People tend to think of martial arts as being oriental, Kung Fu type fighting. However, the word ‘martial’ comes from the Latin word ‘mars, martis’, who was the Roman god of war. ‘Martial’, therefore, means ‘to do with war or fighting’.
As a result, martial can refer to Western methods of fighting as well such as boxing and wrestling.
These martial arts have been around for thousands of years at least and originated on the battlefield where one’s competence in fighting was literally a matter of life and death. Wrestling was in the Olympic Games over 2,000 years ago.
Likewise, many of the oriental martial arts are just as old and came about because peasants were not permitted to bear arms in the social structures of the times.
Despite the age of these martial arts, they did not become popular in the Developed world until Bruce Lee made them popular with his Kung Fu films in the early Seventies.
It is a little known fact that when Lee was sent to America at the age of 18 to avoid the wrath of a local Hong Kong mafia chief, he hoped to teach traditional martial arts, but was forbidden authorization by the local Chinese community.
There was an unwritten rule that non-Chinese were not to be taught Chinese martial arts. Lee ignored the rule, and he claimed to have been sent death threats from powerful Chinese underworld leaders from America and Hong Kong.
Lee taught martial arts to a select group of famous Caucasians and even invented his own style called Jeet Kune Do.
Jeet Kune Do used Lee’s astonishing speed and strength in its moves. Three of Lee’s most famous moves were:
The Power Side Kick: with one kick, he could kick a 300 pound sack to hit a regular ceiling
The One Inch Punch: he could knock a trained fighter over with a punch that had travelled only one inch
The Lightning Snatch: with his arm by his side, he could snatch a dime from an open hand three feet away and leave a penny behind in 5/100 ths of a second.
Individuals wanted to be able to do the same. However, there are many different sorts of martial arts and numerous countries have their own individual style of fighting.
China has Judo and Kung Fu; Japan has Karate; Brazil has Brazilian Jiu Jitsu; Thailand has Muay Thai.. There are numerous other, usually oriental styles, too, like Tae Kwando and Aikido but also French Kick Boxing.
Some martial arts are more defensive in character, but others are positively aggressive: Judo and Aikido are examples of defensive styles and Karate and boxing are a lot more aggressive in nature. However, all martial arts teach self-control and the students develop more self-assurance. Martial arts are undergoing a resurgence in popularity at the moment, largely owing to UFC fights or mixed martial arts.
You might not approve of the violence of mixed martial arts, but it cannot be denied that many kids are learning a few martial arts, Western and Oriental, because of these popular TV fights.
Owen Jones, the writer of this piece, writes on many topics, but is at present concerned with the London 2012 Olympics mascot. Click a link if you are interested in the 2012 London Olympics Volunteers.