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The Story of Martial Arts

Did you know?
The term ‘martial arts’ comes from Latin (a language that was once used in ancient Rome) and means the ‘arts of Mars.’ Mars is the Roman god of war.
Martial arts – the words bring to mind karate, judo, taekwondo and images of white robed sportspersons grappling with each other. Martial arts actually refer to combat (fight) with and without weapons — all kinds of swordplay, pole-fencing and archery are also referred to as martial arts. In this edition of Knowledge for Kids, let’s take a closer look at what martial arts are all about.
Long, long ago….
Martial arts were practised in ancient times in China as early as 4000 BC (that’s more than 6000 years ago!). Around that time, a Chinese emperor introduced the earliest rules-based fighting systems to the world. But, interestingly enough, it was an Indian monk who travelled to the famous Shaolin temple in the Henan province of China around 1500 years ago, and taught the monks there the 18 Buddhist Fists. Over time, these developed into the Five Animal Fighting Styles of Shaolin – these styles are based on animals such as the tiger, snake, monkey, mantis and the dragon. You may of course be familiar with these from the Kung-Fu Panda movies.

Quick Fact
The Shaolin monastery or Shaolin temple in China was an important centre for martial arts – many of the modern martial arts practised today are based on the techniques developed at the Shaolin Temple.

Indian Martial Arts
India has a rich martial arts tradition. They find mention in ancient Indian epics such as the Mahabharata which features fights using swords, bows and arrows as well as wrestling. Some of these ancient forms live on even today:
Kalaripayattu – Practised in Kerala and parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the art of Kalaripayattu is a treat to watch, with the two combatants (fighters) almost flying through the air.
Lathi – This is a form of martial art from North India where a cane is used for fighting. Today, it is mostly practiced in rural areas. Its legacy lives on through lathi-carrying Indian policemen who were first equipped with the canes by the British.
Silambam – This is a martial art practised by the Tamil community of South India, using a bamboo staff. Silambam is an ancient art form, and is mentioned in Tamil epics that go back thousands of years!
The Dance Connection
Martial arts in India are connected to dance in several ways. It was believed that training in martial arts like Kalaripayattu would enhance (improve) the performance of Kathakali dancers, so many dancers used to train in this martial art form. In some parts of Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal, a martial dance called Chhau is performed, which includes fighting stances and poses as part of the performance.

Did you know?
In addition to self-defence (protecting oneself from an enemy) and fitness, martial arts are also said to bring mental peace and calm to those who practice them.

Just Weird
Here are some totally weird (and wonderful!) martial arts weapons from around the world! Tekko-kagi or “hand claws” were used by fighters to protect themselves from sword attacks. They could even use the claws as weapons on their own! The Tessen (shown below) looks like a harmless fan, but with spokes of iron, it becomes a powerful weapon! It is useful in many ways – as a shield for fending off arrows and darts, as a throwing weapon, and as an aid in swimming, like hand-flippers.


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