Martial arts

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A block print from the Wu Pei Chih ("Bubishi" in Japanese), an ancient text which describes techniques found in Chinese martial arts (mostly addressing White Crane Gong-fu).

Martial arts are systems of codified practices and traditions of training for combat. They may be studied for various reasons including combat skills, fitness, self-defense, sport, self-cultivation/meditation, mental discipline, character development and building self-confidence, or any combination of the above.

There is a great diversity and abundance of martial arts but, broadly speaking, martial arts share a common goal: to defeat a person physically or to defend oneself from physical threat. Some martial arts are linked to spiritual or religious beliefs/philosophies such as Buddhism or Shinto while others have their own spiritual/non-spiritual code of honor.

While each style has unique facets that makes it different from other martial arts, a common characteristic is the systemization of fighting techniques. One common method of training, particularly in the Asian martial arts, is the form or kata; these are sets or routines of techniques that are performed alone, or sometimes with a partner.[1]

The word 'martial' derives from the name of Mars, the Roman god of war. The term 'Martial Arts' literally means arts of Mars. This term comes from 15th century Europeans who were referring to their own fighting arts that are today known as Historical Fencing. A practitioner of martial arts is referred to as a martial artist.


Martial arts vary widely, and may focus on a specific area or combination of areas, but they can be broadly grouped into focusing on strikes, grappling, or weapons training. Below is a list of examples that make extensive use of one these areas; it is not an exhaustive list of all arts covering the area, nor are these necessarily the only areas covered by the art but are the focus or best known part as examples of the area:

Some arts have a very specific focus while others, such as Mixed martial arts, are more syncretic.




Many martial arts, especially those from Asia, also teach side disciplines which pertain to medicinal practices. This is particularly prevalent in traditional Chinese martial arts which may teach bone-setting, qigong, acupuncture, acupressure (tui na), and other aspects of traditional Chinese medicine.[2]

Martial arts are commonly associated with East Asian cultures, but are by no means unique to Asia. Throughout Europe there was an extensive system of combat martial arts, collectively referred to as Historical European martial arts, that existed until modern times and is now being reconstructed by several organizations while Savate is a French kicking style developed by sailors and street fighters. In the Americas Native Americans have a tradition of open-handed martial arts, that includes wrestling and Hawaiians have historically practiced arts featuring small and large joint manipulation, a mix of origins occur in the athletic movements of Capoeira that was created in Brazil by slaves, based on skills brought with them from Africa.


Template:Refimprovesect The history of martial arts around the world is complex. Most groups of people have had to physically defend themselves at some time and have developed fighting techniques for that purpose. Development of many martial arts was related to military development, but many of those techniques have been rendered technologically obsolete over the centuries. In the modern day, most populations would be more likely to face adversaries wielding firearms than melee weapons during battle. Furthermore, the preservation of a martial art requires many years of teaching at the hands of a skilled instructor to pass on the art for a single generation. Given these circumstances, many martial arts from previous eras have not been passed down to following generations.[3]

In Asia

Early history

Ancient depiction of Shaolin monks practicing the art of self defense.

The foundation of the Asian martial arts is likely a blend of early Chinese and Indian arts. Extensive trade occurred between these nations beginning around 600 B.C., with diplomats, merchants, and monks traveling the Silk Roads. During the Warring States period of Chinese history (480-221 B.C.) extensive development in martial philosophy and strategy emerged, as described by Sun Tzu in The Art of War (c. 350 B.C.)

An early legend in martial arts tells the tale of the Indian monk Bodhidharma (also called Daruma), believed to have lived around 550 A.D. He is credited with founding the meditative philosophy of Zen Buddhism and influencing the unarmed combat arts of the Shaolin temple in China. The martial virtues of discipline, humility, restraint and respect are attributed to this philosophy.[4]

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; Guru in Sanskrit, Hindi, Telugu and Malay; Sensei in Japanese; Sa Bum Nim in Korean; Kalari Gurukkal or kalari asaan in Malayalam; Asaan in Tamil; Achan in Thai; Guro in Tagalog and Saya in Myanmar, . The instructor is expected to directly supervise their students' training, and the students are expected to memorize and recite as closely as possible the rules and basic training routines of the school.

