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Martial arts history: From Pankration to Karate, The easten martial arts evolution

"Martial Art" is a term used to describe any tactic, instrument, of form of combat used on the battlefield. Ideas such as CQB, Shotokan, Dimmak, aiming a gun, boxing, underwater mine detection, missile defense, wrestling, and Vita Saana are all considered martial arts.

With a better comprehension of what such a term encompasses, this writeup will narrow itself only to a part of martial arts, the earlier hand-to-hand forms we now see advertised in window sales at malls. The writeup will also stay away from Japanese martial arts, at least for the time being.

The earliest recording was excavated in Greece, a jar recovered shows one man punching another, and the two wrestling. The art was evidently called Pankration. It's the earliest recording of a hand-to-hand martial art. This martial art was more of a sporting event, an art taught for Olympic purposes. It contained many of the concepts taught today: upright fighting, wrestling, submission, and throws.

Pankration is rumored to have been a landmark in the creation of martial arts, as it is said Alexander the Great discovered it from Greece and spread its teachings around the world. Eventually this martial art reached India as with Alexander, and Indians took it into their own hands to add and delete to the system to craft their own form of the martial art. The traveling Buddhist monks then took it back to China.

This is where the Pankration story changes into Gung Fu (pronounced so, yet often referred to as "Kung Fu" instead). Ta Mo, an Indian monk traveling to Chinese Buddhist monasteries first introduced the art. The story goes that he went into hiding in a cave for nine years to meditate, and emerged back into the world with a number of physical components used for exercise for the monks. The idea was further refined into Shao Lin Martial Arts, which enabled the monks to defend themselves against thieves. Then the style was spread, redefined by other cultures, and created into the corporate mongrel it is today.

Or at least, that's what people say. Sure, it's a wonderful story, one full of traveling legends, mystical combat, and the type of galore people may not always buy in to, but always want to hear. The real history of martial arts is a lot more vague, a lot more real, and by now where the truth can be spread to larger audiences, controversial for those who like to soften people up with fantasy stories. Read at your own risk.

The Pankration phenomenon isn't what they'd have you believe. It was mostly a warrior's sport that Alexander claims to have harvested from Greece and spread about. The most interesting idea however is that If Greece had the only martial arts, how was Rome able to fight against it? You probably already thought of it; Rome had its own martial arts. All the Greeks did, if anything, was to add structure, theory, and ideas to an already existing art that Alexander's army had (as previously mentioned, an art is any form of structured combat- undoubtedly the swordsmen were taught swordsmanship, the archers taught how to pull their bows, the canons how to build and launch).

Obviously, most countries had some type of martial arts. What makes Pankration important and influential is its tradition; it was used in Olympics as sport on a much grander scale, which demanded greater techniques. Because of the greater importance on the martial art it was able to refine itself to a greater degree than other martial arts. Pankration wasn't the first art that started it all- but it may have been the most influential of all time.

Although we don't exactly know what components of Pankration influenced Alexander, we do know that his brand of it spread eventually to India. The Buddhist monk Ta Mo (also known as Tat Moh) may have or may not have existed, but someone brought the art into the monasteries. A bit of unknown contradiction comes into view now, as whomever spread the art over evidently did not spread the fighting techniques, only the exercises. From those exercises, they were either changed into Shao Lin martial arts by other monks, or others came into China with more complete versions, and they were adapted into Shao Lin martial arts.

It's not hard to see how the art transformed itself into Karate, but it did not happen the way some may think. Some accounts record that Buddhist monks traveled the seas to Okinawa, supposedly a giant trade island, and sprouted seeds of "te," what they called the art.

That whole account is bullshit. The first flaw is that monks did not just get on a boat and travel about to spread their martial art to anyone- Shao Lin has for many centuries been kept secret. Another flaw is that Okinawa was not a big trade island- the bad weather conditions (read: tsunamis) made it a very daunting journey.

The most likely possibility is the sailors themselves knew martial arts from what was combined with the ancient Pankration ways and China's own home breed. Sailors were known to be a rowdy bunch. Eventually the voyages spread their influence into Okinawa, which by now was almost void of any direct Pankration influence, and most likely a combination of Okinawa's home brew martial arts and the Chinese Gung Fu. Eventually the word "Te", which meant empty hand, evolved into "Karate".

Now we have some solid understanding of where the heck this stuff comes from. But of course, remembering it all is a pain in the ass. So for quick reference, here's some pointers to burn into your brain:

  • "Martial arts" Is a term which encompasses any form of combat.
  • Pankration is the earliest recording of martial art, discovered in Greece. It was known for its sport-like qualities and Olympic activities. The significant drive for Pankration competitors pushed the barriers of martial arts, allowing it to become extremely influential
  • Alexander the Great discovered Pankration during his "residence" in Greece, adopted its ways and spread his own ideas of it throughout his journeys
  • India developed the art further and took it into China pieces at a time. At the time it was brought into China, little Pankration influence directly existed
  • Sailors most likely spread "Te," or empty hand to Okinawa. It was a derivitive of the Chinese Gung Fu
  • Most people use the more hyperbolic stories of the birth of martial art to gain popularity. Punch these people in the face




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