Martial Arts began in many ancient civilizations as a means of self-defense and, regardless of geographical provenance or cultural influence, the historical development of Martial Arts has invariably occurred in the context of environmental settings.  For example, some Asian Martial Arts styles trace their general origin and specific use of weapons to both farming practices of the day and the frequent need for personal self-defense using available, but rudimentary, farming tools.  Related Martial Arts styles, such as Okinawan Shorin Ryu, were practiced and shaped in natural agrarian settings.  Early in Okinawa’s history the prevailing government enforced a ban on weapons. “The Okinawan’s began using their everyday farming implements as weapons. From this practice the most commonly thought of weapons became known as the: Bo (six foot staff), the Eku (six foot oar), the Kama (grass or cain sickle), the Tonfa (utility handle), and the Nunchaku (horse bit, and … rice flail).” (Yamashita International Karate)  The early ban on weapons led the people of Okinawa to use their bodies and farming tools to defend themselves.  Related Martial Arts styles and practices were subsequently shaped by observed natural processes and the behavior of animals in the local environment.

Image 2 Shows traditional tools and farm implements that were later used as weapons.

While Martial Arts may have originally developed as forms of self defense, the practice also evolved to assume broader spiritual significance. “The Martial Arts began to develop this emphasis on personal spiritual growth in the sixteenth century, when the need for fighting skills in the Orient diminished.  The Martial Arts were transformed from a practical means of combat-to-the-death to spiritual educational training that emphasized the personal development of the participant ” (Hyams p.10 1979). While the origins of Martial Arts conflict management are heavily based on the ability to survive physical conflict with an adversary, today’s conflict management approaches include training on conflict management, self-improvement, and mind-body-spirit unison.

The gradual emergence of spiritual facets of Martial Arts began to accompany modern adaptations of traditional physical practices. Martial artists historically focused on hand-to-hand combat styles improvised with weapons based on common farming tools and the observed behaviors of animals.  By comparison, today’s hand-to-hand close proximity styles of combat have evolved in ways that allow them to leverage weapons and objects unique to modern life, including CD cases, pens and pencils, keys, and other common objects. These kinds of continual Martial Arts adaptations closely parallel the adaptations a natural ecosystem goes through. While modern Martial Arts have generally evolved from past traditions, many current Martial Arts styles have preserved their unique connections to the environment.

While modern Martial arts maintain their historic roots in nature, they have also continued to evolve over time.   Even through generational adaptations, core knowledge derived from natural influences is evident. A modern Martial Arts example is To Shin do and its usage of the fundamental elements.

Click Here to Continue to an introduction to the Elements

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