Martial Arts is a blanket term used to denote fighting disciplines. In common usage, the term refers to the fighting disciplines developed in Asia, such as Kung Fu (more popularly transliterated 'Gung Fu'), Judo, Karate, or Aikido.
Martial Arts are, simply put, systems of fighting. There are many styles and schools of martials arts; however, they share a common goal - to defend oneself*. Certain martial arts, such as tai chi ch'uan (non combat style) may also be used to improve health and, allegedly, the flow of 'qi'.
Not all Martial Arts were developed in Asia. Savate, for example, was developed as a form of kickboxing in Europe. Capoeira was developed, under the guise of dancing, in Brazil as a way for slaves to fight their oppressors.
Martial arts may include disciplines of striking (i.e. boxing, karate), kicking (kickboxing, karate), grappling (judo, jiu jitsu, wrestling), weaponry (iaijutsu, kendo, fencing), or some combination of those three (ninjitsu, Aikido).
The history of martial arts is a long one. Systems of fighting have likely been in development since learning became transferable among humans, along with the strategies of conflict and war. Some of the oldest written material on the subject is from the European 1400s, and written by notable teachers like Hans Talhoffer and George Silver. Some transcripts of yet older texts have survived, the oldest being a manuscript going by the name of I.33 and dating from the late 1200s.
On the subject of competition, martial artists differ in view. Some arts, such as boxing and taekwondo, put an emphasis on contact sparring and competition, whereas the common forms of aikido and krav maga actively spurn competition. The reasons for this disparity varies. Many of the competetive arts hold that competition breeds better and more efficient techniques. Some non-competetive schools, however, holds that the ruleset under which competition takes place forms the art so that it is no longer applicable in real situations.
In recent times, various attempts at reviving historical martial arts have been done. Examples of such historical martial arts reconstruction are pankration and the shao lin school, where no continous tradition exist.
Martial Arts developed in Asia:
Martial Arts developed in Europe:
Martial Arts developed in South America:
Martial Arts developed in Africa:
See also: Martial arts film