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Western Martial Arts History

The oldest record of boxing are pyramid hieroglyphs and mural paintings in Egypt that date back 4000 B.C. From these early origins, fighting sports were born like pankration in ancient Crete to today’s prizefighting. (The first recorded bare-knuckle champion was Englishman James Figg in 1719.)

Western martial arts continued to evolve around the world. For example, 17 years after Chinese dignitaries visited, Persians created varesh-e-pahlavan in 98 B.C., which is a fighting art that uses kicks. Another example is how Russian’s Mongolian occupiers influenced the Russian martial art of systema. During the Viking Age, the Finnish created the fighting art kas-pin. When African slaves were shipped from Angola to Brazil during the late 1400s, they eventually created the Brazilian martial art known as capoiera. French savate (foot fighting) arose during the French Revolution (1789-1799). After studying jujutsu in Japan, Edward William Barton-Wright returned to England and, in 1898, created bartitsu, which combined jujutsu, boxing and savate.

Today, new Western martial arts are generally created by someone who has a background in several other arts. Evolution is nonstop.

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  1. Revisiting Museum of the Moving Image Screening of The Black Kung Fu Experience Documentary, Featuring Ron Van Clief, and a Look at Chinese Martial Arts in Contemporary Black History

    Revisiting Museum of the Moving Image Screening of The Black Kung Fu Experience Documentary, Featuring Ron Van Clief, and a Look at Chinese Martial Arts in Contemporary Black History

    Mark Jacobs takes a closer look into why Chinese martial arts are popular in the African-American community.
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  2. Savate: From the Back Alleys of France to the Martial Arts World

    Savate: From the Back Alleys of France to the Martial Arts World

    Most martial artists know that savate is the official fighting art of France, but they’d likely be hard-pressed to provide any further details. Savate expert Salem Assli is here to help fill you in on the rest!
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  3. Aaron Banks: Milestones in the Storied Career of a Martial Arts Promoter (Part 2)

    Aaron Banks: Milestones in the Storied Career of a Martial Arts Promoter (Part 2)

    Five more of the most important events in the life of East Coast karateka/tournament promoter Aaron Banks (1928-2013) are detailed in this story. Learn how one man’s determination changed the martial arts in America and around the world.
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  4. Aaron Banks: Milestones in the Storied Career of a Martial Arts Promoter (Part 1)

    Aaron Banks: Milestones in the Storied Career of a Martial Arts Promoter (Part 1)

    Tournament promoter extraordinaire Aaron Banks passed away in May 2013. In an effort to pay tribute to his lifelong devotion to the arts, Black Belt is posting this article, which originally appeared in our March 2002 issue.
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  5. Capoeira: The Dance Art of Martial Arts

    Capoeira: The Dance Art of Martial Arts

    Some 400 years ago in Angola, on the west coast of Africa, a form of combat practiced by the natives was beginning to take shape in what we would today call a martial art. Four centuries later, capoeira is practiced in that South American nation known as Brazil. It no
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  6. The Man Behind Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do: Gilbert Johnson

    The Man Behind Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do: Gilbert Johnson

    On the eve of Tao of Jeet Kune Do’s release, public awareness will be awakened again to the legendary man who wrote this book: Bruce Lee.  As a child, I used to call him “Uncle Bruce.”  But there was another special human being who I regard just as warmly.  And when
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  7. Black Belt Hall of Fame Video Documentary – 2011 Man of the Year: Michael Dillard

    Black Belt Hall of Fame Video Documentary – 2011 Man of the Year: Michael Dillard

    This special martial arts video presentation was designed to celebrate the induction of MIchael Dillard into the 2011 Black Belt Hall of Fame as Man of the Year. This mini-documentary was shown at the 2011 MAIA SuperShow in Las Vegas, Nevada, on July 23, 2011, to an audience of hundreds
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  8. Judo vs. Boxing: “Judo” Gene LeBell Defeats Boxer Milo Savage in First MMA Fight

    Judo vs. Boxing: “Judo” Gene LeBell Defeats Boxer Milo Savage in First MMA Fight

    For much of the world, MMA was born on November 12, 1993, when the Ultimate Fighting Championship debuted in Denver. Most martial artists know otherwise, however. They know the date was actually December 2, 1963, the day “Judo” Gene LeBell stepped into the ring to face boxer Milo Savage. Black
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  9. Jim Arvanitis Resurrects Pankration: The First Mixed Martial Art

    Jim Arvanitis Resurrects Pankration: The First Mixed Martial Art

    There’s no denying that Jim Arvanitis is a skilled martial artist. He moves like a 30-year-old both on his feet and on the ground, where he flows from technique to technique with an ease you seldom see outside a high-end grappling school. And there’s no denying that he’s a martial
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  10. What Do MMA, Pro Wrestling and Traditional Martial Arts Have in Common?

    What Do MMA, Pro Wrestling and Traditional Martial Arts Have in Common?

    I had never seen anyone quite like Ken Shamrock, who at 6 feet 1 inch tall and 217 pounds handily dropped opponent after opponent in World Wrestling Entertainment (then World Wrestling Federation) matches. An Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran, Ken Shamrock brought a unique style to the pro-wrestling milieu in 1997,
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