Martial Arts, a system of close combat practices used for self-defense, military, and law enforcement, are much more than just that. As the name suggests, it is an art, which has to be learnt with a high degree of dedication, precision, and passion. It covers a wide range of activities like the physical training, fighting technique, and skills to practice a high level of mental discipline. The history of the Martial Arts dates back thousands of years and there are quite a few theories around how the art form originated. The theories are:

  1. An Indian Buddhist monk was responsible for the origin of Martial Arts in India and its propagation in China
  2. The Martial Arts originated in China
  3. Africa was where the Martial Arts originated
  4. The Martial Arts was founded in the Middle eastern regions
  5. All civilizations formed their own Martial arts

It cannot be disputed that ancient people were involved in war quite a lot. And hence, it logically follows that they had some form of fighting technique in place. However, when one thinks of Martial Arts, the Asian connect instantly comes to mind. Hence, the theories around Martial arts originating in some part of Asia are more popular. One of the most popular theories is the one involving Bodhidharma.

The Bodhidharma legend

Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk. Some believe he was the son of a king in the South India. It is believed that he traveled to China in the 6th century AD and taught meditation at the Shaolin temple. He noticed that Chinese monks were frequently robbed by bandits and were not able to defend themselves. Hence, he acquainted them with the Martial arts which had its basis on the Indian Yoga. The monks soon became trained in the combat art. This later developed into the widely known Martial art techniques of China and Japan. This theory is supported by the fact that Buddhism also spread to China and Japan from India and thus the combat practices also might have similarly disseminated. The Zen Buddhism (Dhyana Buddhism) is believed to be founded by Bodhidharma.

Martial Arts in the Vedas

The earliest mention of Martial Arts in the Indian context is in the Vedas. Reference is made to the below Martial Arts in the Vedas:

  • The art of Warfare
  • The knowledge of Arms
  • The knowledge of being a Warrior
  • The knowledge of Weaponry
  • The science of Archery
  • The art of self-defense

Kalaripayattu – An ancient Martial Art

Discussion around the Origin of Martial Arts in India cannot be complete without mentioning the 3000-year-old art form Kalaripayattu. It originated in the Indian state of Kerala and is still prevalent in South India. The technique is inspired by the strength, agility, and rapid movements of magnificent beasts like the lion, tiger, snake and crocodile. The oldest reference to Kalaripayattu is found in the Rigveda and Atharvaveda. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Indra defeated the demon Vritasura using one of the techniques in Kalaripayattu.

Other ancient Martial Arts techniques of India

Other ancient techniques that are still practiced in some parts of India are as below:

  • Silambam – A weapon based art form
  • Gatka – Uses sticks and swords
  • Musti Yuddha – Uses punches
  • Thang Ta – A graceful art using spears and swords
  • Lathi – Uses sticks
  • Mardani Khel – An armed method
  • Pari Khanda – Sword and shield technique
  • Thoda – Uses bow and arrow (see Thoda in the video below)