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Introduction to Fighting: The History of Asian Fighting Styles

By Cliff Montgomery,
In the Far East the hand-to-hand forms collectively known as martial arts were shaped by both war and Chinese philosophical concepts, notably Ch'an (in Japanese, Zen) Buddhism.

We customarily call China's martial art kung-fu, but that term refers to the 'hard work' Buddhist monks employ in freeing themselves of desire and thus attaining Nirvana. The proper term for Chinese martial arts is wushu.

The first authored history of Chinese forms comes from the pen of Huangdi (1122-255 B.C.), the Chou Dynasty 's famed 'Yellow Emperor'. But the turning point came in the early 6th century A.D., when Bodhidharma, an Indian Buddhist monk, brought Zen Buddhism to China - along with a system of 18 self-defense exercises. These exercises came to imitate the fighting tactics of China's fiercest animals, such as the dragon, preying mantis, crane, tiger, leopard, and monkey.

Chinese martial arts utilize two types of styles -- external and internal. External Chinese martial arts use athletic force, combined with speed and strength to create power.

During the early Ch'ing era (1644-1912 A.D.) many revolutionary fighters in the south took refuge in Buddhist temples and monasteries, the most famous being the Southern Shaolin temple. After repelling the Ch'ing these firebrands continued teaching their arts under their illustrious family names, such as Hung, Choy or Li; these eventually became notorious as Shaolin martial arts. The most famous styles are wing chun, choy li fut, hung gar, and hung fut. Notable external Chinese fighting styles include monkey, northern praying mantis, chang quan, and northern shaolin.

Internal martial arts employ slow, graceful movements and use what the Chinese call chou jing, or 'wise force', to conquer an adversary. It actively combines qi (chi) energy, regularly considered our life-force energy, with muscular force to generate power. Styles like tai chi chuan, swai zhou (Chinese wrestling), hsing-i, and pa kwa are the best known Chinese internal martial arts.

Often lauded as the father of Asian fighting styles, China clearly effected the arts of Japan and Korea.

Japan's karate is said to have originated from the Shaolin martial style of China's Fukien province, reaching Japan - along with Zen Buddhism - by the 12th century. Another Japanese form, Jujutsu, doesn't employ quite the same emphasis on direct hits as, say, Karate. The techniques are conducted toward deflecting or parrying an attack, but they are indeed as dangerous as any other martial art. Jujutsu tends to stress throws, trips, holds, joint locks, chokes, kicks, and atemi (quick strikes to vital body areas).

Judo is a popular wrestling form derived from Jujutsu in 1882 by Kano Jigoro, a Japanese educator. Like Jujutsu, it attempts to manipulate an attacker's force to one's own benefit, and its methods include a firm use of throwing and grappling; but as a Japanese -do form (such as Judo, Kendo), it studies the indirect attack against an aggressor primarily to discover its artistry and underlying philosophical aspects, rather than its martial usefulness.

Aikido is, like judo, a Japanese art derived from Jujutsu in the 1800s. Attacks are eluded with sweeping, circular movements. The opponent can then be taken to the ground with sharp, immobilizing joint locks. Aikido is, with tai chi chuan, the gentlest fighting art and is not practiced as a competitive sport.

Sumo wrestling, a popular combat sport, pits two huge men against one another in an attempt to drive one wrestler out of the ring, or to bring his body, under the knees, to the mat. The rules of sumo wrestling prohibit gouging, kicking, hair pulling, and the like, but allow such actions as slapping, throwing, pushing, pulling, and grappling. Sumo wrestlers are traditionally Japanese, though Americans have recently won sumo championships and confirmed themselves capable fighters.

Kendo, or the art of Japanese swordplay, is a sport derived from ancient sword fighting which employs bamboo swords.

The styles of Korea's famous Three Kingdoms were also deeply influenced by neighboring China. The famed Korean fighting system Tae kwon do utilizes kicking, punching, and various elusive techniques. Like aikido, it is an excellent technique for a smaller person to use against a larger opponent. Tae kwon do incorporates jumping and kicking into distinctive actions called "flying kicks." Tae kwon do spread worldwide from Korea in the 1960s, primarily by the efforts of teacher Jhoon Rhee.

In the 1960s one teacher of the Chinese 'wing chun' style living in America came to a conclusion: the old forms had become too stylized to be really effective. Bruce Lee combined his wing chun with all he found useful in other Chinese styles, as well as those from Japan, Korea, and even the Greco-Roman and modern fighting styles of the West to create a new form, Jeet Kune Do, or 'Way of the intercepting fist'.

The present day of our mixed martial arts forms had begun.

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