The History of Martial Arts
Martial arts is as old and as entangled as the history of humanity, and their genesis is covered with secrets. The fight-or-die model of life made humans create various ways of self-defense, dealing with and protecting against potential enemies and dangerous animals. The need of hunting food and winning against attackers gave them a new aim – they developed attacking techniques and defensive skills. With the passing time and developing civilizations, martial arts became an interesting weapon in military conflicts. The elite groups liked sport competition, too. Until this day fighting methods are made more and more suitable, not only for military purposes but also for developing bodies and minds.
The oldest material notes about the existence of martial arts are dated to be around 2100 – 2800y B.C. and they are derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs.
In ancient Rome and Greece, where martial arts was formed and advanced, they became highly popular because of gladiator fights.
India is considered to be the place of the origin of systematized martial arts. Their civilization was very well-developed very early, around 3000 years BC. The stormy history and multiple wars created a caste of warriors – khatriya. They are believed to be the creators of Vajramushti martial art (it translates to: the one who clenched his fist is hard). The sources prove that this martial art was used for protection against attackers by Buddhist monks.
The history of Eastern martial arts shows a strong connection with Buddhism and old-Chinese system of fighting, kung fu wu shu. Kung fu means „a high level of development, achieved by long-lasting learning, perfection in something”. Wu shu translates to “warfare”. Buddhist monks developed and improved many methods of neutralizations of opponents in their monasteries during the passing ages. The zen philosophy, practiced by them, added a special character of spiritual development and a special way of the betterment of body and mind that was supposed to lead to self-liberation to martial arts. In the majority of aspect, they had to keep monasteries safe by defense during those times of many wars.
Diligently guarded historical proofs which are unavailable for scientists and unreachable for other people are the main reason why the genesis of martial arts is still influenced by legends. The mystery of fighting methods and deadly hits was taken in such a serious way that people who had revealed it were put to death.
The first proofs of the presence of martial arts in China can be found in the oldest and the largest war tractate „The art of war” which was written by the Chinese general, Sun Tzu, in around 600 years B.C. It speaks about rules and tactics of warfare. The latter sources which prove the existence of the first methodically compiled fighting system are estimated to be 2400-year-old. The military medic, Hua To, who discovered many universal medical facts which are used till now, was the first to compile a set of exercises that was called wuqinxi (it translates to: “Five Animal play”) and were supposed to free the man’s energy – Chi – and get to the higher level his body’s condition. The method was based on an observation of the movements of five animals: tiger, bear, monkey, crane and dragon, and found its mirror in the majority of fighting styles which were enriched with styles of other animals in the following centuries.
The new chapter of the development of Eastern martial arts was opened by Bodhirama, who was a highly skilled in Vajramushti fighting style Hindi monk. Bodhi means “a truth”, and “dharma” means “the law”. He originated from a bloodline of princes. Sughandha, the Hindi king, was his father. He had his name after Pajnatra who was the master that confided in him and revealed the secrets of the Hindi martial art. It was about 525A.C. he traversed to China because he craved for preached Buddha’s teachings. After he had visited the emperor’s court where he hadn’t been received in an acceptable way, Bodhidarma settled in the Shaolin monastery (Shaolin translates to “the young forest” in the district of Honan. His uniqueness is a subject of many historical notes. He led the reform of the monastery, introducing knowledge about hygiene and medicine. It is worth highlighting he was the one who led to spreading the tradition of drinking tea that wasn’t well-known during that time. He started to provide monks with lectures about aiming achieving perfection in mortal life by meditation. Physically weak monks often fell asleep during his lectures and meditations, and it encouraged Bodhidarma to create 18 physical and psychical exercises for developing their condition. At the beginning those exercises were only simple ones that were based on stretching muscles. But as time was passing, they were developed and the techniques of the “Five Animal play”” were included in them. The effect was that they led to expansion of many techniques of hand-to-hand struggle. It has a great impact on the survival of monasteries and the latter mission journeys. Bodhidarma popularized the system of breathing that originated from Hindi yoga methods and united with the form of meditation. It contributed to do perfect and multi-field warrior training. His undoubtedly important merit was a skillful union between traditional Chinese fighting methods and the experience which he had gained in India.
