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Martial Arts-Basic History

Rick Gil

Martial Arts

Martial Arts: studies, styles, or systems relating to the ways of fighting or war. In other words, the term "Martial Arts" is a title given to any system of fighting and defense.

Kung Fu, Karate, Judo, etc., are all grouped and categorized under the title of "Martial Arts". Per analogy example, the word "sports" is a title given to any system of athletic activity. Baseball, football, and basketball are all grouped under the title of "sports". Some Martial Art systems and styles have become sport-competitive because of the addition of safety measures. Furthermore, boxing, wrestling, and even the military or armed forces are also studies of fighting and defense and could be categorized under the title of "Martial Arts". It is incorrect to assume that only hand-to-hand and Asian fighting systems categorize the sole or whole of Martial Arts.

The literal translation of the Martial Arts is as follows: "Martial" derives from the Latin name for the planet Mars, or the Roman God of War; "Arts", of course, is the activity or practical skill learn through the application of practiced and/or natural abilities. In ancient times, the martial arts were reserved for a military force. Common people or civilians, were not allowed to practice martial arts. At the very least, few civilians practiced in secretive, secluded, or private study.

Why and by whom was the Martial Arts developed?

For as long as man has inhibited the Earth, human strength alone had little chance against other wild creatures. Self-reliance revealed that humans had one superior quality over the carnivorous beast: a highly developed intelligence. Humans found that successful foraging for food and defending oneself to maintain survival was fortified by innovation and teamwork. However, as the human population grew, human conflict was inevitable. As human society and civilization evolved, sorted the systems of fighting and defense-the Martial Arts. Methods of fighting and defense had to constantly change and improved to meet the human need for physical advantages and survival over each other.

Are the oldest, traditional, or most authentic Martial Arts in the last?

The oldest, traditional, or most authentic Martial Arts are not necessarily the "best". Furthermore, the "best" Martial Arts system or style cannot exist because all Martial Arts styles constantly evolve to meet an ever-changing society to the point that no system can maintain any authenticity. This does not follow the concept that old or traditional is better. For example, before anesthetics, major surgery was performed without. To stop profuse bleeding, the wound had to be crudely cauterized, or burned, because blood transfusions were not available so long ago. Furthermore, it was traditional to apply live leeches to the human body in an attempt to cure all human diseases by slowly draining the body of any or all impurities. Should one choose these old and traditional methods in order follow the virtues of antiquity? A true martial arts scholar would make every attempt to trace and learn all aspects of martial arts not hindered by misled personal beliefs and physical practices. In addition, one should learn and apply new methods pending their environment or social era.

On another note, non-Martial artists have resisted accepting the Martial Arts into their health, fitness, sports, recreation, and security programs. Traditionalists in the Martial Arts resisted making changes that would allow the practices of their specialties to become consistent with modern concepts. Remember, the purpose of the Martial Arts had to constantly change per change of human social evolution. In general, people feel apprehensive towards the Martial Arts and Martial Artists. This is almost rightly so, because of the anti-social concepts, superstitions, mystical beliefs, and archaic social attitudes that seem to incorrectly portray them. Martial artists need to help educate and bring awareness and understanding to the vast in general populace instead of a boisterous ego and believe that their style is better. Martial artists need to discontinue this attitude that mislead people to weird and uncertain beliefs about their studies.

The Martial Arts are no longer tobe considered as a quasi-religious or superficial occult. True, many Martial Artists maintain a cultural expression, but just as other social subjects maintain the same expressions. The cultural concept of Martial Arts helps the participants or practitioners to succeed more than just a fighting aspect. The not always apparent virtue of Martial Arts will help one to develop self-discipline, self-esteem, self-preservation, self-confidence, and self-respect as well as respect for others.

Other than techniques, when discussing the subject of Martial Arts, the avid scholar could not omit its historic value. It is unknown historical fact, although denied by others, that there were two primary origins of systematic martial arts for foundational practices. The two primary origins of "systematic" martial arts are Egypt and India. Centuries-old artifacts from these two countries that depict fighting figures and combative seems that could only be associated to a martial art. The artifacts even outdate Chinese, Greek, and Japanese as such. One must remember that any martial art was originally created for war or fighting, but some also had eventually change to one of serious discipline of the mind, body, and health.

From Egypt, Martial Art studies were passed on to Greece, and from there, on to Italy and then on to the remaining European countries. From India, Martial Art studies were passed on to China, and from there, to other Asiatic countries. Some of these would be in denial of their ancestral hierarchy. In the name of religions such as Christianity, Zen, Taoism, Buddhism, etc., whole codes of martial art conduct and chivalry were developed. This was not to be the unwritten or sole justification of the development and practice of any martial art. As with any religion, or beliefs, there were disagreements between each and eventually feuds and war were develop. In some instances, some religion developed infractions for mandates of government law. This can impact in either a favorable or negative way. In other words some governments embraced religion, to the point of it as being an ally in the methods to keep classes of the mass population in check. On negative side, religion challenged government policy and in some cases met it's own demise.

