This was an article I had written for one of my martial artist comrade's blog a few years back:
If you ask our average Indian citizen, “what is martial arts ?”, he/she imagines either a kung fu film or video arcade game containing loud and heroic elements with plenty of arm waving and aggressive gestures. Sadly, many such folks do not even know that martial arts, arguably, took birth in ancient India, a country that now worships Cricket. A vast majority believes martial arts to be an export from the Orient. It appears that in our country, martial arts is like a tourist wandering with passport problems. The truth is, it is the long lost child of India that has not been given its due recognition.
Wrestling and boxing are considered the earliest forms of fighting for survival or sport. The oldest fighting records date back to over 5000 years in Indian epics (Ramayana, Mahabharata) and illustrated in scrolls in Egyptian tombs over 4000 years ago.
Martial arts evolved in ancient India. Two good examples are Vajramukti (thunderbolt fist) and Kalaripayattu (meaning fight school in Malayalam). The former was developed by the warrior caste or Kshatriyas. It consists of grappling, boxing, gymnastics, weaponry and the study of vital point striking. The latter developed in Kerala and is popular to this day. It is complemented by ‘nature-cure’ techniques and bone setting practices to treat those who get hurt while learning or practising this art. Also called ‘mother of all martial arts’, it involves 7 levels of physical agility, weapons handling and hand-to-hand combat.
Later, along with Buddhism, martial arts spread to Tibet as ‘Lions Roar’ and to China as Tai chi chuan, qigong, kung fu, shaolin boxing Xingyiquan, Baguazhang and Kempo; crossed over to Japan as aikido, karate, judo and ju-jitsu. In Taiwan, judo was developed. Reaching Korea, martial arts developed as Tae-kwon do.
It was an Indian monk Bodhidharma (also known as Da Mo in China) who started it all. Born around 440 CE in Kanchi( the then capital of southern Indian kingdom of Pallava) into the warrior caste, he received Buddhist teachings from a young age and was also said to be proficient in Kalaripayattu, which he took across the Himalayas to Tibet and then to China and started what became known as Chan(or Zen) Buddhism. In the shaolin temple, he taught zen principles and yogic martial arts exercises to strengthen the weak and sickly monks who, after years of static meditation, lacked physical strength and vigour. Qigong and Shaolin kung fu developed thereafter.
To support the fact that Indian martial arts is the source of all others, let us look at two other aspects, namely "Lion’s roar" and "Internal energy". Tibetan Buddhist lamas for self-protection developed Lion’s roar. It uses the anatomy of the body both for defence and attack. It does not kill but makes the attacker temporarily incapable of action by clutching or striking such part of the attacker’s body to make it numb. This is exactly similar to the south Indian combat form Marma Adi(vital point strike) and Japanese Dim-mak(death-touch). Chi kung or Qigong which implies the use and development of internal energy called chi or qi is no different from the prana of Pranayam in Yoga. Chi isn’t something martial arts discovered. The gentle art (qigong or tai chi) is just a reference to its roots in Yoga and meditation.
Having said this, shouldn’t we be proud of our great culture and heritage? If we compare martial arts to Lord Krishna, China to Yashoda and India to Devaki- then yes; Yashoda did raise Krishna, but Devaki remains the original mother. Unfortunately some of the things that originated in India is not as appreciated in India as is revered elsewhere- be it Ayurveda, Yoga or Buddhism. Martial arts need good support and encouragement in India. A sense of awareness must prevail about the holistic benefit of learning martial arts, and not confining its significance to just self-defence, or a form of exercise. Every Indian woman must be encouraged to learn keeping in mind the need for self-defence and preserving one’s honour and dignity.Bruce Lee learnt and practised Wing chun which was conceptualized by two Chinese women some centuries back. Martial arts is a never-ending learning process, wherein at a philosophical or spiritual level, becomes a quest for self-realization. So Mother India – embrace your child and nurture it !