Traditional martial arts versus martial sports: the philosophical and historical academic discourse


  • Udo Moenig Youngsan University
  • Minho Kim Youngsan University
  • Hyun Min Choi Youngsan University



Martial arts, combat sports, martial arts terminology, martial arts philosophy, invention of tradition


The authors received no funding for this work.


There have been a variety of attempts by scholars to neatly define and categorize Asian martial arts terminology, often in connection with martial arts history, philosophy, and practical training activities. Overall, the English term ‘martial arts’ is typically linked to East Asian fighting activities. In comparison, Western fighting methods, such as boxing and wrestling, are almost never referred to as ‘martial arts’ but mostly labeled ‘sports’ or ‘combat sports.’ This is reflected in the basic split of the broader martial arts community, which is between the so-called traditionalists and the modernists. The former often stress spirituality and mysticism and claim that the primary aim of martial arts is self-defense, while the latter are commonly affiliated with sports training and competitive events. The rift between the two camps is not settled and it represents the main reason of the many conflicting opinions and arguments articulated in the martial arts discourse. The principle method of this study is an extensive literature review with the aim to clarify the confusion by pointing out the many paradoxes present in the historical and philosophical narratives in connection with practical training activities of the martial arts. Besides, this article represents also a critique of the general, academic discourse about the Asian martial arts, which often appears disingenuous and is generally dominated by the traditionalists.


Download data is not yet available.

Métricas alternativas

Author Biographies

Udo Moenig, Youngsan University

Udo Moenig, PhD (South Korea), is an associate professor at the Department of Taekwondo, Youngsan University, in South Korea. He earned a PhD in Physical Education from Keimyung University. He was appointed as the first foreigner to teach taekwondo at a Korean university in 2005, and is at the moment the only non-Korean in the field. He researches in the domain of Asian Studies with a focus on martial arts related issues, such as history, philosophy, and the technical aspects of martial arts. He has extensive practical experience in taekwondo (with a focus on competition) and other martial arts for over forty years. E-mail:

Minho Kim, Youngsan University

Minho Kim, PhD (South Korea), is a professor at the Department of Asian Martial Arts, Youngsan University, in South Korea. He earned a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from University Bordeaux II, France, in 1999. He researches broadly in the domain of practical and theoretical martial arts studies, but his main research area is cultural martial arts studies and health-related issues. He has been training and instructing martial arts at Youngsan University since 2001. E-mail:

Hyun Min Choi, Youngsan University

Hyun Min Choi, PhD (South Korea), is an assistant professor at Youngsan University. He researches in the fields of martial arts, taekwondo, and sports. He coached the Afghan taekwondo national team at the Beijing Olympics (2008) and the Thai taekwondo national team at the London Olympics (2012). He specializes in sports sociology and is a training expert. He previously worked at the Kukkiwon Research Institute and the World Taekwondo Federation. E-mail:


Allen, B. (2021). Chinese philosophy and Asian martial arts. In F. Hong & L. Zhouxiang (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Sport in Asia (pp. 20-27). Routledge.

Bäck, A. (2017). Taekwondo: Fact or Fiction? [abstract]. International Symposium for Taekwondo Studies.

Bittmann, H. (1999). Karatedô - Der Weg der leeren Hand (Karatedô - The way of the empty hand). Verlag Heiko Bittmann. [In German, but also available in English].

Bensesch, O. (2016). Inventing the Way of the Samurai. Oxford University Press.

Benett, A. C. (Ed.). (2005). Budo Perspectives (Vol. 1). Kendo World Publication Ltd.

Bennett, A. C. (2015). Kendo - Culture of the Sword. University of California Press.

Bodiford, W. H. (2005). Zen and Japanese Swordsmanship Reconsidered. In A. Bennett (Ed.), Budo Perspectives (Vol. 1, pp. 69-104). Kendo World Publication Ltd.

Bowman, P. (2015). Asking the question: Is Martial Arts Studies an Academic Field? Martial Arts Studies, 1, 3-19.

Bowman, P. (2016). Making Martial Arts History Matter. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 33(9), 915-933.