In the warrior Kshatriya caste of South Asia, organised martial traditions were studied as a part of the Dharma (duty) of the caste. The senior teachers were called Gurus and taught martial arts at gurukuls to the shishyas (students).

Some method of certification can be involved, where one's skills would be tested for mastery before being allowed to study further; in some systems, there may not be any such certifications, only years of close personal practice and evaluation under a master, much like an apprenticeship, until the master deems one's skills satisfactory.[citation needed] This pedagogy, while still preserved and respected in many traditional styles, has weakened to varying degrees in others and is even actively rejected by some schools, especially in the West.

Throughout Asia martial arts were practiced as can be seen in the art, history and current traditions in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and the Philippines. In many countries local arts like Te in Okinawa,[5] Kenjutsu and Ju-Jutsu in Japan,[6] and Taekyon and Soobak in Korea[7] mixed with other martial arts and evolved to produce some of the more well-known martial arts in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries like Karate, Aikido, and Taekwondo.

Modern history

File:Bruce Lee.jpg
Bruce Lee is widely regarded as one of the most influential martial artists.[8]

The Western interest in East Asian Martial arts dates back to the late 19th Century AD, due to the increase in trade between America 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 martial arts style named Bartitsu which combined jujutsu, judo, boxing, savate and stick fighting.

During the late 19th century and early 20th century, catch wrestling contests became immensely popular in Europe.

During pre-war and World War Two shows the practicality of martial arts in the modern world and were used by Japanese, US, Nepalese (Gurkha) commandos as well as Resistance groups, such as in the Philippines, (see Raid at Los Baños) but not so excessively or at all for common soldiers.

Filipino Martial Arts from Ni Tien Martial Arts Schools

However Asian martial arts remained largely unknown in the West even as late as the 1950s; for example, in the 1959 popular fiction Goldfinger, Karate was described to readers in near-mythical terms and it was credible for British unarmed combat experts to be represented as completely unaware of martial arts of this kind. The novel describes the protagonist James Bond, an expert in unarmed combat, as utterly ignorant of Karate and its demonstrations, and describes the Korean 'Oddjob' in these terms:

Goldfinger said, "Have you ever heard of Karate? No? Well that man is one of the three in the world who have achieved the Black Belt in Karate. Karate is a branch of judo, but it is to judo what a Spandau is to a catapult...".[9]

Such a description in a popular novel assumed and relied upon karate being almost unknown in the West; and it linked karate with judo, whereas in reality karate is a distinct art almost unrelated to judo.

As Western influence grew in East Asia a greater number of military personnel spent time in China, Japan, and Korea. Exposure to martial arts during the Korean war was also significant. Gradually some soldiers saw the value of Eastern martial arts and began training in them.

With large numbers of American servicemen stationed in Japan after World War II, the adoption of techniques and the gradual transmission of entire systems of martial arts to the West started. It was in the 1950s, however, when this exportation of systems really began to gain momentum. Large groups of U.S. military personnel were taught Korean arts (Taekwondo) during the Korean conflict. In the early 1970s, martial arts movies, in particular those of martial artist and actor Bruce Lee, furthered the popularity of martial arts.

This exportation of the martial arts led to such styles as sport karate, which became a major international sport, with professional fighters, big prizes, television coverage, and sponsorship deals. This also lead to the creation of modern martial arts such as Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is a derivative of Kodokan Judo, extended and influenced by the no holds barred combat traditions of Brazil; it has been highly effective in mixed martial arts competitions around the world.

The later 1970s and 1980s witnessed an increased media interest in the martial arts, thanks in part to Asian and Hollywood martial arts movies and very popular television shows like "Kung Fu", "Martial Law" and "The Green Hornet" that incorporated martial arts moments or themes. Jackie Chan and Jet Li are prominent movie figures who have been responsible for promoting Chinese martial arts in recent years.

