Before reading an article about the subject, I always used to assume that Martial Arts originated in The Orient. The main theory, however, is that the birthplace of what we call “Martial Arts” is actually India, brought to China by travelling monks with a need to protect themselves against bandits and such like on the perilous journey. I don’t know how the historians came to this conclusion, as feasible as it sounds, as there are many possible answers to the question; “Where do Martial Arts come from?”


Really, as somebody who ponders this type of thing, I think there cannot possibly be more than one answer. I find it hard to believe that with the human race, being what it is, spread out over the world with a tendency for violence, and the need to defend against it, then there has to have been many influences to what became Martial Arts, and this would explain, in part, the many styles and disciplines. I doubt very much that it all started with one style and spread outwards from India, evolving differently with every direction in which it was shared. The ways in which an art could have evolved are varied, but not as varied as the direction from which a system can be taken from the basic need to fight in some way and evolved.


Conquerors such as Alexander the Great and Genghis Kahn and their compatriots would obviously have contributed to, and influenced different fighting systems with both the military application, and early Combat Sports. The famous flying kick, as depicted in the popular TV series “Kung Fu”, was said to have been an idea of the Mongolians as a way of dismounting enemy cavalry by using a pole vault to propel themselves to the height of their enemy on horseback to kick them out of the saddle. There is no record of this having ever been attempted, but it sounds impressive.


Another story I enjoy is the origin of Brazilian art Capoeira, which came about from natives rebelling against the cruel slave trade. Capoeira is characteristically acrobatic and flamboyant, partly because it was hidden from the colonial rulers in traditional dance.


Every nation with a violent history, which is most, if not all, will at some point have had some system of fighting, whether that be grappling, striking, or armed combat. Some of these systems had military applications, some were for the purpose of resisting oppressors or self defence, some for sport, or some purely for spiritual enlightenment.


I used to wonder, as an Englishman, why we do not have a native Martial Art, when our history is as packed with people fighting each other as any other nation’s. We do however have some systems. Western Boxing can only be the evolution of Pugilism, where two people fought each other for the amusement of a crowd, who would wager on the result. I did, when researching titles on Self Defence, stumble on a book about an art called “Bartitsu”, popular among the Gentry during Victorian times as a method of defence against “ruffians and robbers”, using common items such as umbrellas and walking canes, as well as fists and feet, and referred to in the tales of the fictional character Sherlock Holmes. There is also a Combat Sport, spawned in the rough mining towns of the North West called “Catch Wrestling”, which is barely heard of in the UK, but is very popular in the US. I would still have expected there to be more however, such as the art of using a quarter staff or other traditional weapons, but then, our feudal systems were not around as late as those of countries like Japan or Korea.


Freestyle Kickboxing was the result of American service personnel, based in Okinawa and Japan after World War II, bringing the art of Karate home with them, and then experimenting with different competitive rules. Another system from the US was founded by the late Ed Parker, body guard to Elvis Presley, and founder of American Kenpo, a hybrid of Chinese Kempo, which was the forerunner of Karate, taught to the Okinawans to defend themselves against their Japanese occupiers in a regime where weapons were banned.


The French produced La Savate, a style sometimes referred to as “French Kickboxing”, which is the result of Napoleon sending envoys to discover how the Okinawans had managed to cause their Japanese occupiers so much of a headache without weapons.


Kung Fu is said to have its roots in Shaolin, where the Buddhist Monks learned to defend themselves when they left to teach in other areas of China, and shared the spiritual philosophy with their religious discipline.


Tae Kwon Do evolved from Korean soldiers, regularly picked on by their Japanese occupiers, being taught a mixture of Karate and other Korean arts, Tang So Do and Moo Duck Kwan, forming a hybrid, which became Tae Kwon Do.


It does seem that some things travel full circle. Many arts will have evolved as a result of soldiers and warriors fighting systems, and it is from some of those arts, that techniques are taken and adapted for use by modern day military and law enforcement. Arts such as Ju Jitsu and Aikido have a range of techniques that can be adapted to both of these roles, and it wouldn’t surprise me if elements of Ninjitsu are used in Special Forces training.  On the flip side of this, Krav Maga is a modern system of self defence, based on techniques used by the Israeli military.


So, going back to the original question, it is highly likely that the origin of Martial Arts is an evolution around anywhere on the planet that people gather or live together. There are arts in Africa, South America, Europe, and obviously Asia, and all have no doubt been evolving for however long human beings have existed together, fought each other or even worshipped together, and they’re all evolving constantly.