Although it may seem that Egypt and India might be the birthplace of martial arts, this is not the intentional concept. In addition, whole martial art systems were developed and originated wherever the developer was also birthed. The developers or founders of their systems had actually acquired in much knowledge from another or had accidentally discovered a new method. From this, other techniques and information were developed an added to existing arts. In other words, because of the ever-so "melting pot" of martial arts, it would not be correct to state that there are any "traditional and original" and martial arts. Martial artists need to realize this and perhaps learn or discover the martial art methods and systems.


What is hardly realized by most martial artists, is that Egypt was an important starting point for most European martial arts. This is not to state that all European martial arts were totally developed from Egyptian methods. Basically Egypt was a well-established system of society. Therefore, it needed a well-established system of martial arts of which had been developed to protect this society. From this being "taxonomic" or "systematic", whole studies in martial art methods were developed. In other words, although any fighting skills would be classified as a martial art, under a "complete and organized system", per systematic fighting skills are applied for training a number of individuals within the same system. Thus, Egypt had a well-organized military force historically before most inhabitants of European countries came into existence. Although some European cultures did develop their own martial arts over a period of time, martial art related information, as well as weapons and goods, were traded to many nomadic people stemming from Egypt, Persia, and across the entire European continent.

Egypt's military developed from its sheer masses. People from surrounding areas developed physical fighting methods. Like most developed fighting methods, these were discovered by trial and error basis. And like other fighting systems, some methods were learned and applied by duplicating and combinations of others. However, in turn, other cultures did the same from Egypt. Soon, those other cultures had developed fighting methods and weapons that were superior to Egypt's outdated of such. And reciprocally, Egypt had also made attempts to duplicate those weapons and methods. Because of the arrogance and stead-culture ideals of the Egyptians and their Pharaohs, it was far too late to improvise those weapons and methods to contend with other fighting forces such as Macedonian or Roman.


The impact that Indian had towards Asian martial arts is astonishing. One only has to trace an Asian martial art and find an ancestral hierarchy that eventually leads back to India. There are only but a few books or references that give concise details of this. Archeological excavations clearly indicate that India had an ancient civilization (matched only to Egypt's) long before Grecian, Asian, Roman, or European ones had been established. Many centuries ago, India had a well-organized military force. This force or warrior class was known as Kshatriya (also spelled Kshattriya, Ksatriya, Ksetreya, Rajanya). In Japanese they were known as Setnuri. Because of their military knowledge and teachings, the Kshtriya military commanders were called Senami-one who has great knowledge or skill. (Japanese: Sensei). One only has to research India’s Bodhisattva, Vedic, Caste, and Aryan times.

Most Kshatriya Warriors would prefer to go into battle or confrontation with an instrument of destruction, or weapon. But, if such a weapon was misplaced, lost, or no longer available, the warrior would have to conclude the confrontation with unarmed combat. In some instances, when the battlefield was to include literally "thousands" of combatants, most of those combatants were an army of quickly trained and sometimes crudely armed people. In some battles, winning was predestined to be that from superior numbers.

Among developed our fighting methods were unarmed fighting methods and medical knowledge to heal. With the knowledge to heal, the knowledge to harm is an equal fruition. Though the Brahminian and Buddhist priests, such knowledge or arts of healing and destruction were closely guarded secrets. However, information was given or taught "outside" the religious order. Basically the priests were shown favor by a royal court, thus certain priests broke their discipline of secrecy, and therefore, methods were procreated through the royal order and its military.

Through the spread of trade and religions such as Buddhism, India had given China additional means to develop more fighting methods and systems. A misunderstanding is that such Buddhist monasteries, teachings, and people, developed and perfected Asian and Chinese fighting methods. But in truth, the foundations of such methods were for medicinal, religious, and/or health practices. The practices of fighting methods were to dispel attitudes, desires, and the motions of physical conflict. Practicing fighting methods also became a tool to develop discipline and self-defense. Another misunderstanding is that the name Shaolin martial art monk named Bodhidharma, gave Shaolin is fighting methods. In truth, Bodhidharma was Indian (India). Also, Shaolin already had some fighting methods preceding. And further truth, China itself had some fighting methods before India gave it much more. But, as stated, fighting methods were constantly introduced, duplicated, and combined with others. So therefore there cannot exist any original martial arts.

In time, India became less of an important and less a dominating land. China, because of its vast size and ever growing population, became Asia’s largest country. It also became the center of attention through commerce. China soon offered and had about everything. Some of India's monarchs, warrior classes, and the religious cults were to manifest into the vast Chinese social structure. According to India's religions, this was a prime "garden" to plant the "seeds" of their knowledge, studies, and/or religion.

Surrounding Asian countries basically extracted information, per martial arts, because of China's commerce. As a country communicated and traded with China, martial arts were also passed as well as goods. The great silk trade of China unquestionably allowed the transferring of such goods, weapons, and exchanging of trades (skills and information taught or exchanged from one person to another). Thus with its trading were martial art related information.