In Europe

Main article: Historical European martial arts

File:NAMA Akrotiri 2.jpg
Boxing was practiced in the ancient Mediterranean

In Europe, the martial arts declined with the rise of the firearms. As a consequence, martial arts with historical roots in Europe do not exist today to the same extent as in Asia, since the traditional martial arts either died out or developed into sports. Swordplay 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. These skills do not fall under the common use of the term, but may still be considered "martial arts".

This is not to say Europe was not rich in historical martial arts traditions. 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.

Khridoli (Georgian: ხრიდოლი) is an ancient Georgian martial art, which includes fighting with bare hands and different types of weapons.

Glima is an unarmed Scandinavian martial art with, as some sources indicate, roots in the Viking age.[10] The tradition of glima has been kept alive as Iceland's national sport.

Some traditional martial arts have been preserved in one form or another. For example, boxing, wrestling, archery, and fencing were preserved by being made into sports; of course this has changed the emphases of these arts significantly. Notably, savate still has a very strong following in modern-day France. Other martial arts, such as sabre duelling as mensur have been outlawed but practised secretly.

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, the most famous being Johannes Lichtenauer's Fechtbuch (Sword Tome) of the 14th century. Today the Lichtenauer's tome forms the basis of German school of swordsmanship.

Another aspect of the reconstruction effort involves more historically recent martial arts and combat sports, such as those practiced during the 1800s and 1900s. A partial list would include bare-knuckle boxing, Bartitsu, quarterstaff fencing according to late 1800 s rules, etc.

Some European weapon systems have also survived as folk sports and as self-defense methods. These include stick-fighting systems such as Jogo do Pau of Portugal and the Juego del Palo style(s) of the Canary Islands.

Other martial arts evolved into sports that 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. Cavalryriders 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.

In the Americas

The native peoples of North America and South America had their own martial training which began in childhood. Many Native American men considered themselves warriors and trained to use the bows, knives, blowguns, spears, and war clubs. War-clubs were the preferred martial weapon because Native American warriors could raise their social status by killing enemies in single combat face to face.[citation needed] Warriors honed their archery and war club skills through lifelong training. The European colonists (and later, Asian immigrants) brought over their own martial arts such as boxing, fencing and wrestling.

Capoeira, with roots in Africa, is a martial art originating in Brazil that involves a high degree of flexibility and endurance. It consists of kicks, elbow strikes, head butts, and sweeps. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an adaptation of pre-World War II Judo and jujutsu. Created by Carlos Gracie and his brother Hélio, it was restructured into a sport with a large focus on groundwork. This system has become a popular martial art and proved to be effective in mixed martial arts competitions such as the UFC and PRIDE.[11]

As of 2003, over 1.5 million US citizens practice martial arts.[12]

In Africa

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.[13]There are also wrestling and grappling techniques found in West Africa. "Stick fighting" formed an important part of Zulu culture in South Africa.


Every village and tribe around the world had a few experienced fighters who passed on their knowledge[citation needed]; however, it is difficult to pass on a fighting system, so almost all of these have been lost as their practical relevance has declined. A few have nonetheless survived for one reason or another, examples of this are Capoeira and some related arts in Cuba, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago, which were preserved partly through their relationship with Candomblé, Santería, Vodou, and other syncretic religions.[citation needed] Of these, only Capoeira has risen to worldwide prominence.

Archery, Boxing, Fencing, Javelin, Judo, Wrestling and Tae Kwon Do are the martial arts that are featured as events in the modern Summer Olympic Games.

Martial arts also developed among military and police forces to be used as:

Other combative systems having their origins in the modern military include Soviet Bojewoje (Combat) Sambo.

On the modern battlefield

U.S. Army Combatives instructor Matt Larsen demonstrates a chokehold

Some traditional martial concepts have seen new use within modern military training. Perhaps the most recent example of this is point shooting which relies on muscle memory to more effectively utilize a firearm in a variety of awkward situations, much the way an iaidoka would master movements with their sword.

