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Top / Blog / Is boxing a martial art?

Today, boxing could be considered a martial art. Most people would define martial arts as a form or discipline of combat. However, it is not that simple.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines Martial Arts as a traditional Japanese, Chinese or Korean form of fighting or defense, practiced as a sport or exercise. Martial arts include karate, judo, kung fu and aikido.

By these parameters, boxing cannot be considered a martial art because modern Western boxing originated in England and ancient boxing originated in Greece.

So, although boxing embodies the physical attributes and even ethos of martial arts, it could not be considered such by the traditional definition, since it does not come from an Eastern origin. However, definitions are only useful in the context in which they are used and how they are applied.

While technical and historical details may determine the original definition, people's perception also has some validity. The vast majority of martial artists today would consider BJJ, kickboxing, Muay Thai, capoeira, wrestling, sambo and many others as martial arts despite not matching the original definition.

Why Boxing is a Modern Martial Art

I would definitely consider boxing as a martial art today. This is because it is fundamental to fighting and the purpose of martial arts is fighting and self-defense. Boxing is not only one of the best-known disciplines, but also one of the most effective. If you have good boxing and wrestling fundamentals, you are positioned to hold your own against the vast majority of people.

Boxing also has a sporting element which is a common characteristic among most martial arts. Boxing is the most popular combat sport of all time. The industry has generated billions of dollars and great interest around the world.

As someone who practices mixed martial arts, I know how important boxing is in combat. Most modern martial artists believe that MMA is the highest expression of martial arts and I agree. But they will also mention how certain forms of fighting take priority over others. Boxing, wrestling and BJJ are integral elements of the sport and are therefore often emphasized due to their importance in the sport. While disciplines like karate and TDK are useful, they are not as integral to pure unarmed combat as boxing, wrestling, and BJJ.

Simply put, the fact that boxing is not of Eastern origin should not prevent it from being considered a modern martial art. The way I and most people I have spoken to within the martial arts world see it, all genuine fighting disciplines are modern martial arts.

Why Boxing is Not an Ancient Martial Art

When people refer to ancient martial arts, they are often referring to Eastern disciplines that come predominantly from the Eastern world. So although the earliest evidence of boxing would be considered ancient thanks to the Greeks, it would not be considered an ancient martial art. This is simply due to the context and connotations surrounding the term.

Frankly, it's primarily a language issue, but since the term is used exclusively when referring to ancient martial arts with Asian origins, it would be inaccurate to consider boxing as an ancient martial art.

If you want to be specific about the characteristics of ancient martial arts, you will also find other reasons why boxing does not fit the criteria other than its origins. Particularly when you start looking at the "Artistic" aspect of martial arts. In traditional martial arts, there is an emphasis on culture and the expression of the discipline in art form.

This is prevalent, for example, in Kata, which refers to a detailed choreographed pattern of martial arts movements. You may have seen this in karate or taekwondo, but the emphasis is on form, structure and patterns.

Boxing is very different in the sense that it is completely geared towards competition and combat. Elements like Kata in traditional martial arts are not oriented towards competition, but rather towards the fighting spirit and sense of rhythm within martial arts. The purpose is not combat, but the culture and expression of art in martial arts.

How Boxing Is Best Defined Within Martial Arts

Boxing is best defined within the martial arts community as a combat sport. The emphasis on competition, active sparring and its effectiveness means that it is a useful tool within the world of fighting. Although many consider boxing to be an art, it is not particularly spiritual or expressive. Therefore, it belongs to a separate section within the world of martial arts.

Traditional martial artists may very well not consider boxing along with several other disciplines as a martial art. They probably wouldn't consider MMA to even be in the realm of martial arts either. This is because, for some martial artists, tradition, culture and spirit are the defining factors.

This is what results in black belt martial artists who have never competed or fought anyone in their lives. Learning Kata, climbing the belt ranks, and maintaining ancient traditions is how they practice martial arts. These types of martial artists do not put much emphasis on competition and fighting, but they are still considered martial artists. However, what they do could not be considered a combat or practice sport.

I think it's generally okay to define boxing as a martial art, but the simplest way to define it is as a combat sport. In the modern sense, all combat sports could be considered martial arts. However, not all martial arts could be considered combat sports.

What Martial Arts Are Considered Combat Sports

There are many "modern martial arts" that are considered combat sports and there are also many "traditional martial arts" that are not. So along with boxing, we have categorized many popular martial arts into two categories. All of these disciplines fall under the general umbrella of martial arts, but some of them are combat-oriented, while others are tradition-oriented. This is not to say that more traditional martial arts are not effective in fighting, but rather that they have a different emphasis.

Combat Oriented Martial Arts/Combat Sports:

  • Boxing
  • MMA
  • Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
  • sambo
  • Full Contact Karate
  • Wrestling/Grappling
  • Judo
  • Muay Thai


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