True Origin of Martial Arts

It is common place for people to say that martial arts originated in the far east (China, Japan). On occasion, I have heard people come close to the correct point of origin by saying Greece. With that I asked myself, “If it is true that every culture that had a need for any army had a form of martial arts, then why would it not be logical that martial arts originated where MAN originated?” I have come to learn that martial arts hieroglyphics appeared on the walls of Egyptian tombs 3,400 years B.C., before the arts arose in China and Japan. These hieroglyphics are found on the ancient temple of Karnak in Egypt. Every nation, or “tribe” in Africa has its own complex and complete martial arts styles and these styles can be seen all over the world.

There are many people who would argue that Greece contains the oldest records of combative arts such as wrestling, boxing, and Pankration. The Greeks began the practice of wrestling around 776 B.C. By that time Egypt was already ancient. It is known to scholars that the name Greece derives from an ancient name for Africa, “Nigrecia”. Present day scholars of what is commonly known as Greco-Roman wrestling attribute the origins of their sport to illustrations discovered on the walls of tombs at a region of ancient Egypt called Mahez, which has been renamed “Beni Hasan”, or “hill of the son of the Hasan family”. At Beni Hasan, in four separate tombs, there are hundreds of paintings on limestone walls that for the most part, have since decayed. The paintings are of African martial artists using a variety of wrestling holds and locks. The illustrations total well over 500 individual pairs of wrestlers. The paintings feature pairs of fighters who are wrestling, as well as illustrations of warriors using other forms of unarmed combat that employ kicking and punching techniques. There are scenes of martial artists using weapons such as a lance, short sticks, daggers, staffs, and bow and arrows. There are even scenes of warriors utilizing military technology such as a testudo, which is a shielding device used during the siege of a castle. These paintings in Africa represent the most ancient, and prolific depiction of martial arts on Earth.

Englishman Percy Newberry, while working for the Archaeological Survey of Egypt between 1890 and 1892, Newberry carried out “excavations” at Beni Hasan. The results were published in a two volume work as the First and Second Memoirs of the ASE (Percy E. Newberry, Beni Hasan, Part I [London, 1893] and Beni Hasan, Part II [London, 1893]. He states that graffiti on the walls that were written in Greek further proves that the Greeks were frequent visitors to the tombs in ancient times.

To the early Greeks, wrestling, and the related arts such as Pankration, were simple sport. It was sport then, as it still is today. Kemetic thought such as the science of Maat, encouraged justice, truth, righteousness, and correct actions to direct the spiritual forces that would be encountered with the intense study of the physical martial sciences. There are also the teachings of the Seven Principles of the great Egyptian Tehuti, or Hermes as he was called by the Greeks. These teachings and sciences, along with meditation, breath control, concentration and the correct application of the martial arts, would lead to the release of powerful inner forces, represented by the Ureaus Serpent in Kemet, and the Kundalini, represented by a coiled serpent ( Kundalini is the most powerful form of Yoga) as it was known to the sister civilization in India.

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  1. The Bigger Picture

    January 5, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Pretty deep.

  2. Fushigi

    January 5, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    I doubt any one locale produced martial arts since humans by nature fight. However societies that had writing could lay claim. Egypt, India (which claims a 10,000 martial tradition), Babylon, Ancient Greece, Ghana (which means Warrior King) etc. all had fighters. We must remember that combat predates writing and art making such a transmission of combat knowledge logistically impossible.

  3. The Bigger Picture

    January 5, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    I’d suggest that by default (human existence started in Africa) it all starts on the African continent. EVERYONE comes from African ancestry.

    And, all of those nation-states you mentioned, he mentioned.

  4. RLKnight

    January 6, 2014 at 12:27 am

    Lets not forget that Ghana and Egypt are both part of the African “Continent”.

    Writing is a medium of communication that represents language through the inscription of signs and symbols. There are four main writing styles: Logographic (Chinese “radicals”, Heiroglyphics); Syllabic (gives approximate syllables); Alphabetic (a specific set of symbols that represent a phoneme of the language); and Featural script (the scripts illustrates the phoneme of that make up language) are still used today. The oldest Alphabet was found in an Egyptian mining site that dates back to the mid 1900 BC. Another inscription was found later showing a hieroglyphic prototype. Heiroglyphics themselves date back to 4000 BC.

    I will grant you that Ghana means “Warrior King”. I haven’t found a particular style that goes directly back to Ghana. However, one of my instructors studied under Ahati Kalindi Iyi and Kalindi primarily studied the arts of West Africa and Ghana was mentioned BUT no definitive style from Ghana. Asafo Atwele (Boxing) was the only style I have personally found from Accra, Ghana but it didn’t emerge until the 1960’s. Lutte Traditionelle (Traditional Wrestling) is used to describe related martial arts styles of West Africa. Five of which are Senegalese Wrestling, Jirilbu, Mkazo Ncha Shikana, Giddibo and Dambe (Nigeria) which were mentioned in the article.

