What qualifies a martial fighting system as a martial art?
Certainly, a fighting system does become an art simply because the founder or its practitioners call it an art, even though this is many times the case.
When a person performs a pattern, he or she seeks perfection of self through perfection of technique. The performance becomes an art form because emphasis is placed upon its process and its aesthetic excellence, not upon the effectiveness of its techniques. The art comes from the creation of beautiful movements that enhance the physical, mental, and spiritual growth of the practitioner, and allow the practitioner to express his or her feelings through physical action.
In his 1938 work, The Psychology of Art, Ogden posits that inherent in all art is the desire to fulfill a need, or to seek an end. Although all behavior appears to have an ending, not all behavior is necessarily art. According to Ogden, behavior becomes art when the means to achieve an end becomes more important than achieving the end. The perfection of the means as formal excellence is a partial pattern of behavior that begins the cultivation of an art. When these partial patterns arise from a need to seek an end and continue to help achieve that need, they function as art.
In ancient times, martial arts began as fighting methods that served a practical need: protection against those wanting to do you harm. Nowadays, modern weaponry and the rule of law have practically eliminated this need. So, why have the martial arts gained in popularity when they have essentially lost their utility? The reason is that the martial arts have become divorced from their utility; their results have become separated from their means. The means are now more important than the result. In the martial arts, the precise movement of the body is essential to the proper performance of each technique. This precise movement has becomes more important to the practitioner than the result of the technique; this is especially true in the performance of patterns. In pattern performance, there is no opponent to test one's skill against; the only proof of mastery and excellence is the re-creation of classical movements—and their perfection.