Martial arts are various methods of armed and unarmed combat that originated centuries ago in Asia, primarily China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. The most popular styles include karate, kung fu, jujutsu, judo, aikido, tai chi, tae kwon do, sumo wrestling, and kendo.
Martial arts usually have the dual purpose of physical fitness and self-defense. Some martial arts emphasize one purpose over the other, however, the very name of “martial” arts implies defense or combat.
Almost anyone can learn and practice martial arts, from fitness beginners to those already fit. It has become equally popular among males and females and all age groups in Europe and North America. Most gyms, fitness centers, and community recreation facilities offer at least one martial arts class or program. There are several hundred styles and variations and each offers a unique regimen from gentle movements to violent kicks and hand chops. Most have mental or consciousness aspects attached, including meditation and a feeling of general wellbeing. These usually are not emphasized as much in North America as in Asia. The most violent martial arts, designed specifically for combat, are taught in many of the world's militaries.
Martial arts have traditionally represented a large number of offensive and defensive fighting techniques derived from Asia. Historically, the techniques were developed in India and then taken to China by Bodhidharma, the legendary founder of the famous Shaolin School. During the Sui and T'ang Dynasties these skills were spread to Korea, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Brazil. Throughout most of these early years the martial arts were secretly developed and transferred by word of mouth due, in large part, to repressive feudalism. Since World War II, members of various militaries carried the arts worldwide. Information technologies, such as the Internet and social media, have exposed a much broader world audience to the martial arts.
While the words “martial arts” may conjure up images of Bruce Lee films, they are in reality a group of usually graceful exercise movements that keep the body and mind strong and healthy. They can be performed by young and old, and range from simple stretching and meditative exercises to more complicated and demanding physical activities requiring mental concentration. The training is usually done without weights or special equipment and can be practiced alone or in a group. Most large gyms and fitness centers offer classes in at least one type of martial art. Some martial arts styles, such as karate and tae kwon do, are more challenging and emphasize general physical conditioning. Others, including tai ching and chi kung, are less physically challenging. Their benefits include more energy, balance, flexibility, and a general sense of well-being.
There are dozens of martial arts styles, including kung fu, a general term to describe Chinese martial arts. Among the most popular martial arts styles globally are:
Other popular martial arts include: aikido, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, capoeira, arnis, escrima, kali, aikido, kung fu, sumo wrestling, jeet kune do, muay thai, krav maga, and American kickboxing.
Most martial arts involve a warm up to prevent injuries in training and promote joint, muscle, and tendon flexibility. A cool down follows most regimens and serves to reduce the accumulation of blood and fluids in the muscles and reduce the breathing rate.
There are some risks in martial arts but generally they are not as great as in other sports. This is because in most martial arts, the body sets its own limits, making it difficult for sprains and other injuries to occur. Martial arts that use weapons carry a small but inherent risk of injury.
Martial arts training usually does not greatly increase muscle mass; rather it replaces fat tissue with lean tissue and increases maximum endurance, flexibility, and mental well-being. In martial arts, the focus is on twisting the trunk, executing kicks, and counterbalancing hand movements. The high leg kick in many martial arts, such as judo and kickboxing, helps develop the muscles of the trunk and inner thighs. For women in particular, martial arts helps tone and strengthen the lower abdominal, hip, and thigh muscles.
Martial arts also offer other benefits, including improved concentration, vision clarity, body development, aerobic conditioning of the heart and lungs, and training in body control that is valuable in any other sport or physical activity, according to the United States Ju-Jitsu Federation.
See also Kickboxing ; Tae kwon do ; T'ai chi .
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Karate Canada, c/o Canadian Olympic Committee, 500 W René -Lé vesque Blvd., Montreal, H2Z 1W7, Canada, (514) 252-3209, Fax: (514) 252-3211, info@karate canada.org, http://www.karatecanada.org .
National Association of Professional Martial Artists, 14143 Denver West Pkwy., Ste. 100, Golden, CO, 80401, (800) 985-7573, Fax: (727) 693-9581, email@example.com, http://www.napma.com .
U.S. Judo Federation, PO Box 338, Ontario, OR, 97914, (541) 889-8753, Fax: (541) 889-5836, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.usjf.com .
U.S. Martial Arts Federation, 1850 Columbia Pike, Ste. 619, Arlington, VA, 22204, (703) 920-1590, email@example.com, http://www.usmaf.org .
Ken R. Wells