    Egypt as of 5500 BC was a bunch of small tribes living along the Nile valley (Predynastic Period). During a period known Naqada II the early Egyptians had contact with the Canannites and Byblos (modern day Lebanon). Naqada III leaders conducted trade with cultures of the easter Mediterranean and Near East. Naqada culture used written symbols which later developed into hieroglyphs.

    The (proto-) Greek – speaking tribes were thought to have “Arrived” (illustrating they originated from somewhere else) between 1900 and 1600 BC. My article also mentions an English scholar who stated the Greeks made frequent trips to Egypt.

    Babylon was not known to be a city until between 2334-2279 BC and was subject to the Akkadian Empire. It was not it’s own city-state until 1894 BC. It was an Akkadian speaking Semitic nation. Akkadian as a language is a Semitic language in origin and is part of the Afroasiatic language family which spans from Western Asia, North Africa and the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia). Which illustrates it’s ties to Africa. The Egyptians taught a style called Ku-Ta the Akkadians at around 3000 BC.

    Kalaripayattu or Payattu is an Indian martial art (one of the oldest fighting styles in existence) that is attributed to the Hindu gods by oral tradition. However, as mentioned in the article, Hinduism didn’t exist until 1500 BC. Not to mention the fact that the Indus Valley Civilization didn’t flourish until 3300 BC and became more advanced in the Mature Harrapan period, 2600-1900 BC. In my article I mention the migration of a group of people to India called the Harrapan in 4000 BC. People might have been there 12,000 yrs. ago but it was not a civilization.

    Homo Heidelbergensis, the most likely direct ancestor of modern man a.k.a. Homo Sapiens (originated in Africa) was known to have inhabited Africa, Europe and West Asia (India) hundreds of thousands of years ago. They died out 200,000 years ago. However, it is a good illustration of the migration of man in general. Even in India up until 7500 BC the inhabitants hid from the large animals which tells me they didn’t have a formal system of fighting. In the end, they tended to be a more isolated and independent people and in effect didn’t have a civilization to protect.

    For a quick break down you find depictions of martial arts dates of:

    3400 BC; Egypt
    3000 BC; Mesopotamia ( area in which Babylon is found)
    2879 BC; Vietnam
    2698 BC; China
    776 BC; Greece

    Written language pretty much follows the same timeline.

  5. Fushigi

    January 6, 2014 at 9:46 am

    I have no doubt of an African origin, however styles develop independently just as language can. By this I mean while I speak Mandarin Chinese and Japanese, for example, and they have some aspects in common Japanese is very different from Chinese. Inevitably all martial arts come from Africa in a sense but the farther removed a culture is from the Continent the fewer correlations that can be made. The Ainu are 50,000 years removed from their haploid group D genetics ancestors, furthermore 36% of the Japanese themselves possess the haploid D2 genetic marker. This marker is completely unique to the Japanese Japanese indicating isolation, and as we kknow the Japanese withdrew from world affairs for millennia. To believe that cultures like this or the Pariha people of the Amazon basin – a tribe with no concept of time or history- would retain ancient African knowledge is suspicious. Some aspects of culture, including martial arts develop independent of root systems.

    Nonetheless I enjoyed this report greatly considering it challenges the Eurocentric and Sino-Indian hypothesis of marital arts.

    • RLKnight

      January 7, 2014 at 1:55 am

      I am confused, how do you agree that martial arts originate in Africa but still say they are created independently?

      When it comes to genetics you are talking about speciation and adaption. There is genetic research that shows a DNA link between Native Americans and Europeans. I’m not getting into that though. I will admit that separation, isolation and even regional differences will cause introduced jargon, dialect and language changes. We see it ourselves in the different regions of America and even with the 80+ dialects of the Philippines.

      Martial Arts however, will change or adapt based on necessity (Lerdrit Muay Thai) , efficiency (Jeet Kune Do) and/ or preferrence (MMA, which can be a combination of any two or more styles). The only real difference you find between similar arts is how the techniques are applied. There are only so many ways to fight before it all gets redundant. A Lead punch, Reverse punch combination in Karate is the same as a Jab Cross combination in Boxing. However, Karate is more rooted and Boxing is more mobile.

      The ancestors of today’s American Indigenous peoples were the Paleo-Indians; they were hunter-gatherers who migrated into North America (exact dates of the three migration waves are still in great debate). Cultural traits brought by the first immigrants later evolved and spawned such cultures as Iroquois on North America and Pirahã of South America. The Piraha are not only still hunter-gatherers and conduct trade with neighboring tribes but, they are a sub-tribe of the Mura people. The Mura people were known to be valiant and fearless warriors with special attack methods and sided with black slaves to revolt against the Portuguese (they probably just ducked behind and/or conducted ambushes like the Apaches). This illustrates that the Piraha were not really isolated from the influences of the outside world. The Piraha use bows and arrows. The earliest arrow heads date to about 64,000 years ago in South Africa. Which means they either brought that knowledge WITH them or they traded for or learned how to make them from OTHER people. Archery seems to have arrived in the Americas with the Arctic small tool tradition, about 2,500 BC, spreading south into the temperate zones as early as 2,000 BC.

