WeMen magazine - 2006

Martial arts have never been as trendy as in the 21st century. Originally reserved to the military, Special Forces and bad boys, they have been popularized in the last fifty years – especially through the Olympics – and have become sports, leisure and a way to keep in top condition at any age. Even if, contrary to popular belief, martial arts in Taiwan are relatively less developed than in the West, there is still a plethora of martial arts on the market, and it may be a little hard to find out something suitable. Although you could just walk straight into dojos (道館) to get some info, this trial and error method would be too time consuming to determine which art is for you. I hope the following will help you a bit.

But first let’s take a look at motivations; why do people want to learn and practice martial arts? What’s the point of learning hand-to-hand fighting techniques in an era of peace and global nuclear power? Why not just join a salsa class or sweat on a stairmaster, or swim, or play football? Well. Ask ten people and you get ten different answers. They will nonetheless always contain a few common values such as search for personal challenge, self-confidence, safety, male hood, self-control and peace of mind, as well as fitness, unwinding and relaxation.

Most people in the 21st century lack self-confidence; most are self-absorbed in business life and focus on financial survival or betterment. As a consequence, many men feel that they loose contact with their male roots, lacking the paternalist sentiment and knack as a male, father and protector. In a mad world where one could walk into your house at night and take your life, most would be unable to save their skin and their family. Today’s men are certainly in need of a sense of security. Additionally many of us are under constant professional pressure. Martial arts can break that stress in many ways, removing our aggressiveness through a good bout with a tough partner, or relieving our anxiety with soft internal arts such as tai chi or iaido. Yes there are definitely in martial arts some skills that no other sport can offer. But unlike in other sports, you cannot drop in and out at will if you intend to progress. Learning martial arts is a long process and commitment that require determination and perseverance. The results are a great sense of personal achievement, and increased safety.

What are martial arts?

Most people only have clichés about martial arts, usually under the influence of films such as Hong Kong kung fu movies, Karate Kid, or The Last Samurai. The truth is, our imaginative power is generally well off the path of realism. If you think martial arts date back to Bruce Lee, you’re wrong; if you believe that they were created 1500 years ago at Henan’s Shaolin temple, you’re not scoring much better…
Martial arts sprung up around the world since the origins of men. Even cavemen must have devised ways of better chopping off the heads of the enemy tribes. And the first martial art as a sport was not at the last Mexico Olympics…Actually wrestling was a competition sport at the beginning of the Olympics, and boxing – yes boxing, that at the time was called “pugilat” -- joined the games at the 23rd Olympiads in 688 B.C, almost 2700 years ago! For the anecdote, boxers of the times used to fight nearly naked, a situation that on today’s stadiums would make real sensation.

The myths

Many believe that martial arts where born in China. Of course, this is wrong; as shown above, martial arts were very popular in antique Greece and Rome, so they are not the license of Chinese people only. Another common conviction here is that monks were best at warring arts and that the Shaolin temple has always been the best. Again this is a very dull idea. The best at martial arts always were the real warriors; only those who fought on the battlefield had real martial arts knowledge. They were the ones – before the advent of gunpowder, at a time wars were fought on foot and horse with blades and hand weaponry – who devised and refined fighting techniques. Monks, who led a lazy life of prayer and meditation, adopted martial arts as an exercise to prevent physical decay. Call it early or antique fitness! This explains why the Shaolin has so many lengthy and complicated “katas” (series of programmed moves) that are beautiful to watch, but not very applicable on a battlefield or in a brawl.

What’s on the market?

Most arts here in Taiwan are either Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or Western. Other Asian arts are usually totally ignored or unheard of. In Taiwan, TKD (taekwondo) is number one on the list of popular arts with most kids enrolling at primary school. Second is Taichi, mainly due to the great number of aged, retired people who do not have much to do and spend their mornings at the parks around the city. Whether arts are Western or Asian or lunar does not matter much; the core and the techniques are always very similar and obey to simple biomechanical rules. An elbow and a wrist bend (and break for that matter) the same in New York, Milan, Peking or Taipei…What’s different is the outer shell or the appearance of each of the arts.

Martial arts can be split into few main categories: external arts -- that include striking, grappling, or both, and internal arts with or without weapons (see our table). While external arts are physically very demanding and are usually the privilege of younger and energetic people, internal arts are aimed at those who need to improve their health while exercising at a slower pace. There are hundreds of martial arts available and we cannot list them all here. Instead, we’ll review the main categories and the most popular.

Traditional VS Modern

While traditional martial arts are ancient arts that had warring purposes and have mostly remained unchanged, modern martial arts have been adapted to the necessities of sports and modern society, being less formal and having more rules to ensure safety in competition.

Chinese VS Japanese and other arts

The main difference between Chinese and Japanese arts is the applicability and efficiency. Although some forms of kung fu are still very efficient, the Japanese (who “stole” or rather imported many techniques from China) are reputed for their love for perfection and have refined the arts for better efficiency. Western arts – even though they do not look as refined -- have always been focusing on simplicity and maximum efficiency, and in turn do often lack form, traditions and ceremonial.

Striking arts

Striking arts (MUAYTHAI - K1 – BOXING – KICKBOXING – SANDA – KARATE – KUNGFU) are the basics of fighting. Punches and kicks are essential elements of primitive self-defense. Some forms are tougher than others (Muaythai, K1) and their practice requires prefect physical fitness. Others such as kung fu and karate involve mainly “katas” and can be practiced by virtually anyone. Note however that kung fu requires extreme body elasticity.

Grappling arts

Grappling arts (WRESTLING – SAMBO - SHUAI JIAO – JUDO – SUMO - AIKIDO) are those that involve catching and throwing an opponent, as well as locks and immobilization or submission on the ground. Some also incorporate basic punching and kicking. Some forms are very efficient (Sambo, BJJ) and require good physical fitness (such as wrestling).

MMA styles

MMA or “mixed martial arts” (MMA – SHOOTO - BUDO) are those that include a complete curriculum involving all of the above striking and grappling techniques. Of course, they take longer to absorb, since they have many more techniques, and can sometimes be brutal and physically demanding. However, they are obviously much more applicable in real self-defense situations.

Internal arts and weaponry

Internal arts are intended to relax, meditate, get a brainwash. They provide a fantastic retreat from daily life and stress, and are also a very good way of exercising and improving your physical and emotional balance (especially Taichi and Kung Fu). They are suitable to any age range and everyone can workout and learn at his/her own pace. They can be practiced in a group or totally alone. Some, such as Kyudo (Japanese archery) and Iaido (Japanese swordsmanship) are mostly aimed at getting control over one’s brain and emotions, and since they involve rather costly equipment, they are often the privilege of the wealthy.

Safety concern

When it comes to martial arts, many people, especially parents, worry about the risks. Although unexpected accidents cannot be ignored, it is definitely safer than simply crossing a busy street. Of course there can be occasional scratches and bruises, but – unless you overestimated yourself and chose an art that’s too tough for you -- serious accidents are rare. Experience shows that there are more accidents with sports such as basketball or soccer than with martial arts. And the longer you practice, the less you’ll get hurt, as your skills and abilities gradually improve.

Ready to start? Just find a martial art that is most suitable for you; and no matter which art you choose: martial arts not only will bring you to a next level of fitness; they will also provide you with a great sense of achievement!

If you need some help, do not hesitate to contact me at:

Copyright 2006 - GZ.

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