I bet many of you sometimes wonder what the term martial arts actually means.
Martial arts are systems of organised methods and rituals of training for fight or battle. People have been studying martial arts for different reasons such as fighting skills, endurance, self defence, confidence, as a religious practice, self discipline, and others.
There are indeed many martial arts styles but, generally speaking, martial arts have one thing in common: to defeat someone physically or to defend oneself from a physical threat. Some martial arts are more focused on spiritual ideas while others are more like sports.
Usually each martial art style has its unique features distinguishing it from other martial arts. What most martial arts have in common is some sort of systemization of fighting techniques.
Martial arts can be trained solo through sets or routines of techniques, or with a partner/s.
The word 'martial' comes from the name Mars, the Roman god of war. And thus 'Martial Arts' literally means arts of Mars. The term martial arts is believed to come from the inhabitants of the European continent, who in 15th century were referring that way to their own fighting styles/arts which we today know as Historical Fencing. One who practices martial arts is referred to as a martial artist.
FOUR GEOGRAPHICAL CATEGORIES OF MARTIAL ARTS
From the geographical point of view we could divide martial arts into four categories:
Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Brazilian.
In the paragraphs below we will outline a few points about each geographical category of martial arts as well as a short description of the many varieties of martial arts styles within each category.
Usually people do not start training martial arts because of a certain style. Other factors like price of the classes, distance from home, time of classes etc. plays a major role. Nevertheless it’s important to understand the different types of martial arts before making a commitment with a particular martial arts school.
Chinese Martial Arts
Arguably China could be considered the cradle of all recorded martial arts in the history of mankind. According to some historians, the earliest forms of martial arts introduced to China were by the Yellow Emperor, Huangdi, around 2698 B.C. The Yellow Emperor is described as a skilled martial arts practitioner and a famous China’s leader who wrote lengthy treatises on philosophy, astronomy and martial arts.
During the 6th century B.C., another great military leader Sun Tzu, contributed to the development of martial arts in China with his work called the Art of war, which deals directly with military warfare and tactics used in different martial arts.
In the early 500 B.C. era the Taoists have been practicing Tao Yin, mental and physical exercises predeceasing the modern forms of Tai Chi. The Taoist symbol of Yin/Yang portraits a balance between strength and gentleness, a principle of many martial arts.
Known as “moving meditation,” Tai Chi is a specific form of martial arts. It is popular all over the world for purposes of health and longevity. Tai Chi is not so much of a fighting style of martial arts but its benefits include health maintenance and stress management.
It was developed as a form of self defence and has existed for about 2,000 years. Training in martial arts and specifically in Tai Chi first involves learning solo routines that are exceedingly slow movements, but many styles have secondary forms of a faster pace. The other half of traditional Tai Chi training, just like in other martial arts, is partner exercises known as pushing hands. These are martial arts applications of the postures of the form.
Tai Chi as a specific form of martial arts has become increasingly popular around the world, especially among the older generation.
Shaolin Kung Fu, the most famous form of martial arts
Tradition says that martial arts in China date back to at least 2,674 BCE, when an Indian monk known as Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin Temple in the Henan Province. He preached the concept of Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism and noticed that many of the monks were physically unfit. To help with this he introduced a series of practices which combined combative techniques with general fitness exercises. Over time, the monks of Shaolin Temple developed the moves taught by Bodhidharma into early versions of Chinese martial arts commonly known as Kung Fu.
Shaolin Kung Fu, also called Shaolin Wushu, is the oldest style of Kung Fu and is one of the most famous martial arts. During the 1500 years of the development of Chinese martial arts Shaolin Temple became one of the biggest schools of Kung Fu in China. One Chinese proverbs states: “All martial arts under heaven came from Shaolin.”
Chinese martial arts reached international interest after creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Many martial arts masters immigrated to different parts of the world. Those masters started their martial arts schools overseas and thus Chinese martial arts were introduced to people from other cultures.
