Martial Arts

The phrase "Martial Arts" is used for various fighting methods that evolved from ancient Asian combat skills. The present-day forms have a wide range of applications. These forms are practiced for physical fitness, recreation, self-defense, law-enforcement tactics, competitive sports, and positive self-development. The teaching methods, selection of technique, style, procedures of play or practice, and underlying concepts vary according to the form and instructor. Even in a single specialized branch of Martial Arts, differences in style, techniques, attitudes, and objectives exist. Despite expressed adherence to ancient tradition in the Martial Arts, adaptation to new situations and different cultures is common.


There is a little agreement about the origins and history of the Martial Arts. Records-dating from at least 2,000 BC-of similar fighting methods existing throughout the world have been discovered, but the Asian styles are generally acknowledged to have come to China from India and Tibet, where they were used by monks for exercise and self-defense. From China the Martial Arts spread to the rest of Asia, reaching Japan last because of its geographical isolation. Although Japan was among the last of the Asian countries to acquire knowledge of the Martial Arts, they flourished there. In the Tokugawa era Martial Arts training was reserved for warriors serving feudal lords and was forbidden to peasants, who practiced in secret. Because of the secrecy and illegality, legend and myth flourished along with the cultic practices. During the nationalistic period before World War II, Martial Arts were incorporated into Japan's military training programs. Practice of Martial Arts was banned after the war until the mid-1950s, when they were legalized and reinstated in physical education classes.

Basic Techniques

Hundreds of names exist for different styles and specialties of the Martial Arts. All weaponless Martial Arts methods consist of one or more of the following: hand strikes (using the fist, knuckles, fingertips, or the side or palm of the hand); arm strikes, blocks, and parries (using the wrist, forearm, and elbow); foot strikes (using toes, instep, ball, side, or heel of the foot); knee kicks; throws and takedowns; grappling and immobilization (holds, locks, chokes, and escapes). Weapons are used in some Martial Arts, alone or in conjunction with weaponless techniques. Weapons include stones, ropes, handles, chains, sticks, staffs, swords, spears, lances, bows and arrows, and thrown cutting objects.

Colored Belts

The designation of skill or rank by colored belts was first used in judo in the late 19th century. No standard belt-ranking system exists among the Martial Arts specialties or among the different schools and styles of the same specialty. A white belt commonly indicates novice status; a brown belt is widely used for advanced rank; a black belt indicates expert proficiency. Many systems use yellow, gold, orange, green, blue, purple, brown and red belts in varying patterns of progression for intermediate levels between white and black belt ranks. A colored belt awarded in one school or system may be compared with and may have no significance in a different system. In some systems belts are awarded solely through competition: winners are promoted. In other systems promotion is achieved by demonstration of technical skill in a series of fluid, dance like movements called kata. Other systems require contests and formal demonstrations for ranking. Belt-ranking promotions and demotions can be made at the discretion of the instructor, the sensei.

Karate and Tae Kwon Do

These are probably the most widely known of the Martial Arts. The principal techniques are hand and foot strikes. Karate is commonly used as a generic term for many styles of hand-and-foot fight methods developed in Asia, particularly the Japanese forms. Tae Kwon Do is the Korean form, emphasizing kicking to a greater degree. Hundreds of styles and sub-styles exist, and all use similar hitting and kicking techniques. Some styles (the "hard" schools) emphasize power and strength training. Other styles (the "soft" schools) train for speed and precision. In some, hand strikes are preferred, while others stress foot strike. In some styles tournaments are the favored training methods; in others kata are preferred.

In many karate tournaments individuals compete by age, rank, and even weight categories. Competitors may fight (kumite), do form (kata), or perform with traditional weapons (Kobudo). Safety equipment, consisting of special boots and gloves, is required in many events. In general, legal target areas include the head and the torso, and points are scored with controlled strikes using the hands and feet. There are hundreds of local, regional, and even national karate competitions held in United States, and competition rules vary. Some organizations host tournaments open only to their members and tend to be very traditional, requiring certain attire and having very specific standards for performance and judging. Other events are open to any club regardless of style or affiliation. (see USA Martial Arts Karate/TaeKwonDo)


Aikido is possibly one of the most sophisticated Martial Arts. It is highly stylized form of jujitsu employing wrist, elbow, and shoulder twists in a formal manner. Proponents of Aikido believe that is it a way of developing coordination of the mind and body, with the purpose of creating a more fully integrated individual. Developed by Morihei Ueshiba in 1942, Aikido is based on Japanese warrior training called Bujutsu, and is a very effective means of self-defense. The techniques provide effective defense against attack by one or even several opponents. A skilled practitioner is able to subdue an attacker without inflicting serious injury. Aikido employs circular movements, as well as a joint locking to neutralize an attacker. (see USA Martial Arts Aikido)


Judo is relatively recent (1882) activity synthesized-from several jujitsu methods-by Jigoro Kano, a late-19th century Japanese educator and sport enthusiast. Originally, it had two forms: one for self-defense and a separate, distinct form for physical conditioning. Today the word judo is applied almost exclusively to a sport variant. Throws and grappling are the principal techniques. Safety falls are practiced in a dojo (a practice hall) on a matted surface so that skilled practitioners can receive a fast, high throw and fall with little risk of injury. In old-style judo, players were matched by belt-rank, resulting in contests between players of varying weight and size. In modern judo events there are qualifying matches, and contestants compete in weight classes. The first Olympic Games judo competition took place in 1964, and judo became a regular event in 1972.


Iaido encompasses hundreds of styles of swordsmanship. It is associated with the smooth, controlled movements of drawing the sword from its scabbard, striking or cutting, wiping the blade, and then replacing the sword back into its scabbard. New practitioners of Iaido may start learning with a wooden sword but most use a blunt edged sword, called an iaito.


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