the combat there is also a difference between the martial art and the martial sport. This is most often seen in how the form of combat is taught and what the focus is in the result. In the martial art the best thing is to strike without being struck, defensive skills are the focus of the art with the offense only coming out of a sure offense. In the martial sport as long as you strike the opponent first, it does not matter if the opponent strikes you as well. This has more of the offensive nature placed first where striking the opponent is more important than avoiding being struck.
A real encounter with swords, where there is lethal intent behind their use in the modern world, is unlikely. Bouting is our most common avenue for using our skills. The most important thing to remember here is the purpose behind what we are doing and an appreciation of the martial art and original intent of the art which is what makes the difference between the martial art and the martial sport. The important thing to realise in this situation is that if a person is getting what they want out of a martial sport, then there is nothing wrong with them continuing this pursuit, but they should remember what is behind it, and realise what they are doing. The critical eye is important in all considerations of what we are doing as swordsmen.