The History of Martial Arts

History of Martial ArtsThe roots of most martial arts are typically traced back to the basic human need of self-preservation. The term ‘Martial’ roughly means something or someone suitable for war, and/or warlike; so one can infer that a martial artist is one who displays the attitude and characteristics of a warrior. However, the term ‘Martial Art’ or ‘Martial Artist’ is often misconstrued in our day and age. In order to find its deeper meaning we should look to the past for clues.

Approximately 2,500 years ago Buddhism began to spread throughout India. Working its way north into China, this spreading of Buddhism into the Far East blended martial ways with religion and spirituality. Undoubtedly, our most romanticized and legendary martial arts history comes from the Far East; and many martial arts historians cite the founding of the Shaolin Temple in China as the genesis of this rich history.One of the most legendary tales passed down is that of the monk Bodhidharma, who is considered by many to be the founding father of Kung-Fu. Historical records show that somewhere in the late fifth to early sixth century A.D. the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma journeyed to China from his native India, spreading Buddhist practice throughout the places in China he visited.

Nearing the end of his pilgrimage Bodhidharma would eventually settle where the original Shaolin temple was built. Legend has it that Bodhidharma’s followers were not conditioned for the austere practices he taught so he developed exercises to strengthen them for the rigors of monk life. Many scholars believe it was these exercises that gave rise to the martial art of Kung-Fu. This blending of spiritual practice with martial technique changed the paradigm of martial arts practice from simply a means of conquering one’s enemy to that of conquering one’s self as well. Following the wheel Bodhidharma set into motion, over the next several hundred year’s martial arts practitioners from neighboring nations such as Korea and Japan would reportedly travel to Chinese provinces to learn Kung-Fu, then return home and assimilate their new found knowledge into styles of their own.

We know these Korean and Japanese styles to resemble those of modern day Taekwondo, Karate, and Judo, (to name only a few). These martial styles are so intricately a part of their respective societies that many believe one cannot remove the martial art without removing the soul of the nation itself. For the Japanese this idea is apparent in the Japanese moral code of Bushido. Bushido is a code of conduct closely related to that of chivalry, which was practiced throughout Japans feudal period; and still is to a dwindling extent today. For Koreans, it can be said that their number one export and most powerful form of global diplomacy is Taekwondo. This idea is validated by the recent numbers of Taekwondo practitioners worldwide, reportedly near 100 million, as well as the inclusion of Taekwondo Sparring as an Olympic sport.

History of Martial ArtsWhile there is certainly much debate as to who can lay claim to being the greatest proponent of eastern martial arts, what seems most clear is that Japan and Korea’s martial arts were influenced heavily from Chinese Kung-Fu. In turn, Japan certainly has bragging rights for having greatly influenced the Korean martial art of Taekwondo; if not primarily for the oppressed occupation of the Korean peninsula throughout the early to mid twentieth century. In fact, Karate and Taekwondo are so similar that a novice can see both styles practiced next to one another and barely discern a difference among them.

In our present day and age, the martial arts paradigm has shifted yet again. The martial arts are still a blend of spiritual practice and martial warfare tactics, but now we see the rise of martial sport attracting greater interest among practitioners. In ancient times, and just up to our modern era, the martial arts were absolutely necessary for humans to practice for survival. However, with the advent of modern day guns this dependence on martial arts for self defense has become antiquated to many.

History of Martial ArtsNowadays, martial art sporting aspects have emerged to hold a greater importance among practitioners and spectators alike. This is evident in the inclusion of Judo and Taekwondo as Olympic Sports. Having noted this, there is resistance to this growing sport movement, mainly among traditionalist teachers of the martial arts who fear that the martial arts lose integrity when reduced to sport. However, it can in turn be said that the growing popularity of martial art spectator sport has provided unprecedented opportunities for martial art instructors looking to run a successful business. This idea is evident in the global numbers of Taekwondo, Karate, and Kung-Fu practitioners today.

As it was in the past, yet maybe more so now, the martial arts help a person to understand themselves and the world we live in on a much deeper level. We live in such a busy society now that we rarely get to spend quality time with our loved ones. Families and friends that practice the martial arts together are often strengthened for it, and on this point alone the essential need for the martial arts today is recognized. Whatever the reason is for learning a martial art, a practitioner must not forget that the greatest value is gained by treating their practice as a journey of self discovery. For while the destination is not always clear the everyday benefits are very much so!