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Martial Arts, the Fascinating History
Posted on Thu, Sep 16, 2010 at 5:14 am
by IDMA Editor

The sport of martial arts has travelled across centuries from ancient origins to becoming a phenomenon practiced all over the world. With the numerous types and disciplines of the sport emerging and being advocated, the history of this ancient practice is extremely fascinating and worth studying. As the sport takes place all over the world, it has spread with a lot of ease and gained popularity over the years. There are many different methods of martial arts that are practiced today and it has become part of the Olympics as well. But the most interesting part of it all is how the sport got from Ancient China to the 21st Century and became a part of our lives.

Photo included with article

Kung Fu and other Chinese martial arts all have their origin in Ancient Imperial China. There was a close link between warfare and martial arts when the sport first got started. It was the earliest form of hand to hand combat and weapons training in early Chinese warfare. The true origin of the practice is shrouded in mystery. It seems to have been developed 4000 years ago during the Xia Dynasty and is attributed to a general and emperor named Yellow Emperor.

The Xia Dynasty is the oldest dynasty that has been written about in ancient Chinese texts and historical records. The first instance of martial arts was that it was primarily used in warfare but it also had religious significance to it. Monks in temples would practice meditation and early hand motions and fighting stances to stay fit and healthy. Slowly the religious aspect of it gave way to Buddhism and Yoga in later years through the meditation aspect and poses practiced. Martial arts in China started to become very popular in the next historical dynasty, the Shang Dynasty which lasted from 1766 to 1066 BCE (Before Common Era). By this time many different forms of martial arts had been developed from the original one used in warfare. The military had its own version and the monks in temples had their own.

In 509 BCE, the great Chinese philosopher, Confucius wrote that people should practice martial arts in their daily lives. From then on the sport moved out of the realm of the military and the temple and some ordinary people started to take part in it. The first form of institutionalised martial arts came about from the mountains of Ancient China and the temples that can be found there. The Shaolin Monks were the first to codify martial arts and this gave birth to the wushu method.

There is evidence that the monks used wushu to defend their temple from attack numerous times in their history. Later on through the centuries martial arts evolved and grew and took on new formats. Early practitioners started to copy animal movements and mimicked them and turned the motions into fighting styles. Styles such as Eagle Claw, Monkey, White Crane, Praying Mantis and many more emerged and became very popular.

Martial arts were used in China for many centuries and the modern format of the sport grew from the Republican Period, which lasted from 1912 until 1949. With the nation slowly rebuilding itself after the Chinese Civil War, martial arts were seen as a way to promote national pride amongst the people of the country. Various academies were set up and for the first time competitions were held. The sport was shown to a worldwide audience when in 1936 a Chinese delegation went to the 11th Olympic Games in Berlin and demonstrated martial arts techniques to an enthralled crowd. It was because of this display that people started to see martial arts as a sport.

Slowly when Chinese martial arts masters decided to leave the country instead of living under the new government that was formed in 1949, they took their art with them. This way the practice spread to different countries and new styles developed there. The new Chinese government decided to unify martial arts in the country and decided that the single format would be wushu. Soon training schools were set up and the sport of martial arts as we know it today was developed. Today martial arts are part of the Olympic Games with the first format introduced in 1964. The sport will only continue to grow and spread to even more parts of the world, until martial arts, even though it will always have Chinese origins, will one day become ubiquitous.

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