Martial arts are codified systems and traditions of combat practices, which are practiced for a number of reasons: as self-defense, military and law enforcement applications, mental and spiritual development; as well as entertainment and the preservation of a nation's intangible cultural heritage.
Although the term martial art has become associated with the fighting arts of eastern Asia, it originally referred to the combat systems of Europe as early as the 1550s. The term is derived from Latin, and means "arts of Mars", the Roman god of war. Some authors have argued that fighting arts or fighting systems would be more appropriate on the basis that many martial arts were never "martial" in the sense of being used or created by professional warriors.
Historical martial arts
Chinese martial arts originated during the Xia Dynasty more than 4000 years ago. It is said the Yellow Emperor Huangdi (legendary date of ascension 2698 BC) introduced the earliest fighting systems to China. The Yellow Emperor is described as a famous general who, before becoming China's leader, wrote lengthy treatises on medicine, astrology and the martial arts. One of his main opponents was Chi You who was credited as the creator of jiao di, a forerunner to the modern art of Chinese wrestling.
The foundation of modern Asian martial arts is likely a blend of early Chinese and Indian martial arts. 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). Legendary accounts link the origin of Shaolinquan to the spread of Buddhism from India during the early 5th century AD, with the figure of Bodhidharma, to China. Written evidence of martial arts in Southern India dates back to the Sangam literature of about the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD. The combat techniques of the Sangam period were the earliest precursors to Kalaripayattu.
A number of historical combat manuals have survived from the European Middle Ages. This includes such styles as sword and shield, two-handed swordfighting and other types of melee weapons besides unarmed combat. Amongst these are transcriptions of Johannes Liechtenauer's mnemonic poem on the longsword dating back to the late fourteenth century. Likewise, Asian martial arts become well-documented during the medieval period, Japanese martial arts beginning with the establishment of the samurai nobility in the 12th century, Chinese martial arts with Ming era treatises such as Ji Xiao Xin Shu, Indian martial arts in medieval texts such as the Agni Purana and the Malla Purana, and Korean martial arts from the Joseon era and texts such as Muyejebo (1598).
European swordsmanship always had a sportive component, but the duel was always a possibility until World War I. Modern sport fencing began developing during the 19th century as the French and Italian military academies began codifying instruction. The Olympic games led to standard international rules, with the Féderation Internationale d'Escrime founded in 1913. Modern boxing originates with Jack Broughton's rules in the 18th century, and reaches its present form with the Marquess of Queensberry Rules of 1867.
Certain traditional combat sports and fighting styles exist all over the world, rooted in local culture and folklore. The most common of these are styles of folk wrestling, some of which have been practiced since antiquity, and are found in the most remote areas. Other examples include forms of stick fighting and boxing. While these arts are based on historical traditions of folklore, they are not "historical" in the sense that they reconstruct or preserve a historical system from a specific era. They are rather contemporary regional sports that coexist with the modern forms of martial arts sports as they have developed since the 19th century, often including cross-fertilization between sports and folk styles; thus, the traditional Thai art of muay boran developed into the modern national sport of muay Thai, which in turn came to be practiced worldwide and contributed significantly to modern hybrid styles like kickboxing and mixed martial arts. Singlestick, an English martial art can be seen often utilised in morris dancing. Many European dances share elements of martial arts with examples including Ukrainian Hopak, Polish Zbójnicki (use of ciupaga), the Czech dance odzemek, and the Norwegian Halling.
- Late 19th to early 20th century
The mid to late 19th century marks the beginning of the history of martial arts as modern sports developed out of earlier traditional fighting systems. In Europe, this concerns the developments of boxing and fencing as sports. In Japan, the same period marks the formation of the modern forms of judo, jujutsu, karate, and kendo (among others) based on revivals of old schools of Edo period martial arts which had been suppressed during the Meiji Restoration. Modern muay Thai rules date to the 1920s. In China, the modern history of martial arts begins in the Nanjing decade (1930s) following the foundation of the Central Guoshu Institute in 1928 under the Kuomintang government.
Western interest in Asian martial arts arises towards the end of the 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 and 1897, 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, wrestling, boxing, savate and stick fighting.
Fencing and Greco-Roman wrestling was included in the 1896 Summer Olympics. FILA Wrestling World Championships and Boxing at the Summer Olympics were introduced in 1904. The tradition of awarding championship belts in wrestling and boxing can be traced to the Lonsdale Belt, introduced in 1909.
- 20th century (1914 to 1989)
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. The term kickboxing (キックボクシング) was created by the Japanese boxing promoter Osamu Noguchi for a variant of muay Thai and karate that he created in the 1950s. American kickboxing was developed in the 1970s, as a combination of boxing and karate. Taekwondo was developed in the context of the Korean War in the 1950s.
The later 1960s and 1970s witnessed an increased media interest in Chinese martial arts, influenced by martial artist Bruce Lee. Jeet Kune Do, the system he founded, has its roots in Wing Chun, western boxing, savate and fencing. Bruce Lee is credited as one of the first instructors to openly teach Chinese martial arts to Westerners. World Judo Championships have been held since 1956, Judo at the Summer Olympics was introduced in 1964. Karate World Championships were introduced in 1970.
Following the "kung fu wave" in Hong Kong action cinema in the 1970s, a number of mainstream films produced during the 1980s contributed significantly to the perception of martial arts in western popular culture. These include The Karate Kid (1984) and Bloodsport (1988). This era produced some Hollywood action stars with martial arts background, such as Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris.
Also during the 20th century, a number of martial arts were adapted for self-defense purposes for military hand-to-hand combat. World War II combatives, KAPAP (1930s) and Krav Maga (1950s) in Israel, Systema in Soviet-era Russia, and Sanshou in the People's Republic of China are examples of such systems. The US military de-emphasized hand-to-hand combat training during the Cold War period, but revived it with the introduction of LINE in 1989.
- 1990 to present
During the 1990s Brazilian jiu-jitsu became popular and proved to be effective in mixed martial arts competitions such as the UFC and PRIDE.
In 1993 the first Pancrase event was held. The K-1 rules of kickboxing were introduced based on 1980s Seidokaikan karate.
Jackie Chan and Jet Li are prominent movie figures who have been responsible for promoting Chinese martial arts in recent years.
With the continual discovery of more medieval and Renaissance fighting manuals, the practice of Historical European Martial Arts and other Western Martial Arts are growing in popularity across the United States and Europe.
November 29, 2011, UNESCO inscribed taekkyeon onto its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List.
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