Many MMA fans, martial artists, and regular every day people are familiar with the more traditional and widespread martial arts that have become the mainstream. Striking arts like karate, taekwondo, boxing, and muay thai; grappling arts like judo, freestyle, Greco Roman wrestling, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu are all common knowledge in the martial arts world. However there are still some martial art systems today that are unfamiliar to even some of the more experienced martial artists.
We first examine an ancient fighting style that evolved from the Filipino tribes in the 16th century, Arnis or Escrima. When Magellan came to the island he was surprised with the skill with which the natives utilized weapons. According to an article on blackbeltmag.com,
"It's one of the few martial arts in the world in which practitioners must first learn how to use weapons before learning empty-hand skills. Because villagers had limited time to learn how to protect themselves from other villagers and foreign invaders, escrima training focused on using simple, easy-to-learn, battle-tested fighting skills."
Its main weapon is known as the baston, which is a pair of lightweight wooden batons. They are used to strike and disarm opponents and also serve as a good training tool to improve range, movement, and defense. They also utilized more ranged and bladed weapons and heavily emphasized them as a crucial art in their defense systems against the colonizing Spanish. They also utilized punches kicks, strikes, grappling, and throws. They refer to this portion of escrima as mano mano. They also disguised some of their training techniques as dance in order to hide it from the Spanish soldiers. It is currently practiced with mostly the baston. Training with any of the more lethal weapons has grown impractical but is still also practiced with replicas and used for demonstration. Today dueling, its type of sparring, has been limited to light contact and without any sort of blades.
We now move to a more direct and competition based martial art that has its origins in West Africa, a striking art known as Dambe. This is a truly ancient art, with origin theories stemming back to Ancient Egypt. The stances that the Dambe boxers use, as well as the equipment, is similar to that of the ancient Egyptian boxers portrayed in hieroglyphs.
Dambe was a traditional way for men in West African tribes to prepare for war. This evolved into a tournament-style competition, which then led to the more modern-era exhibitions of Dambe, in which young men now train to become professionals that travel with other fighters to different tribes and areas to put on the spectacle of Dambe as tradition.
Dambe practitioners fight in a boxing style stance, and their dominant hand is wrapped up in a piece of cloth surrounded by tightly knotted cord. This is used to strike the opponent, while the lead hand is left unwrapped and is referred to as the "shield" as it is left open handed which can be used to block or grab the opponent.
Kicking is allowed as well, and the lead leg is often wrapped in a metal cord or chain. The rear leg is left unwrapped, but can also be used for kicks. However in more modern times, most Dambe matches are fought mostly with the hand striking techniques.
In terms of the matches, opponents are not held to weight classes, although most often they are matched up by similar size. The matches last 3 rounds, however these rounds have no time limit. Instead, they are ended by 3 ways:
- When the fighters are stagnant or too fatigued to continue in the same round;
- If a fighter himself or the official calls a halt to the round (TKO or Technical Knockdown), or;
- When a fighters hand, knee, or body touches the ground, AKA knockdown.
The entire premise of the fight is to fight for the knockout, and although fighters may not always go completely out, a fighter can win by 'decision' if he knocks down his opponent enough, or his opponent gives up. Of course, the fastest way to win is to knock out the opponent unconscious. It should be noted in modern Dambe that the officials are much quicker to step in to call separations in the bout. Overall, this is a more traditional and historical look into the beginnings of striking, however it stands strong in its home of West Africa, and the men who take part are incredibly tough warriors.
For our last martial art, we go to China, where we explore one of the more obscured arts coming from this ancient culture. Baguazhang is a more internal art, which uses the channeling of energy in the body to perform techniques. It had its origins in 19th century China when a man named Dong Haichuan learned its techniques and practices from Taoist monks in the mountains of rural China. The name itself contains a Taoist principle, Bagua, which refers the trigrams, a canon of Taoism.
The main movement of Baguazhang, which we will simply refer to from now on as Bagua, is known as the circle walk. Practitioners walk around the edge of a circle (physical or nonexistent) and shift their stance as they do, going into lower stances and executing their forms. This is a way to train their movements, ability to move quickly out of them, and channel their internal power.
Bagua in some of its forms does involve weaponry, however we will focus on its hand-to-hand techniques in this article. Bagua involves hand strikes, kicks, joint locks, throws, and of course the distinctive circular walk. Bagua is not considered an only striking or only grappling art, as its practitioners have the ability to flow in between each, and emphasize evasion of attacks altogether. One of its most prominent aspects is the practice of moving behind the attacker as a counter, allowing for the practitioner to place locks on the neck, or throw/trip their opponent to the ground, taking away the opponent's offense.
The goal in these movements in Bagua is to move the body with smooth coiling and uncoiling motions that allow for quickness of strikes or throws, also moving behind the opponent. The key to these quick movements also lies in the internal energy of the practitioner, stemming from the abdomen. While Bagua has many styles within its blanket term, all of them have the same fundamental movements and techniques discussed above.
While we may be familiar with traditional arts that have been popularized by movies, martial arts schools and mixed martial arts competitions, there are still techniques and arts out there that defy our imagination and take us by surprise. After all, any martial art deserves its due respect, because although some seem unconventional and strange to us, in the hands of a trained practitioner who knows what they're doing, any of these martial arts can be very effective.