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A brief history of martial arts

Is Taekwondo good for self-defence?

The history of martial arts begins with the history of human beings; therefore, understanding the history of human beings may shed light on how martial arts originated, spread, modified, transformed, and evolved into the present various forms as seen nowadays.

Origin of human beings

There are several theories on the origination of human beings, and one such theory is the theory of natural selection, which was proposed by the English naturalists Charles Darwin, Wallace, and others. This theory assumes that living organisms adapt and change according to the environment in which they live, so that they can survive and reproduce. These survival traits are passed to the next generation, which results in the evolution of the organisms. According to this theory, it is assumed that human beings or homo sapiens, evolved from monkeys and apes.

BBC News video “Theory of Evolution: How did Darwin come up with it? – BBC News”:

Scientists Against Myths video “Evolution from ape to man. From Proconsul to Homo heidelbergensis”:

Generally, the scientific community accepts Darwin’s theory of evolution; however, there are several arguments against this theory. For example, if monkeys and apes evolved into human beings, then every monkey and ape would have evolved, but there are still monkeys and apes found nowadays, proving that every monkey did not evolve, although the environment was the same for all the monkeys. One popular argument is that why don’t monkeys evolve into human beings nowadays?

University of Bath video “Why didn’t all monkeys evolve into humans?”:

Besides Darwin’s evolution theory based on natural selection and survival of the fittest, there are also many other evolutionary theories, concepts, and doctrines. For example, many religions believe that God created man in His own image. The “image of God” is a concept that is also a theological doctrine in Christianity and Judaism. The King James Bible in Genesis 1, verse 27, states that humans were created from the image of God.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” – Genesis 1:27, King James Bible

Project Evangel video “Genesis 1 KJV (The Bible, but every verse is an AI generated image)”:

Origin of martial arts

Martial arts are most commonly defined as a codified system of fighting techniques having the ultimate goal of maintaining peace and harmony; and these systems have been passed down from one generation to the next.

Why fight?

If the ultimate goal of all martial arts is peace, then why fight? Is it necessary that in order to maintain peace, one has to fight? Peace means the absence of fighting, so if there is no fight, then peace would be automatically maintained. By fighting, peace is broken and not maintained. Then how can fighting maintain peace? Unfortunately, the answer to this seemingly simple question is not so simple. The answer is complex, difficult, debatable, inexplicable, and perhaps not answerable at all.

However, since the beginning of time, living organisms had to fight in order to obtain food. Thus, food meant life, where life was equated with fighting. This means that if there is a fight, then there is food, and with food there is life. Conversely, if there is no fight, then there is no food, and without food there is no life. No life meant death and no fight meant peace. So, peace came to be equated with death. For example, the common phrase “Rest in peace (RIP)” means that the person has died and in death the person will not experience any fight and so will remain in peace. This in turn means that as long as the person was alive, there was no peace, as the act of living was in itself a continuous fight to obtain food. Perhaps this primal instinct to obtain food for survival, led humanity to fight, and this necessity to fight in order to live, might be somewhat glimpsed in Nature’s food chains and food web.

Food chain and food web

A food chain is a chain where the preceding link becomes the food for the succeeding link. If a food chain is composed of links named as A, B, C, D, and E, then A becomes the food of B, B becomes the food of C, C becomes the food of D, and D becomes the food of E. This means that in order to survive, B has to eat A, C has to eat B, D has to eat C, and E has to eat D.

Free School video “Food Chains for Kids: Food Webs, the Circle of Life, and the Flow of Energy – FreeSchool”:

A food chain generally starts with plants like grass or algae, who “eat” the rays of the sun, the gases present in the atmosphere, and the water present in the earth, to convert all this via photosynthesis, and produce their own food. Because they produce their own food, they are known as the producers. These producers are eaten by herbivores (who eat plants). The herbivores are eaten by carnivores (who eat animals). There are other species like omnivores (who eat plants and animals); detritivores (who eat decomposing plant and animal parts as well as feces); and more. All species of living organisms die, decompose, and become dust, thereby, everything is eaten by the earth. From the earth, the plants take nutrients, water, and again by photosynthesis produce their own food to become producers, which are subsequently eaten by the other consumer links in the food chain; thus, the food chain goes on repeating endlessly.

