The history of martial arts in the world is complex. The Asian martial arts that are credited because of their unique and fast spread all over the world followed specific cultural traditions of trainer-disciple relationship. These trainings were strictly hierarchical and can be traced back to about 350 BC according to The Art of War by Tzu Sun. Though martial arts developed and advanced very fast in Asia, it was only recently that it emerged in the US. Despite this, the growth in the USA has been very rapid with more than 1.5 million practicing martial arts by 2003. In this post, we look at the martial arts emergence into the USA.
The role of early Asian communities
While reports have been made of indigenous forms of martial arts in America, little is known about them. The interest in martial arts emerged and started spreading in the late 19th century because of the trade between Japan, China, and America. In late 19th century, martial arts were mainly performed by Asians who wanted to strengthen the perception of martial arts performances. Because the fights were less popular, only those in Asian communities participated in serious fights.
Though many local American communities in the late 19th century were not interested, it did not take long before the thrill became irresistible. When Zheng Man Ching was brought to train King Fu to Chinese in New York, his interaction with locals made him start teaching Tai Chi. Other people who helped to spread martial arts included Delza Sophia who came to the US in the 1940s after studying Tai Chi in Shanghai in the 1920s. Delza was joined by Fairbairn WE in training Combat for the OSS after working for many years in the Shanghai Municipal Police Department. Between the 1940 and 1950s, most of the current marine programs were designed by soldiers returning from China to guard the US embassy.
The military role in the emergence of martial arts
Having seen the effectiveness of martial arts in self-defense and emerging military roles, the US military encouraged young people to learn various techniques such as King Fu and Tae Kwondo. Between 1940 and 1945, martial arts helped the soldiers to succeed in the combat so much. Most of them, who served in the army came back and formed martial art schools that helped to advance martial arts in the US. The practice grew so much that even younger people were allowed to participate in training.
Asian martial arts and contemporary media
While the emergence of the martial arts in the US mainly followed the disciplined forces by mid of the 20th century, everything became explosive when media took over in the 1950s. Bruce Lee commencing with Green Hornet brought the Chinese Kung Fu to the American media, and it became irresistible even outside the conventional competition ring. Kung Fu fever caught the entire US after the Fists of Fury of 1972 by Warner Bro. Other firms made Martian Arts so popular and demand to study them went a notch higher. By the end of the cold war, martial arts that were common in the US included Jujutsu, Ninjutsu, Akido, Judo, Kung Fu, Tae Kwondo, and Muay Thai Kickboxing.