Later thanks to the TV and Cinema productions Kung Fu and martial arts from China became very popular, propagated by great actors such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and the late Bruce Lee.
The term Kung Fu does not refer to a specific style of martial arts. It is a broad term referring to Chinese martial arts in general. The term became popular in the late 1960s, because of the Kung Fu TV series and Hong Kong films with Bruce Lee in particular.
Japanese Martial Arts
The evolution of martial arts in Japan was very much influenced by the samurai warrior tradition and the fact that Japan had been for a long time relatively isolated from the rest of the world.
For many centuries it was only the samurai warrior casts who were allowed to carry weapons and train martial arts. The non-warrior casts were prohibited from that. The samurai trained to master many weapons as well as unarmed combat. That way samurai were true masters of various combat skills and martial arts styles.
Due to Japan’s geographical isolation, its weapons and martial arts styles evolved slowly. And due to that the warrior class had plenty of time to train with certain weapons, such as a sword, in great depth and develop many martial arts styles and techniques.
In Japanese martial arts we generally understand there are two main groups. The traditional martial arts, (the ancient martial arts), and the modern martial arts (focused on sport and self defence).
The main Japanese martial arts are Karate, Kendo (the oldest of all martial arts in Japan), Aikido, Jiu-jitsu, Judo.
Karate, known primarily as a striking art, could be considered a mix of Chinese and Japanese martial arts. It originated in Okinawa which was originally allied with China and later with Japan. Thus Karate and martial arts from this region carry these distinct influences.
In modern Karate. Like in other martial arts, a lot of sport features can be found. These are punching, kicking, knee/elbow strikes, open-handed techniques, grappling, joint manipulations, locks, restraints/traps and throws.
Karate is very similar to the Korean Taekwondo which uses more kicks while karate puts more emphasis on punches and strikes.
A modern Karate training includes forms practice and sparring. Even though it is in the category of martial arts, it is also a sport and a self defence style. Karate also includes weapons training. As a form of martial arts Karate helps to develop perseverance, fearlessness, virtue and leadership skills.
Karate was originally developed for self defence. The forms, or katas, include different techniques aimed for self defence. Hand strikes, kicks, wrist locks and grappling, weapon disarms and de-escalation techniques. However, just like in all martial arts, a proper training is required to make these techniques usable in self defence.
When it comes to self defence training in Karate, that includes two-person prearranged self defence exercises as well as sparring. This allows for the development of a sense of range and timing, especially important elements in martial arts training. A number of Karate styles practice hard-contact sparring.
Some schools believe that teaching practical martial arts can be done without a two-person training.
Other schools prepare their students for tournaments and competitions through physical conditioning and power drills. And yet others focus on martial arts aesthetics (developing form for form’s sake), rather than self defence. But all of schools will usually still teach some forms of self defence as well.
One of the oldest martial arts in Japan. Practitioners use bamboo swords called shinai and wear protective clothing that includes body padding and helmets with metal bars for face protection.
As in other martial arts, Kendo students learn various forms, called kata, and practice sparring and engage in fencing competitions.
A very famous form of martial arts made popular by Hollywood actor Steven Seagal.
This martial art, founded by Master Morihei Ueshiba in 1930s, is a synthesis of his interest in martial arts, philosophy, and religion. It is meant to be used for self defence without inflicting injury upon the attacker.
Aikido focuses on redirecting the attacker’s energy, rather than meeting force with force.
Aikido teaches different body throws and joint-locking techniques. In addition to physical fitness, mental training and controlled relaxation is practiced.
Mater Ueshiba developed aikido through the synthesis of the older martial arts that he had studied.
In aikido, as in all the Japanese martial arts, both physical and mental aspects of training are found. The physical training in aikido covers general physical fitness and conditioning, as well as specific techniques.
