Origin of Martial Arts | The Past and the Journey of Martial Arts

From movies to video games, from street fights to many professional sporting events, nowadays martial arts can be seen almost anywhere. And regarding martial arts history, many people did researches and tried to find out about it. Many researchers actually found out about history. There are many conflicting theories about the history and origin of martial arts. Some theories state that the origin of martial arts is related to the copying of the movements of animals like tiger, crane, snakes, etc while others tell that origin of martial arts is related somewhere to the ancient region of Asia especially India and China. Let’s dig some more in the further depth of the article.

Many pieces of evidence of people involving in combat practices or martial arts in the form of cave paintings, manuscripts, and inscriptions were found from the deep part of history from many places including India, Africa, China, Japan, Greece, etc. We still don’t really know where martial art was first initiated but the most widely known and accepted theory is related to the ancient history of India and China.

Martial arts origin

Many of us may hear about the story of a man or precisely a monk or a priest from India (South India) whose name was Bodhidharma (Daruma in Japan and Tamo in some Chinese communities). He brought the Buddhism religion, yoga exercises and meditation techniques to Shaolin monastery of China which later evolved and gave form to Kung fu. Most people know till here only. But it is not that simple as it looks. This story of the origin of martial arts is related to very old times to the period of Mahabharat. The story goes like this.

Parashurama and Lord Shiva (Role Of Gods In The Origin Of Martial Arts)

The story begins with the 6th incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Parashuram was born as the 6th avatar of Lord Vishnu as the son of Jamadagni and Renuka in Brahmin clans. History always witnessed that whenever evil became dominant, many gods took avatar and fought the evils. Here also, the same kind of thing happens.

Martial artist Parashurama

At that time there were two separate classes of people. One is Brahmin or scholar class and another one is Kshatriyas or the warrior class. Everything was going pretty well but after some eras, the Kshatriyas started to show their domination over the Brahmins. They carried out violence against Brahmins. Some Kshatriyas have beaten Jamadagni and taken their celestial cow named Surabhi (such celestial cow is called as Kamdhenu).

To avenge his father’s humiliation and bring back the cow, Parashuram decided to erase those Kshatriyas to bring back peace again. He started devotion and worshipped Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva was happy with his worship. So he gave him a weapon in the form of an axe or parashu along with many other boons.

The Birth of Kalaripayattu

On Parashuram’s request, Lord Shiva taught him some fighting techniques known as Kalaripayattu. Lord Shiva introduced Kalaripayattu to human and this fact is written in Atharva Veda (one of the prominent Vedas of Hindu mythology). After getting trained in Kalaripayattu, Parashuram avenged his father’s humiliation and killed some of the Kshatriyas. But his father was not happy with his deed at all.


According to his father, a Brahmin should never go in the path of violence. So his father sent Parashuram to a long exile. When he was in exile, a Kshatriya prince killed his father. While he returned from his exile, he came to know all about this and he decided to erase the Kshatriyas from this world. To make equilibrium, he annihilated all Kshatriyas from the earth 21 times.

Parashuram taught his art to sage Agastya who resides at Southern India at that time. Parashuram is in a way the founder of northern Kalaripayattu which mainly focuses on the use of weapons like axes and sticks. While sage Agastya modified the art he has been taught and gave shape to a new form of Kalaripayattu called southern Kalaripayattu which mainly focuses on the use of weapons along with the use of 8 limbs.



From time to time, from one generation to another this art form is passed on. But due to lack of documentation and lots and lots of foreign invasion. The northern style of Kalaripayattu almost faded completely. But the southern style remains as it is in some parts of south India. Later, in the 5th century AD, the third son of a great south Indian king was born and his name was Bodhidharma. He does not have any interests in the kingdom. So he decided to gain enlightenment. He sacrificed his home and family. He started going in the path of Buddha.

Bodhidharma was traveling all along and eventually, he reached China. He saw many people were suffering from health problems there. So he started to teach some art of meditation and exercises for their good health. He also taught them some portions of Kalaripayattu that he had gained knowledge as their ancestors kept on continuing it. Then, he set up the first Shaolin temple there.

After living his days, he eventually died. But his followers continued his teachings. They gave form to Kung fu or Shaolin Kung fu. It traveled to Japan and gave birth to other forms as well. And, with time it traveled to other parts of the world and gave some more modified forms with different names. In this way, it was the birth of martial art. Kalaripayattu can be termed as the “mother of all martial arts”.

Criticism Regarding the Origin of Martial Arts

There is no accurate evidence for this tale regarding the origin of martial arts, however, some partial pieces of evidence can witness this story to be true. As this is the most renowned and accepted theory regarding the origin of martial arts, it has also got lots of criticism as well. Many Chinese communities of martial arts criticize this theory telling that Kung fu was started way before Kalaripayattu while Shaolin. The most prominent Kung fu community stated the story to be absolutely true. Even many Japanese communities of martial art accepted this theory and Bodhidharma is known as Daruma in their communities. So far it is a little bit hard to tell which communities are correct but maybe in the future, some evidence will clear all the doubts we have attached with the origin of martial arts.

If you have come this far to the article then, you must be a big martial art fan. And, for the people like you, we brought many articles regarding martial arts and we believe that you will visit it too:

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