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The Oldest Martial Arts We Still Practice Today

Martial arts go hand in hand with human development. Since men and women first began to walk the Earth, they’ve come up with creative and insightful ways to fight. For most of human history, martial arts have served as tools for combat. Today, they are more often used as entertainment or sport. However, it might surprise some to learn that many of the martial arts we practice today are older than they may seem. So, in this article, we would like to discuss the oldest martial arts that are still around.

Boxing (3000 BC/older)

When people discuss boxing, it is easy to forget just how old the sport is. However, the quintessence of boxing is, basically, striking. And striking has been around since the earliest human civilizations. Many believe that the sport emerged in the prehistoric era, though evidence for that remains sparse.

However, boxing as a combat sport is still incredibly old. The first mentions of it come to us from Ancient Egypt, and could be dated over 5000 years ago. Impressively, boxing was among the most popular sports in Greece. Today, the sport remains incredibly popular. Some of the best online sports betting websites cover high profile and local boxing matches. Boxing bettors make up a very hefty percentage of online sports betting sites.

The best part about these sportsbooks is that they often double as casinos. Like boxing, gambling is an activity that has been going on since the earliest human civilizations. Today, the iGaming industry makes up a huge part of the overall gambling market. If you are looking for some of the best online casino NZ websites, look no further than Casumo. A great casino with a fantastic games library and charitable bonuses to choose from.

However, striking is only one side of the martial arts coin. What about the other side? What about grappling?

Wrestling (3000 BC/older)

Most fans of wrestling are already aware that the sport’s age dates back to the Greeks. After all, one of the most popular variants of wrestling is “Greco-Roman.” And certainly, Greece is an excellent place to visit for lovers of adventure, especially those interested in European martial arts and history. However, the truth is, wrestling dates even further back.

The basics of wrestling are grappling. And like striking, grappling is a form of combat that could date back to the prehistoric era. However, the first written records come from Ancient Egypt. Wrestling is also references in the Hindu epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as some texts from Babylon and Persia.

Most cultures around the globe have even developed unique wrestling styles, some of which have entered the global pop culture, and some of which are only known to small percentage of the overall Earth population. Some of the more famous wrestling variants include the following:

  • Greco-Roman wrestling (Developed in Ancient Greece, however it is practiced throughout Western civilization).
  • Sumo Wrestling (Developed in Japan, where it remains one of the most popular and venerated sports).
  • Schwingen Wrestling (Developed in Switzerland in the 1800s, Schwingen, or Alpine wrestling, remains one of the go-to variants for Swiss grapplers).

Whether wrestling predates boxing is up for debate. It is likely that both sports developed around the same time. However, one thing is certain. These two are the oldest forms of martial arts in the world. So, what if we combine them?

MMA (Ancient India, Greece, etc.)

To many, mixed martial arts is a staple of modern day combat sports. And for good reason, the concept came about in the 20th century, and was largely inspired by Brazilian vale tudo tournaments, Chinese street fighting, and Japanese Pro Wrestling events.

However, the essence of MMA is, well, mixing martial arts. And that concept dates back to the Ancient People. Malla-yuddha is an ancient Indian style of wrestling, which incorporates striking. Certainly, one could see this as an early form of mixed martial arts. References to Malla-yuddha exist within the oldest Hindu epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana. So, the style is far older than one would image.

The Greeks had Pankration, an unarmed combat style that focused on take-downs and grappling. However, it also incorporated kicking, striking, tackles, and fancy footwork, all of which are aspects of striking sports. Notably, some references of Pankration include incredibly brutal descriptions of moves, which bring to mind the brutal street fights that inspired MMA in the first place.

In Ancient China, martial artists competed in tournaments called Leitai. They were characterized by intense violence and very few rules. In other words, a no-holds barred tournament where fighters could attempt any form of martial arts they chose. So, there is no denying that MMA dates back further than we could ever imagine.

But it likely goes back further than that. Though martial arts today are viewed as a way to improve physically and mentally, we mustn’t forget their true origin. Combat sports came about as weapons of war, self-defense, or hunting. In other words, the earliest martial arts came about as a way to take down your opponent no matter what. Which means, the earliest humans likely incorporated both grappling and striking; anything they needed to do in order to come out on top.

Weapon Fighting

Finally, we would be remised if we did not discuss the various martial arts that emerged around weaponry. From fencing, to archery, to stick fighting, weapon-based martial arts has endured throughout the ages.

One of the most notable, and likely oldest weapon-based combat styles comes to us from India. Kalaripayattu incorporates Hindu philosophies and mythology. According to Hindu legend, the combat style was created by the Sixth Avatar, Parashurama. Several styles have developed over the years. However, all of them have a few things in common. They incorporate jumps, evasions, fast movements, and weapon fighting.

The English had the quarterstaff, a long, blunt polearm, which focuses on delivering swift and deadly strikes to the temple, torso, or legs. Quarterstaff fighting forms a lot of the basis of European-based stick fighting that many still practice to this day.


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