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Martial Arts

Martial arts


Martial arts cover a broad range of activities that involve fighting techniques, physical exercises, and methods of mental discipline, among other skills. Martial arts originated in the ancient cultures of Asia, and are used today around the world for self-defense, exercise , health, spiritual growth, law enforcement, and athletic competition.


Very few activities have as many legends and myths surrounding them as do martial arts. Hundreds of practices are included under the title of martial arts, and some of these were passed down in secrecy for many generations. Furthermore, martial arts developed in countries that have been historically isolated from the Western world. Thus, there are many conflicting theories and opinions concerning the origins of martial arts. What is known is that martial arts began in the ancient cultures of Asia, including China, India, and Japan. In both China and India, artifacts from 2,000 to 4,000 years old have been found with paintings of people striking possible martial arts poses. Qigong , one of the oldest systems that may be considered a martial art, is believed by some historians to be 5,000 years old or older, originating in ancient China. Some scholars trace the development of martial arts much later to the sixth century a.d. According to legend, that is when a Buddhist monk from India named Bodhidharma brought Buddhism, yoga exercises, and meditation techniques to the Shaolin Monastery in China.

Martial arts involve intellectual concepts as well as physical techniques, and have been influenced by many of the religious and philosophical systems of the East. The Taoist philosophy holds that the universe operates within laws of balance and harmony, and that people must live within the rhythms of nature. Martial arts cultivate these concepts of balance and adaptation to the natural flow of events. Buddhism is believed to have introduced breathing methods, meditation, and techniques of mental and spiritual awareness to the early founders of martial arts. Chinese Confucianism was concerned with ethical behavior in daily life, and martial arts often address these concerns. Some martial arts, such as t'ai chi and various kung fu methods, developed from qigong. Qigong, which means "energy cultivation," is a system designed to increase the flow of the body's qi, the universal life energy responsible for health and strength according to Chinese philosophy. Traditional Chinese medicine also incorporates concepts derived from martial arts to better the understanding of the body and health. Because therapeutic exercise is one of the major modalities of treatment in traditional Chinese medicine, some martial arts masters are also expert healers. There is, in fact, a subtype of qigong known as medical qigong in China, used to treat a wide range of diseases and disorders. Although most of the research in medical qigong has been conducted in China, some of this work has been translated into English. A video is now available that presents the basic concepts of medical qigong.

From China, martial arts spread to other Asian countries, and eventually arrived in Japan, where many new variations developed. Karate is the generic term for Japanese martial arts. Martial arts in Japan have been influenced by Zen Buddhism and by the samurai warrior tradition, which refined many weapons as well as methods of fighting. Some Japanese schools of instruction adopted the values of bushido, Japanese for "way of the warrior." This system insists on extreme physical and mental discipline, using martial arts as a means to spiritual enlightenment. Martial arts also flourished in Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand.

Martial arts were largely unknown to the Western world until after 1945, when a few American and British veterans of World War II brought back Japanese martial arts from occupied Japan. During the 1970s, there was a surge of interest in martial arts in America, due to several popular television shows and the charismatic actor Bruce Lee. With better communication and less secrecy among teachers, Chinese martial arts, including t'ai chi and qigong, have made their way to America. Today, there are martial arts schools all across America, and martial arts are a multi-billion dollar industry. Martial arts are a popular activity for self-defense, sport, exercise, spirituality, and health around the world. Present-day forms of martial arts include kalarippayattu in southern India, escrima in the Philippines, pentjak silat in Malaysia, karate in Okinawa, aikido in Japan, and capoeira in Brazil.


Martial arts teach self-defense, and can improve confidence and self-esteem. When used as exercise, martial arts can improve balance, strength, stamina, flexibility, and posture. They also enhance weight loss and improve muscle tone. On the mental level, martial arts can teach stress management, improve concentration, and increase willpower. Some martial arts, such as qigong and t'ai chi, are used for longevity, disease prevention, and healing purposes, making them effective exercises for those with health conditions and for the elderly. Some teachers claim that martial arts can be used as spiritual practices, bringing balance, peace, and wisdom to dedicated practitioners.