Bowman, P. (2017a). Mythologies of Martial Arts. Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd.

Bowman P. (2017b). The Definition of Martial Arts Studies. Martial Arts Studies, 3, 6-23.

Bowman, P. (Interviewer). (2020). On Taekwondo in South Korea with Dr Udo Moenig.

Bowman, P. (2021). The Invention of Martial Arts. Oxford University Press.

Brousse, M., & Matsumoto, D. (1999). Judo. A sport and a way of life. International Judo Federation.

Brousse, M. (2000). Les origines du judo en France. De la fin du XIX siècle aux années 1950. Historie d´une culture sportive [Doctoral Dissertation]. Université de Bordeaux.

Capener, S. D. (1995). Problems in the identity and philosophy of t’aegwondo and their historical causes. Korea Journal, 35(4), 80-94.

Capener, S. D. (2005). The modern significance of taekwondo as sport and martial art: Overcoming cultural and historical limitations in traditional thinking. Korean History and Culture, (30), 321-54. G704-000697.2005..30.012

Capener, S. D. (2020). Mixed Martial Arts and the Anachronism of ‘Traditional Martial Arts [Abstract]. In U. Moenig & J. Johnson (eds.), The 2nd Internatinal Taekwondo Conference at Youngsan University and iACT 2020 Conference Book (p. 32). Youngsan University.

Carr, K. G. (1993). Making Way: War, Philosophy and Sport in Japanese Judo. Journal of Sport History, 20(2), 167-188.

Donohue, J. J. (2006). Kaho: Cultural Meaning and Educational Method in Kata Training. Revista de Artes Marciales Asiáticas, 1(4), 8–19.

Draeger, D. F. (1969). Smith R. W. Comprehensive Asian fighting arts. Kodansha International.

Draeger, D. F. (1973a). Classical bujutsu - The martial arts and ways of Japan (Vol. 1). Weatherhill.

Draeger, D. F. (1973b). Classical budo - The martial arts and ways of Japan (Vol. 2). Weatherhill.

Draeger, D. F. (1974). Modern bujutsu & budo: Martial Arts and Ways of Japan (Vol. 3). Weatherhill.

Dziwenka, R., & Johnson, J. (2015). Philosophical Perspective of Practice: Traditional Martial Arts Taekwondo vs. Modern Sports Taekwondo. The Journal of the International Association for Taekwondo Research, 2(2), 1-8.

Encyclopedia Britannica (2021, November 11). Martial art.

Fairbank, J. K. (1983). The United States and China (4th ed.). Harvard University Press.

Friday K. E., & Humitake S. (1997). Legacies of the sword - The Kashima-Shinryū and samurai martial culture. University of Hawai’i Press.

Funakoshi, G. (1973). Karate-dō kyōhan - The master text (T. Ohshima, Trans.). Kondansha International Ltd. [Translation of revised edition of 1957; original work published 1935].

Fundamental Act on Education. (2021).

Gainty, D. (2013). Martial Arts and the Body Politic of Meiji Japan. Routledge.

Green, T.A. [ed.] (2010). Martial Arts of the World. An Encyclopedia of History and Innovation. ABC-CLIO.

Green, T.A. (2001). Introduction. In T.A. Green, T.A. (ed.), Martial Arts of the World (pp. xv-xviii). ABC-CLIO.

Gutiérrez-García, C., Pérez-Gutiérrez, M., & Calderón-Tuero, P. (2011). Bibliometric analysis of the scientific production on martial arts and combat sport articles in the Web of Science databases (SCI-EXPANDED, SSCI, A&HCI) (2000-2009). In A. A. Figueiredo & C. Gutiérrez-García (Eds.), 2011 Scientific Congress on Martial Arts and Combat Sports. Proceedings (pp. 54-55). Associação para o Desenvolvimento e Investigação de Viseu, Instituto Politécnico de Viseu y Escola Superior de Educação de Viseu.

