Martial art

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Hawaiian State Grappling Championships.
Hawaiian State Grappling Championships.

Martial arts, often referred to as fighting systems, are systems of codified practices and traditions of training for combat, usually without the use of guns and other modern weapons. Today, people study martial arts for various reasons including sport, fitness, self-defense, self-cultivation (meditation), mental discipline & character development, and self-confidence.

"Martial arts" was translated in 1920 in Takenobu's Japanese-English Dictionary from Japanese bu-gei (武芸) or bu-jutsu (武術): "the craft/accomplishment of military affairs". This definition is translated directly from the Chinese term, wushu (武術, 武术; pinyin: wǔ shù; Cantonese: mou seut; Vietnamese: Võ-Thuật), literally, "martial art", meaning all manner of Chinese martial arts.

This term is slightly anomalous in its English usage. Its strict meaning should be "arts for military use" (flying fighter aircraft, sniper training, and so forth) but in normal usage it is used to refer to formalized systems of training to fight without modern technology. It is nevertheless valuable to distinguish between fighting systems intended for soldiers in battle (even without modern technology) and fighting systems intended for sport or for civilian self-defense.



Martial arts are systems of fighting. There are many styles and schools of martial arts; broadly speaking, they share a common goal: to physically defeat a person or defend oneself. Some Eastern martial arts have a tradition of being about more than simple fighting, which is perhaps why their practice has been seen as worth preserving in the face of their military obsolescence in modern technological culture. Certain martial arts, such as T'ai Chi Ch'uan may also be practiced to maintain or improve mental or physical health.

What differentiates the martial arts from mere unarmed brawling is the organization of their techniques into a coherent system and the codification of effective teaching methods. One common training technique is to have a series of routines called forms (also called kata, poomse, ch'ůan t'ao, kuen, tao lu, hyung or tuls) which can serve as a dictionary of essential techniques to be memorized and drawn from at need. Martial arts are also characterized by the controlled, mindful application of force in ways selected for empirical effectiveness. In this sense, boxing, fencing, archery, and wrestling can also be considered martial arts.

Martial arts may focus on

Most martial arts include some study of all of these different styles and some explicitly attempt to be complete systems (Eskrima, many types of Jujutsu, many traditional Chinese martial arts).

Some martial arts, particularly the traditional Chinese arts, used to go beyond this to teach side disciplines such as bone-setting, qigong, acupuncture, acupressure (tui na), and other aspects of traditional Chinese medicine. This was a natural extension, as at an advanced level techniques can take advantage of a detailed knowledge of how the opponent's body works to drastically increase their effectiveness.

The martial arts, perhaps due to a half-century of dramatic portrayals in popular media, (particuarly in films starring the famous Martial arts stars such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li; see Orientalism), have been inextricably bound in the Western imagination to East Asian cultures and people. Martial arts are by no means unique to Asia, however. Humans around the world have always had to develop ways to defend themselves from attack, often without weapons. Not all martial arts were developed in Asia. Savate, for example, was developed as a form of kickboxing in France. Capoeira's athletic movements were developed in Brazil by slaves based on skills brought with them from Africa.


The history of martial arts is both long and universal. Martial arts likely existed in every culture, and at all classes and levels of society, from the family unit up to small communities, for instance, villages and even ethnic groups. One example is t'an t'ui, a northern Chinese kicking art, often said to be practiced among Chinese Muslims. Systems of fighting have likely been in development since learning became transferable among humans, along with the strategies of conflict and war. In some places, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, one can still see this plethora of village fighting systems.

Every martial arts system and every martial arts school has its own history. This generally falls into two categories: recent history and ancient history.

Recent history, in this context, is relatively verifiable: who did the teacher learn from? Where did the teacher study? What other arts has the teacher studied, and how has the teacher incorporated them into their teaching? Was the teacher given permission to teach by their teacher? What are the teacher's goals in teaching the class?

This last question deserves some explanation. Some classes are taught primarily to teach students to become effective competitors in tournaments. Some classes are taught to attempt to teach the students to defend themselves effectively against some class of anticipated situations. Some classes are taught to preserve an ancient tradition. The practical details of these distinct kinds of classes will be very different.