The food chain shows how one species eats another species in its fight for survival. There are several food chains according to different geographical regions, and all the food chains of the world are connected in an enormous interconnection like a spider’s web. Thus, an interconnection of food chains is called as a food web.

By: Rachel Taylor video “Food Chains & Food Webs”:

Thus, the answer to the question, “Why fight?” may, although perhaps not accurately or in details, yet may somewhat be answered with respect to obtaining food for survival.

This fight for survival led to martial techniques, which subsequently became codified and transformed into what are now known as martial arts. Therefore, it may be said that the origin of martial arts began with the origin of human beings.

Classifying martial arts

Any study with a historical approach needs some form of classification to organize the vast amount of historical data. With respect to martial arts, the study may be classified according to the different types of martial arts, or the different styles found in each type of martial arts, or the different types of attacking or defending techniques, or the different types of weapons used, or the different variations according to different countries, regions, or cities, and more. Hence, there are endless ways in which martial arts may be classified. One common way of classifying martial arts is shown in the following video.

Martial Arts Journey video “The History of Martial Arts of the Entire World • Brief Martial Arts”:

Perhaps the most suitable classificatory approach would be a chronological classification based on the broad economic time periods of history, as experienced by human beings. Therefore, a chronological classification might be the different economic time periods, such as the hunters/gatherers period, the agriculture period, the industrial period, the currently going on digital knowledge period, and perhaps the forthcoming artificial intelligence period.

Hunters/Gatherers period

In this period, humans hunted and gathered food from species who were in the local food chain.

SLICE video “Bare-handed shark fishing | SLICE”:

Fearless & Far video “CATCHING BABOONS with the HADZA PEOPLE (We finally got them)”:

In this period, the movements of different species of animals, birds, fishes, and other living organisms, were imitated and used in hunting or gathering. Such imitations were subsequently incorporated into a system of martial art.

Orion Jimmy video “5 animal styles kung fu.”:

Agriculture period

In this period, humans evolved from being hunters-gatherers and became agriculturists. The hunting and gathering movements were modified to suit farming activities like sweeping, raking, shoveling, moving earth, digging, planting seeds, trees, and more, which promoted endurance, agility, and strength.

Tia and Paul’s Travel Tips video “Shaolin Broom Kung Fu Technique 🥰✨💥 Martial Arts #shorts #shaolin”:

Martial movements were modified to suit agriculture; however, the original martial movements of the hunting-gathering period were also kept intact and preserved, in art and culture, as paintings, dance, drama, poetry, and other forms of artistic expressions.

Great Big Story video “The Black Belt Ballet Dancer”:

In some places, martial arts were even banned and therefore, these movements were hidden, for example, Capoeira is a martial art which hides its martial movements in a dance form.

BuzzFeedVideo video “This Is CAPOEIRA”:

Karate hid its martial movements in katas, and the decoding of the katas is known as bunkai.

World Karate Federation video “TURKEY Male Team Kata – Bunkai Kata Unsu – Bronze medal fight. 2014 World Karate Championships.”:

Tai Chi hid its movements by making them so slow that it appeared as a harmless exercise, but if the same slow movements of Tai Chi are executed in a fast manner, then they reveal the original hidden martial movements.

Hai Yang video “Chen Style Tai Chi Slow vs Fast Movement Example-2”:

With agriculture, consequently martial arts became a sporting activity promoting the spirit of competition and sporting excellence. For example, the ancient games held in Olympia, Greece, which featured martial movements like acrobatics, running, archery, throwing spears, wrestling, etc.

