What Is The Oldest Martial Art In The World?

Martial arts, or the practice of combat techniques for self-defense or as a form of physical exercise, have been around for thousands of years. Many ancient civilizations developed martial arts as a means of protecting their people, defending their lands, or as a form of training for warriors.

While the origins of martial arts are difficult to trace, some of the oldest known martial arts date back to ancient China, India, Japan, and Greece. 

In this article, we will explore some of the oldest martial arts in the world and their history.

Let’s dive in.


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Kalaripayattu is considered to be one of the oldest martial arts in the world, originating in the southern Indian state of Kerala over 3,000 years ago. It is a combat system that combines physical training, meditation, and the use of weapons. Kalaripayattu has been passed down through generations of practitioners, and today it is still practiced in traditional schools in India.

The techniques of Kalaripayattu include kicks, punches, grappling, and the use of weapons such as swords, spears, and daggers. One of the unique features of Kalaripayattu is its emphasis on agility and flexibility, with practitioners performing acrobatic feats such as jumping and rolling.

In addition to its combat applications, Kalaripayattu is also used for healing purposes, with practitioners using massage and herbal remedies to treat injuries and ailments.

Shaolin Kung Fu

Shaolin Kung Fu, also known as Shaolin Wushu, is a Chinese martial art that originated in the Shaolin Temple in Henan province over 1,500 years ago. It is one of the most well-known and popular martial arts in the world and has influenced the development of many other styles, including Karate and Tae Kwon Do.

The techniques of Shaolin Kung Fu include striking, kicking, grappling, and the use of weapons such as staffs, swords, and spears. One of the key principles of Shaolin Kung Fu is the use of internal energy, known as “chi,” to enhance the power and effectiveness of techniques.

Shaolin Kung Fu is also known for its emphasis on discipline and meditation, with practitioners often spending hours each day practicing forms and training their minds as well as their bodies.

Muay Boran

Muay Boran is a traditional martial art from Thailand that dates back over 2,000 years. It is the predecessor of modern Muay Thai, which is a popular combat sport that has gained worldwide recognition.

The techniques of Muay Boran include punches, kicks, knee strikes, elbow strikes, and grappling. Unlike modern Muay Thai, Muay Boran also incorporates the use of weapons such as swords, spears, and clubs.

In addition to its combat applications, Muay Boran is also known for its spiritual aspects, with practitioners using meditation and traditional Thai practices such as Wai Khru (a ritual dance to pay respect to teachers and ancestors) to connect with their heritage and culture.


Pankration is an ancient Greek martial art that dates back to the Olympic Games in 648 BC. It is a combat sport that combines striking, grappling, and submission techniques, and was considered one of the toughest and most brutal sports of its time.

Pankration was included in the Olympic Games until 393 AD, when it was banned due to its violent nature. However, it continued to be practiced in other forms throughout Greece and other parts of the world, and has influenced the development of many modern combat sports, including Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

The techniques of Pankration include striking with hands and feet, as well as grappling and submission techniques such as chokes and joint locks. It was known for its emphasis on physical conditioning, with practitioners training their bodies to withstand pain and fatigue.


Boxing, or the art of fighting with fists, has been around since ancient times, with evidence of boxing matches dating back to ancient Greece as early as 688 BCE. The sport was popular among the Greeks, who organized boxing matches as part of their Olympic games.

Boxing was also popular in ancient Rome, where fighters would compete in gladiatorial matches. However, the sport declined in popularity in the middle ages, as it was seen as too brutal and barbaric.

It wasn’t until the 18th century that boxing regained popularity, with the establishment of the first rules and regulations. Today, boxing is a popular sport worldwide and is also used as a form of exercise and self-defense.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi, also known as Tai Chi Chuan, is a Chinese martial art that originated in the 12th century. It was developed as a form of exercise to improve health and longevity, as well as a means of self-defense.

Tai Chi involves slow, flowing movements that promote relaxation, balance, and coordination. The practice also includes breathing exercises and meditation to promote mental and emotional well-being.

Tai Chi was initially taught only to members of the Chinese military and elite, but it has since become a popular form of exercise and meditation worldwide. It is also used as a form of therapy for various health conditions, including arthritis, hypertension, and depression.

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Why Is It Important To Practice Ancient Martial Arts?

The oldest martial arts in the world have stood the test of time, evolving over thousands of years to become the sophisticated systems we know today. These martial arts are not just about combat and self-defense but also about physical and spiritual development.

From Kalaripayattu in India to Judo in Japan, each martial art has its unique characteristics and applications, emphasizing different aspects of physical and mental development. Yet, all of them share a common goal of improving the practitioner’s overall health and well-being.

As we continue to appreciate and learn from these ancient martial arts, we can gain insight into the importance of discipline, focus, and perseverance in our daily lives. Whether we practice them for self-defense or personal development, these martial arts remind us of the power of mind, body, and spirit and inspire us to strive for excellence in all aspects of our lives.

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Gareth Davies

I'm a martial arts competitor and enthusiast. Over the last 15 years, I have trained and competed in several martial arts. I live in Manchester U.K working as a strength & conditioning coach when I'm not travelling and exploring martial arts around the world.
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