Modern history of East Asian martial arts

Modern history of East Asian martial arts

The modern (post-1860s) history of East Asian martial arts.



Koryū is the Japanese term for all martial arts schools that predate the Meiji restoration (1860s).

The systems of Japanese martial arts that post-date the Meiji Restoration are known as gendai budō. The most well known of these arts include judo, kendo, some schools of iaidō, and aikido. These newer systems are commonly valued as sports or arts for self-improvement.

In many countries local arts like Te in Okinawa,[1] Kenjutsu and Ju-Jutsu in Japan,[2] and Taekyon and Soobak in Korea[3] mixed with other martial arts and evolved to produce some of the more well-known martial arts in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries like Karate, Aikido, and Taekwondo.


During the Republic of China's Kuomintang government of mainland China (1915–1949), the Jing Wu Athletic Association (established in 1910) together with the Central Guoshu Institute (established 1928) played an important role in the preservation of traditional schools of martial arts and their transformation into the various modern styles practiced today. In October 1928, the Central Guoshu Institute held a national examination, the so-called Leitai competition , which came to be regarded as one of the most significant historic gatherings of Chinese martial arts masters.

Western interest

The Western interest in East Asian Martial arts dates back to the late 19th century, due to the increase in trade between America with China and Japan. Reports on various Chinese and Japanese martial arts appeared in both academic journals and in the popular press during the later 19th century. However, relatively few Westerners actually practiced the arts, considering it to be mere performance.

Edward William Barton-Wright, a railway engineer who had studied Jujutsu while working in Japan between 1894–97, was the first man known to have taught Asian martial arts in Europe. In 1899 he also founded an eclectic martial arts style named Bartitsu which combined jujutsu, judo, boxing, savate and stick fighting. Within ten years, jujutsu classes were being taught in many Western countries including England, France, Germany, Italy, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. Subsequently, an awareness of jujutsu, in particular, entered Western popular culture and the art was featured in innumerable newspaper and magazine articles, novels and instructional manuals throughout the early-mid 20th century.

During pre-war and World War Two shows the practicality of martial arts in the modern world and were used by Japanese, US, Nepalese (Gurkha) commandos as well as Resistance groups, such as in the Philippines, (see Raid at Los Baños) but not so excessively or at all for common soldiers.

Filipino Martial Arts (Eskrima) from Ni Tien Martial Arts Schools

However, aside from jujutsu, Asian martial arts remained largely unknown in the West even as late as the 1950s; for example, in the 1959 popular fiction Goldfinger, Karate was described to readers in near-mythical terms and it was credible for British unarmed combat experts to be represented as completely unaware of martial arts of this kind. The novel describes the protagonist James Bond, an expert in unarmed combat, as utterly ignorant of Karate and its demonstrations, and describes the Korean 'Oddjob' in these terms:

Goldfinger said, "Have you ever heard of Karate? No? Well that man is one of the three in the world who have achieved the Black Belt in Karate. Karate is a branch of judo, but it is to judo what a Spandau is to a catapult...".[4]

Such a description in a popular novel assumed and relied upon karate being almost unknown in the West. It linked karate with judo, whereas in reality karate is a distinct art almost unrelated to judo.

As Western influence grew in East Asia a greater number of military personnel spent time in China, Japan, and Korea. Exposure to martial arts during the Korean war was also significant. Gradually some soldiers saw the value of Eastern martial arts and began training in them.

With large numbers of American servicemen stationed in Japan after World War II, the adoption of techniques and the gradual transmission of entire systems of martial arts to the West started, eventually resulting in American karate and other adaptations. It was in the 1950s, however, when this exportation of systems really began to gain momentum. Large groups of U.S. military personnel were taught Korean arts (Taekwondo) during the Korean War. In the early 1970s, martial arts movies, in particular those of martial artist and actor Bruce Lee, furthered the popularity of martial arts.

This exportation of the martial arts led to such styles as sport karate, which became a major international sport, with professional fighters, big prizes, television coverage, and sponsorship deals.

The later 1970s and 1980s witnessed an increased media interest in the martial arts, thanks in part to Asian and Hollywood martial arts movies and very popular television shows like "Kung Fu", "Martial Law" and "The Green Hornet" that incorporated martial arts moments or themes. Jackie Chan and Jet Li are prominent movie figures who have been responsible for promoting Chinese martial arts in recent years.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Nishiyama, Hidetaka; Richard C. Brown (1991). Karate: The Art of Empty-Hand Fighting. Tuttle Publishing. pp. 16. 
  2. ^ Tanaka, Fumon (2003). Samurai Fighting Arts: The Spirit and the Practice. Kodansha International. pp. 30. 
  3. ^ Shaw, Scott (1996). Hapkido: The Korean Art of Self-Defense. Tuttle Publishing. pp. 15. 
  4. ^ Fleming, Ian (1959). Goldfinger. pp. 91–95. 
  5. ^ Schneiderman, R. M. (2009-05-23). "Contender Shores Up Karate’s Reputation Among U.F.C. Fans". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-01-30. 

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