About Martial Arts

Overview

Martial arts are extensive systems of codified practices and traditions of combat that are practised for a variety of reasons, including self-defence, competition, physical health and fitness, as well as mental, physical and spiritual development. The term martial art has become heavily associated with the fighting arts of eastern Asia, but was originally used in regard to the combat systems of Europe as early as the 1550s.

An English fencing manual of 1639 used the term in reference specifically to the “Science and Art” of swordplay. The term is ultimately derived from Latin, martial arts being the “Arts of Mars,” the Roman god of war. Some martial arts are considered ‘traditional’ and tied to an ethnic, cultural or religious background, while others are modern systems developed either by a founder or an association.

The Origins of Martial Arts

While evidence show that martial arts have roots in prehistory, the earliest evidence of systematic training in specific martial arts traditions emerges in antiquity (late 1st millennium BC) in both Asia and Europe. The foundation of modern Asian martial arts is likely a blend of early Chinese and Indian martial arts.

During the Warring Statesperiod 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.

In Europe, the earliest sources of martial arts traditions date to Classical Antiquity.
Boxing, Wrestling (pale) and Pankration were represented in the Ancient Olympic Games. The Romans produced gladiatorial combat as a public spectacle.

During the Middle Ages, the development of the cossacks as self-governing warrior communities in the current region of Ukraine and Southern Russia resulted in an accumulation of fighting skills passed through generations. Due to a wide variety of climate and enemies, these people developed versatile and fast-learning martial abilities.

A number of historical combat manuals have survived from the European Middle Ages. This includes such styles as sword and shield,two-handed sword-fighting and other types of melee weapons besides unarmed combat. 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.

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 with Joseon era texts such as Muyejebo (1598). “Historical martial arts” in both Asia and Europe are mostly based on such records of the late medieval to early modern period.

European swordsmanship was trained for duels until the Napoleonic era, and developed into sport fencing during the 19th century. 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. Europe’s colonisation of Asian countries also brought about a decline in local martial arts, especially with the introduction of firearms. This can clearly be seen in India after the full establishment of British Raj in the 19th century. Similar phenomena occurred in South-east Asian colonies such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Martial Arts as Sport

Martial arts have crossed over into sports when forms of sparring become competitive, becoming a sport in its own right that is dissociated from the original combative origin, such as with western fencing. The Summer Olympic Games includes Judo, Taekwondo, western archery, boxing, javelin, wrestling and fencing as events, while 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. Also, weichi ryu was the first type of martial arts that would train continuously as a full contact school while others would train light and would spar full contact.

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 a focus such as cultivating a particular moral character.

The question of “which is the best Martial Art” has led to inter style competitions fought with very few rules allowing a variety of fighting styles to enter with few limitations. This was the origin of the first Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament (later renamed UFC 1: The Beginning) in the U.S. inspired by the Brazilian Vale tudo tradition and along with other minimal rule competitions, most notably those from Japan such as Shooto and Pancrase, have evolved into the combat sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

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

The Cultural Impact of Martial Arts

Martial arts since the 1970s has become a significant industry, a subset of the wider sport industry (including cinema and sports television). Hundreds of millions of people worldwide practice some form of martial art. Web Japan (sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs) claims there are 50 million karate practitioners worldwide. The South Korean government in 2009 published an estimate that Taekwondo is practised by 70 million people in 190 countries.

The wholesale value of martial arts related sporting equipment shipped in the United States was estimated at 314 million USD in 2007; participation in the same year was estimated at 6.9 million (ages 6 or older, 2% of US population). R. A. Court, CEO of Martial Arts Channel, stated the total revenue of the US martial arts industry at USD 40 billion and the number of US practitioners at 30 million in 2003. Ultimate Fighting Championship generated a revenue of about USD 250 million in 2008, about 90% of the entire Mixed Martial Arts industry. World Wrestling Entertainment had a revenue of USD 1.4 billion.

Asian martial arts experienced a surge of popularity in the west during the 1970s, and the rising demand resulted in numerous low quality or fraudulent schools. Fuelled by fictional depictions in martial arts films, this led to the “ninja craze” of the 1980s United States. The rank system introduced for judo in the 1880s proved commercially viable, and “coloured belt” systems were adopted in many martial arts degree mills.