The Martial Arts

Tae Kwon Do
T'ai Chi Chaun
Ju Jitsu
American Karate
Kung Fu
Southeast Asia Arts

Self-defense arts are difficult to master, not because they require brute strength, but because they demand discipline and intense concentration. The potential offered by any fighting system (with qualified instruction) ultimately depends upon the person learning it.

These arts, which originated in East Asia centuries ago and have spread throughout the world, share another component - the goal of study is to develop mentally and spiritually as well as physically. Through rigorous, highly disciplined - and repetitive - moves, body and mind are trained to act in unison, naturally and instinctively.

Despite the elaborate array of kicks, stances, and punches that typify many of these "combat forms," most of the martial arts in fact emphasize self-control and non-violence. Practitioners adhere to strict rules of conduct and bow to their opponents as a show of respect.

In traditional martial arts tournaments, for example, contestants rarely touch one another; instead they stop their blows within a centimeter or two of their opponents' bodies. In aikido, masters learn to gracefully avoid or redirect blows until their opponents weaken or are subdued. And while the goal of a Western sports competition is victory, winning plays a relatively minor role in the Asian martial arts. For the practitioner, mastering the movements and forms, observing rituals (such as bowing), gaining self-discipline, and showing respect for one's instructor and opponents are all significant ends in themselves.

Tracing the Roots: There is evidence that martial arts were practiced in many parts of the world as early as 2000 BC Some think they developed from ancient ritual dances celebrating folk heroes, animals, and nature. Later, the movements may have been adopted by Taoist physicians to relax the body after hours of meditation, and by the monks as a means of mental discipline and self-defense.

Most likely, the martial arts of Asia originated in India and Tibet. According to legend the Indian Buddhist monk Bodhidarma decided to go to China because he had heard that Buddhism had been transmitted there in a mistaken form. In 520 AD he traveled thousands of miles from India to China and ended up teaching the young monks Zen Buddhism at the Shaolin-ssu monastery.

Upon arrival at the Shaolin Temple, Bodhidarma found the monks in poor physical condition due to the inactivity resulting from hours of kneeling and meditation. Like many people, before and since, he sensed the intricate relationship between the body, mind, and spirit. Therefore, he began teaching these Buddhist monks the system of integrated physical and mental discipline embodied in the Indian I-Chin-Sutra which he had been taught as a youngster. In later years, his exercises were further developed and integrated with various forms of Chinese unarmed combat and, it is said, were the basis for many of today's martial arts.

A Wide Range of Disciplines: In the history of many martial arts, practitioners were often trained in the use of medicines and healing techniques. Some had the ability to set broken bones, treat serious wounds, and perform other treatments which would normally require the services of a physician. They learned to blend herbs for medicinal purposes and others were blended and eaten for energy and to strengthen the body.

To stimulate the feeling of stress, Tae Kwon Do practitioners would sit under the cold waters of a waterfall and meditate. This practice was utilized to overcome and prevent the feelings of stress from arising in any situation they might encounter. Some would remain secluded in the depths of the forest or the mountains (the natural training hall) for years. Subjected to the elements, they would seek the stability of both mind and body.

The martial arts share much in the way of philosophy, technique, and training, but over the centuries, a variety of schools and styles has evolved. The most commonly practiced styles are often classified as either "external" or "hard" - referring to methods such as Tae Kwon Do or karate that stress endurance and muscular strength - or "internal" or "soft" - indicating forms such as aikido and t'ai chi, that stress relaxation and control. But, regardless of the classification, all of the martial arts are physically demanding, and mastery requires a long period of serious training.

Basic Techniques: Although hundreds of names exist for different styles and systems of the martial arts, there is a relatively small group of techniques. All weaponless martial arts methods consist of one or more of the following: hand blows (using the fist, knuckles, fingertips, or the side or palm of the hand); arm blows, blocks, and parries (using the wrist, forearm, and elbow); foot blows (using toes, instep, ball, side, or heel of the foot); knee kicks; throws, trips, and takedowns; grappling and immobilizations (holds, locks, twists, levers, chokes, and escapes).

The teaching methods, selection of technique, style of performance, procedures of play or practice, and underlying concepts vary according to the system, the instructor, and the environment. Even in a single specialized branch of the martial arts, differences in style, techniques, attitudes, and objectives exist. Despite expressed adherence to ancient tradition in the martial arts, adaptation to new situations and different cultures is frequent.

True martial artists hope those studying martial arts are more interested in the "root" of martial arts and not the different "decorative branches, flowers or leaves." It is futile to argue as to which single "leaf," which "design of branches," or which "attractive flower" you like; when you understand the "root," you understand all its "blossoming."

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