Gutiérrez-García, C., Cynarski, W. J., Crée, C. D., Escobar-Molina, R., Figueiredo, A., Franchini, E., . . . Vit, M. (2018). In which journals can I publish my research on martial arts and combat sports? An up-to-date approach. In W. J. Cynarski & G. Szanja (Eds.), 4th World Scientific Congress of Combat Sports and Martial Arts and 7th IMACSSS International Conference. Abstract Book (pp. 39-41). International Martial Arts and Combat Sports Scientific Society.

Gutiérrez-García, C., Gómez-Alonso, M. T., Izquierdo Macón, E., Ruiz-Barquín, R., & Santos, L. (2020). Bibliometric analysis of the scientific production on martial arts and combat sport articles in the Web of Science databases (SCI-EXPANDED, SSCI, A&HCI) (2010-2019). In M. N. M. Shapie, A. M. Nadzalan, S. J. M. Japilus, & M. S. Ramli (Eds.), IMACSSS - International Martial Arts and Combat Sports Scientific Society. GSMACC - 2nd Global Scientific Martial Arts & Cultural Congress. 9th IMACSSS International Conference (pp. 18). Pertubuhan Seni Gayung Fatani Malaysia (PSGFM).

Gutiérrez-García, C. (2022). The Social Imaginary of Martial Arts and Youth Development. In UNESCO ICM-UiTM International Seminar 2022 on Youth Development through Martial Arts. Programme Book (pp. 29-40). UNESCO ICM.

Henning, S. (Posted 2008). On politically Correct Treatment of Myths in the Chinese Martial Arts. Tajiquanu.

Herriegel, E. (1953). Zen in the art of archery (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). Pantheon Books, Inc. (Original work published 1936).

Hobsbawm, E., & Ranger T. (Eds.). (1983). The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge University Press.

Holt, J. (2023). Physical Philosophy: Martial Arts as Embodied Wisdom. Philosophies, 8(1), 14.

Hurst III, C. G. (1998). Armed Martial Arts of Japan. Yale University Press.

Interview With Historian/Professor Karl Friday. (2009).

Irving, H. H. (2005). The complete Kano jiu-jitsu (judo). Dover Publications. (Originally work published 1905).

Jiao, H. J. (2017). Chungguk sant’aŭi yŏksajŏkpyŏnch’ŏn’gwa chŏnggwa kŭ chŏnsŭg (Historical Transition and Inheritance of Chinese Sanda) [Doctoral Dissertation]. Yongin University. [In Korean].

Johnson, J. (2017). From technique to way: investigation into taekwondo’s pedagogical process. Ido Movement for Culture: Journal of Martial Arts Anthropology, 17(4), 3-13.

Judkins, B. N., & Nielson, J. (2015). The Creation of Wing Chun – A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts. State University of New York Press.

Kano, J. (2005). Mind over muscle (N. H. Ross, Trans.). Kodansha International. (Original work not published)

Kim C., Yang J., & Heo, K. (2001). Musul, muye, mudoŭi yongŏjŏngnibŭl wihan kwanje. (A Study of the Task on Martial-Arts’ [sic.] Terminology). Institute of Martial Arts, Yongin University, 12(1), 61-72. [In Korean]

Kraitus, P., & Kraitus, P. (1988). Muay Thai. Chutima Karn Pim.

Lee, H. J. (2017). Musul, muyae, mudoŭi myŏngch'ing nonjaenggwa panghyang (Name Debate and Direction of Martial Arts). The Korean Journal of Physical Education, 56(4), 1-10. [In Korean]

Lewis, S. (2010). Moosool (무술), Mooye (무예) and Moodo (무도). Soo Shim Kwan.

Lorge, P. A. (2012). Chinese martial arts. Cambridge University Press.

Madis, E. (2003). The evolution of taekwondo from Japanese karate. In T. A. Green & J. R. Svinth (Eds.), Martial arts in the modern world (pp. 185-209). Praeger Publishers.

McCarthy, P. (2008). Bubishi - The classic manual of combat. Tuttle Publishing.

Marquess of Queensberry rules. (N.d.). Britannica.

Militarisms, G. (2021). Battling the samurai myths: An interview with historian Karl Friday [Interview and Text].

