Monday, April 29, 2013

Short Historical View of Asian Martial Arts

"The Ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of the participant." Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957)

Asian Martial Arts are practiced for many reasons, including self-defense, sport, and as a mind-body exercise. If practiced properly, the martial arts are an excellent exercise,

as well as artistic expression. Some students enjoy severe training as a type of ascetic discipline, sublimation, and other train for just pure excitement. However, some arts have a greater risk of injury and would not be considered suitable as a health promotion exercise.

Most countries practice martial arts, either indigenous or borrowed. Most of the popular Asian martial arts that are practiced in the West can be traced to originally to Japan, Korea, China,

and India. The martial arts have evolved into the variations commonly seen today across the USA and Canada, in mini-malls and schools. Traditional arts, if practiced correctly and regularly, will improve the fitness of the exerciser.

There are some arts that are purely for sport or self defense and may not be suitable for health promotion.

Arts of India and China

India has a long history of martial arts. Indian epic religious texts such as the Mahabarata discuss martial skill. Stick fighting and hand-to-hand combat--e.g., Kalarippayat and wrestling--are true Indian arts. Some martial artists believe that the arts of India were transported to China.

Indian medicine and training methods also were taken to Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand. Then they were combined with indigenous martial arts and medicine. There are also Greek and Persian technological, religious, medical, and philosophical influences on Chinese and Indian culture, and vice versa. For example, in 688 BCE the martial art of pankration was practiced in Greece.

Martial arts were practiced in pre-Buddhist India. Today there are hundreds of styles of martial arts practiced in China differing by region and clan. It is a popular myth that kung-fu exercises were brought by the Buddhist Monk Bodhidharma (Chinese:

 Tamo or Damo, Japanese: Dharuma) from India to the already existing Shaolin (Small Forest) Monastery in China. The first Buddhist temple in China was actually the White Horse Temple (68 AD). The arts were practiced in China hundreds of years prior to Bodhidharma's arrival.

"Bodhi" means awakened or enlightened. Bodhi also refers to the Bo Tree, a Banyan tree called the Sacred Fig (Ficus religiosa) that the Buddha was said to meditate under the bodhi tree and achieve enlightenment. The monks at that temple practiced what is called Ch'an Buddhism. In Ch'an

Buddhism, the focus was on meditation and direct experience of cosmic consciousness. Ch'an became what we know as Zen in Japan. The monks were said to be in poor health and weak when Bodhidharma arrived, so he taught them exercises to improve their health and fitness. There is a great deal of controversy over what these exercises were,

and there is no clear history as to when they were brought to the monastery, but most likely they were similar to physical yoga methods. There are hundreds of variations and, though usually practiced within the martial arts, they are also excellent as exercise methods.

The martial arts developed within the Shaolin monastery are called Shaolin ch'üan. Ch'üan (Quan) means fist--punching, or boxing in Chinese--and was the forerunner to the modern "hard style" kung-fu known as Wei Chia Ch'üan (Weijiaquan)--the"External Family Arts".

They are called "external" or "outside" arts because they came from India. The temple was disbanded and monks were purged several times during Chinese history; the last time was during the communist "Cultural Revolution" from 1966 to 1976. There are other "hard" styles, which are regional and classified by the area name. Regional versions include O'mei (Emei, Ermei), T'ai Shan, and Wu Tang (Wudang) styles. There are modern forms and traditional forms from each region.

The "Internal Family Arts," Nei Chia Ch'üan (Neijiaquan) are commonly thought to be based on Chinese philosophy, in contrast to the "Outside" Buddhist based art of Shaolin. The arts of t'ai-chi ch'üan, pa-kua chang, and hsing-i ch'üan were classified as Nei Chia Ch'üan,

 "Internal Family Arts," in 1894 by an association of several famous masters. In 1928, the three arts were called Wu Tang ch'üan (Wudang quan) by the Central Martial Arts Academy in Nanking. Wu Tang was the Taoist area and these arts came to be associated with Taoist philosophy.

 Wu Tang region has its own versions of martial arts that may have had no direct connection to the Nei Chia group. They were called Internal Arts or Wu Tang arts to contrast them with the Shaolin arts, due to philosophical and training differences. T'ai-chi ch'üan (taijiquan) is the most popular of the Chinese Internal Arts for health promotion.

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