A Greek vase showing Pancratium boxing - and
techniques some believe to be forearm deflections
similar to Oriental martial arts
Apart from having to contend with nature's rule of "survival of the fittest", humans have always been aggressive and warlike. Due to this basic character trait even the most primitive societies developed warrior traditions and fighting styles of some description. These fighting methods were used to hunt for food, defend against predators and unfortunately, against fellow humans. As civilization became increasingly sophisticated, so too did weapons and fighting methods. In the West, weapons technology soon displaced hand-to-hand combat skills and while various schools of wrestling and fist fighting persisted, these were used essentially for exercise or sport rather than in the street or battlefield. Europeans have historically concentrated on perfecting the weapons of mass destruction. By contrast, martial arts in the Orient have been associated with the cultures and philosophical systems of the region on many different levels.

The mural at the Shaolin temple showing Indian and
 Chinese martial artists practising together
Most sources now acknowledge India as the birthplace of Oriental martial arts. A mural at the Shaolin temple in Honan (left) shows Chinese and Indian martial artists practising martial arts together and whilst there is no doubt that the Indians were teaching the Chinese, it is not known what they were teaching them.

Whether these arts originated in India or were introduced from elsewhere is still a matter of debate and speculation. One interesting theory is that the ancient Greek combat art of the Pancratium was brought to India by the troops of Alexander the Great. There it blended with existing native fighting arts and/or Yoga to become the earliest regimented Oriental martial art.

Next: Chinese fighting arts