The Asian fighting skills were practiced and developed many centuries prior to the discovery of the actual nature of vital body functions such as the process of digestion and the circulation of the blood.
Among the ancients, muscle contractions, palpitations, intestinal growling and other such internal stirrings and audible processes were thought to result from reptile spirits which resided within the body and that these hyperphysical serpents and dragons moved about in response to specific human activity.
We ought to be careful about accepting ancient ideas as truth merely because they are old. We may not have made much progress toward an understanding of the human psyche, but we do know a great deal more now than we used to know about our physical structure and our body functions.
If you are seriously interested in this subject field you should make a reasonably thorough study of anatomy and of the mechanics of the human body.
If you expect to be involved in self-defense instruction, even on an informal, nonprofessional club or group basis, you have an absolute responsibility to be informed. There are too many people in this field who are uninformed and who are circulating ancient superstitions and misconceptions. The only way to refute ignorance is with knowledge.
Take courses in anatomy and physiology, if you can. In many areas there are free adult education programs at the high school level. If you cannot take a formal class, use your local library for a self-directed study program using the reference books you will find there.
Martial arts is an omnibus term used to designate many different styles of weaponless fighting as well as systems of armed fighting. As the term is now used, it refers only to those fighting styles which developed in Asian countries. It would be more accurate to include among the martial arts the skills which were originally used for combat regardless of the country or region in which they were developed. Fencing, wrestling, boxing and archery are martial arts in exactly the same sense that judo, kendo, karate, aikido and kung fu are martial arts.
There are literally hundreds of styles and substyles of the weaponless martial arts but there is a relatively small group of techniques utilized in all of them. The major groups of techniques are: Grappling and bending and twisting the joints (judo, aikido, wrestling); throwing and tripping and takedowns (judo, wrestling); hand blows (boxing); hand and foot blows (karate, jujitsu, kung fu, savate, atemi-waza, Tai boxing).
Although there are many styles and substyles of karate and kung fu, all of the styles utilize the techniques of hitting and kicking at nerve centers and pressure points. Although there are hundreds of styles of jujitsu, most of them include techniques of hitting and kicking at nerve centers and pressure points. Atemi-waza is solely concerned with techniques of hitting and kicking at specific nerve center and pressure point body targets.
The general term martial arts and the specialty terms such as karate, kung fu, judo, jujitsu, aikido and other names for the Asian-style fighting skills are used indiscriminately by the lay public. For an overview of the subject field and clarification of some of the differences and similarities among the specialties see the current edition of the Encyclopedia Americana which is available for reference at most public libraries.
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