Simple History video “The Ancient Greek Olympics (776 BC-393 AD)”:

When the Romans conquered Greece, the Olympia games continued for some time, but it is said that they were later banned, and years later, again continued. The games featured martial movements of armies like charioteering, sword fighting, and gladiators fighting till death, which became popular forms of entertainment for the public.

MOV Clips video “Ben-Hur(1959) – The Chariot Race”:

All Action video “Work Together and Survive | Gladiator | All Action”:

Industrial period

After the hunting-gathering, and agriculture eras, came industrialization. In this period, many industries opened up and the world witnessed economic growth. With the advent of industry, martial arts became a sporting activity rather than a fighting activity to obtain food for survival.

The fascination for the ancient Olympia games continued and it transformed into the modern-day Olympic games. Martial arts like Karate and Taekwondo became Olympic sports.

TKD Actions video “Taekwondo Olympic Games Rio 2016 – Best moments”:

By now, many fighting machines like guns, missiles, tanks, airplanes, ships, and submarines were invented and martial arts largely became a pursuit for maintaining the fitness of the body, or at best a sporting activity. However, in martial arts, the basic aim of self-defense remained intact, and this aim of defending oneself, was promoted as a form of entertainment and business. For example, boxing has for a long time been known both as a business and a popular form of entertainment.


Knowledge Period

Currently, the world is experiencing what may be stated as the knowledge period. The digital revolution ushered in the knowledge period and the world became a global village, where everything about everyone in the world, can be easily shared in the form of images, audio, or video. With internet and mobile phones, the entire world can be held in the palm of the hand. All the books, in all the libraries, of all the countries, are almost digitized and can be accessed via the internet. Knowledge has witnessed a tremendous boom and thus, it is named as the knowledge period or the knowledge economy.

Networks Northwest video “The Knowledge Economy”:

In this knowledge period, everything is global. Education, skills, marketing, buying, selling, manufacturing, and everything else is on a worldwide scale. This in turn means that competition is also global. Thus, the fight for survival for food is no longer restricted to a local area, region, or country, but has become global. Therefore, martial arts has also become global and they are being practiced by students from all around the world. For example, Karate is no longer limited to the island of Okinawa, but is practiced worldwide; Kung Fu is no longer restricted to China, but is practiced all over the world; similarly, the Korean martial art of Taekwondo is not limited to Korea alone but is practiced in the entire globe.

Pacific International Taekwondo video “Taekwondo for adults”:

The knowledge economy has globalized everything, yet martial arts got globalized much early on. For example, martial artists have always fused different martial techniques in all the periods, right from the hunters-gatherers period to the present knowledge period. Wherever nomadic tribes went to conquer or immigrate, or armies went to conquer, or martial artists travelled as competitors or tourists, knowledge about martial techniques were gained via observation and exchanges, which led to the mixing of martial arts. Therefore, the practice of martial arts has always been truly global all the time.

Highlight Fights video “The History Of Mixed Martial Arts”:

Artificial Intelligence period

The artificial intelligence (AI) period is yet to arrive, but it has already covered some ground and is leaving its footprint in terms of AI applications like ChatGPT and others. How AI will affect martial arts is yet to be seen; nonetheless, its impact on equipment like sensors which can measure the power or speed of a kick or a punch, are already seen in the market. In the education sector, AI powered robots may become instructors at dojos. Similarly, virtual AI instructors may teach via online classes. In the entertainment industry, martial arts AI movies, songs and games may be created. Overall, the impact of AI on martial arts is unknown, but it seems that it will be helpful.

arvind technical video “Robot learning to fight | This is Martial Art | #Artificial Intelligence”:

Martial arts need physical practice, and thus, until AI technology can make a robot that is equal to a human body in every respect, till then it seems unlikely that a robot can replace a human martial artist. AI applications using ChatGPT are also being increasingly used in martial arts in different ways.


Martial arts have a long history and has seen several ups and downs over time. However, during all these periods of hunters-gatherers, agriculture, industrialization, and knowledge period, martial arts has survived and flourished. Hence, one may conclude that martial arts will continue to survive and flourish in the future AI period also.


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