Monks in monasteries practiced the methods of handle-to-handle struggle and techniques of using various weapons. Methods of trainings, meditations, mastery of techniques and efficiency in fighting created the legend of the Shaolin monastery. The Shaolin-ssu-kempo fighting style’s efficiency is proved by the fact that a small group of monks sealed the fate of the war over the reigning in the country during the time of the Tang dynasty. Chuen Yuan, a monk who lived in the 16th century, diversified the traditional fighting method with 170 new techniques that were taken from competitive styles. They became the base of the new school of external styles.
When Yue Fuei, a general who lived na przełomie wieków XI i XII, created Hing-i style, the position of Shaolin became endangered. Another outstanding creator was Cheng Salm Fung, who was a monk in the Wudang monastery in the province of Haber. It is said that he patterned his work after fighting techniques from the Shaolin monastery. He observed a fight of a snake and a crane and he noticed the soft and fluid movements of the snake which allowed it to avoid attacks. It became his inspiration to create T’ai Chi – a new martial art. It was characterized by the use of inner energy, soft and fluid movements and was much less offensive. The internal style laid stress on enhancing three factors: jing – the essence of life, chi – the inner energy and shen – the spirit.
There is one Buddhist monastery that is worth mentioning besides Shaolin and Wudang points of cultivating martial arts. It was placed on Mount Emei and mixed the styles of Shaolin and Wudang.
After the Shaolin monastery had been burned, around 1733 five masters who were called „the Five Elders” flied and started traversing through China, teaching peasants how to fight. The same fate was shared by the Wudang and Emei monasteries. The fugitives modified the styles and founded their own schools to protect the existence of the eternal martial arts and take revenge. Not once did the political situation of the country make them use their skills in practice, so the methods of successful disabling opponents were unceasingly ameliorated.
The north part of China was the country of external styles – Wai Chia that came from the Shaolin monastery. The techniques which were based on the strength of muscles mostly probably were the core of Japanese karate.
And internal styles, Nei Chia, were developed on the southern side of the Yangtze River. Those styles contained more elements of freeing the energy of human body and they also had deep philosophical aspects. Perfectly mastered internal and external styles were equally efficient in neutralization of opponents, but it is worth mentioning that they both had powerfully protected secrets. The hits of vibrating palm which were used in internal styles may be the most mysterious elements. They are based on the concentration of Chi energy and on transferring it to the opponent with an almost impalpable hit. The cumulated energy destroys inner organs of opponents. One of the types is „the delayed hit” – dim dok, which attacks one of the vital points of body, and the effects is delayed – it is visible after days, a month and usually is deadly.
Martial arts reached Japan around the 15th century due to the Japanese who conquered the archipelago that belonged to China. The Japanese martial art – karate (it translates to “empty hands”) – was created on Okinawa Island which is placed near the east coasts of China. It has its roots in the Okinawa martial art which was called to de (it translates to: “the Chinese hand”). Masters from Okinawa were taking classes in China, so we can boldly say that kunf fu is a distant ancestor of karate. The first man who systematized the techniques of karate and showed it to publicity was Gichin Funakoshi. He also started regular and methodical teachings of karate by treating it as the philosophy of life. The literature agrees – he was the father of modern karate.
The migration and trade movements led to spreading martial arts through the entire region of Asia. It resulted in a rapid growth of martial arts and a variety of its types, including ju-jitsu, iaido, kendo, kempo, aikido, muay thai, arnis, eskrima, didya, tang soo do, hapki do, soo bak.
In the middle of the 19th century Old Chinese martial arts stopped being a Chinese secret. It reached Europe and America with the wave of Chinese immigrants but for a very long time it was strictly protected and didn’t leave the borders of Chinese districts. Only when the movies from the film production company from Hong-Kong evoked interest and need of dwelling deeper into the matter of martial arts. Thanks to movies such as “Enter the Dragon” and “The Shaolin Monastery” ceased its taboo status that made them be unavailable for people from the outside world.