Miracle, J. (2015). Imposing the Terms of the Battle – Donn F. Draeger Count Dante and the Struggle for American Martial Arts Identity. Martial Arts Studies, 1, 46-59.

Miracle, J. (2016). Now with Kung Fu Grip! McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Moenig, U. (2015). Taekwondo - From a Martial Art to a Martial Sport. Routledge.

Moenig, U., & Kim, M. (2016). The Invention of Taekwondo Tradition, 1945-1972: When Mythology Becomes History. Acta Koreana, 19(2), 131-164.

Moenig, U., Kim, M. (2019). The Japanese and Korean Martial Arts: In Search of a Philosophical Framework Compatible to History. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 35(15-16), 1531-1554.

Na, Y. (2005). Confusion about the Concept of Budō in South Korean Society. In A. Bennett (Ed.), Budo Perspectives (Vol. 1, pp. 171-184). Kendo World Publication Ltd.

Nam, Y., Yi M. (2003). T'aegŭkkwŏn kyohak [Taijiquan teachings]. Honggyŏng. [In Korean]

Naoki, M. (2005). From ‘Jutsu’ to ‘Dō’ – The Birth of Kōdōkan jūdō. In A. Bennett (Ed.), Budo Perspectives (Vol. 1, pp. 141-154). Kendo World Publications.

Nitobe, I. (2014). Bushido – The soul of Japan. Kodansha International. (Original work published 1899 in English)

Said, E. W. (1995). Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. Penguin. (Original work published 1978)

Sánchez García, R. (2023). A process-sociology analysis of religious practices and Japanese martial arts. Revista de Artes Marciales Asiáticas, 18(1), 23–40.

Sánchez-García, R. (2019). The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts. Routledge.

Shahar, H. (2008). The Shaolin Monastery. University Press Hawai’i.

Song, H., Kim, Y., & Lim, T. (2022). Taekwondo Textbook 1 Introduction to Taekwondo (Vol. 1). Seoul: Kukkiwon – World Taekwondo Headquarters. [English version of the latest official textbook of the Kukkiwon]

Suzuki, S. (2005). Twentieth Century Budō and Mystic Experience. In A. Bennett (Ed.), Budo Perspectives (Vol. 1, pp. 15-44). Kendo World Publication Ltd.

Svitych, A. (2021). Northeast Asian Martial Arts: An Embodied Synthesis of Virtue Ethics and Deontology. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 38(7), 751-767.

Tanaka, F. (2003). Samurai Fighting Arts: The Spirit and the Practice. Kodansha International Ltd.

TotallyPointlessTV [poster]. (2022). Xu Xiadong Exposes China – Fake Martial Arts Masters Destroyed. YouTube.

Watson, B. N. (2008). Judo memories of Jigoro Kano. Trafford Publishing.

Wetzler, Sixt. (2015). Martial arts studies as Kulturwissenschaft. Martial Arts Studies, 1, 20-33.

Yamada, S. (2003). The myth of Zen in the art of archery. In T. A. Green & J. R. Svinth (Eds.), Martial arts in the modern world (pp. 71-92). Praeger.

Yang, J. (1996). American Conceptualization of Asian Martial Arts: an Interpretive Analysis of the Narrative of Taekwondo Participants [Doctoral Dissertation]. The University of North Carolina.

Yang, J. (1999). Musul, muye, mudo gaenyŏmedaehansaerouninshigŭit’ŭl (A New framework for the reconceptualization of Mu-Sul, Mu-Ye, Mu-Do, for the praxis of Asian Martial Art in Korea). The Journal of Korean Alliance of Martial Arts. 1(1), 27-37. [In Korean]

Zhouxiang, L. (2021). A brief history of Chinese martial arts. In F. Hong & L. Zhouxiang (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Sport in Asia (pp. 28-35). Routledge.




How to Cite

Moenig, U., Kim, M. ., & Choi, H. M. (2023). Traditional martial arts versus martial sports: the philosophical and historical academic discourse. Revista de Artes Marciales Asiáticas, 18(1), 41–58.