When learning martial arts and specifically aikido one must first learn how to safely fall or roll. The techniques for attacking include striking and grappling, the techniques for self defence include throws and wrist locks. After basic martial arts techniques are learned, students study freestyle defense against multiple opponents and weapon disarms.
Aikido includes elements of judo and jujitsu, among other Japanese martial arts. It is classified as a grappling style of martial arts.
One of the very ancient Japanese martial arts that involves grappling techniques.
It teaches how to use indirect force, such as joint locks or throwing techniques for self defence, as opposed to punching or kicking the opponent.
Jui-jitsu uses an attacker’s force against him/her and uses counter-attacks like kicking and punching where he/she is weakest or least defended.
Jiu-jitsu is practiced in both ancient and modern form of martial arts. While traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu is still practiced today, other forms of jiujitsu merged with martial arts styles like judo and aikido. Many forms of jui-jitsu have been exported throughout the world and took a form of sport wrestling systems like Brazilian jiu-jitsu or Mixed Martial Arts. Parts of jiu-jitsu have also been adopted by martial arts like karate, Krav Maga and others.
Judo and taekwondo are the only two martial arts that are also Olympic.
In judo, the aim is to throw the opponent to the ground and immobilize them by using grappling techniques, joint locks or chokes. Unlike in other martial arts, kicks and punches are not allowed.
Judo means “the gentle way” – and so instead of meeting force with force, the principle of using one’s opponent’s strength against them is used.
In martial arts like judo leverages rather than pure strength is used.
Judo was developed by Kano Jigoro in the 1850s and has many similarities with other martial arts like jujitsu. But unlike older martial arts, which focus on combat fighting, judo propagates a holistic approach to life that goes beyond martial arts training.
Korean Martial Arts
Martial arts have existed in Korea since the earliest ages, but unfortunately martial arts heritage disappeared during the 1910-45 Japanese occupation. During this time Japan forbade the practice of Korean martial arts.
After the Japanese occupation, martial arts like taekwondo and hapkido developed, and interest in Korea’s own ancient martial arts traditions restarted again. It is worth noticing that taekwondo became the national sport of South Korea.
It is believed that during the Goguryeo Dynasty, subak (barehand martial arts imported from China), were popular in Korea. Illustrations of these martial arts have been found in royal tombs built for Goguryeo emperors around 400 B.C.
Subak as a form of martial arts is also mentioned in government records from the Goguryeo Dynasty. Practicing subak became part of the training of martial arts for hwarang warriors and was spread on Korean peninsula during various invasions. However, it is not known exactly which form of martial arts the hwarang warriors practiced.
The spiritual influence on Korean martial arts came from the Buddhist monks. Their major contribution to the evolution of Korean martial arts is adding aspects of meditation and believe in Karma, the law of action and reaction. This is what Korean martial arts lacked before.
Korea had a rich history of ancient and traditional martial arts, but it became neglected during the Joseon Dynasty, the scholar kings, who had a very low appreciation for martial arts practice. Traditional martial arts such as subak and taekyon were not allowed to be practiced by the general public.
Thus traditional Korean martial arts nearly disappeared, only taekyon survived through folk custom. With the Japanese colonization of Korea, Koreans were exposed to Okinawan and Japanese martial arts. And Koreans in China were exposed to Chinese martial arts. In 1945 when Korea was liberated from Japan, many martial arts schools reflecting foreign influence were formed.
When the Korean War ended, nine martial arts schools (translated as kwan) were created. These schools unified into one, “tae kwon do,” by General Choi Hong Hi of the South Korean army. The name taekwondo was officially submitted on April 11, 1955. In 1959 the Korean Taekwondo Association was formed to facilitate the unification. Shortly thereafter, taekwondo as a popular form of martial arts made its appearance in USA. The most known Korean martial arts are taekwondo and hapkido.
Tae Kwon Do
Tae kwon do (or taekwondo) is one of the most popular martial arts in the world. Together with judo these are two martial arts represented at the Olympics.
