The history of the martial arts is complex and
not well documented however, some evidence of early martial arts is known. There
are many different forms of martial arts and each has its own unique beginnings
but from a global perspective, certain cultures had a tremendous impact on the
evolution of martial arts. Contemporary martial arts' history is often
attributed to the Asian cultures but in fact there were forms of martial arts in
practice on nearly every continent of the globe for thousands of years.
The early Greek culture practiced a martial art known as Pankration, the art of
complete strength. The art itself is comprised of a mix of combative styles
including wrestling, grappling, and throws as well as boxing techniques. The
earliest records of Pankration being practiced is around 700 BC but all
indications are that this fighting style had most likely been in use for a long
time before that and it is still practiced to this day.
Sambo was officially recognized as a sport by the National Committee of Physical
Culture of the USSR in 1938 but its origins go back to ancient times. The combat
style incorporates many diverse and ancient forms of wrestling and is now taught
to the Russian military for hand to hand combat training. Russian Sambo is now
recognized as one of the three international wrestling styles by the
International Amateur Wrestling Federation and it continues to grow in
The ancient Romans also practiced martial arts but with a different approach.
Roman martial arts training incorporated various weapons and shields in the
style for good reasons. Tournaments of combative skill were usually to the death
and not always against another human. Early Romans enjoyed the contests between
man and beast in a fight to the death. These matches made the use of weapons a
necessity and in turn, produced some very effective fighting techniques that
have stood the test of time.
Though most cultures practiced some type of
martial art, the majority of the contemporary fighting systems owes their roots
to the Asian cultures. With records of martial arts being practiced in China as
early as 5000B.C, the Chinese influence on modern hand to hand combat is
unmistakable. Though historians attribute many of the techniques of Chinese
martial arts to the Indian monk Bodhidharma, the early Chinese were practicing
some form of fighting styles long before his arrival. However, Bodhidharma is
responsible in large part for developing and recording early Chinese martial
Japan's influence on the martial arts world is also substantial. Karate,
originally developed in Okinawa, made its way to mainland Japan very early on
but was only officially accepted in 1921. Kyudo, the way of the bow, is one of
Japan's earliest known martial art. Kyudo is an archery form developed well over
2000 years ago and still very much alive today.
Influences from Korea include Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido. Tae Kwon Do originated
around 1300 years ago and is Korea's oldest surviving martial art. Utilizing
many of the same principles and philosophies as some Chinese martial arts, this
combat form can be traced back to Buddhist monks who studied first in China and
then brought their teachings to Korea.
The history of the martial arts is as diverse as the styles that were practiced.
One commonality among all of the worlds fighting arts is that they arose out of
a need for self-defense. Some are more practical than others but it can be said
that each martial art offers the practitioner a unique and effective approach
toward defending oneself. With this in mind, exploring various styles of martial
arts will provide the most comprehensive understanding of hand to hand combat
and will infer upon the student the flexibility that comes with multiple styles.
Traditional martial arts styles can be
categorized into either soft, or hard styles. Although each individual martial
art has some elements of both hard and soft techniques, the central principle of
each martial art defines whether it is labeled hard or soft.
Tae Kwon Do, with its rigid stances and powerful strikes is considered a hard
approach or style. It meets hostility with speed and power and a proactive
approach. Tai Chi Chuan is best known for its soft, evasive techniques that meet
aggression not with force, but with subtle redirection. The terms hard and soft
do not indicate the effectiveness of each style but rather what principles each
martial art adheres to. Most practical styles incorporate both hard and soft
elements making them very well rounded and very effective.
Modern fighting systems, as opposed to traditional martial arts styles, tend to
combine elements from a variety of different arts into a practical self-defense
form. Jeet Kune Do incorporates this philosophy in its defense techniques. The
understanding that adhering to strict ritualistic elements of only one martial
art is contrary to practical self-defense is very important in modern fighting
systems. Taking the practical elements of each fighting style and incorporating
them into your own style is largely what Jeet Kune Do teaches.
The ability to remain fluid in combat, not rigid or predefined in your
movements, allows for the great flexibility and spontaneous actions.
Understanding both soft and hard elements allows the ability to be creative in a
combat situation. Drawing from various martial arts to create a personalized
approach to self-defense is the most practical approach.