Hard Style and Soft Style Martial Arts: Definition by BxRank

Posted By Ranjay On May 23, 2020

Sometimes one would see references to the "hard" style and the "soft" style of martial arts. For many non-martial artists, these terms can be puzzling. 

In North America, these terms are used to classify martial arts styles into two main categories. 

Japanese / Okinawan karate and Korean tae kwon do are generally known as hard styles. Movements in both karate and tae kwon do are often linear with their shapes (traditional sequence of established movements) performed with sharp movements. 

Chinese kung fu styles are generally known as soft styles. The circular movements of the kung fu shapes give them a visually more elegant or smoother appearance, especially when many of the movements flow from one to the other. 

Even Korean kuk sool won, which is sometimes referred to as "Korean kung fu," is often classified as a smooth style, as its movements are also more fluid than the stop and go of tae kwon do or karate. 

This is not to say that hard styles like karate or tae kwon do are all more powerful martial arts than kung fu and other soft styles. 

The term "soft" is a bit misleading because the power of kung fu circular movements is often hidden. Circular movements can bring about as much power as linear movements.

The terms hard style and soft style emerged as a result of the evolution of North American martial arts competencies, particularly in the form divisions. 

For many years, open karate tournaments that allowed all styles of martial arts had competitors from different martial arts backgrounds compete in the same form divisions. 

All equivalent level competitors, whether using a Japanese / Okinawan kata kata, a Korean tae kwon do pattern, or a form of Chinese kung fu, competed together in the same divisions. This provided a good martial arts showcase for spectators especially in the larger tournaments.

However, divisions with mixed styles were deemed too complicated by some competitors and judges. For example, judges who were familiar with only Japanese or Korean styles had a difficult time rating competitors who performed forms of Chinese kung fu. 

At times, competitors in different styles of martial arts felt that the judges were being biased against them. Judging a hard style form against a smooth style form was often like trying to compare apples to oranges.

To help solve these problems, many of the larger martial arts tournaments were expanded to have separate divisions for hard and soft styles. 

This was a way to level things up and add more justice to all the competitors. The bigger tournaments went one stride ahead and further separated Japanese karate stylists from Korean tae kwon do stylists by also embedding them in different divisions. 

Many of the major open tournaments in North America have even created separate divisions for competitors of hard and soft style martial arts weapons. 

Hard-style weapons will generally include Japanese weapons such as the bo, kama, tonfa, sai, and samarai sword. Smooth-styled weapons include the wide range of Chinese kung fu weapons, such as broad sword, staff, kwan do, butterfly knives, and three-section staff.

This still left many kempo stylists in the air because their particular shapes have both hard and soft styling elements, as their movements are both linear and circular. 

Some promoters of major tournaments decided to accommodate kempo stylists by adding separate shape divisions just for their style as well.

Of course, many smaller local tournaments have been unable to offer separate hard and soft style divisions for competitors of martial arts forms, primarily due to financial budget constraints. 

The terms hard style and soft style are used only in North America and parts of Europe as these are the solo regions in the world that have open martial arts tournaments. 

Martial arts evenst in other parts of the world, such as Asia, are generally confined to certain specific styles only. Traditional karate tournaments only allow karate competitors. 

The same goes for traditional tae kwon do and kung fu tournaments.

Read About: Karate Belt Tying Procedures

Read About:  Mixed Martial Arts

Read About Kempo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenp?

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