Basic concepts of martial arts

Many martial arts utilize basic concepts of traditional Chinese philosophy. Qi is the fundamental life energy of the universe. In the body, qi is the invisible vital force that sustains life. Qi is present in food, air, water, and sunlight. The breath is believed to account for the largest quantity of human qi, because the body uses air more than any other substance. All martial arts emphasize breathing techniques. Many movements and mental exercises are designed to improve the flow of qi in the body, which improves overall strength. There are many legends concerning martial arts masters who had such control of their qi that they could throw opponents across rooms merely by looking at them. Martial arts that focus on the development and use of qi are termed internal martial arts. In contrast, external martial arts focus on physical exercises, fighting methods, and the use of weapons. Many martial arts combine internal and external methods.

Qi travels through the body along channels of energy called meridians. On the meridians there are certain points (acupoints) where qi accumulates. Some martial arts teach defensive techniques that utilize the knowledge of these points on the body, which, if pressed in the correct manner, can be used to immobilize attackers. Martial arts also teach massage and exercise techniques that are designed to stimulate the energy flow along the meridians to improve health.

The concepts of yin and yang are also central to the martial arts. Yin and yang are the two separate but complimentary principles of the universe, which are always interacting, opposing, and influencing each other. Yin is associated with such qualities as cold, passivity, darkness, yielding, and inward movement. Yang is associated with heat, activity, light, assertiveness, outward movement, and so on. In martial arts, yin and yang movements are used to balance each other. For instance, a strong (yang) attack is taught to be met by a yin, or yielding, response. Martial arts cultivate an awareness and use of yin or passive qualities, which are ignored by many sports and fighting techniques. Another major yin/yang concept used in martial arts is that the more one becomes familiar with violence, the more one learns to avoid and resist it. Some martial arts, such as aikido, teach peace as their ultimate lesson.

Types of martial arts

Although there are hundreds of different martial arts, many of them have more similarities than differences. Within the major categories, there are often many sub-schools and systems developed by different teachers. Martial arts are generally classified as soft or hard, internal or external, yin or yang, but they all need to embrace these complementary aspects. Internal arts such as qigong focus on yielding and inner strength. Hard arts such as karate focus on developing muscular power and speed, and the mastery of breaking and throwing techniques delivered with devastating impact.

Karate means "empty handed." This form of fighting originated on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Karate is now the general term for an entire group of Japanese martial arts. Karate emphasizes offensive and defensive moves, and avoids grappling and wrestling. Students are taught how to deliver quick, powerful blows with nearly every part of the body, including dangerous kicks with the legs. Karate also consists of hard styles and soft styles. Some schools teach "full contact" karate, for which students wear protective equipment to absorb the blows of actual fighting.

Kung fu means "skill" in Chinese, and is the generic term for a whole spectrum of martial arts methods that developed in China. In China, kung fu is called wushu. Kung fu consists of thousands of hard and soft techniques, taught for both offensive and defensive positions. Kung fu uses punching, kicking, grappling, and blocking moves in addition to the use of certain weapons. Kung fu may also emphasize internal methods to increase and improve qi energy.

Aikido is a relatively new martial art, developed in the 1930s by a Japanese teacher named Morihei Ueshiba (18831969). Ueshiba was a religious man who wanted to invent a martial art that emphasized non-aggression. In Japanese, aikido means "connecting with life energy." Aikido teaches students a variety of techniques to disarm an attacker, including such defense moves as blocks, escapes, grabs, and falling safely to the ground. Aikido also teaches internal methods of cultivating qi energy. Aikido has been called the "way of peace," because it teaches the philosophical ideals of love and harmony as ways of reducing conflict.

Judo means "gentle way" in Japanese and was developed as an educational tool by a teacher named Jigoro Kano in the 1800s. Judo emphasizes such defensive moves as holds and grappling, and teaches students how to disarm attackers by applying pressure to specific sensitive points on the body. Judo is performed competitively in matches.

T'ai chi chuan, also called t'ai chi, consists of a sequence of flowing movements performed very slowly. These movements emphasize posture and the flow of the body's energy (qi). Although considered a martial art and consisting of fighting postures, tai chi is used more as a meditation and health technique. In China, millions of people, particularly the elderly, use tai chi daily to improve their health and flexibility. T'ai chi developed from qigong and shares many of the same concepts of energy cultivation, making it effective for healing and prevention of illness.