Ancient history, at least in the sense used here, is much more difficult. In fact, for most systems it is essentially a legend — in the sense that it is propagated by word-of-mouth among students in the absence of verifiable evidence. This is not to say that it is not also true! But the importance of such a history does not depend on its truth: the effect of such a legend on shaping the development of a martial art is probably much greater than the effect of events two hundred years ago (at least five generations of passing the art on from teacher to student). So an art that is believed to be an art of warriors will focus on battlefield effectiveness and weapon use against highly skilled opponents, while an art that is believed to be for self-defense will focus on reactions to surprise attack and multiple opponents.

The history of martial arts around the world is therefore quite complex; on the one hand, most groups of people have had to defend themselves and have developed effective fighting techniques, but on the other hand, most of those techniques have been rendered militarily obsolete over the centuries. Even at an individual, rural level, the threat to the safety of a village is now more likely to come from warriors armed with automatic rifles than from men with swords. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to preserve a martial art; doing so requires many years of teaching at the hands of a good teacher to pass on the art for a single generation. So it is relatively rare that a martial art would survive and become popular in today's culture, and each art that has done so has a unique history. Some generalities can be said, though, and the next few sections will attempt to discuss the overall rise to popularity of some martial arts.

Martial arts in Asia

The teaching of martial arts in Asia has historically followed the Confucian cultural tradition of teacher-disciple apprenticeship. Students are trained in a strictly hierarchical system by a master instructor: Sensei in Japanese ; in Chinese 老師, (Wade-Giles) Lao Shih, (Pinyin) lǎo shī (lit., old master); Cantonese Sifu; 師父 Mandarin (Wade-Giles) Shih fu, (Pinyin) Shī fù (lit., the master-father), 사범님 Sabeomnim (Korean). The instructor is expected to directly supervise their students' training, and the students are expected to memorize and recite as closely as possible the rules and basic training routines of the school.

Open speculation about training methods or the instructor's motives and personality is generally not tolerated in juniors, as they aren't considered familiar enough with the basic requirements of their respective arts to make realistic distinctions. They are instead encouraged to repeatedly train applications of the forms and techniques that they've been shown in gradually more complex scenarios.

In this Confucian family-based hierarchy, those who enter instruction with the instructor before the student are considered older brothers and sisters; those after, younger brothers and sisters. The instructor's peers are considered aunts and uncles, etc. into other generations above and below. Such clearly delineated relationships, based on seniority, are designed to develop intangibles such as good character, patience and discipline in martial students. As a matter of safety for the instructors, the student body and the individual student, before they are shown anything beyond the most basic conditioning exercises, students learn their place in the school hierarchy. Students should learn how and why to clearly demonstrate respect for others and how to follow the directions of their instructors properly. The traditional schools are said by this reasoning to provide thereby a level playing field for all students, providing a relatively fixed framework for interaction with one's seniors, peers and juniors, so that everyone, not just the physically gifted, can have an opportunity to benefit from the training provided in a martial art school.

Some method of certification can be involved, where one's skills would be tested for mastery before being allowed to study further; in some systems, especially in China, there are no such certifications, only years of close personal practice and evaluation under a master, much like an apprenticeship, until the master deems one's skills satisfactory. This pedagogy, while still preserved and respected in many traditional styles, has weakened to varying degrees in others and is even actively rejected by some schools, especially in the West.

Martial arts in Europe

Martial arts with historical roots in Europe do not exist to the same extent as in Asia. Boxing as well as forms of wrestling have endured. European martial arts have mostly adapted to changing technology and are truer to the English meaning of that phrase, so that while their descendants still exist, martial arts are focused on things like flying helicopters and infantry tactics for riflemen. These are generally not referred to as martial arts.

Martial Arts existed in classical European civilization, most notably in Greece where sport was integral to the way of life. Boxing and Pankration (pan, meaning all, kratos, meaning power or strength) were represented in the Ancient Olympic Games. The Romans produced Gladiatorial combat as public spectacle based on a more martial sport.

