Saturday, May 9, 2009

Q & A - Descriptive Martial Arts Time-line - By Bradley J. Steiner

Dear Professor Steiner,

This is actually a question from me that I will post on the site.

Could you please write us a descriptive Time-line of the history of what you consider to be the main branches of the various Martial Arts? (ie, Judo, Ju-Jitsu, Karate, Kung-Fu, Wrestling, Boxing, etc and how, where and when they started.) I've read that you said that they began in China. Right? I know this is a difficult and almost impossible to answer question.

Thanks a lot Brad for your time,


Dear Bob,

Thank you for your question, which I confess with all due humility, I am only able to answer in the most general way. What is more, my answer must, I'm afraid, be regarded more as personal opinion and surmise, rather than cold fact. (In my own defense, however, I will say that there is no one who could provide a genuinely accurate and thoroughly verifiable answer to your question. The truth is that there simply isn't sufficient documentation to be ironclad in an answer, and most experts disagree amongst and between themselves regarding the origins and development of the variety of martial arts - primarily Asian, it appears from your question - and their history).

It is actually my personal opinion, after studying and researching whatever information was available to me on the subject, that the body of combative doctrine broadly subsumed under the general heading of "Martial Arts of Asia" had its origins in China, Mongolia, India, and Tibet. Obviously, fighting per se cannot possibly be traced back precisely to any specific time, place, culture, epoch, or group, etc., however, the systematic organization of skills and their presentation as methods of grappling, striking, using weapons, etc. probably started thousands of years ago in one or more of those four places. Doubtless similar methods evolved over time in each of those four countries (which subsequently, and in myriad forms, styles, and variations, spread to Thailand, Japan, Korea, Burma, Okinawa, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Phillipines, Hawaii, etc.).

(Please note that I am not addressing the development of Western boxing and wrestling and pankration, all of which began in the early Greek and Roman societies. Nor am I addressing the development of the Western European martial arts [rapier and saber fighting, the battleaxe. quarterstaff work, la savate, and so on]. All of these are worthy arts, but it is a dizzying thing to attempt to organize a sweeping perspective on all of their origins, too, while trying at the same time to say something reaonably sensible about the Asian arts!

The most intricate, comprehensive, and sophisticated martial arts appear to me to have definitely come from China. China developed many edged, bludgeoning, throwing, and other types of personal weapons, as well grappling, striking, and combined grappling/striking methods. Very broadly, Chinese martial arts evolved along three lines:

1. Southern shaolin external "boxing" (ch'uan fa - popularly but incorrectly, "kung fu" or "gung fu") systems focusing primarily on hand techniques and employing rather low stances;

2. Northern shaolin external systems focusing on foot and leg methods, using high kicks, jumping and "flying" skills, and quite acrobatic maneuvers;

3. Internal systems (of which there are three main schools: T'ai Ch'i Ch'uan, Hsing Yi, and Pa Gua Ch'uan, and many dozens of off-shoots of each of these!).

There are - literally - hundreds of different styles of each of the above three broad categories.

India gave rise to many systems, perhaps the most notable is "varmannie" (although this is not by any means the only Indian martial art). Lathie (stickplay) is a highly developed Indian method, and there have been both Indian boxers and wrestlers of incredible acumen who (like the Great Gama, and others) distinguished themselves in a manner similar to the Western marvel, George Hackenschmidt. Indian martial arts have always been predominantly for self-defense, and the "heroes of the competition circuit" as it were, such as Gama, did not really focus on combat so much as on competition. The combatants stayed out of the limelight.

Japan derived nearly all of its martial heritage from China. "Chi chi su" was in fact the precursor to ju-jutsu, which as most know today was the martial art of the samurai. Every ju-jutsu technique and many, many more (often in more elegant and sophisticated form) can be found in such arts as developed thousands of years earlier, in China. It was largely the Southern Chinese ch'uan fa styles, as well as cheena adi and chi chi su, that came to Japan.

Korea derived considerable of its martial arts from China (the Northern ch'uan fa methods, predominantly) but also cultivated warrior arts and training methods of its own. Later on in Korean history - in the 20th century in fact - a Korean tang soo do expert studied one of the Japanese schools of ju-jutsu (aikijutsu) and, combining it with tang soo do, created hapkido. Koreans also cultivated their own form of judo (called "yudo" in Korea) which clearly derived from Jigoro Kano's Kodokan Judo. Judo and "Yudo" both are somewhat tamer forms of ju-jutsu.

Okinawa developed their karate systems based upon what the Okinawans had learned and observed from Chinese ch'uan fa experts who visited their country, and, peripherally, from snatches of ju-jutsu which were borrowed from the Japanese methods (the Japanese having occupied Okinawa, which is what gave rise to the extensive development of karate there). The Okinawans were powerful karate practitioners, and they were able to take from their Japanese conquerors some excellent tips about using ju-jutsu with their karate. Karate flourished in Okinawa largely as a means to fight the Japanese invader.

The martial arts of China, Korea, Okinawa, and Japan eventually spread to the USA and Europe, and it is these four general "schools" of karate (in many, many different styles) and Japanese judo and ju-jutsu that are the predominant classical/traditional "Asian Martial Arts" with which Westerners have become most familiar.

I appreciate completely that what I have presented is far from a historical treatment of any merit. Please understand how difficult and complex it would be to come even close to answering your question with even 45-50% historical accuracy and completeness.

Fighting is as old as man himself. Forms, versions, theories, and styles of fighting arose wherever man himself arose, and - with not the slightest intention of being either vulgar or frivolous - providing a really solid answer to your question that even most experts would agree on (or could agree on!) would be as impossible as answering a similarly worded question on the subject of human sexuality.

I hope that my reply has at least been successful in conveying an idea of the magnitude of the subject of your enquiry.

It is always a sincere pleasure to contribute to your terrific forum!

Best regards to you and to your readers,


Professor Steiner's American Combato Site
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