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Are Martial Arts?
In recent years, many of the martial arts have developed into sports-physical activities or active pastimes that are governed by a set of rules or customs. Yet, the martial arts are distinctly unique sports, since they allow development to occur on many different levels simultaneously, and provide users with a means of understanding and bettering themselves.
Some argue that there are martial arts and martial ways; martial art referring to the study of an art that emphasizes only physical techniques, and martial way emphasizing the study of both physical techniques and a philosophical or mental aspect. This view separates the practice. Essentially, the attitude of the student practicing the martial art determines whether what he is doing is an "art" or "way."
Kinds Of Martial Arts Are There?
Did They Come From?
martial arts' long history is one of its most interesting and defining
aspects. Unfortunately, tracing the exact history of martial arts is
impossible, especially because their beginnings are shrouded in myth
and legend. It is helpful to look at the combat systems used in ancient
cultures - namely Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, China, and Japan, since
these are the most likely sources of martial arts development.
has an impressive legacy of sports and physical fitness. Records of
combat date as far back as 4000 B.C. in Egypt, where illustrations on
walls of ancient tombs show military training exercises, combat scenes,
and a variety of weapons, such as spears, short swords, and throwing
projectiles. Artifacts from 3000 B.C. show that Sumerians in Mesopotamia
participated in hand-to-hand sports, while murals in the Beni-assan
Tomb show combatants using hand-striking techniques and kicking maneuvers.
Lastly, King Ramses II, in his chronicles of the victory of the Battle
of Kadesh against the Hittites, credited the arm's superior weapons
and unarmed combative skills.
The Greeks had three major fighting systems: Wrestling, Boxing, and Pankration. Wresting dates back to 708 B.C., when the first match was held at 18th Olympic Games (708 B.C.). Many of the techniques that were used, including throwing, off-balancing, grapping, restraining closely resemble those used in grappling arts, such as Judo.
Grecian boxing matches started at the 23rd Olympics (688 B.C.) and were less governed compared to modern standards - competitors had no time limits, weight divisions, or scores, and could use any open-hand and closed-hand techniques. To train, students would box by themselves and spar with opponents, while also running and punching bags to increase their endurance and strength.
Pankration debuted at the 33rd Olympics (648 B.C.), but was actually practiced by Greeks and Spartans since the beginning of civilization. Pankration, also known as "complete strength," featured a no-rules fighting contests in tribute to Zeus, the Supreme God of Olympus. Competitors would use kicks aimed at their opponents' sensitive areas, such as the knees, groin, and stomach, open or closed fist striking, and grabbing. After forcing each other onto the ground, opponents would use grappling and restraining to end the match.
The martial practices of the Greeks were interestingly similar to those of Asian disciplines. Students in all three systems-wrestling, boxing and pankration, generally trained in an akademos (school) where they would practice in a room called a palestra and with kicking and punching apparatus called korykos. Like the kiai used in Japanese martial arts, or the kihap used by Korean martial artists, the Greeks would use a spirit and power yell. The Greeks also referred to the body's energy (e.g. breath, spirit) as pneuma, like the Asian chi, ki, or qi.
Inspired by the Greeks, the ancient Romans developed gladiatorial contests. These were even more dangerous than the sport-oriented Greco-Roman wrestling events. In preparation, gladiators would train in basic drills, takedowns, escaping or evading attack, holding an opponent to the ground, and pinning. Then, at the Coliseum, they would face off against opponents, slashing and stabbing with swords, blocking with shields, hooking with tridents, and ensnaring with nets. Some competitors even bit, pulled the opponent's hair, or gouged his eyes!
Martial arts arrived in India around 500 B.C. when combat techniques such as seizing and reversing holds on an opponent's joins, striking with the fists, and grappling and throwing the opponent, developed. During the fifth century, classic epics were written about military struggle and martial virtues, providing overviews of ancient Indian martial arts such as Vajaramusti, an art that incorporated wrestling, striking, and weapons arts with pressure points study. As in other cultures, these martial arts were tied to their native religions, such as Hinduism, Muslim, and Buddhism. Indian martial arts practice and religions were spread to other countries, greatly influencing martial arts development in Asia.
Chinese martial arts, referred to as Kung Fu, are almost as old as the country itself. The earliest styles of Kung Fu are said to have developed at Hunan Province's Shaolin Temple, where monks practiced barehanded Shaolin Kung Fu exercises, breathing exercises, and combat with weapons. The temple's origins and development are still uncertain, so the actual creators of Shaolin Kung Fu are also disputed. A common theory is that Indian monk Bodhidharma traveled to Shaolin Temple around 500 B.C. taught the monks techniques from ancient Indian fighting styles, which the monks later developed over the generations into many different styles. The monks' techniques eventually became so effective that they became a threat to the government, and over the years, many armies attacked and burnt the temples. Nevertheless, the monks that did survive secretly continued to practice and share what they remembered, passing it down through generations of family members, and eventually to the public. Due to different interpretations and instructors, hundreds of Kung Fu styles and schools developed over time. Chinese martial arts were only practiced in China until the 1300s, when knowledge of the martial arts spread out of the country, specifically to Japan. Later in 1840, Chinese immigrant laborers arrived in the United States and kung fu was introduced.
Many of Japan's martial arts developed as outgrowths of the Samurai, or warrior class tradition. The Samurai were feudal Japanese warriors who obeyed a code of conduct called bushido, which contained many of the beliefs and customs of feudal Japan. As "one who serves," a Samurai's purpose was to carry out orders of the superiors in complete loyalty. They lived lives of integrity and duty, fighting to the death in combat. Several of the Japanese martial arts originated from fighting systems used by the Samurai in order to survive on the battlefield armed and unarmed. The philosophies of these martial arts are also rooted in the bushido; many traditional customs, such as removing the shoes and bowing, are still observed in schools and the uniforms worn by students resemble the kimono, a garment worn by the Samurai. In the 1400s, weapons were banned in the island of Okinawa. People had to develop weaponless means of fighting and many sought instruction from Chinese martial artists. The Okinawans eventually developed a fighting style called te during the 1500s with the threat of Japanese military invasion. Te evolved into Karate, which was brought to Japan in 1922 after Okinawa fell under Japanese control in 1879. Over the years many other martial arts also developed in Japan, including Jujitsu and Judo. In addition, many instructors were sent throughout the world and interest in the martial arts has increased rapidly since the 20th century.
Is Their Philosophy?
These influences do not mean that the martial arts are "religious" or that they teach magical or mythical concepts. However, the principles from these religio-philosophical schools contribute to the principles taught in martial arts. Therefore, martial arts generally give special attention to both physical and mental development that might not be as stressed in other sports or physical activities. Students learn to better themselves, instead of dominate others. In this way, they may also receive many intangible benefits such as increased learning ability and reduced anxiety.
Images of "Egypt", "Greece", "Rome", "India", "China", "Japan" from
Corel Gallery, Corel Corporation Ltd, 1999.