A group of Asian skills combining mental, physical, and
spiritual energies for self-defense in weaponless fighting, or the
achievement of apparently paranormal feats of strength and
control. The martial arts derive from the samurai or warrior
caste fighting systems of ancient Japan, which were conditioned
by Zen Buddhism; hence they have a spiritual basis. They are
closely related to similar systems in ancient China. Japanese
and Chinese martial arts are widely diffused throughout Asia.
These arts have become more widely known and taught in
the West since World War II, when many servicemen encountered
them in Asian campaigns, and there are now many
schools for specific training of the different martial art forms.
Symbolic of the growing interest in martial arts has been the
popularity of the late Chinese film star Bruce Lee, who popularized
the art of kung-fu in such films as Fist of Fury and Enter
the Dragon. That particular martial art was further popularized
in the television movie series Kung Fu starring David Carradine,
first shown in the 1970s and revived in the 1990s.
The main martial arts are aikido (a kind of judo of graceful
movement in which an opponents force is used against him),
bando (Burmese boxing and wrestling), judo (wrestling with special
emphasis on balance and leverage), jiu-jitsu (a more comprehensive
and aggressive forerunner of judo), karate (kicking,
striking, and blocking with arms or legs), kung-fu (a group of
various styles of fighting and defense), shaolin (Chinese shadow
boxing), tae kwon do (Korean system of kick-punching), and tai
chi chuan (originally a self-defense art, now a system of physical
exercises to harmonize body and mind).
The various forms of martial arts have, as their basis, the attainment
of spiritual enlightenment and peace, from which
point remarkable feats of skill and strength in self-defense or
attack can be generated. In the process of training, practitioners
claim to become aware of a subtle vital energy named chi
or ki. Chi is accumulated, amplified, and directed by willpower
to specific parts of the body, which develop strength and resilience.
This process is sometimes preceded by a sudden exhalation
of breath, often accompanied by a shout or yell. The intake
of breath that follows appears to result in hyperventilation of
the system, generating vitality that can be directed to hands,
feet, or other parts of the body.
This process has been widely demonstrated by practitioners
of karate in apparently paranormal feats such as breaking
bricks, tiles, and planks of wood with a bare hand. It has been
suggested that these feats are related to such psychic phenomena
as psychokinesis, the ability to move objects at a distance
by mental action.
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