History of Martial Arts

Background to Martial Arts


History of Martial Arts have been practiced by mankind for 1000′s of years. Quite often linked to religion and spirituality, or just used for combat or competition, the Martial Arts are an integral part of human history and their practice will, hopefully, continue long into the future.

Martial Arts or fighting arts are systems of codified practices and traditions of Combat. Martial Arts all have a very similar objective: to defend oneself or others from physical threat. In addition, some Martial Arts are linked to beliefs such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism or Shinto while others follow a particular code of honour.

Martial Arts are considered as both an art and a science. Many arts are also practiced competitively, most commonly as combat sports, but may also take the form of dance.

The term Martial Arts refers to the art of warfare (derived from Mars/Ares the Greek God of war) and comes from a 15th-century European term, referring to what are now known as historical European Martial Arts. A practitioner of Martial Arts is referred to as a Martial Artist.

When originally coined in the 1920s, the term Martial Arts referred specifically to Asian fighting styles, especially the combat systems that originated in East Asia. However, the term both in its literal meaning and in its subsequent usage, may be taken to refer to any codified combat system, regardless of origin.

For example, Europe is home to many extensive systems of fighting, both living traditions that have existed through the present and others which are now being reconstructed. In the Americas, Native Americans have traditions of open-handed Martial Arts such as wrestling, while Hawaiians have historically practiced arts featuring small and large-joint manipulation. A mix of origins is found in the athletic movements of Capoeira, which African slaves developed in Brazil based on skills they had brought from Africa.

While each style has unique facets that differentiate it from other Martial Arts, a common characteristic is the systematization of fighting techniques. Methods of training vary and may include sparring (simulated combat) or formal sets or routines of techniques known as forms or kata. Forms are especially common in the Asian and Asian-derived Martial Arts.

Benefits of Martial Arts

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martial_arts#Dance

Initially, the object of martial arts was self-defence and the preservation of life. Today, these needs continue to exist but do not constitute any longer the primary reason why an individual would busy themselves with them. Training in Martial arts imparts many benefits to the trainee, both corporal and spiritual. Through systematic practice in the Martial Arts a person’s physical fitness is boosted (strength, stamina, flexibility, movement coordination, etc) as the whole body is exercised and the whole muscular system is activated. In connection with the learning of correct breathing techniques and an improved and wholesome diet, Martial Arts are an effective way of fighting many problems and diseases of contemporary society and sedentary life, and, generally, of a weakened immune system.

Self-control, determination and concentration characterize the trainee, who always reacts productively and without stress when the circumstances demand it. Self-defence, then, and strong self-control result from serious training. Each individual learns about themselves. Not only do their capabilities improve, but also their sense of respect and justice.

According to Bruce Lee, Martial Arts also have the nature of an art, since there is emotional communication and complete emotional expression. Martial arts may also be described as a way for the individual to discover themselves and their environment.

History of Martial Arts – historical timeline

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martial_arts_timeline
SUMMARY: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martial_arts#History

The history of the Martial arts is often seen as complex, and is not very well documented, but some evidence of early Martial Arts is known. There are many different types or styles of Martial Arts and each has its own quite unique style and beginnings Some cultures have had a very big impact on the evolution and study of martial arts. Modern Martial Arts’ history is quite often only seen as part of Asian cultures but in reality there were many forms of Martial Arts practiced in nearly every country on earth for 1000′s of years.

The early Greeks practiced a Martial Art known as Pankration, meaning the art of complete strength. The art itself is comprised of a combination of combative styles including wrestling, grappling, and throws as well as certain boxing techniques. The earliest records of Pankration being practiced is around 700BC but all indications are that this fighting style had most likely been in use for a very long time before that and it is still practiced in Greece and other parts of the world today.

Japan had ancient Martial Arts deeply imbedded in its culture, and most seem to have evolved from breathing exercises. These arts were later influenced by migratory Chinese Martial Arts experts. It would now seem that almost all of Asia had developed Martial Arts from breathing exercises. Korea had the ancient art of Hwa Rang Do, Kali in the Philippines, and even Yoga has been developed into a martial art by some practitioners.


African knives may be classified by shape—typically into the “f” group and the “circular” group—and have often been incorrectly described as throwing knives. Stick fighting formed an important part of Zulu culture in South Africa, and is a significant part of Obnu Bilate, a fighting form practiced in southern Botswana and northern South Africa. Stick fighting was also described in Ancient Egyptians tombs, it is still practiced in upper Egypt (Tahtib)[4][5] and a modern association was formed in the 1970s. Rough and Tumble (RAT) is a modern African Martial Art, also incorporating elements of Zulu and Sotho stickfighting.


