Martial arts refers to systems and traditions of warfare and combat. In modern days, ring sports and entertainment styles have also started calling themselves martial arts and thus general public also commonly considers them under the umbrella of martial arts.
Origin of the term “Martial arts”
There are various explanations of the origin of the term “Martial Arts”. In English dictionary, the term was first introduced in 1972. The term Martial is defined as something related to military or war now too, thus martial arts would mean the art of warfare.
Another explanation links the term Martial to the Roman god of war “Mars”, thus martial arts meaning the arts of war of Mars.
However if we go into the Asian ideology of the term “martial” it would mean something that is used to end a conflict.
The term doesn’t directly mean the arts of unarmed fight only or ring sports, by definition. The initial dojos in the western world were based on combat sports and not warfare, this lead to the concept that this is what the original Asian (or Japanese specifically) ancient arts of war look like.
History of Martial arts
Man has been fighting for power and resources or any other reasons for ages! The oldest recorded martial arts are considered to be as old as 3400 BC from Egypt. Similar paintings depicting struggle are found in Babylon and Vietnam too.
Chinese martial arts are believed to be 4000 years old. Asian martial arts are a blend of early Chinese and Indian martial arts.
Greeks used to practice pankration and other fighting skills. Romans produced the gladiatorial combat as a public spectacle in ancient times too!
Martial arts in Modern times
Although learning the arts of war isn’t useful for every individual in the streets, it’s still taught and is useful for soldiers, as the wars haven’t ended yet! However the concept of martial arts has evolved a lot from just unarmed combat.
Professional armies train their men in martial arts routinely and also have special groups with extraordinary martial arts training and skill level for complex tasks requiring certain expertise.
The martial arts taught in military are not just confined to unarmed combat, rather they employ weapons training, countering them and fighting against an armed opponent, etc.
Self-defense and martial arts
Self-defense is not a synonym to martial arts. It can be considered part of the complete martial arts, but it’s just one out of many parts. Unarmed combat or close combat is also just one part of martial arts out of many important ones including weapons, planning an attack, raid, ambush and other tactics, camouflage, survival, etc.
These days however, in most countries (not all), the war and fighting isn’t spread to streets and is mostly confined to the borders and is associated to the regular troops only. Therefore there’s no need for a regular person to learn the warfare skills and can focus mainly on self-defense and street fighting.
Majority of the dojos in west and even rest of the world these days focus mainly on ring fight and combat as a sport. Some styles may include traditional weapons too, mainly as a demonstration point of view and not up to the level of combatting using those weapons.
Martial arts vs. Fighting arts
As stated earlier, martial arts originally refer to the arts of war, developed in war led regions of the world and focused truly on warfare and survival against military. However that’s not required in all countries these days, therefore many ring sports and fighting styles also call themselves as martial arts. We can call them as ring sports as they are aimed towards ring fights with rules and focus on not damaging the opponent, instead showing strength by taking points mainly.
Remember that the things that define a true war art (martial art) include not only the set of techniques and components taught in it but also the purpose and reason of its origin and practice.
Just like not anyone carrying a gun is a soldier, similarly not anyone who knows how to fight in a ring is a warrior or a martial artist in true sense. To be a martial artist, one needs to know all the aspects of warfare and real world conflicts.
What is Martial Arts by Doctorali