What is Martial Arts?

Young man practicing martial arts - Muay Thai

Martial arts can best be described as a traditional form of codified combat practices conducted for a variety of reasons, such as for self-defense, to get physically and mentally fit, and/or to compete in tournaments and in organized fights. While the term martial arts typically refers to fighting styles originated in eastern Asia, the term was first coined to describe European combat systems. Today, we use the term martial arts to refer to a wide variety of fighting styles from around the globe.

Martial Arts Weapons

Many forms of martial arts are considered weapon-based, meaning that in addition to learning arm and leg strikes, practitioners are trained in an assortment of melee weapons. Weapons typically include the bostaff, Eskrima sticks, nunchucks, kamas, sais, and sword. It is not uncommon to for a particular weapon to be considered a martial art; a good example is swordsmanship – a term used described someone who has mastered a sword, such as a modern fencer.

Purpose of Martial Arts

Martial arts is a combat-oriented sport, whether conducted for fun, exercise, self-defense, a hobby or in competition, the motions taught (for the most part) are designed to defend strikes and attack with strikes, not necessarily in that order. Some styles of martial arts may go beyond the combat-related exercises and teach medicinal practices as a discipline, such as Buddhist monks in China, which involves having an understanding of plants for therapeutic and healing purposes.

There are some Japanese and Chinese styles of martial arts that focus on the non-physical aspects of combat, such as strategizing, out-thinking an opponent, and using wisdom as a guide. These qualities are often taught via a Zen-style of meditation, helping students to achieve a clear, focused mind or “empty mind” as Zen practitioners would refer to it.

What is Considered a Martial Art?

In the United States, the term martial arts is commonly used to refer to a sport or set of skills used for combat or self-defense. Karate, Kick Boxing, Taekwondo, Kung Fu, Muay Thai, Capoeira, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Tang Soo Do and Sanshou are examples of some martial arts practiced in the United States. Worldwide, there are many martial arts systems; some are part of cultures.

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