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History of the Martial Arts P4 - Moving Back to the Middle East

Updated on December 6, 2012

We start this short history at the end of the chain, Japan, and move backward through countries and time. We will address the misinformation regarding any of the following quotes as we move along in this study.

Japan has been inhabited since the Stone Age. The early Japanese were primitive hunters, gatherers, and farmers. They lived in small villages, growing rice in paddies and irrigated fields. They had no writing system, and they worshiped nature gods and family ancestors. Chieftains headed clan-like tribes.

According to legend, the Japanese state was founded in 660 BC by Jimmu, the first emperor (Compton's Multimedia Encyclopedia). Current history texts do not place known traditional martial arts here, prior to this period.

There is one little known Art called "Yawara"(Karate’s History and Traditions by Bruce Haines) which was as indigenous to Japan as were the inhabitants. It was in use prior to the age of the Samurai warrior. It’s probable that this original Art of Japan, brought with the original migrants, was updated or reinforced by outside influence specifically Chinese/Okinawan arts.

The most famous, and probably the root of all modern day Japanese martial arts, is Ju-jutsu. It appeared in form in circa 1300 A.D. It has several definitions such as "the gentle way," the "art of gentleness," the "art of pliancy" and the "art of suppleness" to name a few.

The Samurai were the warriors of Japan. Bushido was the Samurai's code. Ju-jutsu was the method used by the Samurai whether for armed combat, unarmed combat or unarmed against armed combat. Since the time of the samurai, Ju-jutsu has evolved into more than 725 different styles of martial arts, Three of the most well known are Shoto-kan ryu founded by Gichin Funakoshi, Aikido founded by Morihei Ueshiba and Judo founded by Jigoro Kano (The Overlook Martial Arts Dictionary by Farkas and Corcoran).

There is a position taken by many that Aikido was the art of the Samurai, not practiced outside of its ranks until the late 1800's at which time people not familiar with it assumed it to be new.(Dynamic Aikido by Shioda).

With consideration to migration and trade, the modern arts probably came to Japan as a by-product of commerce. China was the "king" of trade in the Orient at the time karate arrived in Japan so there is no problem accepting that, along with trade goods, the sailors introduced Chinese arts to the Japanese and that "yawara" was enhanced to Ju-jutsu by a combining of the two.

There is also the romantic story of karate’s arrival in Japan. A Chinese potter of the 13th century, an expert in the Chinese martial arts, was brought to Japan to teach the samurai new techniques (Karate's History and Traditions).

Whether by the logical "trade route" scenario or the romantic story of the potter, the precursor of the modern day arts finally got to Japan. The fact remains that the known martial arts were not Japanese initially. The misconception that they are is the result of Japan having become the bastion of the arts today. We must look south for some help.

Okinawa, the principal island of the Ryukyu archipelago, is an island group east of China and south of Japan. Okinawa means "rope in the offing" (Karate's History and Traditions).

It has become a martial arts’ center. Typhoons and heavy storms were common in that area of the world during any period of modern history. It is probable that Chinese boats, sailors and passengers caught in these storms were saved by the string of the Ryukyu Islands (rope) rather than being swept out to the open sea. It would seem that Okinawa was named by the castaways, who became the original inhabitants, because of its saving value.

Ch'uan Fa/Kung-fu is a Chinese martial art. It was taught by the Shaolin-Buddhist monks of China. Buddhist monks were constant travelers between Japan and China. The result was that with each ship wreck or off-course visitor, the islanders had instant teachers while the castaways waited for rescue or dallied while refitting their ship.

Although Okinawa did have its own style of karate called "Te" (tay) or "To-de" (toeday) (Overlook Martial Arts Dictionary) it was not well known until after the Japanese occupation of Okinawa in 1910 A.D. From "Te" are derived styles such as Shorin-ryu (the forest way), Isshin-ryu (one heart-method) and Gojo-ryu (hard-soft way). The Japanese art Shoto-kan has its roots in the Okinawan discipline of Shuri-te. (The above-mentioned Funakoshi was the founder of Shoto-kan. He was a native Okinawan who traveled to Japan and stayed.) Shuri-te was the forerunner of Shorin-ryu9.

There is a toss up as to which country should be noted next, Korea or China. We'll address Korea first with no particular need.

The Korean people are from this same stock of people from whom the Chinese civilization evolved. Korea developed during the same archeological period as China. They, along with the Mongolians, practiced the art of Tae Kyon, a wrestling type of sport. From this were developed other Korean Arts.

Hap Ki-do (the Art of Harmony and Coordination) is possibly the Art used and taught by the Hwa Rang, the "samurai" of Korea.

Other Korean Arts are Su Bak or Su Bak-do (unarmed combat sometimes confused with Tae Kyon) which came to prominence in around 1200 A.D.; and Tae Kwon-do (the Art of the Hand and Foot) which was codified in 1958 by General Choi Hong Hi. T’ang Soo-do vies with Hap Ki-do as being the oldest named traditional Korean art. It is one of the first of the traditional arts to be given an actual name, means "the Art of the Chinese Hand." This brings us to China.

China's "civilized" archeological history dates from about 1800 BC, long before Japan. But there seems to be little agreement on a definite century. Kung Fu is a Chinese art and probably the oldest of the standardized arts in the Far East. Over the centuries Kung Fu has been known by various names. Gung Fu (hard work or task), Wu Shu (martial art) and Ch'uan Fa (fist fighting) are a few of the more well known names.

It should also be noted that in its earliest recorded history, the Chinese were monotheists, as were Abraham and all those "scattered" at Babel. They recognized and worshiped the Lord of Heaven, Shang-ti (Christian Martial Arts by Tottingham).

In this same vein, many modern day Chinese masters refute the claim that certain religions of the area developed hand in hand with the indigenous art. This is an important position to keep in mind as we continue. The arts were practiced before they were corrupted by the occult.

China was the first country to develop in the Orient and became the leading import/ export country. History of the area countries testifies to the fact that trade is what eventually took the modern martial arts to Okinawa and to Japan.

Again, let’s look at the word "karate" which, today, means empty hand. But that was not always so. In developing their writing system, Japan used Chinese ideograms, called Kanji, much the same as did Korea as a part of their written language. Each later developed their own writing systems incorporating some of the earlier ideograms of China.

The original Japanese ideogram for karate was "redesigned" in the 1930's probably about the same time as Kanji was assimilated into the present modern language.6 Karate originally meant "Chinese Hand" (History by Haines).

All modern references indicate China should be looked upon as the founder of the martial arts of the Far East. We disagree.


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    • Doc Young profile image

      Doc Young 5 years ago from Troy, MI

      Hi Joe. Thanks for the comment. Had to delete my original response cuz I couldn't figger out how to correct the time period. (Got some Hub things to learn yet.) I can't agree with your position as to beginning location but the area you suggest will come into focus with several noted people, specifically the Dharma/Damo, down the road a few centuries. We'll also cover Buddhism as it applies here, but your on the right track there.

    • teacherjoe52 profile image

      teacherjoe52 5 years ago

      Good morning.

      Actually the marial arts came from modern day Iran (Peria) when thier empire extended all the way into Idia and Afganistan. That is where Buddhism originated as well.

      God bless you.