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  Wikipedia: Martial art

Wikipedia: Martial art
Martial art
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Martial arts also known as fighting systems, are bodies of codified practices or traditions of unarmed and armed combat, often with the goal of developing both the character of the practitioner as well as the mindful, appropriate, controlled use of bodily force.

The martial arts, perhaps due to a half-century of dramatic portrayals in popular media (see orientalism), have been inextricably bound in the Western imagination to East Asian cultures and people. At least some Eastern martial arts have a tradition of being about more than simple fighting, and this is perhaps why their practice has been seen as worth preserving in the face of their military obsolescence in modern technological culture. Martial arts aren't unique to Asia, however. Humans around the world have always had to develop ways to defend themselves from attack, often without weapons. But what differentiates the martial arts from mere unarmed brawling is largely the codification or standardization of practical techniques for teaching purposes, many times in routines called forms (also called kata, ch'uan, kuen, tao lu, or hyung), and above all, the controlled, mindful application of force and empirical effectiveness. In this sense, boxing, fencing, archery, and wrestling can also be considered martial arts.

Thus, the history of martial arts is both long and universal. Martial arts likely existed in every culture, and at all classes and levels of society, from the family unit up to small communities, for instance, villages and even ethnic groups. One example is tantui, a northern Chinese kicking art, often said to be practiced among Chinese Muslims. Systems of fighting have likely been in development since learning became transferable among humans, along with the strategies of conflict and war.

In Europe, some of the oldest written and illustrated material on the subject dates from the 15th and 16th centuries, and was written by notable teachers like Hans Talhoffer, Fiore dei Liberi and George Silver. Some transcripts of yet older texts have survived, the oldest being a manuscript going by the name of I.33 and dating from the late 13th century.

In recent times, various attempts at reviving historical martial arts have been done. One example of such historical martial arts reconstruction is Pankration, which comes from the Greek (pan, meaning all, kratos, meaning power or strength).

"Martial arts" was translated in 1920 in Takenobu's Japanese-English Dictionary from Japanese bu-gei or bu-jutsu (武術) that means "the craft/accomplishment of military affairs". This definition is translated directly from the Chinese term, Wushu (py wǔ sh, Cantonese, mou seut), literally, "martial art", meaning all manner of Chinese martial arts.


Martial arts are, simply put, systems of fighting. There are many styles and schools of martial arts; however, they share a common goal - to physically defeat a person or defend oneself. Certain martial arts, such as Tai Chi Chuan may also be practiced to improve mental or physical health.

Not all Martial Arts were developed in Asia. Savate, for example, was developed as a form of kickboxing in France. Capoeira's athletic movements were developed in Brazil.

Martial arts may include disciplines of striking (i.e. Boxing, Karate), kicking, (Kickboxing, Karate), grappling (Chin Na, Judo, Jujutsu, Wrestling), weaponry (Iaido, Kendo, Kenjutsu, Naginata-do, Jojutsu, Fencing), or some combination of those three (many types of Jujutsu). The traditional Chinese arts especially are inclusive, containing elements of striking, kicking, grappling, throwing and several different weapons all as part of their overall curriculum, as well as teaching side disciplines such as qigong, acupuncture, acupressure, bone-setting and other aspects of traditional Chinese medicine.

Martial Arts in Asia

The teaching of martial arts in Asia has historically followed the Confucian cultural tradition of teacher-disciple apprenticeship. Students are trained in a strictly hierarchical system by a master instructor {Sensei in Japanese (Pinyin Xiān sheng); in Chinese (Wade-Giles) Lao Shih, (Pinyin) lǎo shī (lit., old master); or Cantonese Sifu Mandarin (Wade-Giles) Shih fu (Pinyin) Shī fu (lit., the master-father)}, who is expected to directly supervise their students' training, and the students are expected to memorize and recite as closely as possible the rules and basic training routines of the school. Open speculation about training methods or the instructor's motives and personality is generally not tolerated in juniors, as they aren't considered familiar enough with the basic requirements of their respective arts to make realistic distinctions. They are instead encouraged to repeatedly train applications of the forms and techniques that they've been shown in gradually more complex scenarios. In this Confucian family-based hierarchy, those who enter instruction with the instructor before the student are considered older brothers and sisters; those after, younger brothers and sisters. The instructor's peers are considered aunts and uncles, etc. into other generations above and below. Some method of certification can be involved, where one's skills would be tested for mastery before being allowed to study further; in some systems, especially in China, there are no such certifications, only years of close personal practice and evaluation under a master, much like an apprenticeship, until the master deems one's skills satisfactory. This pedagogy, while still preserved and respected in many traditional styles, has weakened to varying degrees in others and is even actively rejected by some schools, especially in the West.

The different styles of Asian martial arts are sometimes divided into two major groups. There are the hard or external styles like Karate and Kickboxing which favour muscular coordination and an aggressive offense to quickly defeat an opponent. On the other hand, there are the so-called soft or internal styles like T'ai Chi Ch'an or Aikido which generally focus on coordinating movements with the breath (qigong) and turning an opponent's force against themselves.

