back | aamir.org | martial arts | THIS PAGE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS
Martial Art Styles
- Kung Fu
Kung Fu fighters from southern China used low stances with both hands making circular motions. They needed low stances to keep their balance while fighting on boats and slippery muddy ground, common in that area.
Northern Chinese Kung Fu artists stood up straighter and used more kicks to knock attackers off horses. They had strong legs from walking up and down the steep hillsides of their region.
- Tai Chi
Combines the yin and yang approach of beautiful, serene movements for health and well-being with a strong fighting system of self-defense.
The Japanese developed a style using straight paths for quick attack and retreat.
The Okinawans moved in straight lines, but also used circular blocking movements as in Kung Fu.
- Tae Kwon Do
The Koreans added many high spinning kicks to their style.
- Judo / Jiu-Jitsu
The way of Japanese swordsmanship is based on the art of strategy, inner discipline and learning how to become one with the sword.
- Shinto Ryu
Includes a number to modern disciplines that relate to self-defense on the streets and in everyday situations.
History of Martial Arts
- Bodhidharma and the Shaolin Temple
The Legend of Bodhidharma
Bodhidarma was the third son to King Sugandha in Southern India. Kings in India, ever since 1000 B.C., had warriors to guard them and their temples. As a young boy, Bodhidharma watched these warriors, called Kshatriyas, practising their fighting skills. When Bodhidharma was grown, he became a Buddhist monk. Monks often travelled between India and China, bringing Buddhist scriptures to the new temples in China. Around 520 AD, Bodhidharma decided to go to central China and visit a new Buddhist monastery, called the Shaolin Temple. The Shaolin monks were excited to have Bodhidharma visit them because they felt he was a very special man and had heard tales that he performed supernatural feats. However, the head monk would not let him enter as he was afraid that Bodhidharma's new religeous ideas would disrupt his monastery. So, legend states, Bodhidharma sat in a nearby cave, staring at the wall in deep meditation for nine years. His concentration was so total that his eyes had pierced a gaping hole in the cave wall. When the head monk saw this, he invited Bodhidharma into the temple.
As the monks began to understand and accept Bodhidharma's beliefs, their new religion, Chan Buddhism (also known as Zen Buddhism) was born. The Shaolin monks spent most of their time praying and writing about their new religion. They did not get much exercise, which left them weak and flabby. Bodhidarma found that the monks were weak from their inactive lifestyle and would quite often fall asleep during meditations he was trying to teach them, so he decided to give them certain exercises to make them healthier and stronger so that their spiritual side could become stronger. He taught them the exercises he has learned from the Kshatriya warriors in India. It is likely that their fighting skills had existed before Bodhidarma arrived, but he brought with him the development of a spiritual side in order to strive for a state of "enlightenment" and it was the development of a pure mind and spirit that was of more importance.
In time the Shaolin nuns and monks traveled to Okinawa, Korea and Japan, spreading their philosophy and with it their martial arts knowledge. This knowledge was adapted by the different cultures to fit their own needs and various forms of martial arts were being established and developed. What all the arts retained, however, was the underlying philosophy of Shaolin - that the martial arts are a means for developing physically, mentally and spiritually and not just a means of defeating one's enemies.
Lessons from Nature
The monks felt it was important to live in harmony with nature and they respected all the animals around them. They studied all kinds of animals, from insects to large, wild cats. They learnt animal stances and movements that they added to the exercises.
Some of the animals the monks imitated in practice:
- The patience and speed of the praying mantis
- The snake's ability to rapidly strike sensitive areas on their prey
- One-legged stance of the crane for balance
- The monkey's somersaulting from side to side and back and forth
- Jumping kicks used by deer
- Tiger's cla strike with curved fingers aimed at the attacker's face and eyes
- Strong and solid stance of the horse and it's rider
In addition, the monks also wanted to possess the power of the mythical dragons in Chinese culture. When someone fought with the spirit of a dragon, they were said to have it's amazing power.
A Way of Life
The monks named Bodhidharma's exercises The Eighteen Hands of the Lo Han, meaning exercises for the ultimate - or greatest - holiness. Several centuries after Bodhidharma's death, Shaolin monks were still practising The Eighteen Hands of the Lo Han. These exercises were practised for strength and general health not for fighting. However, bandits were a threat to the monks when they travelled. The monks believed life was sacred and should be defended. They would never start a fight, but they would fight to save their lives and protect their temple. They created more exercises for self-defense and practised punching, kicking and blocking. They found that ch'i breathing, which helped then feel calm inside, also helped to increase their striking power. What had given them evergy to pray also gave them energy to fight.
The Shaolin monks eventually developed a complete fighting style for self-defense. In China, it is called Wu Shu. Wu (Martial) by itself, simply means fighting, but combined with Shu (Arts), gives it a deeper meaning. In Western countries, it is known as Kung Fu.
