Martial arts originated more than 2000 years ago and since have developed and split into more than 200 styles existing today. Since the beginning of time, the need to fight was a necessity for man’s survival, which gave birth to these organized styles. The world has seen many celebrated fighters such as Alexander the Great, Hercules, Richard the Lionheart, and Gautham Buddha, who practiced systematic and refined ways of fighting. Besides these, there were the Shaolins of China, Samurais of Japan and Hwarangs of Korea, whose contributions to martial arts cannot be overstated.
So where did martial arts originally emerge? Did it some from China, Japan, or India? How do we explain the Egyptian murals dating back to 3000 BC that depicts hand-to-hand combat? No one has a clear picture regarding the date or place of origin of martial arts. However, there are many details available about the development of martial arts in various countries around the medieval through modern periods.
History in Asia
Indian vedic (knowledge) texts that are as old as 1700 BC contain references and details regarding martial arts. It is said that ancient Indian martial arts developed by Buddhist monks were the inspiration for other Asian martial arts.
China’s presence in martial arts training dates back to 1122 BC with the Zhou dynasty that promoted boxing techniques. The influence of Buddhism to China in the 5th and 6th centuries inspired development of martial arts in the Shaolin monastery of China. However, there are also records that a few of the earliest monks of the monastery were already familiar with martial arts even before the arrival of Indian monk Bodhidharma in China. With the efforts of many modern practitioners such as Yang Luchan, Wong Fei Hung and Huo Yuanjia, the techniques gained popularity.
In Japan, the Samurai clan was responsible for the development of martial arts. Though these techniques were initially used for self glorification, they gradually transformed into a philosophy of gaining spiritual goals. Later on, some martial arts including Judo were developed from the prevalent techniques of Jujitsu that were spread by Samurais.
Europe and the Middle East
Boxing was accepted as a sport in Greece in as early as 688 BC. Gladiatorial combats of Rome are documented from 260 BC. By the late middle ages, fencing had started gaining popularity in Germany and Italy. Efforts of some fencing masters including George Silver and Joseph Swetnam lead to the martial art’s popularity. Wrestling was considered suitable only for the proletarians in Germany till its emergence as a modern sport in the 19th century.
The traditional Persian grappling, known as Koshti, is a contribution of Middle East to the martial arts world. Through expression of intercultural interest and the efforts of many over
time, martial arts broke national boundaries to reach a wider audience. Several have now been accepted as Olympic sports. Who would have thought at the time of development that a means of
￼personal self defense would ultimately become competitions for gold medals and national pride thousands of years later!