Shaolin: pronounced "shall--len". The Chinese literal translation is "young forest monastery" or "small forest monastery". Shaolin was a Chinese monastery for the Chan study of Buddhism. It was built around 495 AD during the Wei dynasty on the Asian continent of northern China. Shaolin was named after its environment, surrounded by bamboo, cassia, cedar, and other forestry. It is located on the Sung-shan Mountain, or Zhonqyue( Central Mountain) of the Tung--Feng County (Historic Hunan Province) were remains with Shoashi Peak to its front and Wuru (Five Nipples) Peak at its back.

Shaolin was originally constructed for the study of Chan Buddhism, philosophy, writing, art, mathematics, and medicine to culturally train a disciple to become a monk of the Buddhist sect. However, without attention, these monks, and of course Shaolin, became world-famous for the unique development and perfection of fighting skills. These fighting skills were a unique product from training for physical fitness, health, mental conditioning, meditation, and ultimately, perfected methods of self-defense. Actually, the monks that were skilled in fighting and were renegade rebels in disguise. Only a few monks were skilled in fighting because it was against Buddhist morals to fight.

These fighting skills were known by such names as:

Chuan Fa, Shaolin Sh'uan Fa for Quan Fa - Shaolin Fist Way

Shiplohanshou - Shaolin Boxing

Tang Shou Do - Chinese Martial Art Way

Tang Te - Chinese Hand

Wu Te - Martial Virtue

Kuo Shu - Military Art

Guo Shu - National Art

Chi Kung - Internal Skill

Ch'uan T'o - Buddhist Fists

Wu Shu - Martial Technique (People’s Republic of China Martial Art)

And most notorious of all, Kung Fu.

Shaolin fighting skills had other countless names, pending on the region. One should not try to confuse these names with other fighting styles. In fighting styles are individualized systems, whereas fighting skill names are classified as a total group of styles-similar to the term "Martial Arts", being the name given to a total group of individualized fighting systems.

Although remnants of its marvelous architecture still exists, Shaolin’s ancient and original appearance was destroyed when became the subject of political controversy and sadly, was subsequently raided, violently ravaged, and burned. Shaolin was the most significant, historic, and legendary focal point for the developmental foundation of most Asian Martial Arts, as deemed by scholars.

Argued, yet documented, their exist detailed information that traces of roots of most Asian Martial Arts back to China, and ultimately, its Buddhist and Taoist monasteries. Other martial arts/martial artists, through pride, ignorance, an egotistical attitudes, try to, but cannot deny their roots back to China. Subsequently, China derived much from India.

China has a very large, and civilized ancient history, more so than its neighboring countries. It is but one large key factor to the foundation of most Asian Martial Arts. There were, however, some Asian Martial Arts that developed entirely on their own - i.e. Bushido - Way of the Samurai Warrior. The very term/name "samurai" derive from the Chinese one "sumurahi" - most Japanese and Chinese terms mean "vessel". Which met a person was a retainer/vessel for someone in the service of another.

On another note, Shaolin did not spawned development of all the Martial Arts in general, or the art of warfare and defense. Shaolin practice and introduced "Ch'uan", or incorrectly, "Kung Fu", and launched a Martial Art era that has steadily grown with introduction of more styles, instructors, and students every decade and century to come.

Kung Fu
Kung Fu: an Occidental terms for the term "Gung Fu". Occidental's mistakenly believe that Kung Fu is a separate Martial Art styles, which it is not. Because of this, Kung Fu is incorrectly accepted and recognize worldwide as a martial art styles/system. The basic term "Kung Fu" is a subtitle attached to anyone displaying a skill; i.e. Painting Kung Fu (painting skill), Cooking Kung Fu (cooking skill), Wood-Working Kung Fu (wood-working skill) etc. Other examples include: Leonardo da Vinci attained Kung Fu in art, the world-famous Albert Einstein reached Kung Fu in science, Mozart had Kung Fu in music and composition and so on. In Chinese, Gung/Gong Fu (Kung Fu) literally translates to Kung: meaning accomplishment, and Fu: meaning skill and effort. Together, they mean mastery of art, ability, or high effort. Simply translated by the Chinese as "hard work". And sometimes taken as "soft or hard", "soft touch", and "less effort (natural ability) with the great skill". It is apparent that confusion with this term will occur. On another note, only a very small number of Chinese will use the incorrect term "Kung Fu" to describe their in Martial Arts.

Historically, the Asian name of Kung Fu from India is SUDRA (Sanskrit). The Japanese named it KOFU. It's term as it is described and now written is a Chinese term mistakenly applied to Chuan Fa. Chuan Fa or Wu Shu would be the correct terms for Chinese martial arts. Use of the the term, Kung Fu, was popularized by the established foreign traders and government officials in China who, when inquiring about demonstrations by persons doing Chinese boxing were told that this is what it was (i.e. hard work/skill). The inner-circle humor from the Chinese boxers was unrealized. Well appropriated and capitalized by Hong Kong film companies, whole stories were written (only a very few were actually based on mere legends and past story tales) in an attempt to legitimize the commercial popularization. On a grand note; all mainland Chinese sources and revered Chinese martial art masters, correctly ignore the term Kung Fu/Gung Fu. For further reading in Chinese martial arts, one only has to research the term Chaun Fa, its development, and its practice. Further information can be obtained from a qualified martial arts scholar.

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