Is Rugby A Martial Art

We know that rugby is a brutal sport where players are tackling and throwing each other with such violence that an assortment of injuries such as cuts and concussions are commonplace. Rugby players are even known to throw punches when tempers get out of control. Taking all this into consideration can rugby be considered a martial art? Let’s find out!

Is rugby a martial art?

Rugby is not a martial art as the goal of the sport is to score points and not to physically incapacitate an opponent. Even though rugby is a contact sport involving tackling, tackling is used to prevent the opposition from scoring rather than hurting them. In rugby striking and choking your opponent are explicitly banned.

The goal of a martial art is to defeat an attacker by using physical techniques which subdue and control the aggressor. Common martial arts techniques include grappling, submissions and strikes. Two of the most popular martial arts are Judo and boxing.

Some may argue that rugby is a martial art because it features grappling techniques (tackling) which could be effectively used in a fight. However, the difference is rugby players when they are tackling their opposition are not attempting to win a fight instead they are attempting to prevent their opposition from scoring. This is why there are strict rules on tackling (no shoulder charging, no contact above shoulders, no lifting past horizontal). If the aim of tackling in rugby was to hurt your opposition these safety measures would not exist.

 The goal and focus on rugby is not on fighting or combat rather on scoring. If the rugby score was dictated by how many opposition players you were able to injure by tackling them then you could argue that rugby is a martial art.

It has been argued that rugby is a martial art because occasionally players will attempt to punch and strike each other. However, this is not a strong argument as fighting using submission hold and strikes is banned in rugby and results in penalties and suspensions. If fighting was allowed in rugby and influenced the score of the match you could argue that rugby was a martial art.

Are Rugby Players Good Fighters?

The average rugby player is not a good fighter as they do not train to fight. If you have seen rugby players fighting it usually involves them throwing sloppy looping punches that rarely land. However, due to the size and strength of rugby players if even one of those poorly thrown punches lands you may be knocked out.

Athletes excel at skills they practice. As rugby players do not practice fighting they are not skilled in combat. However, due to the size and athleticism of  the average rugby player they would easily defeat the average untrained man in a fight. They would most likely use fairly quickly to trained fighters.

Many rugby players to improve their cardio and tackling ability have begun training in MMA, wrestling and BJJ. A rugby player who happens to have extensive training in these martial arts would be a good fighter and have more than enough skills to easily defeat most people in a fight.

Can A Rugby Player Beat A Boxer?

A rugby player can beat a boxer, particularly if they use their tackling skills to take a boxer to the ground, pin them and then use strikes to knock out the trapped boxer. Boxer’s do not know how to defend against takedowns therefore a rugby player has a good chance of tackling them to the ground and winning the fight.

The early UFCs showed the world that a grappler has a big advantage over a pure boxer in a fight. It is much easier for a grappler to close the distance and take down a boxer than it is for the boxer to land a knockout punch. Once grapplers close the distance it is very easy for them to takedown the boxer as the boxer is a novice in wrestling.

Once on the ground the boxer has no ability to use his superior striking and does not have any methods to escape the pin of the grappler. From this position the grappler can quickly finish the boxer with strikes without having to worry about any offense coming from the trapped and helpless boxer.

As rugby players are experts at tackling which is similar to a wrestling double leg they should be able to follow the same strategy that wrestlers used in the early UFCs. If a rugby player can close the distance between himself and the boxer without being punched he should be able to tackle his opponent to the ground and from there he should have a high chance of winning the fight.

Interestingly a number of rugby players have taken up boxing and some have even competed professionally. Paul Gallen and Sonny Bill Williams have both competed numerous times in professional boxing with Gallen possessing a record of 10-1-0 and a notable win over UFC and K-1 legend Mark Hunt while Williams has a record of 7-0 with a win over former heavyweight contender Francois Botha.

Can A Rugby Player Beat An MMA Fighter?

A rugby player would not beat an MMA fighter as an MMA fighter is better in all aspects of fighting compared to a rugby player. A rugby player’s only weapon is his tackling ability but that won’t phase an MMA fighter who would have superior wrestling and grappling skills.

It most likely will be an early shower for a rugby player if he foolishly decides to take on an MMA fighter. A rugby player will be thoroughly outmatched in the striking department. His only shot is getting a takedown but as MMA fighters spend hours everyday working on their wrestling that seems unlikely. If a rugby player does manage to take the MMA fighter to the ground he will most likely be submitted quickly as rugby players have no knowledge of grappling and BJJ.

The only chance a rugby player has against an MMA fighter is if there is a large weight difference between the two athletes. By large I mean huge, were are talking 40-50kg. This size difference may allow a rugby player to knockout an MMA fighter with a glancing blow or give him the strength to pick the MMA fighter up and slam him to the ground resulting in a win. However, even a massive size advantage may not be enough for the rugby player to overcome the skill advantage an MMA fighter has over him.


Despite rugby involving tackling and the occasional fight it is not a martial art because the goal of the sport is not to defeat an opponent in combat but rather to score more points. Even though tackling may be an effective technique in a fight as rugby players use it to stop their opposition from scoring it can’t be considered a martial arts technique. While rugby players may not be martial artists due to their size, athleticism and tackling ability they have more than enough ability to defeat the average man in a fight and maybe a boxer in the right circumstances. However, their chances of defeating a skilled MMA fighter are very low.

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