Some traditional martial arts have been preserved in one form or another. For example, boxing, archery, and fencing were preserved by being made into sports; of course this has changed the practice significantly. Some historical fencing has survived, and some groups have attempted to reconstruct old European martial arts from a few surviving combat manuals. This includes such styles as sword and shield, two-handed swordfighting, jousting and other types of melee weapons combat.

Another aspect of the reconstruction effort involves more historically recent martial arts and combat sports, such as those practiced during the 1800s and 1900s. A partial list would include bare-knuckle boxing, Bartitsu, quarterstaff fencing according to late 1800s rules, etc.

Unarmed European martial arts that have survived in active form include English boxing, Olympic wrestling, and French savate. Some weapon systems have also survived as folk sports and as self defence methods, including stick-fighting systems such as the Juego del Palo style(s) of the Canary Islands.

Other martial arts were made into sports that we no longer recognize as combative, such as some kinds of gymnastics, where the pommel horse is called a horse because it simulates a horse: the art comes from the necessity of a cavalryman to be able to change positions and fight effectively from a the back of a horse. More ancient origins exist for the shot put and the javelin throw, both weapons utilised extensively by the Romans.

Martial arts in North America

While the native peoples of North America had their own martial training, these, like much of their culture, have been almost completely lost. However, the European colonists (and later, Asian immigrants) brought over their own martial arts such as boxing, fencing and wrestling.

The interest in Eastern Martial Arts dates back to the late 19th Century, as Americans became involved in China and Japan. This involvement was initially through trade, where the martial arts seen were recorded as eccentricities of strange lands. Relatively few Westerners actually practiced the arts, most seeing them as performances. This view held with many of the first Asians to demonstrate martial arts in America and Europe doing so as part of vaudeville shows.

As Western influence grew in the East a greater number of military personnel spent time in China, Japan and elsewhere protecting Western interests, and advising certain factions on military matters. Initially much of this advice was aimed at changing the Eastern way of fighting to a Western way of fighting, but gradually individual members of the western contingents began to see the value of Eastern martial arts and actually began training in them seriously. This training resulted in various techniques being incorporated into Western military training. This escalated to the extent that by the Second World War nearly all commandos received training in Japanese jujutsu.

After the War, with large numbers of servicemen stationed in Japan the adoption of techniques and the gradual transmission of entire systems of martial arts to the West started. It was in the 1950's however when this exportation of systems really began to gain momentum. Large groups of US Military personnel were taught Korean arts (Taekwondo) during the War with North Korea and many of these brought their training home and continued to practice and teach after their demobilisation. By the 1960s the Japanese arts like Karate and Judo had become very popular, the early 1970s saw martial arts in the movies and, due in part to Bruce Lee, the rise in popularity of Chinese styles.

The exportation saw an increase in the dilution of the arts with many of them being molded into competitive disciplines. Sport Karate for example became a major force internationally with professional fighters and big prizes, television coverage and sponsorship deals.

The later 1970s and 1980s saw a rise in interest in non-sport arts, especially those that provided weapons as well as empty hand techniques. This interest was fed by the media with magazines, books and movies embracing the supposed mysticism and alleged supernatural lethality of various arts (especially those claiming to be associated with ninjas and neo-ninjas). This in turn led to opportunistic teachers at one end of the spectrum making exploiting the fashion by making many claims of the overwhelming superiority and rarity of their techniques to sell books, videos and certificates, yet providing little evidence of such superiority; to the other end of simpler black belt factory schools selling expensive long-term training contracts as well as a diverse array of uniforms and multicoloured belts to children of affluent suburban families.

Martial arts were unearthed and brought to America from Vietnam, Burma, the Philippines, Indonesia, South America, and almost every other corner of the Earth. Others were simply invented by the unscrupulous out of previously existing styles or out of whole cloth. Some gained a measure of popularity due to the novelty of their claims of effectiveness, in some cases justified. This in turn led to further exploration of disciplines from Korea, Japan and China for their historical and cultural value.