Comparisons between martial arts

It is now difficult, in modern societies, to gauge the actual effectiveness of martial arts, but among the most popular ways of doing so throughout the Americas is through sport martial arts tournaments, exhibitions, and competitions. These types of competitions usually pit practitioners of one or many traditions against each other in two areas of practice: forms and sparring. The forms section involves the performance and interpretation of routines, either traditional or recently invented, both unarmed and armed, judged by a panel of master-level judges, who may or may not be of the same martial art. The sparring section in sport martial arts usually involves a point-based system of light to medium-contact sparring in a marked-off area where both competitors are protected by foam padding; certain targets are prohibited, such as face and groin, and certain techniques may be also prohibited. Points are awarded to competitors on the solid landing of one technique. Again, master-level judges start and stop the match, award points, and resolve disputes. After a set number of points are scored or when the time set for the match expires (for example, three minutes or five points), and elimination matches occur until there is only one winner. These matches may also be sorted by gender, weight class, level of expertise and even age.

Martial Arts as Sport

On the subject of competition, martial artists vary wildly. Some arts, such as Boxing, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu train solely for full contact matches, whereas others like Aikido and Krav Maga actively spurn such competitions. Some schools believe that competition breeds better and more efficient practitioners; others believe that the rules under which competition takes place have removed the combat effectiveness of martial arts or encourage a kind of practice which focuses on winning trophies rather than the more traditional focus of combat effectiveness, or in East Asian cultures, of developing the Confucian person, which eschews showing off (see Confucius, also Renaissance Man.)

As part of the response to sport martial arts, new forms of competition are being held such as the Ultimate Fighting Champions in the U.S. or Pancrase in Japan which are also known as mixed martial arts or MMA events. While the financial success or failure of these events is not well-known, it is interesting to note that certain systems do indeed tend to dominate these full contact or freestyle competitions. Supporters of those styles which win time and again make the statement that this proves the real-world self defense effectiveness of their art.

Full-contact Martial Arts

Some advocates of freestyle or full contact justify their art by stating that in actual hand-to-hand combat the only thing that matters is defeating the enemy. In actual combat, these advocates claim, stylistic differences or the counting of points scored are moot. They argue that if the primary objective in competition is to score points on your opponent, then it's not a martial art but a sport. The logical conclusion of this viewpoint is that there is no such thing as a competition with rules, only gladiatorial affairs resulting in death, disability, or rendering unconscious of one or more of the participants. While this type of contest -- for instance, the Chinese leitai-style contest, where the opponent is not considered completely defeated until thrown off the stage -- has traditionally been the manner in which martial arts are proven, there are few events that maintain this attitude today. For a few examples see sambo, jujitsu, Brazilian jujitsu, pancrase, or vale tudo below.

The Influence of Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee, a U.S. born, Hong Kong raised martial artist and actor, is claimed by his followers to be the most influential theorist-practitioner in martial arts history. He had a very successful action movie career, and from that position in the public eye spent the later part of his life decrying what he claimed was a degradation of combat effectiveness in the traditional arts that he blamed on the Confucian teacher-student relationships of the established Chinese schools.

Although he trained the Chinese south Shaolin art of Wing Chun when young, he eventually left the school headed by the well known Hong Kong based Sifu Yip Man, and any formal association with the Wing Chun system. Arriving in the Seattle area in the 1960s, he soon encountered styles of other martial arts, such as Kali, Escrima, Karate and Judo. As an undergraduate philosophy student at the University of Washington, and after graduation, he began to teach his version of kung fu to non-Chinese. Around the same time he began to state publicly that, while many traditional Chinese martial arts maintained and taught large catalogues of techniques, what he regarded as their uncritical maintenance of traditions in his view adversely affected their approach to unarmed combat. Couching his language in Taoist metaphor, he stated that he sought to create an elastic framework -- "no style as style" -- claiming to be focused solely on the improvement of efficiency in unarmed combat. Lee proposed that this framework could absorb influences from any martial art -- and he actively investigated Filipino armed and unarmed techniques, European and Japanese grappling, fencing, Korean kicking techniques and Chinese close range hand techniques during his lifetime.

Bruce Lee's comments and methods were seen as quite controversial. Many traditional schools disagree with his opinions on these issues, seeing what Lee described as a lack of strategic flexibility due to limitations in their teaching methods to be a feature of martial training that is indeed addressed in the curricula of most traditional styles at advanced levels, when the students are ready. The schools Lee criticized tend to see their conservatism as a safety feature; a legacy of practical experience passed down from generation to generation, said to insure that their students are thoroughly prepared for advanced martial training, skipping nothing and developing intangibles such as good character, patience and discipline. The hierarchy of the traditional schools is said by this reasoning to provide a level playing field for all students by instilling respect and care for one's seniors, peers and juniors, so that everyone, not just the physically gifted, has an opportunity to benefit from the training provided in a martial art school.

With his untimely death in 1973, Lee was unable to develop his philosophy further. What he taught has been elaborated by his students and is considered by them to be a new style, which Lee himself named jeet kune do (Cantonese 截拳道, lit. "way of the intercepting fist"). To resolve the apparent contradiction, teachers of jeet kune do often maintain that what they practice is not a style or a tradition, but concepts. One thing most people on both sides of the issues he raised agree on is that Bruce Lee, through his movie career, had a great impact on the international popularization of the Chinese martial arts.

See also: Martial arts film, budo, gendai budo, koryu, internal martial arts, mixed martial arts, military technology and equipment, Wudangshan, Neo-Confucianism, Chan Buddhism.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
Modified by Geona