Native peoples of North and South America had their own Martial training which began in childhood. Most groups selected individuals for training in the use of bows, knives, blowguns, spears, and war clubs in early adolescence. First Nations men, and more rarely some women, were called warriors only after they had proven themselves in battle. War clubs were the preferred weapon because Native American warriors could raise their social status by killing enemies in single combat face to face. Warriors honed their weapons skills and stalking techniques through lifelong training.

After the arrival of European colonists and settlers, the Native American population was drastically reduced and forcibly moved into reserve territory. With the introduction of fire-arms, traditional North American Martial Arts fell into disuse. From the 16th century, Portuguese colonists brought West Africans to serve as slaves in Brazil. The slaves developed the dance-like capoeira, a Brazilian fighting style with great roots in Africa. Involving a high degree of flexibility and endurance, it consists of kicks, elbow strikes, hand strikes, head butts, cartwheels and sweeps.

Recent history

As Western influence grew in Asia, a greater number of military personnel spent time in China, Japan, and South Korea during World War II and the Korean War and were exposed to local fighting styles. Jujutsu, Judo and Karate first became popular among the mainstream from the 1950s-60s. Due in part to Asian and Hollywood Martial Arts movies, most modern American Martial Arts are either Asian-derived or Asian influenced.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, is an adaptation of pre-World War II Judo developed by the brothers Carlos and Hélio Gracie, who restructured the art into a sport with a large focus on groundwork. This system has become popular and proved to be effective in mixed Martial Arts competitions such as the UFC and PRIDE.

The later 1960s and 1970s witnessed an increased media interest in the Chinese fighting systems, influenced by Martial Artist and Hollywood actor Bruce Lee. Jeet Kune Do, the system he founded, has its roots in Wing Chun, western boxing, savate and fencing with a philosophy of a casting off what is useless and using no way as way.

Asia and SE Asia

The foundation of the Asian Martial Arts is likely a blend of early Chinese and Indian Martial Arts. Extensive trade occurred between these regions beginning around 600 BC, with diplomats, merchants, and monks traveling the sea route to and from South west India. During the Warring States period of Chinese history (480-221 BC) extensive development in Martial philosophy and strategy emerged, as described by Sun Tzu in The Art of War (c. 350 BC).

An early legend in Martial Arts tells the tale of a South Indian Pallava Prince turned monk named Bodhidharma, believed to have lived around 550 A.D. Regarded as the founder of Zen Buddhism, the martial virtues of discipline, humility, restraint and respect are attributed to this philosophy. Thus the values of ethical conduct and self discipline have been intertwined with martial practice since the earliest times.

The teaching of Martial Arts in Asia has historically followed the cultural traditions of teacher-disciple apprenticeship. Students are trained in a strictly hierarchical system by a master instructor: Sifu in Cantonese or Shifu in Mandarin; Sensei in Japanese; Sabeom-nim in Korean; Guru in Sanskrit, Hindi, Telugu and Malay; Kruu in Khmer; Guro in Tagalog; Kalari Gurukkal or Kalari Asaan in Malayalam; Asaan in Tamil; Achaan or Khru in Thai; and Saya in Burmese. All these terms can be translated as master, teacher or mentor.

The Western interest in Asian Martial Arts dates back to the late 19th century, due to the increase in trade between the United States with China and Japan. Relatively few Westerners actually practiced the arts, considering it to be mere performance. Edward William Barton-Wright, a railway engineer who had studied Jujutsu while working in Japan between 1894–97, was the first man known to have taught Asian Martial Arts in Europe. He also founded an eclectic style named Bartitsu which combined jujutsu, judo, boxing, savate and stick fighting. Bruce Lee is credited as one of the first instructors to openly teach Chinese Martial Arts to Westerners. Jackie Chan and Jet Li are prominent movie figures who have been responsible for promoting Chinese Martial Arts in recent years.

Antiquity (Zhou to Jin)

A hand-to-hand combat theory, including the integration of notions of “hard” and “soft” techniques, is expounded in the story of the Maiden of Yue in the Spring and Autumn Annals of Wu and Yue (5th c. BC).[1]

The Han History Bibliographies record that, by the Former Han (206 BCE – 8 CE), there was a distinction between no-holds-barred weaponless fighting, which it calls shǒubó (手搏), for which “how-to” manuals had already been written, and sportive wrestling, then known as juélì or jiǎolì (角力).

Wrestling is also documented in the Shǐ Jì, Records of the Grand Historian, written by Sima Qian (ca. 100 BC).[2] Jiǎolì is also mentioned in the Classic of Rites (1st c. BC).

