History has produced many different martial arts. As fertile land grew scarce during the Bronze Age, human beings started to come into conflict with one another more frequently. One of the earliest representations of a martial art is a Minoan fresco from 1600 BCE called The Boxing Boys. The single glove they each wear was probably a way to initiate them in the use of a sword.
History and legends also survive about the martial training of the Irish Fianna, the Greek Hoplite and the Japanese Samurai. The Samurai are a famous example where high artistic sensibilities were blended with ruthless combat techniques. At the point where training for a fight becomes training for life – you have a martial art.
Most of what people nowadays think of as martial arts come from the Orient. From China comes Kung Fu – an elaborate and athletic style. Many of the techniques in Kung Fu are said to be derived from the movement of animals. Tai Chi is another famous martial art from China. It is not usually thought of as a fighting art but as a practice that promotes health and balance in body and mind. Chi or Ki is a word that you can see in the name of many martial arts. It is a concept similar to The Force in Star Wars and is also used in acupuncture. Chin Na is an art that specialises in targeting pressure points on the body.
Okinawa is a large island south of China. It is there that Karate arose. Legend has it that the conquering Japanese banned all weaponry, so the Okinawans had to learn how to fight with their bare hands. The Japanese translation of Karate is empty hand. The most famous style from Okinawa is called Shotokan Karate. The Japanese took these ideas home with them and also created amongst others; Kyokushin Karate which favours strong linear movements and Wado Ryu Karate which is more flowing in nature.
Native to Japan was the Bushido, or The Way of the Warrior. This included arts concerning archery and sword fighting as well as unarmed combat. Because punching an opponent wearing armour was redundant, the Samurai learnt how to wrestle. Later they realised that these movements could be used to overcome an attacker without injuring him. In this manner Jiu Jitsu or The Gentle Way was born. Derived from Jiu Jitsu are the arts of Aikido and also Judo which is an example of a martial art designed to be practised as a sport. Indeed you can win a gold medal at the Olympics practicing Judo.
Another sporting style is Taekwondo from Korea. It is similar in nature to western Kick Boxing and favours strong quick fire kicks. Hapkido is also from Korea and is more combative in nature.
From the Philippines come Kali and Escrima where the use of the stick and the knife is a specialty, and from Thailand comes Muay Thai which, along with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an art that has strongly influenced competitors who fight in the modern western style referred to as Mixed Martial Arts. Also from Brazil is the rhythmic style of Capoeira which famously came about as African slaves disguised their training as dance.
As a response to the proliferation of so many different martial arts, the actor Bruce Lee founded Jeet Kune Do. This he described as being more of a concept than an actual martial art. He proposed that students should seek out information from different martial arts to suit their own needs and not blindly follow any single discipline. Although he was originally trained in Chinese Wing Chun, Bruce was just as big a fan of western Boxing and Wrestling.
Kenpo was originally a generic term used by the Japanese to describe Chinese martial arts. Indeed there is an art called Kempo still practised in Japan that is noted for its strong connection with Zen Buddhist religion. One version of Chinese Kenpo that made its way to Japan also made it to the USA. There Ed Parker worked with military and police agencies to develop his art. Another related system is Kajukenbo which takes its name from the parts of several different martial arts. Can you guess which ones?
Most of the advances in the martial arts in modern times have come not from the analysis of human movement but from research into human psychology. In recent times from Soviet Spetsnaz Special Forces came Systema. In America Jeff Cooper opened the Gunsite ranch to teach people the art of shooting whilst the US Marines developed their Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP) for close quarters battle. In the UK, Geoff Thompson researched the tactics of criminals and in Israel Imi Lichtenfeld designed Krav Maga to quickly teach ordinary people how to defend themselves. At Blackwater Martial Arts whilst you are encouraged to focus on our curriculum, you should also take an interest in all of the above. For more information, see our RESOURCES page.