WHAT IS MARTIAL ART?

Many people assume of martial arts as a kind of muscular marvel: frail women tackle massive, aggressive males and, with a skillful turn or two of the wrists, fix them to the ground begging for mercy.

This is not completely fantasy. Some of the techniques you may learn could be used, but only as a last resort, as defense in real situation. But one would have to be very advanced and quick in martial arts to use them effectively in this way.


FACT OR FICTION?

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Taakwondo expert performing a kick

The action sequences that we see on the films leave us with a question whether the stunt or the technique performed is physically possible or are just visual effects? The man leaps ten feet in the air, does a back flip and knocks out two villains with a double splits kick before landing neatly back on his feet. Is this possible?

Well, not so long ago the four-minute mile was an athlete’s dream; now it is not all that extraordinary. In the martial arts a mix of gymnastics and martial techniques produce the spectacular. 

I have seen a Taekwondo expert jumps ten feet in the air and kick through a thick wooden board breaking it in two pieces? Can one man take ten attackers at once and beat them? This is no more incredible than other feats on the record.

There is a story about a Karate master who selected a tree in a nearby forest and, returning each day, kicked and punched the trunk thousands of times. The tree died but he ended up with hands and feet so hard that a blow from him was like being felled by an iron bar. Another master worked up so much power that when he punched the ground his arm went into the earth up to his elbow.


HOW COMPETITIVE?

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Spectators at Ju-jitsu tornament 

Martial arts today are taught as pure skills or as sport. Pupils receive instruction under strict supervision. In some of these arts, like Judo – an Olympic sport – contact is made in attack and defense but under careful control, always with safety in mind. Martial arts contest are no different from other competition, with athletes going all out for their teams and spectators cheering them on.


BRIEF HISTORY

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Ancient photo of a Aikido Master

Today’s martial arts have developed from warring techniques, with or without the use of weapons. They were battlefield skills devised for killing or maiming an adversary

Combat skills of some form have been practiced as far back – well, your guess is as good as mine. The first records of unarmed fighting skills are engravings and murals found in Egyptian pyramids dating back 5,000 years.

For more organized systems of combat skills we look to the ancient Greeks. They developed wrestling techniques which, coupled with boxing, became a popular sport introduced into the Olympic games in 648 B.C. These contests were brutal, often resulting in serious injury or even death.

Most of the martial arts we practice today developed from the fighting skills of the Far East. They spread through Asia and China to Japan.

Travelling monks and priests were often attacked by robbers and equipped themselves with defense skills. Peasants learned to fight in order to defend their livestock, crops, homes and families against marauding bandits. They used punching and kicking techniques but they also became skilled in the use of their farming implements as weapons.

The tonfa, an oak rod for pounding soya, and the sai, a short sword like implement dragged through the soil to make a trough for planting seeds, became lethal weapons. Today martial arts exponents still use modified forms of these farming implements.


WHICH IS THE BEST – HOW DO I CHOOSE?

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Judo

There’s a vast range of martial arts for you to choose from. Some rely on the use of bare hands and feet, others include weaponry. Some individual arts have many styles: there are more than seventy different forms of Karate and literally hundreds of different kinds of Chinese Kung Fu.

Then there is Kendo — the way of the sword — developed from the Japanese Samurai skills of swordsmanship. Also from Japan comes Aikido, a defensive art of locking joints and throwing evolved from ancient Ju-Jitsu techniques intended to incapacitate or kill an opponent.

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Kendo

The best martial art for you is the one you enjoy most. People are attracted for different reasons. There are those who just want to have a go. Some want to get or keep fit. Many regard it as a sort of self-defense. You will soon find that there’s a lot more to the martial arts than you thought. Training will bring benefits beyond your expectations whether you choose to be competitive or non-competitive.

In some styles the learning and perfecting of techniques are pursuits of their own with competition a secondary consideration.  In any case the martial arts are not just physical — they are mentally stimulating and they promote self-development. And of course you’ll make new friends, gain personal confidence and have lots of fun.


DOES THE AGE MATTER?

There are millions of martial arts practitioners world-wide and of all ages. I know a man in his seventies who can still make a neat throw on a good day. The arts are safe for everyone if you follow the rules. Each training hall (dojo) will have a set of rules. Safety, courtesy and respect for each other are as much as part of the martial arts as the learning of techniques.

The martial arts have something to offer everyone. People with disabilities take part. I know blind people who do Judo. It’s about adapting techniques to suit their needs. That’s the beauty of the martial arts. Skills can be developed, honed and modified, ensuring a lifetime of pleasure. Once you get started you’re hooked for life.


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