Jujitsu is a Japanese martial art that emphasizes flexibility, quickness, and fluidity of motion. It consists of kicking, punching, holding, and striking moves as well as the use of weapons. Tae kwon do is a Korean martial art that means "kick-punch-art." Tae kwon do consists of a variety of powerful kicking and punching techniques. Kendo is traditional Japanese sword fighting, teaching students how to use various weapons with agility, speed, and effectiveness. Kendo also emphasizes discipline and ethics.

A martial arts session

Most martial arts classes, held in schools called dojos, have similarities. Sessions begin with warm-up exercises and stretches. Then, depending on the school, certain exercises will be performed to improve strength, speed, and stamina. Sparring is often used, with students competing head to head. Some schools require students to stop short of striking one another, while other schools require students to wear equipment to protect them from authentic blows. Exercises for cooling down and for flexibility are performed at the end of class.

Most martial arts use the colored belt system to rank students, although colors and rankings can vary greatly among disciplines. In general, white belts signify beginners, brown belts represent intermediate students, and black belts are given to masters, with other colors in between.

Martial arts classes take between one to two hours. Some schools allow students to attend as many classes per week as they wish, while others limit the number of classes taken. Two to three classes per week are recommended. Schools often charge a monthly fee, ranging from $50 or more. Some schools charge a flat fee for training from beginner to expert. Many schools require students to regularly participate in competitions, and fees for these may begin at $25. Students are required to purchase uniforms and equipment as well. Uniforms may cost $100 or more, and protective equipment may cost roughly the same, depending on the practice.


Prospective martial arts students should search for the style of martial arts that best meets their objectives. Students should attend classes at various schools (dojos), and should talk to students and teachers to find the right program. Finding a good instructor may be even more important than finding the right school. Students should search for instructors with such positive qualities as patience, knowledge, and strong communication skills. Prospective students should also search for schools with adequate facilities, including padded or sprung floors, full-length mirrors, and roomy practice spaces without obstructions.


Martial arts can be dangerous. Students are often required to take blows and falls as part of the learning process, as well as to fight with weapons. Students should search for teachers and schools who teach these methods as safely as possible. People with health conditions and injuries should consult a physician before attempting a martial art, and should find a teacher familiar with their condition.

Training & certification

Martial arts teachers are usually certified with the achievement of an advanced black belt status. Many large schools of martial arts have organizations which oversee and certify the granting of belt ranks. The Aikido Association of America recognizes training programs and certifies ranking procedures.

The USA Karate Federation is the largest organization for certifying ranking systems and schools of karate. The Chinese Kung-Fu Wu-Su Association works with kung fu schools, ranking systems, and contests.



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Aikido Today. PO Box 1060, Claremont, CA 91711. (800) 445-AIKI.

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Chinese Kung-Fu Wu-Su Association. 28 West 27th Street, New York, NY 10001. (212) 725-0535.

USA Karate Federation. 1300 Kenmore Boulevard, Akron, OH 44314. (330) 753-3114.

Douglas Dupler

Rebecca J. Frey, PhD

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martial arts

martial arts The martial, or fighting arts are among humankind's oldest avocations. The urge to fight and compete, whether between individuals or groups, arises with every new generation, and becomes channelled or sublimated in various ways in different cultures. In earliest times tribes fought with each other, invading and defending territories; individuals within tribes fought for leadership, prestige, goods, and mates. As societies became larger and more complex, the importance of warriors and military effectiveness increased. Children mimicked martial heroes (just as in modern times children's games have included cowboys, cops and robbers, spies, space warriors, computer combat, and so forth), and successful warriors often went on to become kings or nobles.

Martial arts also lie at the root of competitive sports, whether sanitized by erecting a barrier between players to eliminate physical contact while hitting a ball as a substitute for pummelling blows (tennis, volleyball, baseball), or intellectualized in a game like chess in which the armies of two kingdoms seek to kill each other until ‘checkmate’, — an Anglicization of the Arabic sheikh mat (‘the sheik is dead’). As in war, success in sports requires strategy and tactics. The very same skills that can mean the difference between life and death in combat — speed, agility, strength, determination, reflexes, stamina, timing, vigorous training, and surprise — spell success in sports.

Outside today's military, martial arts are still cultivated for physical and even spiritual improvement. Martial competitions have become sporting events, where one puts one's body and sometimes even one's life on the line, though there have been many attempts to transform sports such as boxing, wrestling, judo, and karate into safer events where points, rather than lasting bodily damage, determine the winner. The Japanese, for example, differentiate between jutsu and do, the former designating a fighting art, such as ju-jutsu, and the latter its modification into a sport form, such as ju-do. In modern Chinese the term for martial arts, ‘wushu’, implies demonstrations of movements, often closer to dance or gymnastics than fighting.

