The more I think about it, the more I realise that training happens for one of 3 areas.  We shift between each focus depending on the individual, style and class but it helps to understand what each side brings and is best at.


Perhaps most easily seen in terms of MMA training.  In sport training, the focus is often on duels in a controlled environment.  There are rules, there are prohibited attacks, there is a perfect ‘balance’ of opponents (weight classes at least).

In sport training, you train to win the tournament / fight.  It’s great training and it adds a sheen to your fighting that is hard to duplicate other than ‘live’ testing; but it’s also very artificial.  It’s resistance training at its best and worst.

Martial Arts

To me, Martial Arts training is different.   You can train in a Traditional Martial Arts School (TMA School) and train sport training and miss out on the actual martial arts training.  As Ip Chun and every good martial arts teacher I’ve known has emphasised – martial arts is for health and self-defense.  It’s not for fighting.

So, you train martial arts with a focus on self-defense, on getting healthy (mentally and physically) and you might never step into a ring or do a tournament.  You should spar (somethings you can’t learn without sparring – though  not necessarily full speed all the time) and work against a resisting opponent (scaling up drills slowly) but at the end of the day, if you never step into a ring; you’re not a bad martial artist.

Ignore all the UFC-wannabes who say any training that isn’t sports-focused and doesn’t put you into the ring is not worth it.  Martial arts training, done well; will improve your life in ways sport training by itself won’t.


Okay, last difference.  The first two training styles are meant for civilians.  The third, combat training starts adding in things you don’t expect and probably (like 99% of the time) ever encounter.  Things like:

  • multiple attackers
  • weapons
  • body armour
  • scenario training
  • surprise attacks / targeted attacks

Martial arts training or sport training will generally allow you to deal with 1-on-1 attacks.  It starts breaking down in the above situations quite often as we just don’t train in it enough.  In addition, the need for scenario training isn’t there in the vast majority of  the cases.

If you think of it as the various confrontation situations, you are great at vocal & social confrontations and can head those off, but you aren’t trained to deal with ‘real‘ violence. That’s where combat training comes in – and it’s the kind of training that police officers, soldiers and the like receive.  It’s training often given for those who need it, and hard to find otherwise.