There is a very interesting article in the New York Times on the sportification of kendo (thanks for Devon Boorman of Academie Duello for pointing it out) here: The Way of the Sword Is Too Complex for the Olympics – NYTimes.com.
For those of us engaged in recreating the killing arts, it seems odd that kendo would be thought of as a “pure” martial art: from our perspective, if it has World Championships, it must be a sport. But the kendoka I have met all insist on it being a martial art, and I’ve never really understood why until reading this article. The key is in the last few lines:
“Kendo is not a sport, it’s a martial art,” said Daniel Ebihara, who has taught in New York since 1958 and coaches the Venezuelan national team. “It’s not about how to win. How to be is more important.”
This is places the definition of martial art as they are using it squarely at the self-improvement pole (I think of martial arts being pulled towards five poles: killing, self-imporvement, sport, spectacle and health. See pp 5-6 of The Swordsman’s Companion for the full argument). The article continues:
Getting points and winning medals and becoming a champion are hardly the aims, Ebihara said, yet he sees kendo going in that direction. For him, victory entails something else.
“In kendo, the prime opponent is yourself,” he said. “If ippon is perfectly executed, the other side will bow to you and smile.”
I love this. It absolutely defines the nature of a good bout in our arts. Winning a tournament is of infinitely less value than becoming more than you were; and a great hit is wonderful to be a part of, whether you deliver it or receive it. If you weren’t fencing at your best, your opponent could not pull off that stroke.
But this is fencing. The Art half of martial art. It leaves out the essential nature of what makes a martial art martial.