History of Martial Arts

African Martial Arts

  • Yoruba Wrestling
  • Nubian Wrestling
  • Capoeira Angola


In Nigeria there are varieties of indoor and outdoor games such as “ayo”, wrestling competitions, horse riding, hunting for games, swimming etc. Wrestling competition for example, forms a part of Nigerian village life, both in the northern and southern parts of the country.


This wrestling duel is often associated with marriage when young suitors would be required to prove their physical prowess to justify their choice of spouse from a particular group. It also used to be a way of identifying young men with strength that could be reckoned with when there was the need for defence from outside attack.


The Nuba of Sudan, Africa practiced a form of martial arts wrestling over 2,800 years before Christ. There are no other records in any corner of the world that can claim such a long, and unbroken martial arts tradition.


This form of martial arts, which included weapons as well as fortification, and certainly empty hand self-defence, blossomed in 12th dynasty Egypt. Nuba wrestling is the original martial art that all of Africa, Asia, and Europe later came to benefit from. Nuba wrestling is still practiced today in the south of Sudan as parts of rites of passage.


Capoeira Angola has its roots in Bantu tradition and was used by the enslaved Africans of Brazil as a form of revolution. In keeping with African war strategies, capoeiristas masked the art’s effectiveness from plantation overseers. Then and today, to uninformed onlookers the art appeared to be a harmless demonstration of dance, acrobatics, play and music.


Authorities eventually learned of its power and outlawed the practice, with death being the penalty for involvement during the period of slavery. So troublesome was capoeira that, during a later period, a few penal colonies were constructed primarily for the imprisonment of capoeiristas. For years capoeira was practiced in secrecy and was not lawful to practice and teach until after the 1930s – about forty years after the abolition of slavery.

Korean Martial Arts

  • Tae Kwon Do

Tae Kwon Do (Korean: “art of kicking and punching”) is a Korean art of unarmed combat that is based on karate. The name Tae Kwon Do was officially adopted in 1959, and was submitted by the South Korean general Choi Hong Hi. Tae Kwon Do is characterized by the extensive use of high standing and jump kicks, as well as punches. It is practiced mainly for sport, but also for self-defence.


Training in Tae Kwon Do consists of learning individual techniques of kicking, punching, and blocking, which are practiced in combined sets known as Hyung (proficiency in the graded series of Hyung determines rank in the lower grades).


Students also practice basic sparring combinations (il-bo taeryun, “one-step sparring”); these are short, set sequences of attack and counter practiced between partners, after which the students may practice free sparring as opponents. In sparring, blows are stopped just short of contact.Tae Kwon Do is practiced as a sport by awarding points to correctly executed techniques during free sparring or by judging the quality of performed Hyung.

Chinese Martial Arts

  • Tai Chi Chuan
  • Kung Fu

There are many theories as to the origins of Tai Chi Chuan. Many schools believe the founder was the Taoist monk Chan San Feng, who lived in the Sung dynasty (ad 960-1279). The legend states that Chan San Feng watched a battle between a snake and a bird teTaiChin times its size. As the bird lunged at its prey, the wily reptile dodged and weaved, lashing back at its tormentor with relaxed lightning speed. Eventually the exhausted bird flew off for an easier prey. In that instant the art of Tai Chi was said to have been born.


Chan San Feng, a master of the Shaolin martial arts, applied the principles he bad witnessed to his martial arts expertise. The snake’s actions exemplified the taoist principles of softness, relaxation, flexibility and naturalness, allied to the ancient breathing exercises to stimulate chi development.


It is not until the seventeenth century that Tai Chi was officially verified. Henen province in northern china was home to the Chen family of tai chi. This family has been credited with developing the Chen style, from which all the major schools – directly or indirectly – have developed. It is generally accepted that this ‘new’ style of martial art was developed from the popular existing arts at the time. The difference was that its movements were soft and it did not contend with opponents: adapting to the movements and yielding were its hallmark.

Kung Fu developed in the Hunan province of china in the 5th century AD. A famous Buddhist monk, Da Mo, came from India to China and spent many years teaching Buddhism at the Shaolin temple. During this period of his life, he developed a system of physical and breathing exercises, which developed into what is now known as Kung Fu. The physical exercises were devised by watching and imitating the movements of different animals. Da Mo took the best of what nature had to offer and combined it into a system which mankind could use and understand. Breathing exercises were developed to improve health and strength to the body’s inner organs.


