Martial arts, as we know them today, derive from centuries-long war traditions and culture, and they differ greatly from one country to another. Even when martial arts have been present at the Olympics and several other international competitions for many years, they probably became so immensely popular and well known in the occidental world thanks to having their own niche in Hollywood movies.
World-known actors, like Jackie Chan or Stan Lee, helped popularize many of the traditional oriental martial arts, but, as happens very frequently with themes portrayed in big budget Hollywood films, a lot of what we think we know about them might just be artistic license, while there are several aspects of martial arts that are 100 % true and you might not now about. For example:
- Muay Thai fighters break their own bones on purpose
Muay Thai is famously recognized for being one of the toughest martial arts out there. It involves a brutal combination of fist punches and leg kicks, and because of that, it demands from its competitors to always be in an extremely good physical shape.
As some people know, breaking your arm or leg eventually causes that same bone to regrow stronger, so it is almost impossible to break a bone in the same place two times –after proper recuperation, of course-. Well, following this principle, some Muay Thai fighters systematically break their own bones while going through long periods without fights to make them regrow stronger and diminish the chances of getting them broken while fighting.
- The colour scheme of the Karate belts has its roots in cheapness
Everyone knows that being a black belt is the highest degree achievable in Karate. But, as its popularity has increased everywhere over the years, many people have become familiar with the actual colour progression of the belts while you rank up. What most people don’t know is that back in the day, practitioners only had one belt and they used to dye it over and over again while achieving higher levels. By the time they were experts, their belt has been dyed so many times that it looked black. We have tradition to thank for the actual colour scheme.
- Chinese martial arts might be even older than you think
While many people portray an ancient Chinese warrior when thinking about how ancestral martial arts are, the truth is that they might be even older than most people can imagine. Chines martial arts date back to way before the 12th century –making them the oldest of all martial arts-.
- Boxing is considered a martial art
When picturing martial arts, most people tend to imagine a Kung Fu, Karate, Tae Kwon Do or Hapkido fighter. Real punches and kicks flying around the place, almost always ending up with one of the contestants bleeding in the floor, without a few teeth.
Well, it turns out that martial arts are exactly what their name implies: the art of fighting in a war. While modern warfare prevents most of us from imagining a bare-fist fight deciding the fate of a country, the truth is that any sport whose main goal is to physically overpower the opponent qualifies as a martial art. So, padded gloves –and no kicks whatsoever- and all, boxing is considered to be a martial art –one of the most popular nowadays, actually-.
- Chess boxing is a real thing
If you found it hard to believe that boxing is a martial art, you’re in for a bad time. There is a modality of boxing –not a very popular, to be fair- called chess boxing. Rounds of regular boxing are interlaced with a few chess moves next to the ring –in a real board and everything-. We can only imagine how hard it should be to think of a strategy to checkmate your opponent while your eyebrows are bleeding. The winner of the match is whoever KO’s or checkmates his opponent first.
- There are more styles that you can ever imagine
MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) is famous for combining “all” martial arts into the ultimate full-contact sport. Followers and fighters of the MMA are familiar with several martial arts styles, such as Judo, Karate, Hapkido, Tai Chi or Shuai Jiao, just to name a very few. But the thing is that there are literally hundreds of different martial arts styles. Are you going to try to master them all?
- Meditation is a big part of martial arts
While the main attractive of martial arts as a competitive sport is the great show, energy and strength they provide, the truth is that martial arts experts and masters spend long periods of time meditating, not just physically training.
- Weapons are a huge part
Most martial arts appear in our heads as fistfights with kicks and arm bars, but there are several styles of martial arts that base their entire discipline in the appropriate usage of weapons. Qiang, Da Mo and Hu Cha are just some of the many weapons used in martial arts.
- Most of them are meant for self-defence
Even when it sounds appealing to master a martial art and be able to win every fight you get on, most martial arts have a very strict non-violent philosophy. They train their students to be able to defend themselves if the situation comes to it, but never to initiate a fight or promote violence.
- Honour, even at real war, is of extreme importance
We talked before about how martial arts originated as combat techniques for war. The thing is that, even when exceling at a martial art was actually a matter of life or death, every martial art tries to teach the students an honour code that includes, surprisingly, a respectful and honourable behaviour even when fighting an opponent decided to kill you.