In 39-92 CE, “Six Chapters of Hand Fighting”, were included in the Han Shu (history of the Former Han Dynasty) written by Pan Ku. Also, the noted physician, Hua Tuo, composed the “Five Animals Play” – tiger, deer, monkey, bear, and bird, around 220 BCE.

Middle Ages (Tang to Ming)

In the Tang Dynasty, descriptions of sword dances were immortalized in poems by Li Bai and Du Fu. In the Song and Yuan dynasties, xiangpu (the earliest form of sumo) contests were sponsored by the imperial courts. The modern concepts of Wu Shei were fully developed by the Ming and Qing dynasties.

With regards to the Shaolin style of martial arts, the oldest evidence of Shaolin participation in combat is a stele from 728 CE that attests to two occasions: a defense of the Shaolin Monastery from bandits around 610 CE, and their subsequent role in the defeat of Wang Shichong at the Battle of Hulao in 621 CE.

From the 8th to the 15th centuries, there are no extant documents that provide evidence of Shaolin participation in combat. However, between the 16th and 17th centuries there are at least forty extant sources which provided evidence that, not only did monks of Shaolin practice Martial Arts, but Martial practice had become such an integral element of Shaolin monastic life that the monks felt the need to justify it by creating new Buddhist lore.

References of Martial Arts practice in Shaolin appear in various literary genres of the late Ming: the epitaphs of Shaolin warrior monks, martial-arts manuals, military encyclopedias, historical writings, travelogues, fiction, and even poetry. However these sources do not point out to any specific style originated in Shaolin.

These sources, in contrast to those from the Tang period, refer to Shaolin methods of armed combat. This include the forte of Shaolin monks and for which they had become famous — the staff (Gun); General Qi Jiquan included these techniques in his book, ‘Treatise of Effective Discipline’. Despite the fact that others criticized the techniques, Ming General Yu Dayou visited the Temple and was not impressed with what he saw, he recruited three monks who he would train for few years after which they returned to the temple to train his fellow monks. The Chinese Ji Xiao Xin Shu dates to the 1560s.


The classical Sanskrit epics contain accounts of combat, describing warriors such as Bhima. The Mahabharata describes a prolonged battle between Arjuna and Karna using bows, swords, trees and rocks, and fists.[9] Another unarmed battle in the Mahabharata describes two fighters boxing with clenched fists and fighting with kicks, finger strikes, knee strikes and headbutts. Other boxing fights are also described in Mahabharata and Ramayana.

The word “kalari” is mentioned in Sangam literature from the 2nd century BC. The Akananuru and Purananuru describe the Martial Arts of ancient Tamilakkam, including forms of one-to-one combat, and the use of spears, swords, shields, bows and silambam.[dubious – discuss]

A Martial Art called Vajra Mushti is mentioned in Indian sources of the early centuries CE. Indian military accounts of the Gupta Empire (c. 240-480) identified over 130 different classes of weapons. The Kama Sutra written by Vātsyāyana at the time suggested that women should regularly “practice with sword, single-stick, quarter-staff, and bow and arrow.”

Around 630, King Narasimhavarman of the Pallava dynasty commissioned dozens of granite sculptures showing unarmed fighters disarming armed opponents. These may have shown an early form of Varma Adi, a martial art that allowed kick]ing, kneeing, elbowing, and punching to the head and chest, but prohibited blows below the waist.

Martial arts were not exclusive to the Kshatriya warrior caste, though they used the arts more extensively. The 8th century text Kuvalaymala by Udyotanasuri recorded martial arts being taught at salad and ghatika educational institutions, where Brahmin students from throughout the subcontinent (particularly from South India, Rajasthan and Bengal) “were learning and practicing archery, fighting with sword and shield, with daggers, sticks, lances, and with fists, and in duels (niuddham).”

The earliest extant manual of Indian marital arts is contained as chapters 248 to 251 in the Agni Purana (c. 8th-11th century), giving an account of dhanurveda in a total of 104 shlokas.[13][14][15] These verses describe how to improve a warrior’s individual prowess and kill enemies using various different methods in warfare, whether a warrior went to war in chariots, elephants, horses, or on foot. Foot methods were subdivided into armed combat and unarmed combat.[16] The former included the bow and arrow, the sword, spear, noose, armour, iron dart, club, battle axe, discus, and the trident. The latter included wrestling, knee strikes, and punching and kicking methods. The earliest description of wrestling techniques in Sanskrit literature is found in the Malla Purana (13th century).