Many ancient cultures extolled martial arts, whether in epics (the Iliad or Mahåbharåta) or in artifacts (Egyptian tomb paintings or the vast life-sized terracotta army buried with China's first Emperor, Shi Huangdi, in the third century bce. From India's warrior caste arose such spiritual progenitors as the Buddha and Mahåvira (putative founder of Jainism) and the mythical Arjuna, hero of the Bhagavad Gitå. The warrior's existential proximity to death could engender deep philosophical and religious reflections on the meaning of life. Hence the most prominent patrons of Zen Buddhism, when it was imported to Japan, were the samurai, primarily due to the fearlessness toward life or death displayed by many Zen masters.

The origins of East Asian martial arts are murky. The ancient Chinese produced an extensive literary tradition of martial classics on strategy and tactics, the most famous work being Sunzi (Sun Tzu), attributed to a military genius of the sixth to fifth centuries bce. It applied principles similar to those found in early Daoist works, such as the Laozi (Lao Tzu), to military matters like the deployment of troops, adapting to terrain, using spies, how a smaller force can overcome a larger force, and so on. Daoist notions, such as the soft or gentle overcoming the hard, became foundational martial principles. They underly the judo axiom, ‘use the opponent's force to overcome him’, or the Taijiquan axiom, ‘four ounces overcomes a thousand pounds.’

Chinese martial arts apparently disseminated elsewhere into Asia during the Tang dynasty (649–712) since an early Korean martial art is called Tang Su do (Way of Tang Boxing). Another Korean style, Tae Kwon Do, with some of the most powerful kicks of any martial art, developed later. Tang Su was introduced to Okinawa, where the Chinese characters were pronounced Kara-te (kara = Tang; te = su: ‘hand, fist, boxing’), which meant ‘Chinese boxing’. In 1922, in an effort to nationalize the art and strip it of its Chinese origins, the Japanese substituted another character, also pronounced kara, meaning ‘empty’, so that Karate came to mean ‘empty fist’ rather than ‘Tang hand’ (or boxing). Many Japanese karate katas, or sets of practice movements, still resemble those used in Tang Su do. In Japan the newly nationalized Karate was one of several new sport forms: judo and aikido (grappling and locks) developed from ju-jutsu (holds and throws) in 1882 and 1925 respectively. Kendo, a sport version of ken-jutsu (swordsmanship), began roughly a century earlier, swords often being called the soul of the samurai and the soul of Japan. Sumo wrestling and a host of weapon jutsus (halberd, staff, etc.) have an older history, many going back to the tenth century. In Asian cultures, where martial arts have long been considered national, even religious treasures, demonstrations of martial art prowess by individuals, groups, and children are often integral parts of religious and national festivals. Chinese customs such as lion dances, in which one or more people perform acrobatically while shrouded in a lion costume, were originally martial displays.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Westerners became aware of Asian fighting arts, mostly in their Japanese forms, as popularized by the ju-jutsu in Mr Moto movies (starring Peter Lorre) and the fierce karate techniques of Japanese soldiers during World War II. Breaking boards and bricks with bare hands seemed impressive, almost magical. Sailors brought kick-boxing techniques back to Mediterranean ports, labelling the ‘new’ sport Savate. It was not until the 1970s, with the international stardom of Bruce Lee, that Westerners gained an appreciation for the Chinese martial arts. Today many Asian styles of martial arts are practised in the West, including Thai boxing, Chinese Taijiquan, Burmese Bando, and even several rare arts from India, such as Binot. By the end of the twentieth century American Yokozunas (Sumo Grand Masters) — such as the Hawaiians, Akebono and Musashimaru — began to emerge: a shock to Japanese sensibilities since Sumo is intimately associated with the imperial prestige of the Emperor.

Dan Lusthaus

See also boxing; killing; sport; war; wrestling.

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Martial Arts

Martial Arts

A group of Asian skills combining mental, physical, and spiritual energies for self-defense in weaponless fighting, or the achievement of apparently paranormal feats of strength and control. The martial arts derive from the samurai or warrior caste fighting systems of ancient Japan, which were conditioned by Zen Buddhism; hence they have a spiritual basis. They are closely related to similar systems in ancient China. Japanese and Chinese martial arts are widely diffused throughout Asia.

