Popular term referring to a large variety of fighting sports, most of which originated in the Far East. The term can be slightly deceptive.
The word martial is derived from Mars, the Roman god of war. Most of the so-called martial arts, however, are not combative in their purest form. Some are meditative forms of self-discipline with strong religious overtones. They emphasize a mental and physical state of total awareness that dissolves the consciousness of difference between the self and the world.
It is probable that martial arts originated in India among Buddhist monks about the 5th century BC. From there they were taken to China then to Japan.
As practiced today the better known of the arts emerged from Zen Buddhism in Japan.
One goal of Zen is a state of individual enlightenment and detachment from the world. Japanese samurai, or warriors, found in Zen a means of improving their combat readiness and ability to fight (called bujutsu). Samurai who steeped themselves in Zen became indifferent to fear, discomfort, and the threat of death.
The building, or dojo, in which a samurai learned his arts was originally part of a Buddhist temple complex. The martial arts teacher, or sensei, was the master of his dojo, and his position often was hereditary.
Some martial arts, such as jujitsu (or jujutsu), karate, kung fu, and ninjutsu, are primarily combative. Others emphasize the meditative, the "way of enlightenment," though highly skillful methods of self-defense are part of their training. Among these are aikido, kendo, judo, and tae kwon do. All of these words share the syllable do, which means "the way to enlightenment." Do is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese tao (see Taoism).
In Japan and Korea students of the martial arts are ranked according to their progress. The ranking system has become common in the United States and Europe as well, though the quality of training may not be as exacting as in the Far East. There are ten ranks (except for judo, which has 12), and a colored belt is worn by the student to signify his standing. The darker the color, the higher the rank. The black belt, or degree, represents the highest attainment. There are explicit rules for wearing belts and for tying them if they become undone during a contest.
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Sources: Article is scheduled to be reviewed.
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