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A what point is a practitioner of the martial arts a martial artist?

Answers:1   |   LastAnswerAt:2011.03  

Asked at 2011.03.02 22:09:15
This isn't as simple an answer as some might believe, or have you to believe. The very term 'artist' means "a person who is skilled at some activity".
The Japanese word for martial artist is Budoka (武道家). Budo (武道) meaning "martial way" (武 alone having strong connections towards meaning 'to stop violence') and ka (家) means (as a suffix) a professional or an expert. In Japanese, a Budoka is an expert in the way of stopping violence. [Insert Tao reference here]

So all in all, by definition this should eliminate any sort of beginner. Anyone new to the martial arts could never call themselves a martial artist. But when? At what point does one become what could be considered skilled or an expert? Does it simply mean being well versed, or just a step above the rest?
answer Patrick  Answered at 2011.03.02 22:09:15

If we ignore the argument of "classical" versus modern usage of budo for a moment, I believe you are asking when does a practitioner of a technique become a practitioner of "the way." The answer, to me, is quite clear. When a student understands the technique sufficiently to correct the technique of others or can identify new or different techniques or can discern new ways to use the underlying principles to develop their own technique then one is a practitioner of "the way."

One must be able to see not only the similarities in "the way" between Aikido, Judo and Jujutsu or even Karate but also the similarities to "the way" in everyday activities. To become a practitioner of "the way" one must be able to see "the way" in everything. Understanding the principles of "the way" in your martial art is the beginning of the path and is reasonably accomplished once you understand technique well enough to correct another's technique. This is, in my opinion, also the definition of shodan (first degree black belt).

In order to truly define "martial artist," we would need to define "martial art" and we seem to have many disagreements on the concept of "martial arts" on this forum. Personally, I view any fighting system or philosophy (applicable to combat) as a martial art. This would include both classical examples (Jujutsu) as well as modern examples (Keysi Fighting Method) from the aggressively brutal (Krav Maga) to the passive and defensive (Aikido) to the dancing fighting arts (Capoeira) as well as both Eastern (Taijiquan, Taekwondo) and Western (boxing, wrestling, fencing) styles.

In relation to budo I tend to look less at the actual translation and more at the historical reference to usage of the term. Additionally, "martial artist" is a modern western term rather than a historical term for practitioners of classical martial arts.

The modern usage of budo is typically viewed as "the way" one should develop oneself. Modern budo uses aspects of the lifestyle of the samurai of feudal Japan and translates them to self-development in modern life. Modern budo de-emphasizes practicality and effectiveness in favor of personal development from a fitness or spiritual perspective. The difference between gendai and koryu budo is an emphasis of the more "civilian" versus "military" aspects of combat and personal development, respectively.

This difference in both philosophy and application is exemplified in the transformation of jujutsu to judo. An argument could be made that this is simply the transition of terminology away from jutsu to do (technique to "the way") but there is too much historical evidence, in my opinion, suggesting that Jigoro Kano's evolution (for example) was a major reformation of jujutsu with focus on development of the body, mind and character of young men in addition to development of martial prowess.

Does this mean that Judo is a martial art and Jujutsu isn't? I believe most people agree that Judo and Jujutsu are both martial arts despite the (original, classical) definition of each. Judo was clearly developed as a way of personal development while Jujutsu is most often viewed as the unarmed fighting system of Feudal Japan. Similarly, if one views Karate as having hidden techniques that are more than the sum of the techniques then one must also view Capoeira with all the hidden techniques as also being a martial art. Additionally, if classical Jujutsu with an emphasis on fighting technique rather than personal development is a martial art then we must agree that Krav Maga is also a martial art.
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