In the modern day, I suppose you could consider boxing a martial art. Most people would define martial arts as a form or discipline of fighting. However, it isn’t that simple.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines Martial Arts as a traditional Japanese, Chinese, or Korean form of fighting or defending yourself, practiced as a sport or as exercise. Martial arts include karate, judo, kung fu, and aikido.
According to these parameters, boxing can’t be considered a martial art because modern Western boxing originates from England and ancient boxing originates from Greece.
So while boxing embodies the physical attributes and even the ethos of martial arts, you couldn’t consider it one by the traditional definition since it doesn’t come from Eastern origin. However, definitions are only as useful as 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 to be martial arts despite not matching the original definition.
Why Boxing Is A Modern Day Martial Art
I would most definitely consider boxing a martial art in the modern day. This is because it is so fundamental to fighting and the entire purpose of martial arts is fighting and self-defense. Boxing is not only among the most well-known disciplines but it is also among the most effective. If you have good boxing and wrestling fundamentals, you are positioned to defend yourself against the vast majority of people.
Boxing also has a sporting element that is also a common characteristic among most martial arts. Boxing is the most popular combat sport ever. The industry has generated billions of dollars and masses of interest across 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 greatest expression of martial arts and I happen to agree. But they will also mention how certain forms of fighting take precedence over others. Boxing, wrestling, and BJJ and integral elements of the sport, and are therefore often emphasised due to their importance in the sport. Whereas disciplines like Karate and TDK are useful, they aren’t nearly as integral to pure unarmed combat as boxing, wrestling, and BJJ.
Simply put, the fact that boxing isn’t of Eastern origin, shouldn’t prevent it from being considered a modern martial art. The way I and the majority of people I’ve spoken to within the martial arts worlds see it, all genuine fighting disciplines are modern martial arts.
Why Boxing Isn’t An Ancient Martial Art
When people refer to ancient martial arts, they are often referring to the Eastern disciplines that predominantly stem from the oriental world. So while the earliest evidence of boxing would be considered ancient thanks to the Greeks, it wouldn’t be considered an ancient martial art. This is simply due to the context and connotations surrounding the term.
Frankly, it’s predominantly a language issue but since the term is exclusively used when referring to ancient martial arts with Asian origins, it would be inaccurate to consider boxing to be an ancient martial art.
If you want to get quite specific about the characteristics of ancient martial arts, you’ll also find other grounds for boxing not to fit the criteria aside from its origins. Particularly when you start looking at the “Arts” aspect of martial arts. In traditional martial arts, there is an emphasis on culture and expressing the discipline in an art form.
This is prevalent for instance in Kata which refers to a detailed choreographed pattern of martial arts moves. You may have seen this in either Karate or Taekwondo but the emphasis is on form, structure, and patterns.
Boxing is very different in the sense that it is wholly geared towards competition and combat. Elements like Kata found in traditional martial arts aren’t geared toward competition but rather the fighting spirit and the sense of rhythm found within martial arts. The purpose isn’t combat but rather culture and expressing the 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. While many consider boxing to be an art, it isn’t particularly spiritual or expressive. Therefore it belongs in a separate section within the martial arts world.
Traditional martial artists very well may not consider boxing along with various other disciplines to be a martial art. They also probably wouldn’t consider MMA to even be in the realm of martial arts. 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 rankings, and upholding ancient traditions is how they practice martial arts. These kinds of martial artists don’t place much emphasis on competition and fighting but they are still considered martial artists. However, what they do could not be considered a combat sport or practice.
I think its generally fine to define boxing as a martial art but the simplest way to define it is 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.
Which 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 aren’t. So along with boxing, we’ve categorized lots of popular martial arts into two categories. All of these disciplines fall under the general martial arts umbrella but some of them are combat-oriented while others are tradition-oriented. This isn’t to say that the more traditional martial arts aren’t effective in fighting but rather they have a different emphasis.
Combat Oriented Martial Arts/Combat Sports
- Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
- Full Contact Karate
- Muay Thai
Tradition/Culture-oriented Martial Arts
- Points Karate
- Wing Chun
- Kung Fu