Koryū (古流?) is a Japanese word that is used in association with the ancient Japanese Martial Arts. This word literally translates as “old school” or “traditional school”. Koryū is a general term for Japanese schools of martial arts that predate the Meiji Restoration (the period from 1866 to 1869 which sparked major socio-political changes and led to the modernization of Japan). While there is no “official” cutoff date, the dates most commonly used are either 1868, the first year of the Meiji period, or 1876, when the Haitōrei edict banning the wearing of swords was pronounced. The Japanese Book of Five Rings dates to 1664.


The Korean Muyejebo dates to 1598, the Muyedobotongji dates to 1790.

West and Central Asia

The traditional Persian style of grappling was known as Koshti, with the and physical exercise and schooled sport known as Varzesh-e Pahlavani. It was said to be traceable back to Arsacid Parthian times (132 BCE – 226 CE), and is still widely practiced today in the region. Following the development of Sufi Islam in the 8th century CE, Varzesh-e Pahlavani absorbed philosophical and spiritual components from that religion. Other historical grappling styles from the region include Turkic forms such as Kurash, Köräş and Yağlı güreş.


Martial Arts existed in classical European civilization, most notably in Greece where sports were integral to the way of life. Boxing (pygme, pyx), Wrestling (pale) and Pankration (from pan, meaning “all”, and kratos, meaning “power” or “strength”) were represented in the Ancient Olympic Games. The Romans produced gladiatorial combat as a public spectacle.

A number of historical fencing forms and manuals have survived, and many groups are working to reconstruct older European Martial Arts. The process of reconstruction combines intensive study of detailed combat treatises produced from 1400–1900 A.D. and practical training or “pressure testing” of various techniques and tactics. This includes such styles as sword and shield, two-handed swordfighting, halberd fighting, jousting and other types of melee weapons combat. This reconstruction effort and modern outgrowth of the historical methods is generally referred to as Western Martial Arts. Many medieval Martial Arts manuals have survived, primarily from Germany and Italy. The most famous of these is Johannes Lichtenauer’s Fechtbuch (Fencing book) of the 14th century, which today forms the basis of the German school of swordsmanship.

In Europe, the Martial Arts declined with the rise of firearms. As a consequence, Martial Arts with historical roots in Europe do not exist today to the same extent as in other regions, since the traditional Martial Arts either died out or developed into sports. Swordsmanship developed into fencing. Boxing as well as forms of wrestling have endured. European Martial Arts have mostly adapted to changing technology so that while some traditional arts still exist, military personnel are trained in skills like bayonet combat and marksmanship. Some European weapon systems have also survived as folk sports and as self-defense methods. These include stick-fighting systems such as quarterstaff of England, bataireacht of Ireland, Jogo do Pau of Portugal and the Juego del Palo (Palo Canario) style(s) of the Canary Islands.

Other Martial Arts were adapted into sports that are no longer recognized as combative. One example is the pommel horse event in men’s gymnastics, an exercise which itself is derived from the sport of equestrian vaulting. Cavalry riders needed to be able to change positions on their horses quickly, rescue fallen allies, fight effectively on horseback and dismount at a gallop. Training these skills on a stationery barrel evolved into sport of gymnastics’ pommel horse exercise. More ancient origins exist for the shot put and the javelin throw, both weapons utilized extensively by the Romans.

Modern history

Wrestling, Javelin, Fencing (1896 Summer Olympics), Archery (1900), Boxing (1904), and more recently Judo (1964) and Tae Kwon Do (2000) are included as events in the modern Summer Olympic Games.

Martial Arts also developed among military and police forces to be used as arrest and self-defense methods including: Unifight, Kapap and Krav Maga developed in Israeli Defense Forces; San Shou in Chinese; Systema: developed for the Russian armed forces and Rough and Tumble (RAT): originally developed for the South African special forces (Reconnaissance Commandos) (now taught in a civilian capacity). Tactical arts for use in close quarter combat warfare, i.e. Military Martial arts e.g. UAC (British), LINE (USA). Other combative systems having their origins in the modern military include Soviet Bojewoje (Combat) Sambo. Pars Tactical Defence (Turkei security personally self-defense system)

Inter-art competitions came to the fore again in 1993 with the first Ultimate Fighting Championship this has since evolved into the modern sport of mixed martial arts.

List of Martial Arts:

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_martial_arts

Choy Li Fut
Dim Mak
Jeet Kune Do
Ju Jitsu
Krav Maga
Kung Fu
Muay Thai
Pa Kua
Pentjak Silat
Shorinji Kempo
Taekwondo Tai Chi Chuan
Tang Soo Do
Uechi Ryu
Wado Ryu
Wing Chun