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Where it All Began: The First Evidence of Martial Arts In History

Undeniably, martial arts have intrigued generations with roots back to pre-historic times. Although what began so long ago seems like it would naturally become outdated, the opposite has occurred. Martial arts have kept its core and adapted through the years, but where did it all begin? We have heard that martial arts began as training for monks to be able to defend themselves in an attack, but what was the first martial art?

It may surprise some that the first traceable evidence of martial arts goes back to 3000 BC and is depicted through sculptures. Although it is challenging to pinpoint the exact date when martial arts came on the scene, it is worth focusing on the elements that give strong evidence of their practice. Three martial arts show the strongest possibilities of being the first martial art in history.

Combat Sport Overview

The evidence shows that wrestling and grappling were elements in the earliest evidence of martial arts. As depicted in artwork, combat is displayed in wrestling form, so wrestling is considered the earliest form of combat sports. Wrestling was popular in Ancient Greece and part of the earliest Olympiads. Documentation dated back to 200 BC shows details of how to wrestle given in instruction format. Boxing appears to be one of the earliest combat sports, with depictions dating back to 3000 BC in Northern Iraq. Boxing was and continues to be a compelling sport that has held people’s attention worldwide for more than 5,000 years. Boxing was also one of the earliest sports in the Olympiads.

First Ancient Greek Martial Art – Pankration

Pankration was developed over 4,000 years ago in Ancient Greece. It combined boxing and wrestling with a kicking component. Pankration is not a well-known name of martial arts but is often referred to in relation to Hercules. Mixed martial arts (MMA) are the closest relative to Pankration being practiced in today’s martial arts studios.

Although the names may not be used commonly in studios, the practices are still very similar to those used more than 5,000 years ago.

First Chinese Martial Art – Shuai Jiao

When people think of which martial art was the first, they typically think of Chinese martial arts, and they would be correct. Shuai Jiao is considered the oldest Chinese martial art, dating back to 3697 BC in a legendary fight between the Yellow Emperor and Chih You. Shuai Jiao has evolved since its inception and has led to Jiao Li, a military combat-based wrestling adapted and used throughout the Zhou Dynasty.

Early Chinese martial arts involved wrestling, grappling, and boxing moves. Many other combat sports were introduced during this time, which further evolved Shuai Jiao, which incorporated some of those techniques.

First Southern Asian Nation Martial Art – Malla Yuddha

Malla Yuddha is one of the first recorded martial arts, dating back to 3,000 BC. This combat sport grew in popularity in nations like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal. The story of Malla Yuddha is based on the Malay legend, which believed Malla Yuddha to have super-human strength. Malla Yuddha was arguably the most popular sport for centuries and was used by royalty and peasants. Malla Yuddha was used as a way to settle disputes, and there is evidence royal kings would also engage in this sport. There is evidence of high-profile tournaments in courtyards with huge prizes. Although royals did engage in the sport, when it came to competing, they would hire skilled wrestlers to compete on their behalf.

Malla Yuddha training is known as rigid and a lifestyle. Those in training would be under their guru’s continual guidance and supervision. Bodies were expected to be kept pure, requiring those training to abstain from typical activities. The Malla Yuddha approach comprises four styles: technical superiority, locks and holds, breaking of joints and limbs, and sheer strength. In the 16th century, the practice of Malla Yuddha dwindled, but it is still practiced in some Asian nations today.

Martial Arts Today

Today, well-designed martial arts programs bring history and meaning into training regardless of which art is practiced. King Fu, Jiu Jitsu, Krav Maga, MMA, and Karate all have deep roots in ancient martial arts. The sustainability of martial arts shows it is something that withstands the test of time and is beneficial in many different areas for various people. If you are interested in training in martial arts, SwiftKick Martial Arts is a studio dedicated to honoring the foundations of martial arts while gearing classes to different age groups and making martial arts accessible to everyone. Staying true to the traditions and tenets of martial arts, anyone who chooses to train at SwiftKick will see the benefits of thoughtful and inclusive martial arts training.

Contact SwiftKick today and sign up for a free trial class!

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