Martial Arts Histories. History lessons? Why?
Because we can learn a lot from what happened before. Regarding martial arts histories, we can learn why a martial art like the one we practice came to be the way it is. Unlike the fictional stories we hear, one cannot invent a martial art from a dream or a sudden inspiration.
Today, martial arts are practiced as a hobby as much as they are practiced as self-defense if not more so.
Many fitness and health benefits are also obtained. However, in history, it was a necessary skill for survival. In places like China, firearms were not common. It seems odd that the country that invented gunpowder had few firearms. In a country that had little in the way of a legal system and few authorities such as law enforcement, knowledge of fighting was as important as food.
With no other recourse, people under siege had to develop highly effective fighting systems. Among the threats were rival villages, bandits, vagabonds, triads and even government soldiers. If one of these entities knew a method or were more skilled in fighting than you or your family and friends it could mean death to one’s entire family or even one’s village.
Some martial arts started as one thing and became another. One such art might be Tai Chi. Tai chi is short for Tai Chi Chuan. Chuan means “fist.” Many versions of Tai Chi became more of a way to enhance health. It was passed down by people who were not under constant threat of attack and it became a pass time instead of a tool for survival, sometimes being embraced by the wealthier classes.
Understanding the motivations that helped people in developing such fighting systems and how they came to be organized into “styles” can be very helpful in the learning of the art you practice today.
-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg