Let’s start by looking at the meaning of this term. It is made up of two words originally drawn from Latin. Ars means “skill or ability.” Martial means “relating to Mars” – the old Roman god of war and combat. Put them together, we get “skills or arts relating to Mars.”
The word “martial” has been used in English in this sense since at least the 1500s, and continues to this day – think of “court-martial” and “martial law”.
Combining these two terms together in English as “Martial Arts” is very recent, however – starting in the early 1900s. It is a translation of the Japanese term bugei, which signifies a formal system of instruction in combative skills.
What is important to understand about the bugei is that these are carefully designed systems of instruction. They are sets of related combative skills deliberately structured so that students can learn, practice and develop their abilities under the guidance of a capable instructor.
The term “martial arts” was originally applied just to Japanese schools and systems. Over the years it has been gradually broadened to take in systems of combative skills from many different peoples and regions – China, Brazil, Indonesia, Korea and the Philippines, to name just a few.
That makes for a lot of variety – it can also make for a lot of confusion. So, let’s take an organized approach that will help us to make some sense out of all this variety.
Martial Arts break down into 3 groups, based on their core skills:
However, all of these martial arts systems incorporate more than just these core skills. Judo (the Way of Gentleness) uses selected hand strikes. Karate uses a few takedowns. Jeet Kune Do (the Way of the Intercepting Fist), conceived by Bruce Lee, uses strikes, kicks, trapping and grappling skills. Modern MMA, a popular sport combative, is simply the most recent evolution of a long-standing principle.
The best-known and most widely practiced martial arts in the United States are Karate and Taekwondo – both related striking & kicking arts.
Karate traces its origins to Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands – and drew extensively from Chinese martial arts practice. The Okinawans first called their art simply te, which means “hand.” Eventually, the terms tode or toudi, both meaning “Chinese hand,” were used. Over time, instructors in various parts of Okinawa developed their own distinctive local styles.
The term karate, meaning “empty hand” was adopted only in the 1930s. This happened when the Okinawan instructor Gichin Funakoshi moved to Japan and began to teach his martial art to Japanese students. The empire of Japan was then at war with the Republic of China. Funakoshi prudently chose a new term for his martial art that didn’t mention China – the national enemy – and also emphasized that no weapons were used.
Taekwondo began developing as a distinct Korean martial art in the years after the Second World War ended in 1945. Defeat ended the 35-year Japanese occupation and annexation of Korea. The term taekwondo is Korean – it means “art of the foot and fist.”
The term “taekwondo” was first proposed in the late 1950s, at a conference of senior instructors. But it took many years to gain wide acceptance.
Korean martial artists of the time identified most strongly with their individual schools, such as the Chung Do Kwan (Blue Wave School) and the Moo Duk Kwan (School of Martial Virtue). These schools drew on Korean martial traditions that had been practiced secretly during the imperial occupation. They were influenced by Chinese martial arts as well, as the Okinawans had been. They also absorbed martial arts practices from their Japanese occupiers. The Korean instructors interpreted and adapted all of these in their own distinctive ways.
When the first Korean instructor, Jhoon Rhee, started teaching in the United States in 1956, he described his martial art as “Korean Karate”. As they arrived in the following years, other Korean instructors followed his lead. The term taekwondo was only gradually adopted during the 1970s & 80s – and by no means all Korean schools of martial arts accepted it. To this day, Tang Soo Do (Way of the Tang Hand) and Chun Kuk Do (Way of 1000 Lands) retain their own distinct and separate identities.
At our school, our core art is classic Korean Karate – Taekwondo in its original form. We focus on this striking & kicking art with our beginning students, laying down a solid foundation of fundamental martial arts skills. There is no substitute for strong basics.
Then we start to build on that foundation. We supplement and enrich our training with skills drawn from a wide variety of other martial arts. Ground defenses from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, long staff skills from Okinawan Kobudo, and traditional samurai swordsmanship of the Satori-ryu Budo are all practiced by our more experienced students.
Please contact our school directly if you would like more information about becoming a student with us.
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