History of Martial Arts - Early History

Early History

The earliest evidence for specifics of martial arts as practiced in the past comes from depictions of fights, both in figurative art and in early literature, besides analysis of archaeological evidence, especially of weaponry.

Wrestling is a human universal, and is also observed in other great apes, especially in juveniles.

The spear has been in use since the Lower Paleolithic and retained its central importance well into the 2nd millennium AD. The bow appears in the Upper Paleolithic and is likewise only gradually replaced by the crossbow, and eventually firearms, in the Common Era. True bladed weapons appear in the Neolithic with the stone axe, and diversify in shape in the course of the Bronze Age (khopesh/kopis, sword, dagger)

One very early example is the depiction of wrestling techniques in a tomb of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt at Beni Hasan (c. 2000 BC). An even earlier depiction of Bronze Age military equipment is depicted on the "war panel" of the Standard of Ur (c. 2600 BC), which does however not show actual combat. A third depiction of early martial arts is a Cycladic figurine from the Cycladic II Period, (about 2800–2300 BC) which shows a Cycladic warrior drawing a dagger with his left hand and blocking with his right. It can be seen in the Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece.

Literary descriptions of combat begin in the 2nd millennium BC, with cursory mention of weaponry and combat in texts like the Gilgamesh epic or the Rigveda. Detailed description of Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age hand-to-hand combat with spear, sword and shield are found in the Iliad (c. 8th century BC). Pictorial representations of fist fighting in Minoan civilization date to the 2nd millennium BC.

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