What You Don't Know About the Origins of these 12 Martial Arts
What You Don’t Know About the Origins of these 12 Martial Arts

What You Don’t Know About the Origins of these 12 Martial Arts

Mike Wood - March 4, 2018

What You Don’t Know About the Origins of these 12 Martial Arts
Servet Tazegul of Turkey (left) kicks Great Britain’s Martin Stamper during the Olympic Games in London. Taekwondo Wikia.

11 – Taekwondo (1940s)

“The most difficult part of traditional taekwondo is not learning the first kick or punch. It is not struggling to remember the motions of a poomsae or becoming acquainted with Korean culture. Rather, it is taking the first step across the threshold of the dojang door. This is where roads diverge, where choices are made that will resonate throughout a lifetime.” Doug Cook, Taekwondo Master

There are several crucial points that are shared between the two histories of Muay Thai and Taekwondo. As Muay Thai is considerably younger in an organised form than many expect, so is Taekwondo: despite enjoying a meteoric rise to the Olympics, the sport has only been in existence since the middle of the Twentieth century. Similarly to Muay Thai, however, the roots of the art of Taekwondo do go back well before the codified version of the current techniques came into existence.

Taekwondo might only have been formulated in the last century, the roots of martial arts in Korea go back far further. The traditional wrestling of the Peninsula, Ssireum, dates back into antiquity, while the striking style, Taekkyeon, can be traced to slightly later, although still over two thousand years. As the martial history of Korea advanced, weaponry was added to the unarmed fighting styles, adding to their potency, with a commensurate set of rules and values that ensured the laws of war were adhered to.

As Korea fell prey to its near neighbours – mostly from China and Japan – huge influences from the martial arts of their conquerors became integrated into their styles. The anticidents of Taekwondo lie as much in the traditions of Karate and Kung Fu as they do in Ssireum and Taekkyon. Organised Ssireum first began in the period of Japanese occupation in the early 20th century, around the time that Judo was spreading around the globe, with many practitioners taking part in both disciplines. Thus was the hybrid art of Hapkido born. It was in this period that the use of gi clothing and ranking belts also entered Korea.

When the Japanese were finally ejected from Korea at the end of the Second World War, martial arts clubs known as Kwans began to spring up all over the Peninsula. They did not form one unified art, but rather had their own club style. At a display of martial arts in 1952, the Korean President Syngman Rhee decreed that all the kwans take on the same style to create an authentically Korean martial art, and it was through this that Tae Soo Do – as it was originally known – as born. The name was changed soon afterwards and in 1959, the Korean Taekwon-Do Association was inaugurated.

There were still hiccups: as the kwons were growing, the country was ravaged by the Korean War, and once the Korean Taekwon-Do Association had been decided upon, there was an immediate backlash from inside South Korea against anyone from a North Korean background having anything to do with the rules of this new sport. The International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), however, which had been founded in 1966 to develop a globally-recognisable style, insisted that the North Korean be allowed to take part. South Korea left the ITF and developed their own governing body, the World Taekwondo Federation, with the ain of getting the sport into the Olympics. They were successful in the year 2000, with the first medals for Taekwondo awarded at the Sydney Games.

Taekwondo is not the youngest of our martial arts yet. The last in our list comes from as recently as the 1990s and forms the logical consequence of all of what we have covered so far: mixed martial arts.

What You Don’t Know About the Origins of these 12 Martial Arts
One MMA fighter chokes another on the ground. Jiu-Jitsu Times.

12 – MMA (1990s)

Dinosaurs were huge and powerful; they could not adapt and they died out. And so the big difference between dinosaurs and cockroaches is adaptability: one is able to adjust, while the other, apparently, couldn’t… The same analogy applies to fighting, and probably any other sport. It’s not always the strong that survive. It takes brains, guts, tolerance and forward thinking. We’ve seen this since the beginning of mixed martial arts.” Georges St-Pierre, UFC legend.

Mixed Martial Arts is by far the youngest of all the fighting styles that feature in this list, but, as with so many others, it has antecedents that date back centuries. We have spoken at length about Pankration, which might be known as Ancient Greek MMA, and about the importance of Vale Tudo fighting in the growth of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the early 20th century: both are major influences on modern mixed martial arts.

The name Mixed Martial Arts is newer still than the sport itself: it was first used to review the first ever Ultimate Fighting Championship, held in 1993 in the United States. Prior to that, there was no accepted term for what was happening, though there was plenty of it taking place, and no unified rules for what the martial art might be, let alone a canon of techniques. Mixed Martial Arts wasn’t so much as a mix of martial arts, but more of a coming together in which experts in various disciplines came to dispute which was the best.

At the inaugural UFC in 1993, there were fighters representing American Kenpo, a form of karate, Taekwondo, French Savate, Sumo wrestling, kickboxing, regular boxing, shootfighting and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. What was learned from this – and from the next four repeats of the UFC tournament – was that, under the rules that they fought, BJJ was by far the best style. Well, the BJJ as practiced by Royce Gracie, who won UFCs 1, 2 and 4, was the best.

What is noticeable, looking back on the early days of MMA, is that BJJ was the best suited to the almost total lack of rules. Whether this was because Gracie, as a BJJ practitioner, was the most accustomed to the rule set, in the sense that he had partaken in Vale Tudo fights along similar lines, is up for debate. His style, which essentially removed all stand-up fighting, was perfect for the task at hand and proved as much. As soon as the fight went to the ground, all other fighting styles were inadequate to beat someone with solid – or in Gracie’s case, spectacular – Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills.

As the UFC grew, and other promotions began to take on MMA, this was negated. The more styles that entered the cage and the more experience that fighters garnered, the more a hybrid style developed that was tailored to the needs of mixed martial arts. It was at this point that the martial art of mixed martial arts began to come into existence, as opposed to simply a mix of martial arts. New techniques adapted to the demands of the MMA cage grew and no fighter could expect to win solely on mastery of just one or two preexisting styles: a boxer would have to learn to fight on the floor and defend kicks, a judoka must learn to avoid getting struck and a Muay Thai fighter would have to learn to move around to avoid takedowns.

The UFC, the flagship of MMA, has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, but beyond that, the sport has ballooned. There are amateur competitions, countless gyms and a culture that has developed around the sport that has seen it progress to a level that none could ever have expected.