A lot of martial arts people profess to have no love for the sporting versions of their arts, but I am not one of them. There are arguments against them, raised from time to time either by traditionalists looking to preserve a pure form of an art, or by modern self-defence practitioners looking to highlight how well their own systems fill a particular gap. The arguments against sport arts usually run something like this:
1. They ban many moves on the grounds of safety that would be core components of a self defence system. Those moves dramatically change the game (for example, biting makes BJJs triangle choke much harder to pull off, while the rear choke is somewhat less perfect against someone who eye gouges).
2. They do little or nothing to preserve the traditions and respect of an art.
3. They narrow the scope of an art to only those aspects covered by the sport, so that Taekwondo has gone from an art with lots of kicks to an almost purely kicking art, Judo has lost touch with the strikes that used to be part of its kata, and so forth.
4. A sporting competition neither starts nor ends in the same way as a real fight.
To a certain extent, all of these observations are valid ones. Most sport arts do not cover the use of or defence against potentially very dangerous techniques. They are not a perfect recreation of a real fight. They do have comparatively narrow scopes. And it is certainly true that some sports types can be very unpleasant. However, having done some work with traditional arts, sporting arts, and more modern systems, I think there are also some advantages to the sport ones that need to be taken into account.
1. Because they work within relatively safe parameters, most sport arts allow for actual interactive, competitive practise between participants. You have to learn to do the moves on someone who is trying to stop you, in other words. I have felt the difference this makes, and it is huge.
2. While there are some singularly over-competitive and unpleasant people in sport arts, there are plenty in traditional and modern arts too. Most people you meet in sport arts, meanwhile, are genuinely lovely people. I believe it’s called being ‘sporting’.
3. Sport arts often attract younger, fitter people, who are therefore more of a challenge. I found this in my one foray into historical fencing. I’ll say now that I liked the idea of historical fencing, I could see that there was a lot in the moves being used, and the practise was genuinely interactive (plus there were longswords, which is just cool). Sadly, the club I went to was under-populated, and the students there simply did not provide the kind of challenge I could find in most fencing clubs.