These arts have become more widely known and taught in the West since World War II, when many servicemen encountered them in Asian campaigns, and there are now many schools for specific training of the different martial art forms. Symbolic of the growing interest in martial arts has been the popularity of the late Chinese film star Bruce Lee, who popularized the art of kung-fu in such films as Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon. That particular martial art was further popularized in the television movie series Kung Fu starring David Carra-dine, first shown in the 1970s and revived in the 1990s.

The main martial arts are: aikido (a kind of judo of graceful movement in which an opponent's force is used against him), bando (Burmese boxing and wrestling), judo (wrestling with special emphasis on balance and leverage), jiu-jitsu (a more comprehensive and aggressive forerunner of judo ), karate (kicking, striking, and blocking with arms or legs), kung-fu (a group of various styles of fighting and defense), shaolin (Chinese shadow boxing), tae kwon do (Korean system of kick-punching), and t'ai chi chuan (originally a self-defense art, now a system of physical exercises to harmonize body and mind).

The various forms of martial arts have, as their basis, the attainment of spiritual enlightenment and peace, from which point remarkable feats of skill and strength in self-defense or attack can be generated. In the process of training, practitioners claim to become aware of a subtle vital energy named ch'i or ki. Ch'i is accumulated, amplified, and directed by willpower to specific parts of the body, which develop strength and resilience. This process is sometimes preceded by a sudden exhalation of breath, often accompanied by a shout or yell. The intake of breath that follows appears to result in hyperventilation of the system, generating vitality that can be directed to hands, feet, or other parts of the body.

This process has been widely demonstrated by practitioners of karate in apparently paranormal feats such as breaking bricks, tiles, and planks of wood with a bare hand. It has been suggested that these feats are related to such psychic phenomena as psychokinesis, the ability to move objects at a distance by mental action.


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Ching-nan, Lee, and R. Figueroa. Techniques of Self-Defense. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1963.

Feldenkrais, Moshe. Higher Judo. New York: Warner, 1952.

Freudenberg, Karl. Natural Weapons: A Manual of Karate, Judo, and Jujitsu Techniques. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1962.

Huard, Pierre, and Ming Wong. Oriental Methods of Mental and Physical Fitness: The Complete Book of Meditation, Kinesitherapy, and Martial Arts in China, India, and Japan. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1971.

Masters, Robert V. Complete Book of Karate and Self-Defense. New York: Sterling, 1974.

Medeiros, Earl C. The Complete History and Philosophy of Kung Fu. Rutland, Vt.: Charles Tuttle, 1975.

Nakayama, M. Dynamic Karate. Cedar Knolls, N.J.: Wehman, 1966.

Tohei, Koichi. This is Aikido. Tokyo: Japan Publications, 1975.

Westbrook, A. and O. Ratti. Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere. Rutland, Vt.: Charles Tuttle, 1970.

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martial arts

martial arts, various forms of self-defense, usually weaponless, based on techniques developed in ancient China, India, and Tibet. In modern times they have come into wide use for self-protection, as competitive sports, and for exercise.

Jujitsu teaches skills that enable one to overcome a bigger, stronger opponent. A popular style of jujitsu is aikido, which uses wrist, elbow, and shoulder twists and graceful falls; it is noncompetitive and incorporates various spiritual concepts. Judo, a Japanese sport created in 1882, makes use of jujitsu principles. Other popular forms of martial arts include kung fu, karate, and taekwondo, all of which emphasize blows with the feet and the side of the hand, and kendo, in which leather-covered bamboo "swords" are used. Judo and taekwondo are Olympic sports. Capoeira, a dancelike Brazilian discipline whose movements are performed to rhythmic music, is gaining in popularity.

The traditional Asian martial arts emphasize allowing ki (cosmic energy; also known as chi) to flow through one's body. This belief in ki connects the martial arts with t'ai chi ch'uan, a meditationlike discipline that emphasizes slow, graceful body movements. The most popular form of individual exercise in China, t'ai chi is often performed publicly in large groups; it has been claimed to reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

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martial arts

mar·tial arts • pl. n. various sports or skills, mainly of Japanese origin, that originated as forms of self-defense or attack, such as judo, karate, and kendo. DERIVATIVES: mar·tial art·ist n.

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