Although physical exercise can strengthen the body and limbs, Da Mo knew he needed to keep the inner organs healthy since they provided the fuel to keep the body going. As a person’s breathing becomes better and his or her organs become stronger, that person will begin to develop “chi”. Chi is the ability to reach inside and draw power from within the body itself. This power comes directly from the “Dan Tien” which is located in the lower abdomen. Da Mo developed these breathing patterns, which are still used today in kung fu, yoga and other forms of exercise and meditation.


By the 13th century AD, Shaolin Kung Fu had developed and expanded throughout Asia. In Japan it evolved into aKrate, and in Korea it was known as Tae Kwon Do. Most Asian martial arts evolved from Kung Fu. All current Kung Fu styles are off shoots of the original Shaolin Kung Fu from southern China.

Japanese Martial Arts

  • Karate
  • Kobudo
  • Aikido
  • Ju-Jitsu
  • Judo


Karate is the way of the empty hand. As legend has it, the evolution of karate began over a thousand years ago, possibly as early as the fifth century BC.


The origins of Karate appear to be somewhat obscure and little is known about the early development of Karate until it appeared in Okinawa. Karate developed from the synthesis of two fighting techniques:


1: From an indigenous form of closed fist fighting which was developed in Okinawa and called Te, or ‘hand’. Weapons bans, imposed on the Okinawans at various points in their history, encouraged the refinement of empty-hand techniques and, for this reason, was trained in secret until modern times.


2: Further refinement came with the influence of other martial arts brought by nobles and trade merchants to the island mainly kung fu and jujitsu. Karate also contains philosophical teachings, which are product of ancient culture of China. These two origins explain the double character of Karate – extremely violent and efficient but at the same time strict and austere discipline and philosophy with a non-violent emphasis.


Okinawan Kobudo (ancient warrior ways) is the study of so called “karate weapons”. The people of Okinawa developed a system of self-defence using farming and fishing implements. This rare ancient practice has developed into the art form known as Kobudo.


Hundreds of years ago Kobudo was the primary art used in self-defence and only when you lost all your weapons was Karate, the way of the China/empty hand, used. Nowadays this is reversed.


We practice Karate due to the fact that weapons are prohibited. But Kobudo utilises sticks (bos), two pieces of wood connected by rope (nunchaku), razor sharp sickles (kamas), little spears (sai), etc, etc. China/empty hard is the primary art used in self-defence. If someone decides to attack you with a stick and there is another one near by, people skilled in Kobudo will be at a tremendous advantage.

Aikido means “way of spiritual harmony”. It was originally derived from the Jjapanese soft style techniques termed Jujutsu/Jujitsu. Aikido is a self-defence system that utilizes twisting and throwing techniques and in its aim of turning an attacker’s strength and momentum against himself. Pressure on vital nerve centres is also used. Aikido was developed to subdue, rather than maim or kill as in karate, but many of its movements can nevertheless be deadly. Aikido especially emphasizes the importance of achieving complete mental calm and control of one’s own body to Aikidomaster an opponent’s attack.


As in other Japanese martial arts, the development of courtesy and respect is an integral part of Aikido training. The basic skills of aikido originated in Japan, in about the 14th century. In the early 20th century they were systematized in their modern form through the work of the Japanese Daitoryu Yawara (Aiki Jujitsu) expert Mmorei Uueshiba. There are no offensive moves in Aikido. As taught by Ueshiba, it was so purely defensive an art that no direct contest between practitioners was possible.


In 1969 the founder Morei Ueshiba passed away. And so the 2nd generation “Doshu” became Kissomaru Ueshiba (son of Morei Ueshiba) (1969 -1997). From 1997 to present time the 3rd Doshu has been Moriteru Ueshiba. In present time hundreds of schools and organisations have broken away from the original teachings.


Jujutsu is originally a term for the soft skill techniques. Jujutsu is one of the oldest forms of hand-to-hand combat in Japan. Records of Jujutsu date back over 2000 years. The ancient art was spawned from combat systems of warfare that were originally exclusive to various types of weaponry. These systems of combat were primarily, but not exclusively taught, learned, and used by the Samurai, a high class of warriors who at one time were the rulers of japan.