Fighting for the Emperor
Even the rulers of China asked the Shaolin monks to help fight their enemies. In A.D. 621, about a hundred years after Bodhidharma's visit, Shaolin monks helped rescue Prince Li from rebel armies. The monks' fighting skills were becoming much more combative and they effectively used many weapons, including the spear, sword and ax. The number of warrior monks grew and their skills were legendary. Around 1674, the emperor started getting afraid of their fighting abilities. Since they were such a huge force that was not under his direct control, he turned against them. In a surprise attack, the emperor's soldiers surrounded and burned the Shaolin Temple.
The temple was not totally destroyed by the fire. Many years later, Buddhist monks returned to live there again. Today, it is fully renovated and honors it's famous history with life-statues of Shaolin monks in the courtyard. More than 200 sculptures show historic scenes of the monks preparing for Bodhisharma's visit, doing Kung Fu strengthening and fighting enemy warriors with weapons and bare hands.
Origin - Karate on Okinawa
For many centuries, pirates and outlaws tried to steal anything they could from fishermen, farmers and townspeople along the coast of Okinawa. Okinawa is now a part of Japan, but the island once was independent. Back then, Okinawans were too poor to buy swords or knives so they used their farming tools as weapons. The Okinawan fighting stylem, called te, which means hand, was used for self-defense. Some Okinawans also learned Kung Fu techniques from Chinese immigrants and Buddhist missionaries living in Okinawa.
Wealthy landowners, though, did have swords and knives and constantly fought amongst themselves over land. In 1478, king Sho Shin ordered a ban on ownership of all weapons. This was enforced by his soldiers who gathered up all the weapons.
Life on Okinawa changed in 1609, when a well-armed Japanese military force invaded. The Okinawan forces were no match for the well-armed Japanese. The Japanese continued the ban on weapons, making it a criminal offense with severe punishment. The Japanese also outlawed Te and Kung Fu, but this only made the Okinawans want to practice their martial arts even more. They did so in secret.
Trade between China and Okinawa had gone on for centuries and continued under Japanese rule. Okinawans saw demonstrations of Kung Fu and at the same time, Chinese immigrants and Buddhist monks brought their knowledge of Kung Fu to Okinawa. The Okinawans add Kung Fu techniques to their martial art style, Te, and by the eighteenth century, a new style became known on Okinawa, as Karate. Kara for "China" and Te meaning "hand". The name China Hand was chosen because much of the Okinawan fighting art was influenced by the Chinese style.
Karate becomes legal
Military doctors doing routine physical examinations of high school students noticed a particularly strong and physically fit group of young men. The doctors discovered tht these men had been practising karate. On seeing a demonstration, the Okinawan education department permitted karate in all physical education classes beginning in 1902.
Modern Karate - Gichin Funakoshi
Gichin Funakoshi was born in the city of Shuri on the island of Okinawa in 1868. He trained under Master Azato. Funakoshi would train himself against nature by climbing up on his slippery tiled roof during tyhoons and stand in the horse stance. When Funakoshi was 53 years old, he performed a karate demonstration for Japan's Prince Hirohito. The prince was so impressed that he invited Funakoshi to demostrate the little-known Okinawan art of karate at an exhibition in Japan. While there for the event in 1922, Funakoshi met Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, who asked Funakoshi to stay in Tokyo and teach him some basic karate moves. Funakoshi was honored by the request and remained in Japan to teach him. When others who had seen his demonstration came to him for instruction, Funakoshi realized that if he wanted to introduce karate to the people of Japan, he would have to stay in Tokyo. Gradually, students, including women, from several universities around Tokyo became interested in karate and came to his dojo. He was also invited to give karate lessons at Japanese naval and military academies. After he had taught karate in Japan for 14 years, his supporters raised enough money to build a dojo specifically for karate. It was completed in 1936.
Funakoshi was so successful at introducing karate to Japan, that today karate is often thought of as a Japanese martial art. And Gichin Funakoshi is called one of the fathers of modern karate.
- Japan's Samurai and Ninjas
From the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries, ninjas worked as spies for Japan's elite warriors, the samurai. During this time, Japan was ruled by several clans. Each clan had it's own armies, led by Samurai. In battle, the samurai commanded the foot soldies from their horses. Armed with bows and arrows and their swords, the samurai dressed in armor and wore terrifying helmets with larges ornaments on top. This showed their powerful status in Japanese society.
Samurai considered many tasks, like spying, to be dishonorable, so they hired Ninjas to be their spies. Ninjas were feared, but not respected. If they were caught, they were tortured and executed. Ninjas were loyal to one samurai clan and would risk their lives for their samurai when needed.
Class distinctions were strict and a child born to a samurai family would become a samurai. A person could not choose to be a ninja unless he or she were born into a ninja family. Ninja secrets were thus kept guarded among their family and clan.
Ninjas used many disguises in their work, often dressing entirely in black clothing because they frequently worked at night. They would wear all white if they needed to work in snow or green as camouflage in forests or even all gray, so that they could quickly curl up and lie perfectly still among the rocks if someone came by. They were known for their incredible "art of invisibility" (which is the meaning of ninjutsu). On top of their clothes, they wore an Obi, a 9-foot cloth belt or sash, crisscrossed over their chest and back. The Obi had many uses - as a climbing rope, bandage or place to conceal weapons.
