Over the years there has been plenty of arguments regarding which martial art is the oldest, and the father of all the others? With a little research, I believe you’ll find the answers here.
Three to four million years ago Homo sapiens appeared on earth . . . naked, hungry and in constant danger. Survival meant developing the absolute ability to gather food, acquire clothing, find shelter and defend themselves against animals and those of their own kind.
Those that mastered these necessities were believed, at least in the world according to Darwin, to be the fittest. Those that didn’t had a relatively short existence. But regardless if it was food, shelter, clothing or defense . . . survival meant being skilled at open hand fighting, the precursor of today’s wrestling.
Regarding the acquisition of game for food and hides for clothing, man had to risk his life and limb in the struggle. This is how he learned the earliest techniques of wrestling, by mirroring the behavioral movements of the very animals he was harvesting for food. It was a collectively learned process; each encounter with prey would build upon others giving way to increased technical knowledge and accompanying success rates.
This evolutionary process became the basic tenets of today’s attack and counter attack style of combat. Survival then, as it is now, means the speed at which information is gathered and assimilated. The faster early man learned to grapple with nothing more than his hands and a little courage determined if he ate or was eaten, the quality of his cloths, where he slept and with whom.
The oldest known reference to wrestling is estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 years old. The remaining self-defense forms aren’t mentioned in history until the fifth century BC. The first documented proof of wrestling in Asia occurred during the rule of Emperor Huang-ti of China between 2698 and 2598 BC and suggested its techniques imitated the movements “of the goat, tiger and bear.” Six hundred years before the birth of Christ another reference to wrestling in Chinese history ranked wrestling (shuai chiao) as a military skill on par with archery and chariot racing.
In comparison, the history of Japan’s jujitsu, based on the philosophy of self-defense without weapons, dates back to 1532 AD. It’s interesting to note that this form of martial art uses similar references to wrestling’s goat, tiger and bear styles of fighting with their dragon, snake, tiger, leopard and crane forms of self-defense.
Brazilian Jujitsu, one of the two premier ground-fighting martial arts of today uses a wide variety of wrestling techniques in combination with assorted methods of joint locks and choking. A direct descendant of Kodokan Judo and often referred to as Gracie Jujitsu after its founder, this fighting system is one of the most effective and respected in the world.
Karate’s history can be traced back some 1400 years to Western India and Daruma, the father of Zen Buddhism. He developed what is known as “empty hand” grappling or fighting. Kung fu, a close relative to karate, had its beginnings about the same time in northern China at the Shaolin Temple.
Both disciplines effectively incorporate many of the striking, blocking, trips, throws and joint manipulation techniques from the earliest forms of wrestling.
Judo, a later offshoot of jujitsu, is a relative newcomer to the martial arts family. Started in 1882 by Dr. Jigoro Kano, the sport adopted the best of over 40 different self-defense forms, integrating the most formidable techniques of each into a sport. Grand Master Kano called it Kodokan Judo. Many of the throwing, choking and pinning techniques used in this form of self-defense developed from jujitsu and pankration wrestling, an ancient Olympic form of military fighting without weapons.
Probably the most effective, feared and toughest of all the martial arts today comes from the Soviet Union and is known as Sombo (the Americanized term) or Cambo (the Soviets).
Developed at the request of Lenin immediately following the Bolshevik Revolution, Sombo Wrestling quickly established itself as the preeminent martial art. Initially taught at the Soviet’s Dinamo physical training center for the Red Army’s Special Forces, it combines the most aggressive techniques from jujitsu, judo, kung fu and karate with the basic control tenets of wrestling.
Today, wrestling’s family tree has over one thousand different self-defense forms scattered around the globe, each one a martial art of its own, each one a unique fighting system. But in every case their origins have a common thread, a martial art called wrestling.