Buddhism is often thought of as the original starting point of modern martial arts

Since the dawn of mankind, we’ve been fighting. Whether it’s over food, territory, family, you name it, man has fought over it. We all know that there’s no origin story for this kind of fighting, but as we grew more complex and practiced in our methods, stories of how fighting techniques developed started to emerge. Nowadays we know hand-to-hand combat generally falls under the bracket of martial arts. There are more than 170 different martial arts in the world, each with its own unique story. Whilst it would take years to read through them all, these are some of the most fascinating.

Buddhist Origins

When it comes to where martial arts as a discipline came from, there’s a general consensus that it was probably an Indian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma. He lived around the 6th century AD, and it is said that he traveled from India to China. When he reached China, he first taught the Shaolin Monks about meditation. Despite the monks taking well to his teachings, it quickly became clear to Bodhidharma that the monks were suffering a serious problem: robberies. He realized that the monks perhaps needed less help with meditation and more help with defending themselves and their belongings. He taught them about Zen Buddhism, the strength that can be found in breathing exercises, and the martial arts that could help to protect them. After a while of using this regime, the monks became fitter and healthier, and the robbing stopped. This success formed the basis for East-Asian martial arts, or at least that’s how the legend goes.

Whether Bodhidharma actually existed is still up for debate, let alone whether he single-handedly invented martial arts. The legend is certainly believable and appealing, but it should be taken with a pinch of salt. For a start, India doesn’t claim to have invented martial arts and can’t prove the existence of the hero of the story. Secondly, martial arts in some form almost certainly existed before the dark ages. People had been living in civilized society for centuries at this point, so the thought that there wasn’t a uniform way of fighting in any country at all is difficult to imagine. Bruce Lee famously commented that humans everywhere perform martial arts in similar ways because their bodies are all similar. Although this might seem a bit of a reductionist statement to make, he does have a point. Also, he’s the founder of his own martial arts movement, so it isn’t like he’s coming at the argument from an outside perspective.

Jeet Kune Do

Bruce Lee will forever be remembered as a true martial arts master

Speaking of Bruce Lee founding his own martial art, it would be crazy not to delve into its origins. Jeet Kune Do is the martial art that Bruce Lee invented and, although it isn’t as famous as other East Asian martial arts, its following is growing and for good reason. Jeet Kune Do relies on no classical movements whatsoever and that is where its beauty lies. This martial art borrows from all martial arts but allows the fighter to behave in whatever way feels the most natural. Lee was fanatical about people understanding how to become deeply in tune with their bodies, fighting in a way that was instinctive and not bound to classical movements. This has resulted in supremely naturally fit human beings who fight creatively.

The upcoming fight between Cannonier and Gastelum shows exactly the kind of physique that this sport would’ve favored. They’re both looking fit so there’s much speculation over who will come out on top. With fights like this on, if you’re placing a bet then it’s worth doing your research first. OLBG’s page of betting offers gives plenty of information on free bets available from UK bookmakers this month, so it’s worth checking it out if you’re putting any money on the game. Although the two won’t be practicing Jeet Kune Do as such, it could be argued that MMA is simply the modernized version.

Mixed Martial Arts

Whilst the terms we’ve looked at so far covered one distinct style of fighting, mixed martial arts, in a similar way to Jeet Kune Do, encompasses all different fighting styles. The first time the term was used was during a UFC review in 1993 when Howard Rosenberg, a famous television critic, used it. Despite this, many people argue over who actually coined the term. It’s possible that some of the confusion arose because the literal mixing of martial arts has been taking place for a while. Interstylistic competitions are well documented as far back as the turn of the 20th century, particularly in Brazil. It was here that the brutal sport of Vale Tudo was invented, which is most commonly thought of as the Brazilian equivalent of Jiu-Jitsu but actually has almost no rules.

A little later on, in the middle of the century, truly interdisciplinary fights started taking place. Perhaps the real turning point was the 1976 fight between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki. The fight, obviously, combined wrestling and boxing, the two specialisms of the fighters. It drew a huge audience and stoked the fire that would create MMA. It took just four years for the official MMA league to be created. It was known as the Tough Guy Contest and took place in Pennsylvania. However, it was not to be for the Tough Guy Contest. The state ruled that the fight was unlawful, and it would take more than a decade for MMA to get another shot at legitimacy.

Remember that Brazilian Vale Tudo we mentioned before? This would provide the springboard for MMA. Two fans of the sport brought it to the United States as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a name that we still know today. Unlike the Tough Guy Contest, it was totally legal and the only rule was: do not kick a man who is down. It brought forth a whole new generation of athletes competing in wildly different fighting styles against one another. Originally the fighters tended to stick to one style each and were pitted against a fighter of a different style. The aim here was to find the martial art that was the most effective form of combat. After a while though, it became clear that there was no one style that was truly superior and fighters began to incorporate multiple different styles into their own. After some tweaks to the rules regarding safety, we were left with the MMA competition that we know and love today.

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