Martial arts internationally

Every village and tribe around the world had a few trained fighters who passed on their knowledge; however, it is difficult to pass on a fighting system, so almost all of these have been lost as their practical relevance has declined. However, a few have survived for one reason or another, and a very few of those have seen a recent boom in popularity, perhaps related to the world music phenomenon. Examples of this are Capoeira and some related arts in Cuba, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago, which were preserved partly through their relationship with Candomblé, Santería, Vodun, and other syncretic religions. Of these, only Capoeira has risen to worldwide prominence.

The 2003 movie Whale Rider featured several scenes involving Mau rakau, a traditional martial art of the Maori people. It involves the use of the taiaha, a 2-handed fighting staff.

Martial arts also developed among military and police forces to be used as

  • arrest and self-defense methods. One example is Krav Maga, a self-defense system developed by the armed forces of Israel. Another example is Kombato developed for the Brazilian armed forces.
  • lethal tactical arts for use in close quarter combat warfare, i.e. Military Martial Arts e.g. UAC (British), LINE (USA), ACCS Advanced Commando Combat System

Comparisons between martial arts

It is common to compare the goals, teaching methods and the techniques of different fighting systems in order to understand their similarities and differences. Such comparisons tend to be controversial when there is a lack of format in which a direct and objective comparison is possible. In addition to physical combat, many martial arts have spiritual or philosophical aspirations, such as the various Chinese, Japanese and Korean martial arts that emphasise traditional Confucian teaching methods. Some systems are sports oriented, such as Judo, Tae Kwon Do and Wushu, and have their own distinct set of rules which are incompatible with other systems. Some are described as "reality based", with a focus on self-defense, including Jeet Kune Do, Defendo, Krav Maga, Kombato, and Angeles Eskrima. Because different martial arts often have differing goals, it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of various martial arts based on one general standard or method; it is arguably impossible to directly compare the arts with fundamentally different domains of practice, such as Kendo against Tae Kwon Do.

However, many martial arts claim to be effective fighting disciplines within a particular context, such as unarmed combat between two fighters, self-defense against multiple attackers, use of specific weapons, escaping from those seeking to harm or capture the practitioner, and so on. While some of these claims are sometimes difficult to assess, an objective evaluation of practioners may be achieved within context. For instance, regardless of background, those sharing a common interest in hand-to-hand fighting may engage in sparring using a mutually accepted set of rules in order to determine who is the better fighter at that time. An example of a martial arts tournament that attempted to answer the question of "which fighting system is the best" using as few rules as possible was the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the United States in the early 1990's. Organizations such as the UFC have since evolved due to the rise of mixed martial arts.

Mixed martial arts or MMA is an eclectic, modern form of martial arts cross-training. Followers of this practice believe that no traditional fighting system is strictly better than all others, and that by being competent and well-trained in multiple areas, one can become a better fighter overall. Due to this movement, tournaments such as the UFC and Pride Fighting Championships have emphasized more on competition between individuals and less on competition between specific systems, as virtually all participants in these events have become knowledgable in multiple systems. While MMA is currently seen largely as a form of sport competition with organization-specific rules, it can also be considered a school of thought in which the practioner may incorporate any useful martial art technique into their personal training. Many competitive MMA fighters manage to incorporate traditional techniques from boxing, Muay Thai, jujutsu, wrestling and so on, while using a central strategy of fighting such as "sprawl-and-brawl" or "ground-and-pound", among others, which may be seen as complex, modern fighting styles.


Numerous criteria have been devised to classify different fighting systems, though many of these criteria are either controversial or overly generalized. For example, while some Chinese systems have traditionally been classified as either "internal" or "external", these notions require concepts such Qi which are not necessarily applicable to all systems internationally. Another category is the notion of "hard" versus "soft", which asks whether a system relies on using force and power to defeat the opponent or, instead, on avoiding attacks and applying leverage: the Shotokan school of karate may be perceived as using a "harder" approach than judo does. However, many systems have both hard and soft aspects and do not always fit into either category; a judo practioner still uses full physical strength when throwing opponents in competition. Another set of similar concepts is "striking" versus "grappling": does the art focus on punching and kicking, as in boxing and Taekwondo, or on clinching and holding, as in wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? While some systems do consist of only striking or only grappling, various arts, such as Sambo or San Shou, among many others, utilize both areas in conjunction. Muay Thai, for example, is studied primarily as a striking art, yet it makes frequent use of the grappling technique known as the Muay Thai clinch.

