Martial arts are deeply rooted in history and tradition, with many going back thousands of years. What are some of the oldest martial arts in the world and how did they originate? Here is some history you might find surprising.
Developed in ancient India, this is the oldest martial art in the world, and is thought to have inspired every other martial art form. Kalaripayattu literally means “practicing the arts of the battlefield”, and involves receiving training from a teacher or guru. In the beginning, students practice using unarmed kicks and punches, and then graduate to using weapons such as sticks, spears, swords, or daggers.
Murals in Egyptian tombs dating back to the 20th Century BC depict wrestling techniques. Although the earliest forms of wrestling are found in Egypt, this grappling martial art first gained prominence in ancient Greece, where it developed from a form of combat into a widely-acclaimed spectator sport. Several other countries later developed their own wrestling techniques, including China, Mongolia, and India. Wrestling is now found on every continent, and comes in a number of varieties including beach wrestling and oil wrestling.
Also developed in Greece, Pankration dates to the 8th Century BC. This was one of the oldest martial arts that had few if any rules aside from prohibiting biting or eye-gouging. Competitors first practiced Pankration during the Greek Olympic games in 648 BC, primarily using techniques from wrestling combined with a variety of kicks, locks, and holds. Pankration is no longer considered an Olympic sport, but is nonetheless sanctioned by the French organization FILA (Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées) as a formed of mixed martial arts.
Originating in 6th Century BC, more than ten different styles were created in northern India and the area which is present-day Pakistan. Sastravidya is a combination of the words “sastra”, which means weapon, and “vidya”, which means knowledge. Sometimes referred to as Gatka, it is often practiced as a sport that involves two opponents using wooden sticks in a ritualistic form that is often set to dance music. Techniques are often taught through forms training, and performances often take place at weddings or in theatrical settings.
Gladiators practiced one of the oldest martial arts forms (and the most violent).The first recorded gladiator event took place in Rome in 42 BC, during the funeral of Junius Brutus. Early gladiator events such as these often included armed combatants who performed violent acts against other gladiators or occasionally condemned criminals. Gladiator games declined in popularity after the 5th Century AD, although some techniques were still used during wild game hunts. Modern reconstructions often center around historic re-enactments, although gladiator culture has also been portrayed in a number of movies and television shows.
Many of the oldest martial arts have evolved significantly over the years, while others have been used to develop new and improved methods of fighting. The next time you are training, remember that years of history are behind the techniques you are learning and practicing today.