      The main cultural and religious influences of Japan came from China. During the Edo (1603-1868) was the time of the isolation policies. The isolation policies ended on 8 July 1583 after persuasive gesture from the U.S. Navy (four warships in the Yokohama bay). By this time Japan had already adopted an imperial court and conducted trade with Korea, China (including Mongol China). Karate, Kenpo (which comes from Shaolin) and Jiu Jitsu had already existed as well. If you look at the styles that are similar to Jiu Jitsu in the article there is quite honestly only subtle differences.

  6. RLKnight

    January 7, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    I have two corrections to my last post. One is that I meant the Mura probably ducked behind trees. The other is that the isolation policies ended on 8 July 1853.

  7. Fushigi

    January 20, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    It’s the same as phenotypic differences between humans; cultures evolve independently despite a common origin. Kyoukushin and Tang Soo Do no doubt have their origins in Kung Fu but are nonetheless distinct entities and that is merely within East Asia. Too extrapolate that all arts have their residual roots in Africa is true but only with the addition of the fact that such arts branch into wildly different directions depending on what culture they are apart of. Adaptation is ultimately survival.

  8. RL Knight

    January 21, 2014 at 5:24 am

    Interesting no not really Dude.

    Tang Soo Do means Chinese Hand Way whose founder was trained in China and went back to Korea in the 1950’s. That’s when it finally became a “Korean” Martial Art. Oddly enough it is also identified as an offspring of Shotokan. Kyoukushin a full contact karate style that currently focuses on knock down striking. Jiu Jitsuka do very much the same thing in Bogu Kumite. I don’t care how many names you have for Japanese Karate there only Five different styles and the differences are subtle even between contemporary and traditional.

    Adaption being survival not in all cases. MMA was done in the Olympic games and today you see the same thing in the UFC today. Pancration is a combination of boxing (which included low kicks) and grappling. That’s the style that was used by the Greeks. Ken and Frank Shamrock do the same style (Pankrace) and were well known fighters who helped pave the wave for the UFC and MMA today. Lerdrit Muay Thai has been taught to the Royal Thai Army since Thailand was part of the Indonesian Empire. Kali/ Escrima/ Arnis has been taught in the Philippines since the 1600’s the only that changed is the empty hand and ground fighting techniques. The stick and knife techniques have not changed and still taught to the Filipino Marines and Army. Italian Sword/ knife fighting has been around since 1409 and along with the Fil’s Italian’s are identified as one of the top five knife fighting cultures in the world.

    Honestly you are talking to someone who has studied martial arts for 26 yrs and has trained all over the world literally. In all that time I have come to realize they are so many ways to hurt someone before everything it gets redundant. A Ude Garami (JJJ), is a Kimura in (BJJ), is an Americana (Grappling) is a Bent Arm Bar (Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP), Marines Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP). Oh yeah the last two are identified as American Martial Arts.

    Honestly dude your pissing me off. I talked about the origin, you came up with some craziness that looks like you either didn’t read the article or failed english, history and geography. I destroyed your other retorts and you wait two weeks to come up with some other nonsense. I don’t care how many wazoo styles you can name or random loin cloth wearing people know of, the origins are the origins and the SIMILARITIES are going to be there. Half the bastards that create new styles today do it cause they couldn’t get promoted where they were training or don’t want to credit their instructors.

  9. The Bigger Picture

    January 21, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    Wow there’s a lot of knowledge placed here!

    Honestly upon review I don’t see where the debate is; once Fush acknowledged that he isn’t arguing the fact that Africa had martial arts first, but specific styles developed based on the developing culture that’s localized to the region at which they landed.

    When it speaks of similarities, it’s not saying it’s a direct rip… Just that there’s similarities…

  10. Victor Polk

    October 26, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    This guy is a fake scholar.

    • douglass davis

      November 29, 2015 at 5:43 pm


  11. Henry Polk

    January 28, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Martial arts is just a form of fighting, fighting isn’t rocket science.. Fighting is a very fundamental inevitability of the human condition.. So, I think it’s only right to reason that it probably belongs to the first people.. Like I remember reading sign language came from the Americas, but common sense dictates the first people to do it probably gave birth to the first person to loose their voice. Furthermore, if the writing is on an African wall that predates the appearance of martial arts anywhere else, then that does it for me.. The same value system of proof is adequate any other time, why the attempt to ignore the usual suspects and tenets of empirical proof now?

  12. jv

    August 26, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Martial arts, the ORIGINAL teachings were from Sinanju, the first fighting monk, definitely Asian, such as from Korea. Real martial arts has meditations, occult mysticism and ancient dragon teachings. The four are black, white, black and yellow. Of course these are secret societies. Do not bother with history books or writings on walls.

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