Communism

The Communists were eminently aware of the historical link between the martial arts and revolutionaries - or in this case, "reactionaries." They denounced any martial art that claimed mystical powers or an ancient lineage as being "contrary to Communist ideals." Such thinking reached its peak during the Cultural Revolution, when many styles were labeled anti-Communist and their instructors deemed "counterrevolutionaries" and ruthlessly marginalized or purged.

At the same time, the Communists saw the martial arts as a source of physical fitness for the people and as a repository of cultural heritage. They adopted the term wushu for "acceptable" martial arts. The sports commission of the People's Republic of China went on to develop a unified style known by the same name; see Wushu (pp. 206-207).

Modern China downplays the internal, chi-oriented aspects of the martial arts, but these things haven't disappeared. The whole world now enjoys Chinese wuxia films, which feature acrobatic martial arts, improbable displays of skill, and chi abilities that defy reality. Ironically, many of these movies celebrate rugged individualists who use their mystical martial-arts skills to right wrongs or root out corruption - ideas not terribly popular with the Communist Party.

Like China, India has had martial arts since antiquity, along with many myths tied to receiving and teaching them. Some historians trace Indian martial arts back to the invasion of northwestern India by Alexander the Great. This is unlikely; Alexander might have brought Pankration (pp. 188189), but the warriors of the local princes already had a strong tradition of armed fighting and unarmed wrestling. According to myth, the gods handed down these arts to humans so that heroes could defeat their demonic foes!

On the teaching side, Bodhidharma supposedly passed along Indian martial arts to China; see The Shaolin Temple (pp. 8-9). Prior evidence of the martial arts undermines this theory, too. However, Indian religious beliefs probably contributed the concept of prana, which is more commonly known by its Chinese name, chi (see Religion, Philosophy, and Fists, p. 11).

Whatever the truth, the Indian martial arts are ancient. Kalaripayit (pp. 168-169) dates to the 9th century A.D. and similar arts predate that. These early styles certainly covered both unarmed combat (striking and grappling) and armed combat (especially bow, sword, and two-handed mace). Modern nationalists in India - like those in most places with a martial tradition - espouse the idea that practicing these historical arts makes one a better person, and push for their continued study. Hinduism continues to play a strong role, too; even today, Kalaripayit and Indian Wrestling (pp. 205206) expect students to be good Hindus.

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