4th Millenium BC to Present
WorldwideMartial arts are codified systems and traditions of combat practiced for a number of reasons such as self-defense; military and law enforcement applications; competition; physical, mental, and spiritual development; entertainment; and the preservation of a nation's intangible cultural heritage.
Wrestling is the oldest combat sport, with origins in hand-to-hand combat. Belt wrestling was depicted in works of art from Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt c. 3000 BCE, and later in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. The earliest known depiction of boxing comes from a Sumerian relief in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) from the 3rd millennium BCE.
Chinese martial arts originated during the legendary, possibly apocryphal, Xia Dynasty more than 4000 years ago. It is said the Yellow Emperor Huangdi (c. 2698 BCE) introduced the earliest fighting systems to China. The Yellow Emperor is described as a famous general who before becoming China's leader, wrote lengthy treatises on medicine, astrology and martial arts. One of his main opponents was Chi You who was credited as the creator of jiao di, a forerunner to the modern art of Chinese wrestling.
In Europe, the earliest sources of martial arts traditions date to Ancient Greece. Boxing, wrestling and pankration were represented in the Ancient Olympic Games. The Romans produced gladiatorial combat as a public spectacle.
Legendary accounts link the origin of Shaolinquan to the spread of Buddhism from ancient India during the early 5th century CE, with the figure of Bodhidharma, to China. Written evidence of martial arts in Southern India dates back to the Sangam literature of about the 2nd century BCE to the 2nd century CE. The combat techniques of the Sangam period were the earliest precursors to Kalaripayattu.
The foundation of modern East Asian martial arts and South Asian martial arts is likely facilitated by cultural exchanges of early Chinese and Indian martial arts. During the Warring States period of Chinese history (480–221 BCE) extensive development in martial philosophy and strategy emerged, as described by Sun Tzu in The Art of War (c. 350 BCE).
A number of historical combat manuals have survived from the European Middle Ages. This includes such styles as sword and shield, two-handed swordfighting, and other types of melee weapons besides unarmed combat. Amongst these are transcriptions of Johannes Liechtenauer's mnemonic poem on the longsword dating back to the late fourteenth century.
European swordsmanship always had a sportive component, but the duel was always a possibility until World War I. Modern sport fencing began developing during the 19th century as the French and Italian military academies began codifying instruction. The Olympic games led to standard international rules, with the Féderation Internationale d'Escrime founded in 1913.