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The History of Martial Arts

History | 7-14 yrs | Interactive, Reading Pod

This article is for all the fans of Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Jet Lee and Ninja turtles. How and where did the martial arts originate? This is perhaps one of the most debatable questions in the history that continues to puzzle the historians till date. If you ask ten different people, even from the same country, you will get ten different answers.

What is Martial Arts?

Martial art is the “art of combat” or “art of waging war”. It comprises of a set of intricate movements that can be used for offensive or defensive purposes. Most historians believe that martial arts first originated in India. During 11th and 12th century AD, there was a popular form of martial arts, known as Kalaripayattu prevalent in the southern states of India. Bodhidharma, a famous Buddhist monk, learnt this art in India and when he went to China to propagate Buddhism, he introduced this art of fighting to the Chinese. He later incorporated certain changes in the Kalaripayattu way of fighting and gave birth to a new form of martial arts known as the Shaolin Kung Fu.

The need of protecting oneself made nearly every culture on earth develop its own form of self-defense and myriad forms of martial arts are in practice since time immemorial.

Types of Martial Arts


The early Greek culture practiced a martial art known as Pankration, the art of complete strength. Pankration comprised of an eclectic mix of combative styles of wrestling, grappling and boxing techniques.


Sambo is a Russian martial art and combat sport. This combat style is based on ancient wrestling techniques and is now taught to the Russian military for hand to hand combat training.

Ancient Romans

The ancient Romans also practiced martial arts and incorporated the use of various weapons and armours. They enjoyed the contests between man and beast in a fight to the death.


One of the most popular forms of martial arts, Karate, is said to have originated on the island of Okinawa in Japan, thousands of years ago. Since weapons were banned in Okinawa, the Okinawans developed strong hand-fighting techniques in order to defend themselves.

Tae Kwon Do

Another popular martial arts form Tae Kwon Do originated around 1300 years ago in Korea and is one of the oldest surviving martial arts. The origin of this combat form can be traced back to Buddhist monks who studied first in China and then brought their teachings to Korea.

Kung Fu

Initially, China did not want to share the secrets of her martial arts strategies with other countries, but in the late 1960s, China began to slowly open their doors to the West, sharing her unique culture and traditions with the rest of the world. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and others brought introduced Kung Fu to mainstream America through Hollywood, unveiling the enigmatic techniques of martial arts before the common man.

The Purpose of Martial Arts

The truth of the matter is most martial arts are similar. They all teach similar principles, just in different ways. It’s like religion. There are so many different religions around the world, having different ways of worship and different deities, but all teach us only one thing, “God is one.” Similarly, the one thing all martial arts have in common is that they teach us self-defense and increase our confidence level.

For more such interesting history articles and videos, go to History for Kids.