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What Are Martial Arts?

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What Are Martial Arts?
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The term martial arts refers to all of the various systems of training for combat that have been arranged or systematized. Generally, these different systems or styles are all designed for one purpose: physically defeating opponents and defending against threats. In fact, the word 'martial' derives from the name Mars, who was the Roman god of war.

History of Martial Arts: Ancient peoples of all types engaged in fighting, war, and hunting. Thus, each and every civilization subscribed to a version of martial arts or combat all their own. Still, most people think of Asia when they hear the term martial arts. Along with this, around the year 600 BC trade between India and China flourished. It is believed that during this time information regarding the Indian martial arts was passed onto the Chinese and vica versa.

According to legend, an Indian monk named Bodhidharma facilitated the transmission of Chan (China) or Zen (Japan) to China when he moved to southern China. His teachings lent a lot to martial arts philosophies like humility and restraint that continue even today. In fact, some have credited Bodhidharma with the initiation of Shaolin martial arts, though this assertion has been discredited by many.

Types of Martial Arts: Generally, martial arts can be broken down into five distinct categories: Stand-up or striking styles, grappling styles, low impact styles, weapons based styles, and MMA (A Hybrid Sports Style). Along with this, the emergence of MMA has caused quite a bit of mixing of styles in recent years to the point that a lot of dojos don't look quite the same as they used to. Regardless, below are some of the more well-known styles.

Striking or Stand-Up Styles

Grappling or Ground Fighting Styles

Throwing or Takedown Styles

Weapons Based Styles

Low Impact or Meditative Styles

MMA- A Hybrid Sports Style

Famous Figures in Martial Arts

There are many people that have contributed to the martial arts in significant ways. Here are just a sampling of them.

  • Itosu Anko: Anko (1831-1915) is widely considered to be "the Grandfather of Karate," for his work with creating simplified katas and forms for less advanced students. In this way and more, he is credited for helping the art to gain more mainstream acceptance.
  • Helio Gracie: Gracie died in January of 2009 at the age of 95. He is considered the inventor of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, having taken the teachings of judo and made them less about strength and more about leverage.
  • Royce Gracie: Helio's son, Royce Gracie, won three of the first four UFC tournaments. This served to show the world just how effective the art that his father had invented, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, was. He did this, by the way, while only weighing approximately 170-180 pounds in tournaments where there were no weight limits. His performance in these early UFC tournaments changed martial arts forever.
  • Dr. Jigoro Kano: During a time when all individualized activities in Japan were on a decline (Japanese jujutsu included), Kano invented Kodokan Judo with the idea that it might someday be mainstream enough to become a sport and hence, less individualized. Thus, he eliminated many of the techniques he deemed dangerous in jujutsu and eventually his dream came true. In 1910, judo became a recognized sport.
  • Bruce Lee: Bruce Lee was important for more than just his ability to act in popular movies and the television series, The Green Hornet. He was also an innovator in the arts, realizing that the things that did not work should be discarded for techniques that were effective. He was the founder of the art Jeet Kune Do, a style designed to live outside the boundaries of other traditional martial arts styles. On July 20, 1973, Lee died in Hong Kong at the age of 32. The official cause of his death was a brain edema, which had been caused by a reaction to a prescription painkiller.
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