Part I

Australia is often referred to as ‘a great sporting nation’. Truth be told, when most people think of sports in Australia, they think of the traditional sports, such as cricket, AFL, rugby league and rugby union. People often have to be prompted to cite swimming as a sport, even though swimming and diving are amongst the most popular sports in the country, as is soccer and tennis.

The sport that is truly underestimated, however, is martial arts. If people sit back and think for the moment, they will realise that martial arts is quite prevalent in our society and extremely culturally diverse. In this sense, ‘martial arts’, in its variety of styles and forms, is truly ‘The Sleeping Giant’.

Most popular sport

There has been a lot of talk lately about identifying Australia’s most popular sport. Is it cricket? Is it AFL or rugby league?

Participation in a particular sport is certainly one way of answering the question. For instance, a large increase in the number of people playing soccer has led to claims that this type of football is set to become Australia’s ‘top sport’. Using participation statistics and the number of fans who watch but don’t play the sport and it’s very easy to argue that cricket and soccer are more popular than AFL and rugby league.

If you consider which sports are more popular throughout the country, however, not just urban centres, then sports like rugby league rise in prominence. Other factors such as age or gender paints a different picture again. Most children enjoy swimming, so by this measure there is no doubt that swimming is one of the great Australian sports. In fact, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics swimming and diving are the most popular sports for girls and women. Unsurprisingly, and in contrast, the most popular participation sport amongst men is soccer, with almost a quarter of the Australian male population playing it.

Confusing to say the least!

What are ‘martial arts’?

‘Martial arts’ is a generic term that refers to a variety of styles of sports which originated in Asia, and are each a form of self-defence. MAN conducted a snap poll of 100 Australian and asked them what the term ‘martial arts’ meant to them? As expected, most of the people made references to ‘self-defence’ ‘Asia’, ‘China’, ‘Korea’ or ‘Japan’, as well as mentioning specific sports such as , ‘Karate‘ and ‘Kung-Fu’.

The truth is actually a bit different..

Generally, ‘martial arts’ are traditions and systems of combat practices which are practised for spiritual and physical development, mental discipline, self-defence, attack, and for health and fitness, which can. be either unarmed or armed combat.

That’s pretty general, so what sports or disciplines are ‘actual martial arts’? Boxing and wrestling tick all the boxes above but when the same 100 people were asked this question, only 14 considered boxing and only 8 considered wrestling to be martial arts. Most respondents didn’t rate boxing as a martial art because ‘it’s not Asian’ and ‘padded gloves’ were used, not bare hands.

Not true! Boxing is a martial art! Punching is a form of striking, and striking forms an important part of most martial art traditions. The fact that the style to which most people are acquainted with originated in the west is immaterial. Yes, traditional western boxing is a sport with rules, but many of the martial arts styles also have rules during competition, whether full contact or not.
The same is true of wrestling as the martial arts tradition of throwing and grappling, or placing opponents in submission or choke holds, has similarities with the more commonly known martial arts wrestling techniques, such as those utilised in Judo or Jiu-Jitsu.

In this sense, the ‘modern’ style of martial art known as ‘Mixed Martial Arts’ appeared for the first time in the Ancient Greek Olympic Games. So does that make MMA an ancient or modern martial arts discipline?

Interestingly, most statistics exclude boxing and wrestling from surveys around participation in martial arts. According to the ABSW, there are about 164,000 adults participating in martial arts in Australia with ‘Martial Arts’ defined as including ‘Aikido, Judo, Karate, Kick-boxing, Tae Kwon do and T’ai chi’. Just imagine how these numbers will swell in boxing and wrestling were included.