During the World War II era William E. Fairbairn, a Shanghai policeman and a leading Western expert on Asian fighting techniques, was recruited during World War II by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to teach Jujutsu to UK, U.S. and Canadian Special Forces. The book Kill or Get Killed, written by Colonel Rex Applegate, became a classic military treatise on hand-to-hand combat. This fighting method was called Defendu.

Traditional hand-to-hand, knife, and spear techniques continue to see use in the composite systems developed for today's wars. Examples of this include the US Army's Combatives system developed by Matt Larsen, the Israeli army trains its soldiers in Krav Maga, the US Marine Corps's Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP), and Chinese San Shou.

Unarmed dagger defenses identical to that found in the fechtbuch of Fiore dei Liberi and the Codex Wallerstein were integrated into the U.S. Army's training manuals in 1942[14] and continue to influence today's systems along with other traditional systems such as Kali and Escrima.

The bayonet, which has its origin in the spear, has seen use by the British Army as recently as the Iraq War.[15]

Testing and competition

Testing or evaluation is important to martial art practitioners of many disciplines who wish to determine their progression or own level of skill in specific contexts. Students within individual martial art systems often undergo periodic testing and grading by their own teacher in order to advance to a higher level of recognized achievement, such as a different belt color or title. The type of testing used varies from system to system but may include forms or sparring.

Various forms and sparring are commonly used in martial art exhibitions and tournaments. Some competitions pit practitioners of different disciplines against each other using a common set of rules, these are referred to as mixed martial arts competitions. Rules for sparring vary between art and organization but can generally be divided into light-contact, medium-contact, and full-contact variants, reflecting the amount of force that should be used on an opponent.

Light and medium-contact

These types of sparring restrict the amount of force that may be used to hit an opponent, in the case of light sparring this is usual to 'touch' contact, e.g. a punch should be 'pulled' as soon as or before contact is made. In medium-contact the punch would not be 'pulled' but not hit with full force. As the amount of force used is restricted, the aim of these types of sparing is not to knock out an opponent; a point system is used in competitions.

A referee acts to monitor for fouls and to control the match, while judges mark down scores, as in boxing. Particular targets may be prohibited (such as the face or groin), certain techniques may be forbidden, and fighters may be required to wear protective equipment on their head, hands, chest, groin, shins or feet. In some styles, competitors score points based on the landing of a single technique as judged by the referee, whereupon they will briefly stop the match, award a point, then restart it. Alternatively, sparring may continue with the point noted by the judges.

Some critics of point-sparring feel that this method of training teaches habits that result in lower combat effectiveness. Lighter-contact sparring may be used exclusively, as training for full contact, for children, or when heavy contact would be inappropriate.


"Full-contact" sparring or fighting is considered by many to be requisite in learning realistic unarmed combat. Full-contact sparring is different from light and medium-contact sparring in several ways, e.g. reduced or eliminated use of protective gear. Kyokushin karate requires advanced practitioners to engage in bare-knuckled, full-contact sparring while wearing only a karate gi and groin protector. Full contact sparring may include a wider variety of permitted attacks and contact zones on the body, excluding a limited number of forbidden techniques such as biting, breaking fingers, striking the groin, and attacking the eyes. Full-contact sparring may involve full-force attacks intended to disable the opponent, either by knockout or direct submission. If a point system is used, (in some competitions, such as the UFC 1, there is none) there is often a lower emphasis on scoring points to win by judges' decision.

Due to these factors, full-contact matches tend to be more aggressive in character. Nearly all MMA leagues such as UFC, PRIDE, Pancrase, Shooto use full-contact rules, as do professional boxing organizations. Rulesets mandate the use of protective gloves and forbid certain techniques or actions during a match, such as punching the back of the head. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo matches do not allow striking, but are full-contact in the sense that full force is applied during grappling and submissions.

Some practitioners believe that winning a sport match by rules is not an important matter in hand-to-hand combat. Many of these practitioners may prefer not to participate in most types of rule-based martial art competition (even one such as modern vale tudo), electing instead to study fighting techniques with little or no regard to competitive rules or, perhaps, ethical concerns and the law (the techniques practiced may include attacking vulnerable spots such as the groin or the eyes). Nonetheless, others maintain that, given proper precautions such as a referee and a ring doctor, full-contact matches with basic rules serves as a useful gauge of one's overall fighting ability, including striking, grappling and finishing hold.

