What, Where and When of Martial Arts

What are the martial arts? The martial arts, meaning military, warlike, or fighting arts, include all systems of combat, particularly those stemming from the Asian countries. A martial art, ideally means any fighting discipline, either with or without the use of weaponry. Each nation has its own specific martial art, or several of them. China’s martial art is wu shu, better know to Westerners as kung-fu. The Okinawan martial arts is known overall as karate and is subdivided, much like kung-fu, into dozens of branches. Arts, like judo and jujitsu, which came before karate, are two of the national martial arts of Japan. Western boxing and wrestling could rightly be called the martial arts of the United States.

When and where did the martial arts originate? The answer to this question had plagued historians for centuries. Few documented records exist. There are, however, numberous statues dating back as far as the first century B.C., which depict temple guardians in poses similar to those used in latter-day fighting arts. It is these statues, along with the slight knowledge of the existence of a fighting art called vajramushti, which gave rise to the belief that the martial arts may originated in India. It is further claimed that vajramushti existed in India before 1000 B.C., and was used by the Kshatriya, the warrior class of that period. As far as can be determined, the martial arts passed from India to China around the sixth century A.D., when Bodhidharma introduced a series of breathing exercises to the monks at the famed Shaolin Temple. China was late to develop what is know to the Western world as kung-fu. From China the arts spread to the rest of the world.

What are some of the major reasons why people study the martial arts? People take up instruction in the martial arts for many individualreasons. Some of the principal reasons are selfdefense, physical fitness, the relief of stress and achievement of mental calmness, philosophy, and the pursuit of a tournament career in the sport.

How is physical fitness related to the martial arts? Martial arts training promotes isometric and isotonic exercises. All training, however, in martial arts as well as in other physical activities is based on the development of the cardiovascular system for endurance. To achieve long range endurance one must perform strenuous exercises repetitiously. The unique point about martial-arts training is that one not only achieves self-defense skills, but simultaneously, one achieves varying states of physical fitness depending on the degree of exercises. This dual benefit has attracted thousands of practitioners to the arts, and continues to attract new students who do not want to exercise just for the sake of exercising.

What is the difference between art and sport? Arts, as the word applies to the martial arts, is the specific application of skill in perfect traditional form. Sport, which has come to be considered the antithesis of art, is the specific application of skill to obtain effective results. The practice of one of the martial arts as a sport is not primarilyconcerned with perfect execution.

Why is there so much bowing in the martial arts? The bow, a traditional gesture of respect, has been used as a formal- greeting in Japan for centuries. It is universally used in the Japanese, Korean, and Okinawan martial artswhen addressing an instructor or someone of higher rank, and also when entering and leaving the dojo (pronounceddoe-joe, a gym or karate school). Kung-fu practitioners use various salutations for the same purpose.

What is a kiai? The kiai (pronounced key-eye), meaning spirit meeting, is a loud shout or yell of self-assertion commonly employed in numerous martial arts. There are two purposes of the kiai. One is to startle an opponent since loud noises are known to momentarily alarm any human being, and thus interrupt his thought processes. This provides the user of the kiai with an initial advantage to land an important blow. The second purpose of the kiai is to reinforce a technique and maximize body strength through the expulsion of air. This concentrated expulsion, when used properly, can also tighten the body in order to absorb the shock of any body blow the user may receive.

Why do martial artists use mediation? Meditation is part of the martial arts because the arts are mental as well as physical disciplines. One must learn to calm his mind. A person relaxed and calm will be a more capable fighter. It’s a common fact that tenseness hinders speed. In the dojo, meditation is usually practiced both before and after class, first to calm the mind for the approaching training session and to dispel irrelevant thoughts, and then after the session to relax the body.

What do animals have to do with kung-fu? The movements of animals have been the basis of many martial arts, most notably kung-fu. It is believed that ancient kung-fu masters studied not only the movements of animals, but more specifically, their reactions during battle with other animals. The masters then adapted and developed these movements to fit these studies. For example, it was noted that an animal as small as a cat could easily defeat a larger animals because of the cat’s instinctive thrust of a claw to the eyes. This the masters developed as an open-hand slash to the eyes using the points of the fingers. The movements of the bird, bear, monkey, tiger and deer, specifically, formed the basis of Hua To’s exercise which he devised in the second centur A.D. The noted surgeon developed these exercises to relieve emotional stress and to tone the body. They were later altered for combative purposes.There has been much written and spoken about the five animals whose movements were imitated to form the basis of kung-fu.

How is each animal imitated? The crane, based on exercises to strengthen the sinews, stresses balance and quick foot movements; while the dragon, from exercises for the spirit, emphasizes flexibility and graceful movement. On the other hand, the leopard, a development of exercises to increase strength, is based on power and is different from the tiger, a clawing-type style built upon exercise for the bones. Finally, the snake, based on exercises for development of chi (chee), or inner power,is a method of pinpoint striking of vital body targets.

Why is the horse stance so heavily emphasized in kung-fu training? The horse stance, in which a practitioner extends his legs laterally with the knees bent as if straddling a horse, is considered the most important part of kung-fu training. It is believed that one must first learn how to stand before learning to walk, then run, then jump. Before any kung-fu technique can be executed properly, one must be able to use the horse stance in union with the hands, for without leg action, the upper part of the body has no power, kung-fu instructors contend. Some stricter traditional kung-fu stylesare only taught after the student practices the painful horse stance for a period of as much as one year. This could mean daily training in which a student assumes the horse stancefor perhaps several hours. Most American kwoon (training halls) have a more lenient regulation, however.

Can one be too old to learn kung-fu? No. The television series Kung-Fu has been responsible for the belief that one must start to learn kung-fu at a very young age. However, one can extract benefits from kungfu, whether they be physical techniques or philosophy, at any age.

Is kung-fu a religion? Absolutely not. Many tend to confuse kung-fu with Buddhism, which grew along with kung-fu in the Buddhist monasteries of China. Part of this belief comes from the television series, which linked the two together. Kung-fucan better be described as a way of life. Once learned, many of its inherent philosophies can be utilized in everyday life.