Ninjas were weapons experts and could use the bow and arrow, swords, spears, bo, nunchaku, sai and katana sword. The Halberd, an 8-foot staff with a blade attached to the end was particularly useful for attacking a rider on horseback. Ninjas often hid Shuriken throwing bladed in their Obi. Shuriken are flat, star-shaped knives with three to eight points. Ninjas could throw them accurately as far as 35 feet. Ninjas learned how to prepare herbs and chemicals to use as medicines and poisons.
Sometimes their trickery, weapons and ability to hide in shadows were not enough. They also had to know how to fight with their hands. They called their style taijutsu. Like most other early martial art forms, taijutsu was influenced by Chinese martial arts. Ancient scrolls indicate that several Chinese generals fled their homeland to live in the safety of Japan's mountains when the Tang dynasty of China collapsed around AD 900. These Chinese warriors had been trained in kung fu and in the ways of the Buddhist monks.
More recent times
More peaceful times came to Japan by the seventeenth century when the country was brought under the rule of one powerful landowner, Iyeyasu Tokugawa. In times of peace, ninjas weren't needed to spy on the clans. Many ninjas went to work for Tokugawa as part of a secret police he formed for his protection. Other ninjas secretly did police work for hire while living otherwise normal lives. Over the next 200 years, many of the closely guarded secrets and techniques of ninja training were forgotten as the need for ninja services faded under new government policies. Modern Japanese culture considered ninja actiivities barbaric. The only authentic historical ninjutsu system still practiced in Japan has been inherited by grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi. He was chosen and trained in the ninja secrets of that clan by it'slast surviving member, Takamatsu. Hatsumi has trained only a few Japanese and one American, Stephen Hayes, in these secrets. Stephen Hayes brought the art of ninjutsu to America.
Origin - Judo's gentle giant: Jigoro Kano
In the 1800s, Japan went through the Meiji Restoration era. Jigoro Kano was born in 1860 during this time of change in Japan. Through his college years, he practiced the martial art of jujutsu, the art of flexibility. Kano realized that he would need to change jujutsu from a rough and dangerous combat fighting method to a sport that emphasised health benefits for it to fit into modern Japanese society. By the time he had graduated from University of Tokyo, he had succeeded in changing jujutsu into a new sport he named judo. Judo translated into gentle or flexible way. A judo practitioner uses the attacker's own force against him or her by grabbing and throwing the attacker as he or she attacks. Kano developed a complete system of judging and scoring judo. Locking joints, throwing and pinning the opponent on a mat score points.
Propagation of Judo
Jigoro Kano opened the first judo training hall in Tokyo in 1882, called Kodokan Judo Institute. He travelled around the world giving judo demonstrations. Judo became the most popular sport in Japan because Kano convinced the Japanese education department to include judo in every school by 1911. Judo was the first of the martial arts to come to America. The first judo training hall in the United States, located in Seattle, Washington, was established with Kano's help in 1903. Kano's dream was for judo to be a sport in the Olympic Games. In 1911, he became the first Japanese member of the IOC. He promoted judo to the Olympic Committed, but it wasn't until 1964, several years after his death, that judo became a regular event in the Olympic Games.
- Tae Kwon Do
In ancient times, the coast of Korea, like Okinawa, was frequently attacked by pirates. Korean warriors fought them with bows and arrows, swords and unarmed combat techniques they called 'taekyon'. Taekyon was taught at a military academy called the Society of Hwanrang-do, but these techniques were only taught to students from royal or noble families. Taekyon suddenly became very popular when Japan overtook Korea in 1909 and banned all military arts. Instead of quitting their practices, the Koreans became more interested in martial arts than before and secretly studied it.
More recent times
Korea regained it's independence in 1945 when Japan was defeated in World War II. In 1948, Korea split into North and South Korea. Taekyon became part of the regular training for the new South Korean military. In 1955, most of the martial arts schools from different regions of South Korea were united into one system with the same set of rules. By 1957, the masters of the various schools agreed to name the official Korean martial art, tae kwon do. Tae means "foot", kwon means "fist", and do means "way". Tae kwon do translates into "way of the foot and fist".
Today (2002) Tae kwon do is one of the most popular martial arts worldwide. It was an official demonstration sport in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games.
- The Story of Karate - From Buddhism to Bruce Lee
by Luana Metil and Jace Townsend, (c) 1995, Lerner Publications Company
- KUNG FU, Tae Kwon Do, Tai Chi, Kendo, Iaido and Shinto Ryu - A Practical Guide
by Fay Goodman, (c) Anness Publishing Limited (Hermer House) 1998
- The Complete Idiot's Guide To Martial Arts
by Cezar Borkowski and Marion Manzo, (c) ?, alpha books
- Conversations with the Master: Masatoshi Nakayama
by Randall G. Hassell (ISBN 0-911921-00-1)
Copyright © 2003 Aamir Khwaja. All rights reserved.