Martial sport

Several traditional martial arts, such as Judo, are Olympic sports.

Judo and Tae Kwon Do as well as western archery, boxing, javelin, wrestling and fencing are currently events in the Summer Olympic Games. Chinese wushu recently failed in its bid to be included, but is still actively performed in tournaments across the world. Practitioners in some arts such as kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu often train for sport matches, whereas those in other arts such as Aikido and Wing Chun generally spurn such competitions. Some schools believe that competition breeds better and more efficient practitioners, and gives a sense of good sportsmanship. Others believe that the rules under which competition takes place have diminished the combat effectiveness of martial arts or encourage a kind of practice which focuses on winning trophies rather than the more traditional focus such as cultivating a particular moral character.

As part of the response to sport martial arts, new forms of competition are being held such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the U.S. or Pancrase, and the PRIDE in Japan which are also known as mixed martial arts (or MMA) events. The original UFC was fought under very few rules allowing all martial arts styles to enter and not be limited by the rule set.

Some martial artists also compete in non-sparring competitions such as breaking or choreographed techniques poomse, kata or aka. Modern variations of the martial arts include dance-influenced competitions such as tricking.

Some martial traditions have been influenced by governments to become more sport-like for political purposes. The central impetus for the attempt by the People's Republic of China in transforming Chinese martial arts into the committee-regulated sport of Wushu was suppressing what they saw as the potentially subversive aspects of martial training, especially under the traditional system of family lineages.[16]


As mentioned above, some martial arts in various cultures can be performed in dance-like settings for various reasons, such as for evoking ferocity in preparation for battle or showing off skill in a more stylized manner. Many such martial arts incorporate music, especially strong percussive rhythms.

Examples of such war dances include:

Capoeira is a martial art traditionally performed with a dance-like flavor and to live musical accompaniment, as seen depicted here.

See also


Over time, the number of martial arts has grown and multiplied, with hundreds and thousands of schools and organizations around the world currently working towards a myriad of goals and practicing a huge variety of styles.

Template:Martial arts

Template:Manav by country


  1. Samples of forms from different arts
  2. Internal Kung Fu
  3. Small sample of histories
  4. Reid, Howard and Croucher, Michael. The Way of the Warrior-The Paradox of the Martial Arts" New York. Overlook Press: 1983.
  5. Nishiyama, Hidetaka (1991). Karate: The Art of Empty-Hand Fighting. Tuttle Publishing. pp. p. 16. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)
  6. Tanaka, Fumon (2003). Samurai Fighting Arts: The Spirit and the Practice. Kodansha International. pp. p. 30.
  7. Shaw, Scott (1996). Hapkido: The Korean Art of Self-Defense. Tuttle Publishing. pp. p. 15.
  8. Stein, Joel (1999). "TIME 100: Bruce Lee". Time Magazine.
  9. Fleming, Ian (1959). Goldfinger. pp. pp. 91-95.
  10. The Way of the Vikings by Lars Magnar Enoksen
  11. fighting art used in the UFC
  12. Martial arts in America
  13. Spring, Christopher (1989). Swords and Hilt Weapons. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. pp. pp. 204-217. ISBN ISBN Check |isbn= value: invalid character (help).
  14. Vail, Jason (2006). Medieval and Renaissance Dagger Combat. Paladin Press. pp. pp. 91-95.
  15. Bayonet use
  16. Fu, Zhongwen (1996, 2006). Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan. Translated by Louis Swaine. Berkeley, California: Blue Snake Books. ISBN (trade paper) Check |isbn= value: invalid character (help). Check date values in: |year= (help)

External links

  • AKBAN-wiki a community based video Martial arts encyclopedia of martial arts video clips and movies.
  • Martial Arts Videos Database of Martial Arts Video Clips And Movies.

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