Technical aspects

Fighting is a highly complex discipline. In the past, soldiers such as Mongolian cavalrymen, Manchu bannermen, European knights and Japanese samurai usually spent lifetimes studying all relevant aspects of unarmed fighting and fighting with basic weapons, honed by real, close-quarters combat resulting in fatalities. While soldiers today are still trained in these areas, due to the characteristics of modern warfare, unarmed fighting is often practiced now by civilians in sport-like and less lethal fashions. Practioners today generally study a limited number of fighting aspects within specific martial art systems. Nonetheless, many practitioners would like to have some skill in more than one context, and most arts include some study of many aspects. In certain systems, in-depth study of certain aspects is not begun until a practitioner has been training for many years.

Some aspects of fighting include:

  • Long-range unarmed fighting. In this situation, things happen relatively slowly (hundreds of milliseconds), giving participants time to react to visual stimuli. This allows powerful strikes as well as subtle feints to be performed.
  • Short-range unarmed fighting. In this situation reaction time is such an important factor that visual stimuli are not very useful, and practitioners must learn to react to tactile stimuli. Strikes are still possible but reactions must become reflexes, making feints more difficult.
  • Grappling. In this situation participants are wrestling each other attempting to get the other in a submission or weak spot for striking. Leverage and physical strength become very important. If not forbidden by rules, biting, pinching and spitting can be very effective at this range.
  • Armed fighting. Fighting with weapons can be rather different from unarmed fighting, both because strikes can become much more destructive and because weapons can drastically increase the reach of a practitioner. Of course, each weapon and each range requires its own techniques, but a cleverly designed teaching system can take advantage of similarities to simplify the study.
  • The study of pressure points can be used to improve the effectiveness of traditional techniques, and they also add a whole range of new options to the martial artist. For example, instead of just striking the body, knowledge of pressure points means that the target point can be chosen for much greater effect.
  • Moral, emotional, and physical development. The dedication and practice required to acquire skill in a martial art can be very beneficial to the character of a practitioner. Some martial arts systems focus on these effects, and emphasize techniques and training that encourage this development.
  • Fighting against a single opponent. Both traditional duels and most modern sparring matches pit one expert fighter against another, with some set of rules, and after a battle, declare a victor. This has a number of different effects; for example, footwork can be simplified as a practitioner rarely needs to turn quickly. On the other hand, one can expect one's opponent to be about as highly skilled as oneself.
  • Fighting against multiple opponents. Some martial arts systems focus on being able to deal with multiple opponents simultaneously. In order for this to be possible, normally the opponents must be assumed to have less skill than the practitioner. This has technical effects as well, including tight, careful footwork to allow rapid turning, as well as rapid disabling of opponents in order to move on.
  • Fighting without injuring the opponent. Many systems are suggested for police or security work; as such, there is a certain amount of effort devoted to minimizing the damage a practitioner inflicts on an opponent. Disarming, locking and controlling techniques are emphasized in this situation over the simpler striking techniques which disable or kill.
  • Avoidance of fighting. Some martial arts systems are strongly oriented towards practical self-defense, and so some emphasis is placed on defusing or avoiding violent situations rather than fighting.

Testing and Competition

In general, testing or evaluation in some form is important to martial art practioners of many disciplines who wish to determine their own level of skill in specific contexts. Students within individual martial art systems often undergo periodic testing and grading by their own teacher in order to advance to a higher level of recognized achievement, such as a different belt color or title. The type of testing used varies from system to system but may include forms or sparring. Sparring can generally be divided into light- or medium-contact, and full-contact variants. Both forms and sparring are commonly used in martial art exhibitions and tournaments. Some competitions pit practitioners of different disciplines against each other using a common set of rules.


