What is a martial art, in reality? The term is modern in usage; and, is understood to denote training involving individual combat with ancient warrior traditions behind it. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality a martial art would be, "A skill for the Armed Forces of a nation; designed for people whose profession is to fight." Training consists of learning the most effective techniques that can be used in military combat; where the outcome is life or death. Used in coordination with other unit members, these techniques were created to carry out government policy, with full scale assaults in mind, wearing weapons and armor. No soldier would have the foolish idea of going on a battlefield barefoot and wearing nothing but pajamas; while thousands of the enemy, wearing armor and armed to the teeth, are about to charge. The "Wu-Bei-Zhi" (an encyclopedic treatise on war and the arts of combat), published in China during the Ming dynasty (circa 1621), states, "The art of empty-handed combat has no use in battle, but is the foundation of every weapon's training." Empty-handed combat has it's very specific purpose: When you find yourself accidentally disarmed on a battlefield (broken, malfunctioning weapon, etc.), you must disarm an opponent who is attacking you, turn his own weapon against him, and keep on fighting with the newly obtained weapon. If you want to learn a "Real Martial Art ", you'll have to join the military! However, the modern usage allows for charlatans, the irremissibly deluded, "martial art's warriors ", not to mention the dysfunctional, to make all sorts of fanciful claims about "secrets" (ancient or military that they teach) or "lineages" of ancient (original) knowledge.
If you want to know more about this, read: http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/MAculture.html Read ALL of the links in the article (it is massive) to understand exactly how I feel about this subject. (Those of you living in "Fantasy Land" or on "Cult Island" will probably be insulted.)
Modern Sport Karate dates back to 1905 when Chomo Hanashiro and Anko Itosu began promoting the idea of Karate's inclusion into Okinawa's physical education school curriculum. Due to the fact it was to be taught to children in large groups, new kata were introduced, older kata were modified and complicated lethal movements were eliminated. In 1922 Gichen Funakoshi introduced Karate to Japan. He modified and changed it to better suit the personality of the Japanese higher classes. It was the Japanese university students who brought the competitive side of Karate to full bloom after Funakoshi's death. In order to preserve human dignity as well as life, the Japanese pulled their punches and kicks when competing. This formed the basis of the sport that is now called "Traditional" Karate. In Japan, this concept worked well, given the high quality and standards of judging and judges. In the U.S., and most of the world, the judges never achieved these same standards; and, in the years following the late 60's, we saw a decline in the performance and quality of the competitors. Soon, the entire concept of sparring was changed, in so called 'open' tournaments, from an attempt display skill, to a game of tag, in which the players resorted to flashy, ineffective, crowd-pleasing techniques. The players lost the ability to really fight, and gained only the ability to entertain. 'Open', 'Musical', and 'Team' kata soon followed; along with, lightweight and toy weapons in the 'Kobudo' kata section. The current wave of so called 'Full Contact' Sport Karate is a backlash to the silly antics of today's modern competitors in 'Point' Karate. Kata competition never recovered; as, it is part of the 'entertainment' for the evening show.
Due to the amount of time spent training for sport, self defense is sadly neglected by most Sport Karate schools. Those who teach Jujutsu or Aikido, to supplement the lack of Karate techniques of self-defense, tend to abandon Kata and weapons training. Sport Karate tends to develop in its practitioners aggressive behavior traits and patterns of movement which are counter productive to the goals of good character training; not to mention the related health and injury problems that occur in later life.
Taekwondo, today, is a modern Olympic sport. Taekwondo is not thousands of years old. It dates from after WWII. It is a Korean version of Shotokan Karate. Something like Shotokan on steroids. Originally promoted by Gen. Choi Hong Hi of Oh Do Kwan, it combines the basic superficial features of Northern Chinese kicking arts with Japanese Sport Karate and what the Koreans call Taek Kyon, an old native foot fighting art. However, as General Choi says in his book "Tae Kwon Do (the Korean art of self defense)" copyright 1972 on page 9, "Confusion has recently arisen by the use of the terminology "Tae Kwon Do, the Korean art of self defense." I emphasize the word Korean. Today in the Republic of South Korea, it is becoming the practice to indiscriminately apply the word Tae Kwon Do to a bastardized imitation of the real original Korean martial art. …. It is also true that the basis of Taekwondo goes back to the ancient past of Korea, but to call Taekwondo purely Korean is somewhat like one country claiming to have introduced fire."...Around 1960, a huge split occurred in the Moo Duk Kwan system because of politics which invaded the Martial Arts. In the end Taekwondo was the offspring of the Moo Duk Kwan system. Taekwondo is more of a sport; it's a game. They are under the Korean Athletic Association (like the AAU in the United States)." In school Korean children are taught Taekwondo just like American children are taught baseball, for sport. While it is true that it is taught to soldiers in the R.O.K. Army, it is used for physical fitness and "esprit de corps".
