Martial arts are codified systems and traditions of combat practices, which are practiced for a variety of reasons: self-defense, competition, physical health and fitness, entertainment, as well as mental, physical, and spiritual development.
Although the term martial art has become heavily associated with the fighting arts of eastern Asia, it was originally used in regard to the combat systems of Europe as early as the 1550s. The term is ultimately derived from Latin, and means "arts of Mars," where Mars is the Roman god of war. Some authors have argued that fighting arts or fighting systems would be more appropriate on the basis that many martial arts were never "martial" in the sense of being used or created by professional warriors.
Many people consider Asia to be the center of the martial arts world—though it is not necessarily the birthplace of all the arts. However, it can’t be denied that many of the most prominent martial arts originate from the region—kung fu, karate, hwa rang do.
From ancient myths and legends to historical revolutions, martial arts have been shaped by many factors. Sometimes it’s often difficult to trace the evolution of an art because of the lack of historical records. This is true for older arts like the Hawaiian martial art lua or the Indonesian art pentjak silat. At the same time, cultural factors and revolutions have threatened to exterminate martial arts, such as bokator in Cambodia and Shaolin kung fu in China.
However, history has shown that martial arts have thrived, especially when combined with martial arts from other cultures. For example, Mitsuyo Maeda brought jujutsu to Brazil and taught the art to a young man named Helio Gracie who in turn created Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Since time began, every culture has developed fighting styles out of necessity. Modern martial arts history categorizes Western heroes and martial societies as practicing martial arts, which opens up an interesting can of martial arts worms.
Besides the ancient martial arts heroes of China (Shaolin), Japan (samurai) and Korea (Hwarang), the world has witnessed great fighters like the Spartans, Vikings, Mongols, Huns, Romans, Ottomans, Macedonians, Goths, Knights, Persians and Celts. Warriors like Alexander the Great, Richard the Lionheart, Hannibal, Hercules, Eric the Red, Hector, Attila, Achilles and even Siddhartha (Buddha) trained in systematic ways of fighting and lived by a code of ethics.
This leads us to ask several intriguing questions. Did martial arts originate from China, India or Greece? Or have they risen independently? How did they spread? Many arts have come and gone. Recent efforts hinged on nationalism are bringing back lost martial arts, especially in Europe. So why has Chinese martial arts consistently endured and flourished more than in any other country? New evidence suggests Brazilian capoiera came from China rather than Africa. There’s a great history book waiting to be written.
What is the difference between Martial arts and Self-defense?
"Self-defense and martial arts are not the same thing!
Many people have the idea that to learn to protect themselves against everyday dangers they have to learn a martial art--they have to learn Michelle Yeoh’s or Jackie Chan’s moves. This simply isn’t true.
While many martial arts did evolve as self-defense systems, they suited the needs of a people in a specific time and place (such as sword-fighting on horseback in 17th century Korea). They don’t necessarily translate well to practical, modern-day needs. You’re not, for example, going to do a flying kick to a potential date rapist, workplace harasser, or child abuser.
Instead, you can use self-defense techniques for the real dangers women and girls face in our society today, such as harassment, abuse, and sexual assault. These are best addressed through a quality women’s self-defense class.
Self-defense and martial arts each have strengths--and they do have things in common. Here are a few:
SELF-DEFENSE: Anybody can learn basic self-defense skills, even somebody small, elderly, with physical disabilities, overweight, or out of shape. It is not a form of exercise.
MARTIAL ARTS: Is a good workout. Will get you in shape and bring you the health benefits of fitness. Some schools are geared toward sports and competition and attract younger or more athletic people. Other schools are non-competitive and view martial arts as a practice open to anyone.
BOTH: Get you in touch with your physical power.
SELF-DEFENSE: Teaches skills to use against harassment, abuse, and assault, including everyday situations that don’t involve physical attack.
MARTIAL ARTS: May teach awareness to help with prevention, and may help develop confidence to handle daily situations. The physical fighting techniques of martial arts, though, are not usually practical or realistic for the kind of attacks that happen in today’s world.
BOTH: Increase confidence.
SELF-DEFENSE: Effective skills that can be learned quickly.
MARTIAL ARTS: Must be studied for a long time to attain proficiency; often a life-long pursuit.
BOTH: Create a stronger mind-body connection.
SELF-DEFENSE: Develops self-respect and awareness. Encourages personal insights into experiences with violence.
MARTIAL ARTS: Develops discipline, respect, focus.
BOTH: May spur internal change as well as learning specific skills.
SELF-DEFENSE: Depending on the program, may connect to feminism, anti-racism, and larger sociopolitical issues. Develops a broader awareness of issues related to violence against women and girls.
MARTIAL ARTS: Depending on the focus of each school, may encourage spiritual development and/or martial arts as sport and competition.
BOTH: May make connections beyond the particular focus of the program or school."