Forms, known as kata in various Japanese arts, involve the performance and interpretation of routines, either traditional or recently invented, both unarmed and armed. These may be performed solo or with more than one practioner. By definition, forms are distinguished from sparring in that they involve mostly pre-determined routines and patterns which may artistically resemble combat but are inherently non-combative or co-operative. Jet Li is a well-known practioner who has been successful in form-based wushu tournaments. In open competitions, the routines may be evaluated by a panel of master-level judges from more than one martial art background.

Light and medium-contact sparring

Sparring in some martial arts may involve a point-based system of light to medium-contact sparring in a marked-off area where both competitors are protected by foam padding; certain targets are prohibited, such as face and groin, and certain techniques may be also prohibited. Points are awarded to competitors on the solid landing of one technique. Again, master-level judges start and stop the match, award points, and resolve disputes. After a set number of points are scored or when the time set for the match expires (for example, three minutes or five points), and elimination matches occur until there is only one winner. These matches may also be sorted by gender, weight class, level of expertise and even age. Some critics of these point sparring competition note that this type of training teaches students to pull their punches or not throw combination attacks as the fighting is frequently stopped by judges to award points or declare fouls. This disruption alters the flow of actual combat and enforces what some see are the bad habits of not following through on attacks, lowering your guard, and relying on tactics that may score points but lack the power to disable or hurt an actual attacker.

Full-contact fighting

"Full-contact" sparring or fighting is often pursued by martial art practioners who are interested in realistic unarmed combat. The phrase may refer to several aspects which differentiate it from light and medium-contact sessions. It may imply a general lack of protective gear. For example, Kyokushin is a variant of karate that requires advanced practioners to engage in sparring while wearing no more than a groin guard for protection. It may refer to a full variety of permitted attacks and contact zones on the body, excluding a small and limited number of forbidden techniques such as biting, groin striking or attacking the eyes, bestowing significant fighting freedom upon the competitors. The phrase could also refer to the use of full force in order to disable the opponent, either by knock out or direct submission of defeat. There is often a lower emphasis on scoring points, assuming a point system exists; points, judges and time limits were not used in the early UFC events, whose outcomes were determined only by the inability to continue. Due to these factors, full-contact matches tend to be more aggressive in character. Vale tudo, meaning anything goes in Portuguese, is a definite form of full-contact fighting. Nearly all MMA events, including UFC, PRIDE, Pancrase and Shooto, use full-contact rules, although recently the use of small protective gloves and other safety rules have been added. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo do not allow striking but are full-contact in the sense that full force is applied during grappling and submissions. Some versions of Sambo are full-contact.

Some practioners believe that physically defeating the enemy, as opposed to winning a sport match by rules, is the only important matter in hand-to-hand combat. Some of them treat martial arts only as matters of self-defense or life-and-death situations. For instance, one practioner said "Forget about winning and losing [...] let him fracture your bones and you take his life." As such, these people may prefer not to participate in most types of rule-based martial art competition (even one such as vale tudo), electing instead to study fighting techniques with little or no regard to competitive rules or, perhaps, ethical concerns and the law (the techniques practiced may include attacking vulnerable spots such as the groin or the eyes). Nonetheless, others maintain that, given proper precautions such as a referee and a ring doctor, full-contact matches with basic rules could serve as a useful gauge of one's overall fighting ability, encompassing broad categories including striking, grappling and finishing holds.

Martial arts as sport

On the subject of competition, martial artists vary wildly. Practioners in some arts such as Boxing, Taekwondo, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu often train for sport matches in those arts, whereas those in other arts such as Aikido and Krav Maga generally spurn such competitions. 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 removed the combat effectiveness of martial arts or encourage a kind of practice which focuses on winning trophies rather than the more traditional focus of combat effectiveness, or in East Asian cultures, of developing the Confucian person, which eschews showing off (see Confucius, also renaissance man.)

Some martials artists, including Forrest Morgan, have criticized sports derivatives for being unrealistic and distracting warriors from looking at the whole art - instead concentrating only on techniques allowed in their competitions.

As part of the response to sport martial arts, new forms of competition are being held such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the U.S. or Pancrase in Japan which are also known as mixed martial arts or MMA events. While the financial success or failure of these events is not well-known, it is interesting to note that certain systems do indeed tend to dominate these full contact or freestyle competitions. Supporters of those styles which win time and again make the statement that this proves the real-world self defense effectiveness of their art.