Like other martial arts, taekwondo is a mixture of combat techniques, self defence, sport, exercise, and philosophy. Taekwondo developed after the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1945.
As a form of martial arts it gained popularity around the world after 1953 with the end of the Korean War.
Taekwondo emphasizes kicks because legs are longer and stronger weapons than arms. Taekwondo training also includes blocks, punches, open-handed strikes, various take-downs or sweeps, throws, and joint locks. When compared to Karate and other martial arts, taekwondo focuses on kicking rather than the reliance on hand techniques of those other martial arts. Taekwondo practitioners are taught that that legs are the longest and strongest weapons a martial arts practitioner has. Thus kicks deliver powerful strikes without successful retaliation.
In Taekwondo competitions sparring, breaking and forms are contested. These three parts belong to the traditional taekwondo curriculum. There is also a fourth part, hosinsul or self defence.
Taekwondo as a sport and exercise found its popularity among both men and women. Taekwondo helps to develop strength, good speed, flexibility, good balance, and stamina. All those are needed when practicing martial arts. An example of the union of mental and physical discipline in martial arts is the breaking of boards. That activity requires both physical training of the technique and the meditation to focus one’s mind and strength.
There is a big similarity between Hapkido and Japanese martial art of aikido. The movements are circular and the aim is to deflect and neutralize the attack rather than strike back with harmful blows. Hap translates as “harmony,” or “joining”, Ki refers to inner energy or strength, Do means “way” or “art.” Thus, hapkido means “the way of coordinated power.”
Some authorities think hapkido has a Japanese origin, others state that its origins come from Korean martial arts. Amongst many martial arts, hapkido is considered somewhere in the middle between soft and hard martial arts. The main principal many believe is that of Hwa, or non-resistance. For example, if an opponent pushes against a hapkido student’s body, the hapkido student would avoid pushing back. He would move in the same direction as the push and use the opponent’s energy against him.
Thus in martial arts such as hapkido students learn to view an attacker as an “energy entity” rather than as a physical entity.
Brazilian Martial Arts
The Brazilian martial arts are a self defence and combat sport systems that focus on grappling and ground fighting.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) developed from original Japanese jiu-jitsu that has its roots in Kodokan Judo ground fighting principles. It is very strongly differentiated from other martial arts as it focuses on grappling and ground fighting.
Around 1880 Japanese jiu-jitsu separated from judo by an important difference in martial arts that was passed on to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It not only remained one of the forms of martial arts as such,
but also became a sport, thus a way for many to address their physical fitness and moral character.
In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) martial arts practitioners promote that a smaller, weaker person can face and successfully defend against a bigger, heavier and stronger assailant by using proper technique and leverage. In BJJ as in many grappling martial arts sparring is also practiced and is commonly referred to as rolling.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu became known in the martial arts community in the early 1990s, when Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend Royce Gracie won a series of the Ultimate Fighting Championships' tournaments, which at the time were single elimination martial arts tournaments. Royce Gracie often competed against much larger men who mastered other martial arts, including karate, boxing, taekwondo, muay thai, and wrestling. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has since become a prominent style in the Mixed Martial Arts community and is largely credited for international interest and attention to the importance of ground fighting.
A special category of martial arts is Mixed Martial Arts or MMA. This style uses a mix of techniques from other combat sports and martial arts.
Mixed Martial Arts or MMA
Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a full-contact combat sport that incorporates all aspects of other martial arts such as striking, kicking, takedowns and grappling. The only thing which are not found in Mixed Martial Arts are weapon defence techniques. The term mixed martial arts was first used in connection to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1993.
The original idea of the UFC was to promote a competition to find the most effective martial arts for real unarmed combat. It became soon clear that using a mixture of styles was the most effective.
Today the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) rivals the very popular traditional boxing and professional wrestling in popularity. Due to this popularity, many single-style martial arts schools have added other techniques from other martial arts to their practices.