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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.

The art, which includes Kung-Fu, Tae Kwon Do, Judo, and Karate, has become heavily associated with the fighting arts of East Asia and parts of Europe. 

But little do we know that such constructions about the origins of martial arts are wrong. Historians say that martial arts originated in Africa.

As popular as the martial arts were and continue to be, studies show that less than one per cent of Africans, and only a slightly higher percentage of Asians, and Europeans are aware that these magnificent arts originated in Africa. 

Several historical evidence trace martial arts to Africa, though there are slight variations in such accounts. Korean karate master Masutatsu Oyama traced the origins of martial arts to the Ancient Egyptian civilization in his book Advanced Karate published in 1969.  

Though Oyama claimed such evidence was found on the Egyptian pyramid, other studies found engravings in several Egyptian tombs dating as far back as 4000 B.C. Nigel BFG in his article, “Short History: The Nuba and the African Origin of All Martial Arts”, published in the Black Karate Federation Magazine in 1999 and revised in 2000 directly linked martial arts to Ancient Egypt.

Nigel’s evidence points to discoveries in tombs in Ancient Egyptian Mahez region, now “Beni Hasan”, or “hill of the son of the Hasan family”.  Although considered just a sport today, these illustrations point to a well-developed science that actually developed in Nubia (the region along the Nile River located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt), but reached its zenith in Egypt.

In four separate tombs in Beni Hasan, there are hundreds of ‘decayed’ paintings on limestone walls. The illustrations total well over 500 individual pairs of wrestlers executing hundreds of sophisticated techniques such as kicking and punching. These images are largely found in the tombs of ancient Egyptian governors or princes particularly during the 11th and 12th dynasties. 

There are also scenes of martial artists using weapons such as a lance, short sticks, daggers, staffs, and bows and arrows.  Scenes of warriors utilising military technology such as a testudo (a shielding device used during the siege of a castle) are also well engraved. The earliest representation of a castle in the world can be found on an incense holder that originates from Nubia, the “mother civilisation” of Egypt.

In all, these African paintings represent the most ancient, and prolific depiction of martial arts in the world. That’s not all. Teachings of martial arts such as justice, truth, righteousness, and correct actions to direct the spiritual forces originated in Africa, historians say.

People's Republic of China in combination with the Human Genetics Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, Texas. The research was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China. In addition to genetic evidence linking China to Africa, archeological evidence has recorded close to 100 "pyramids" that are located in a 100km area around the city Xi'an in central China. This site is also well known as the location of the famous life-size terracotta warriors. Further study of the history and art of the Shang and Chou dynasties in China will reveal even more African influences. All of this is not to say, however, that Chinese culture is African. It is not and should never be misinterpreted to be. Instead, this information and evidence points to a clear interaction and anthropological connection that must be acknowledged if the complete story is to be told in its entirety.    

   As it relates to the murals mentioned earlier, the sciences of genetics and anthropology provides further insight into the accounts of the martial arts in China specifically pertaining to the master of the famous Buddhist priest from India, Bodhiharma. Known as "Ta Mo" (Great Black) in China, and "Daramu" in Japan, Bodhiharma was a 28th generation disciple of Siddhartha Guatama, otherwise known as the Buddha. Bodhiharma traveled to China where he taught his brand of exercises which became the foundation for Quan fa, or "Chuan fa", which means "the way of the fist". In Japan it corresponds to their word "Kenpo" which means "the law of the fist", or "fist law". The history of Bodhiharma and his influence in China has become legendary, but the more profound story of his master, Siddhartha Guatama, and the philosophy of Buddhism is rarely, if ever discussed when explaining the history of the martial arts. It is vital to our understanding of Kenpo and the martial arts that we look closer at India, the times in which Buddha lived, and who the Buddha was. This will help us to clarify Mas Oyama's references to Africa in his words and pictures, as well as provide the full story for the Black Buddhist monks who appear on the murals at the Shaolin Temple in China today.


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