Martial arts and dance

As mentioned above, some martial arts in various cultures can be performed in dance-like settings, either for evoking fiercefulness/pumping adrenaline in preparation of battle, or rather showing off skill in a more stylised manner, or both.

Examples of such war dances include the gymnopaidiai from ancient Sparta, New-Zealand's Haka, the Sabre Dance depicted in Khachaturian's ballet Gayane, the Maasai "jumping" dance, Brunei's Aduk-Aduk, Qatar's Ayyalah, Pakistani/Afghan Khattak Dance, Brazil's Capoeira, Scotland's Dannsa Biodag ... (not to forget the spoofing weasel war dance).

Often there appears some tension between martial arts (considered macho) and dancing (considered more effeminate): e.g. Plato's The Laws devotes some attention to this topic. The solution given to this by the Maasai can be considered amongst the most original: they perform their "jumping" martial dance in women's attire, because, as they say, women are prettier than men.

Ballet, as it originated at the court of Louis XIV also goes back to a sort of ambiguity between being the strongest and being the most refined: worldly power was granted by the king to his noblemen, according to their ability to perform refined "ballet" dancing.

In addition, in theatre and film, the fight scene is essentially a dance meant to depict hand to hand combat.

Martial arts and self-defense

In order to justify their existence and to attract students, many (if not most) martial arts schools make claims about their usefulness in "self defense". Such claims are a matter of constant debate among beginning level students of the martial arts.

Self-defense situations happen with extreme rarity in most modern societies where such martial arts classes exist, and what situations do develop can generally be avoided by other means (e.g., not walking around drunk in bad neighbourhoods, not buying or selling illegal drugs, not getting involved with biker gangs, and so on). Therefore understanding what is needed for self-defense requires understanding the situations that are likely to arise.

There has been an ever-increasing perception among the general population, fuelled by the mass-media, that they are in constant danger of violence on the streets. It is this fear that self-defense classes are intended to counter. Since the fear is largely unfounded, self-defense classes need only reduce the feeling of fear in order to be effective. In practice, for the people to whom these martial arts classes are being marketed, the most likely situation in which they will experience a physical confrontation is domestic violence.

Finally, the largest problem confronted by most people who are attacked is not a lack of physical ability to resist but an emotional reaction: a paralyzing panic or an undisciplined, blinding rage will turn a bad situation into a potentially disastrous one.

All this said, years of serious training in martial arts are expected to take the emotional charge out of physically violent confrontations (after hundreds of hours of sparring, a punch or a kick becomes just a fist or a foot, a purely physical force, reduced by experience to something easily dealt with and not a "personal" attack as such) and gives practitioners good general coordination and confidence, both of which can discourage aggressors before aggression begins. So, the experience of physical interaction over an extended period of time in martial arts training may be more relevant to its overall effectiveness at practical self-defense than any individual technique the art in question may include.

The self-defense aspect has also changed the techniques used. In our modern world, we may be attacked by an unarmed person, someone with some sort of clubbing weapon (a baseball bat) or armed with a knife. The chance of being attacked by a fully armored, sword-wielding samurai is practically zero. Most martial arts included battlefield combat techniques in the past, but the emphasis on such techniques has declined in most styles.