The original Kata were from Okinawa. In the late 1960's these were broken down and recombined into "new" forms. As the Koreans never understood the old Kata, they must teach a form of Aikido they call Hapkido for self-defense. They emphasize flashy high kicks and jumping (flying) kicks. As spectacular as these may appear they are highly ineffective on the street. No one will stand still while another runs and jumps at him. And, with minimal training, it is virtually impossible to kick someone in the head. The Japanese remember the Koreans from before 1920 and they remember nothing of any Koreans fighting with Karate like techniques. They are famous, however, in Japan for head butting when fighting. It is interesting to note, in our country and around the world there are thousands of Korean Tae Kwon Do instructors. Yet from Japan and Okinawa (the birthplace of Karate) there are only a few hundred. Taekwondo is good for those who want to be Olympic athletes; but not for self defense. It approaches criminal incompetence to teach it for self defense.
Founded by Mas Oyama (Yong I-Choi), a Korean, Kyokushinkai Karate is like most "traditional karate" with the exception of its extremely difficult physical contact and conditioning regimen. It is known for its "full contact" tournaments and training. However, in order to hold down injuries, they do not allow punching to the head nor kicks to the groin; both of which are allowed in the "bogu kumite" of Ryukyu Kenpo.
Founded by James Mitose, most of what is taught in the U.S. is based on the teachings of Ed Parker. Kenpo teaches a highly theoretical art of kicking and punching. The techniques are flashy and overkill is abundant. However, a distinct lack of knowledge of counters to grappling techniques is evident, as is a lack of weapon knowledge. The entire system is a long drawn out kick-punch art that merely combines blocks, punches, and kicks in ever increasing complexity without ever delving into the deeper knowledge available. Many times, instructors must resort to incorporating material from other systems to increase the knowledge base.
Founded by Imi Sde-Or, Krav Maga is the hand to hand combat taught to the Israeli Defense Forces. Keeping this in mind, one realizes it has to be easy to learn and employ within the shortest possible training period. It is important that a soldier's proficiency can be maintained with minimal review and practice. Trying to reinvent the wheel is difficult; and, owing to the fact Krav Maga is just 60 years old it still has a LONG way to go before it is something worth spending a lot of time learning. It still has major flaws in theory and application that need to be corrected. While there is good in it, there are, also, ideas that can get you hurt - terminally.
The slang term, Kung Fu refers to Chinese boxing. It is a generic term covering over 2,000 different systems of Chinese fighting arts. It, generally, includes the 'external' schools in its scope; although, nowadays, its use encompasses the internal systems such as Tai Chi, Pa Kua, Hsing I, and others. Wushu, a thoroughly modern invention of Communist China in the 1950's, is an excellent example of "Sport Kung Fu". Ryukyu Kenpo Kobujutsu is an Okinawan based "Kung Fu" system that is not considered "Flowery Hands".
Aikido should not even be listed here as it has little to do with the boxing arts. Morihei Ueshiba founded Aikido after spending 22 years (1915-1937) studying and teaching Daito-ryu under Sokaku Takeda. Aikido is, basically, a watered down, softer version of Daito-ryu; in line with the new age Japanese Omoto religion's philosophy embraced by Ueshiba. What is taught today is nothing like the art the founder practiced in his lifetime. It is good for those who enjoy a cult like atmosphere and want the benefits of training; but, are not interested in self defense (read - Macho Posturing).
There are so many new things coming on the scene that it is impossible to keep track of, much less list, all of them. One of the latest is the Brazilian folk-dance known as Capoeira. Another is what is called MMA. MMA means nothing and can be anything. It is a sport; and not anything exceptional for the street. The only thing to keep in mind is: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Hard work is the real secret to "Martial Arts" training. One thing I have noticed in a lifetime of study and practice is: As you climb higher on the mountain, not only does your view change; but, also, the knowledge that not all paths lead to the top.