Jujutsu became more formally organized in the latter half of the 16th century, and various Ryu (schools or styles) were created between the 17th and 19th centuries. There were around 179 styles of Jujutsu during this period. In those days, the warriors wore light dress, and many Jujutsu techniques employed were joint techniques. Warriors trained for physical skill, but the building of one’s character was of the utmost importance as Jujutsu players came strictly from the military class of Japanese society, or the samurai.


Japanese Judo (from Chinese: “gentle way”), system of unarmed combat, now primarily a sport, was like Aikido, derived from the Japanese soft style techniques termed Jujutsu/Jujitsu. Sport judo rules are complex; the objective is to throw the opponent cleanly, or pin him, or master him by applying pressure to arm joints or to the neck. Techniques are generally intended to turn an opponent’s force to one’s own advantage rather than to oppose it directly. A ritual of courtesy is intended to promote an attitude of calm readiness and confidence.


The usual costume, known as Judogi, is a loose jacket and trousers of strong white cloth. Novices wear white belts while masters wear black belts, with intermediate grades denoted by other colours. Kano Jigoro (1860-1938) collected the knowledge of the old Jujitsu schools of the Japanese samurai and in 1882 founded his kodokan school of Judo, the beginning of the sport in its modern form. By the 1960s Judo associations had been established in most countries and affiliated to the international judo federation with headquarters in paris. Judo was included in olympic games competition for the first time at Tokyo in 1964 and held regularly from 1972. World judo championships for women began in 1980. Women’s olympic competition began in 1992.

Philippino Martial Arts

  • Escrima


A Philippine martial art that has been developed during many decades. It utilizes the short stick as the main weapon. It has sport application as well as self-defence application.


The teaching of the basic skills in Escrima are traditionally simplified. With limited time to teach flashy and intricate techniques, only skills that were proven effective in battle and could easily be taught en masse were used. This allowed villagers, generally not professional soldiers, a measure of protection against other villages, as well as foreign invaders. This philosophy of simplicity is still used today and is the underlying base of Escrima. Because of this approach, arts like Escrima are often mistakenly considered to be “simple” fighting arts. However, this refers only to its systematization, not effectiveness. To the contrary, beyond the basic skills lies a very complex structure and a refined skillset that takes years to master.

Other Martial Arts

  • American Kickboxing
  • Muay Thai


Kickboxing is a very western adaptation of karate. In the 1970s, the rules concerning the contact in Karate tournaments were unsatisfactory to many. This large minority went on to start the sport of full-contact Karate, as it was then known. They set up a system where kicks and punches were legal to most parts of the body. Knockouts were won in ways similar to boxing.


Early tournaments were held in ways very similar to Karate tournaments. The ring size was the standard for Karate. Later in the decade, matches were fought in boxing rings. Full-contact Karate’s founders, fed-up karate coaches, students, and financers, liked the new ring. From then on it was called Kickboxing. Today, it is an international sport that’s very much mainstream.

As Thailand’s national sport, Muay Thai has developed over more than a thousand years, originally growing from the necessity to defend the country from expansionary China. Muay Thai initially developed with bare-knuckle fights and went on, seeinmuaythaig fighters bind their knuckles with hemp rope. During this period there were no rounds, no weight divisions, no gloves, with the winner being the one still standing at the end of the fight!


The first great interest in Muay Thai as a sport is documented to have come
around the year of 1584 under the rule of King Naresuan. The king himself was well trained in the art of Muay Thai and so were his soldiers. Soon the art spread to the public and new fighting techniques began to evolve. Matches were held in every town and village on a daily basis. In the 1930’s the Thai government enforced changes in response to the carnage that resulted from such Muay Thai ‘competitions’, this subsequently saw the sport’s entry into the international fighting scene.


Many international boxing rules such as rings, weight divisions and gloves were adopted with many dangerous techniques such as head butting, limb breaking and choking techniques banned. Now in the new millennium, Muay Thai is undisputed king of the Kickboxing ring with the sport enjoying unprecedented popularity around the world.

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