Notable styles of martial arts

  • Aikijujutsu is a Japanese martial art which dates back to the samurai. It has been suggested that Aikido evolved from this style.
  • Aikido is a Japanese martial art which evolved from Jujutsu and Kenjutsu.
  • Baguazhang is an internal Chinese martial art that trains in distinctive circular footwork patterns and is also known for training with unusually large weapons at advanced levels in some schools.
  • Bando is the official Burmese Fighting System that includes techniques of throws, holds, locks, chokes, foot-sweeps, etc. Several Bando sub-systems include Lethwei, Naban and Banshay which includes stick fighting, sword fighting, knife fighting, spear fighting, etc.
  • Capoeira is a survival-oriented dance-fight-game originally developed in the 16th century by Angolan slaves in Brazil. It emphasizes kicks, dodging, and mental training including trickery, sense of humor, and understanding of rhythm.
  • Eskrima highly combative Filipino martial art
  • Fencing (the European Olympic style), exists now almost entirely as a sport.
  • Hapkido is a Korean martial art with kicks, punches, joint manipulation, locks, and throws that is said to have developed from Aikijutsu. Many of its techniques are similar to those of Aikido.
  • Jeet Kune Do was developed by Bruce Lee, one of the most famous martial arts actors of the 20th century. It means 'Way of the intercepting fist'.
  • Jujutsu is a general Japanese term encompassing mostly unarmed martial arts with strikes, throws, grappling and locks and those using small weapons. It´s a commom misconception to think of jujutsu as a singular fighting style (this same misconception occurs with the chinese term Kung Fu and Wushu).
  • Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a much modified version of some original Japanese jujutsu schools, based and closed related to Judo but with even greater emphasis on ground fighting. Sometimes referred to as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu after its founders.
  • Judo means gentle way, ('Do' means 'Way of'), a Japanese martial art and sport that consists in the aggregation of techniques from many jujutsu schools. Striking (atemi-waza) and some dangerous throws are forbidden in competitions but still present in trainning and sparring.
  • Kalarippayattu an ancient martial art from Kerala in South India. Has a strong association with Ayurveda and healing systems.
  • Karate simply means 'Open/Empty hand', and is perhaps the most popular martial art in Japan and the West. It is Okinawan in origin and has several sub styles including Shotokan, Shotokai and Wado Ryu.
  • Kendo is the Japanese art of sword fighting, using bamboo swords (shinai) and protective clothing.
  • Kuk Sool Won is a systematic study of all of the traditional fighting systems, which together comprise the martial arts history of the Korean Peninusla.
  • Kung Fu is a term used by Westerners to describe many diverse Chinese martial arts - the Chinese words kung fu can be used to describe one's skill in any discipline, not just martial arts. Chinese styles include: Shaolin, Shuai Chiao, Wing Chun, Drunken boxing, Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, Yiquan, Lau Gar, Hung Gar and many more. These styles could be more accurately termed wushu.
  • Krav Maga is a modern martial art, derived from the distinctive fighting style of the Israeli Haganah and the modern day IDF. The style is purely focused on practical combat skills and eschews competitions beyond occasional 'fight club' nights, wherein practitioners can free-form spar with protective padding.
  • Mixed martial arts or MMA, a modern martial art which attempts to combine practical aspects of many martial arts, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, and wrestling, among others. The emphasis is on actual combat and freestyle competition with few rules, as opposed to theoretical philosophy. Well-known MMA organizations include PRIDE and UFC. By definition, any combinational or open-ended style of fighting may be considered a form of MMA.
  • Muay Thai, a Thai martial art, from which most styles now known as kickboxing descend.
  • Ninjutsu is a Japanese style said to have originally been practiced by Ninja, this martial art combines traditional attacks with scout style survival and elusive moves.
  • T'ai Chi Ch'uan (Taijiquan), the different styles of which are a Chinese martial art practiced nowadays by many people for health maintenance. Its slow moving training forms are often described as "moving meditation," but are also a catalogue of self-defence techniques. Despite the emphasis on relaxed training the name actually means "Supreme Ultimate Fist" and often uses its soft style interceptions to simultaneously counter attacks and strike the attacker in its advanced level martial training. Traditional T'ai Chi classes at intermediate level and above should include weapons training, two person pushing hands as well as ch'i kung, for greater health benefits and generating coordinated martial power.
  • Taekwondo is modern Korean art, similar to Karate except that kicking is given more focus. Along with Judo, one of only two Asian martial arts to make it into the Olympic Games.
  • Tang Soo Do is a traditional Korean martial art which remained outside the merging of Korean styles into a national sport in 1961. Its most famous proponent is Chuck Norris.
  • Xingyiquan is also an internal Chinese martial art, known for its direct offensive style.
  • Yiquan is a relatively modern Chinese martial art, which attempts to move away from traditional concepts.

Further resources

See also

External links

Silat Mubai Muslim Military Martial Art

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