Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Legend of the 3000 year-old martial art

I'm sure you've heard this one. "My martial art was invented 3000 years ago and used by noble warrior-monks, who passed it down in an unbroken lineage to us today." The next part of the legend (sometimes implied, but often explicit) is that all other martial arts are inferior, diluted subsets derived from our 3000 year-old martial art. Thus, our 3000 year-old martial art is the best around so you'd better keep paying your dues here and not go study somewhere else.
Think about it some. You don't have to be a history major...
  • Per Wikipedia, Kalari (claimed by some to be the oldest Eastern martial art) dates all the way back to the 1100's AD (that's only 900 years ago).
  • Chinese martial arts (though there are certainly differences of opinion) are thought to be derivatives of Kalari, so that makes them less than 900 years old.
  • The Chinese are thought to have influenced the development of Japanese, Okinawan, and other SE Asian martial arts, so these are even younger. Karate was exported from Okinawa to Japan in the early 1900's. Taekwando is a Korean brandname of Japanese karate, so it's later than that.  Judo was invented in the 1880's and none of the Koryu ("ancient") Jujitsu styles were too much older. Aikido coalesced into a thing of its own in the 1920's.
  • Of course there were other non-asian heritages. You can find some evidence for European and Scandinavian martial arts dating back to the Dark Ages but the evidence for ancient European and African martial arts is limited.
  • And all this talk about whose martial art is older is kinda stupid anyway.  People have been fighting since there was 2 people and one thing to eat.  And any time some warriors are more successful than others, the successful warriors' technique will be studied, systematized, and eventually turned into artform.
So, when someone tells you that their martial art is 3000 years old and is the mother of all martial arts, they are either part of a kool aid kult, or they want to be the leader of a kool aid kult with you as their follower.
And besides, who ever said that jump-kicking knights off of horseback has any relevance in today's world?
Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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