Martial arts are systems of codified practices and traditions of training for combat. They may be studied for various reasons including combative skills, fitness, self-defense, sport, self-cultivation/meditation, mental discipline, character development and building self-confidence, or any combination of the above.
There is a great diversity and many styles, but martial arts share a common goal: to defeat a person physically or to defend oneself from physical threat. Some martial arts are linked to spiritual or religious beliefs/philosophies such as Buddhism, Daoism or Shinto while others have their own spiritual/non-spiritual code of honor.
While each style has unique facets that makes it different from other martial arts, a common characteristic is the systematization of fighting techniques. One common method of training, particularly in the Asian martial arts, is the form or kata; these are sets or routines of techniques that are performed alone, or sometimes with a partner.
The word 'martial' derives from the name of Mars, the Roman god of war. The term 'Martial Arts' literally means arts of Mars. This term comes from 15th century Europeans who were referring to their own fighting arts that are today known as Historical Fencing. A practitioner of martial arts is referred to as a martial artist.
An early legend in martial arts tells the tale of the Indian monk Bodhidharma (also called Daruma), believed to have lived around 550 A.D. He is credited with founding the meditative philosophy of Zen Buddhism and influencing the unarmed combat arts of the Shaolin temple in China. The martial virtues of discipline, humility, restraint and respect are attributed to this philosophy. These teachings were disseminated throughout many cultures and blended with the indigenous beliefs, practices and techniques.
The teaching of martial arts in Asia has historically followed the cultural traditions of teacher-disciple apprenticeship. Students are trained in a strictly hierarchical system by a master instructor: Sifu in Cantonese or Shifu in Mandarin; Sensei in Japanese; Sa Bum Nim in Korean.
Popular Martial Arts from around the world:
- Capoeria - Originating in Africa, this style is constantly evolving. It is characterized by fast acrobatic maneuvers, such as somersaults and cart wheels. Dance techniques and musical instruments are taught in the more traditional schools.
- Kung Fu - translated means “to be skilled at”. Many different styles of Kung Fu are patterned after animals, and include flowing attacks by the Tiger, Crane, Snake and Dragon.
- T’ai Chi - Smooth and flowing, T’ai Chi is a slow moving art practiced for its benefits to the student’s blood circulation, body tone and cultivation of health and energy.
- Wing Chun - Studied by Bruce Lee, this style consists primarily of close-fighting techniques. Its practitioners strengthen their bodies and techniques by practicing attacks on a wooden dummy.
- Wu Shu - An example of a highly stylized martial art, Wu Shu movements are appreciated for their artistic, not combat value. Acrobatic and stylish, many weapons are used in performance including swords, spears and steel whips.
- Savate - Incorporating boxing-style maneuvers and hard-hitting kicks, Savate students progress in glove, rather than belt color, towards silver, not black.
Kalari - Tied closely with Hinduism, Kalari teaches hand-to-hand combat techniques as well as varied weapon training. Traditionally, students fought covered in oil to make grappling each other more difficult.
- Kuntao - This style was traditionally kept a closely guarded secret, with competition between rival schools sometimes turning bloody. Students of this style feel that any display of one’s skill could give an enemy an advantage, so there is no belt ranking system. It is a well-balanced art combining striking and grappling techniques.
- Aikido - Made popular by Steven Segal in the movies, Aikido is a harmonious blend of Judo-like throws and locks done with careful poise and grace.
- Judo - Consisting mostly of throws and locks, Judo has been extremely popular since it came to the West after World War II. Judo is the sport, while Jujutsu is the combat art, focusing on disabling the opponent by whatever means necessary.
- Karate - Many traditional styles of Karate emphasize the dynamic use of the hands. Karate’s name has come to generically mean “martial art” in the West.
- Kempo - Closely related to Karate, Kempo (or Kenpo) is the Japanese word for ch’uan fa, Chinese for “boxing”.
- Kendo - This is the highly stylized art of Japanese sword fighting, with armor-clad combatants fighting with bamboo swords, or shinai.
- Ninjutsu - Made famous by ninja movies everywhere, ninjutsu is an espionage style. In addition to exotic weaponry, students learned disguise, camouflage, and stealth tactics to carry out their missions.
- Sumo - This highly ritualized ceremonial sport is more than a battle of brute force. Grapples, pushes, and slaps are studied to gain advantage over the opponent. Ironically, the best place to learn Sumo is not in Japan, but Hawaii instead.
- Jiu-Jitsu - Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling art of joint locks, breaks, and choke holds. Most recently, it has been popularized by the “Ultimate Fighting Challenge”. The Practitioners of Jiu-Jitsu grab their opponents in such a way to force them to give up or break something.
- Hap Ki Do - Hapkido is a form of self-defense that employs joint locks, pressure points, throws, kicks, and other strikes. Hapkido practitioners train to counter the techniques of other martial arts as well as common attacks. Hapkido uses a range of traditional weapons including short stick, cane, rope, sword and staff which vary in emphasis depending on the particular tradition examined. Although hapkido contains both long and close range fighting techniques, the purpose of most engagements is to get near for a close strike, lock, or throw. Hapkido emphasizes circular motion, non-resisting movements, and control of the opponent. Practitioners seek to gain advantage through footwork and body positioning to employ leverage, avoiding the use of strength against strength.
- Kuk Sool Won - This is a popular stule created at the end of World War II. It includes arm locks, pressure point techniques, open-hand fighting and weapon training. The Korean sword (gum) is taught and is as revered as the katana is in Japan.
- Tae Kwon Do “Way of the Hand and Foot” - an art characterized by its explosive kicking repertoire. It is a combination of self-defense, sport, exercise, and philosophy. Tae Kwon Do is the fastest growing Martial Art in the world due to its diversity, from olympic sport training to military combat training and the known benefits of physical, mental and character development.
- Kobuto - Okinawa was a troubled island where normal weapons were forbidden by law. The peasants adapted common farm implements for use as weapons to defend themselves. Collectively, this training is called Kobuto. Typical weapons include tonfa (a type of billy club), sai (stabbing knives), kama(sickles), nunchaku (wooden fiail), and tekko (brass knuckles).
- Escrima and Kali - Escrima and Kali are both martial arts known for their weapon fighting as well as their empty handed moves. Escrima students are taught to strike at exposed hands and arms to disable their opponents.
- Muay Thai - Similar to Kickboxing, Muay Thai is more brutal. Punches, kicks, knees and elbows are all used when fighting. The fighter’s shins are toughened through continuous drills against bags and wooden posts to deliver devastating blows.
- Jeet Kune Do - Jeet Kune Do is the art developed by Bruce Lee. Jeet Kune do is one of the most scientifically advanced styles of martial arts. It is purely a fighting style that concerns itself with defeating the opponent using all available means and typically does not have any ‘Forms’.
- Kajukenbo - Developed in the 1950’s in Hawaii, students learn a combination of Karate, Judo, Kenpo and Chinese Boxing.