The practice of martial arts is thought to be over 2,000 years old, originating in the world’s oldest civilisations. Europe has produced gladiators, fencers and Greek wrestlers whilst the East has seen samurais and Shaolin Kung Fu warriors. The term “martial” is derived from the Latin martialis (Mars being the Roman god of war), hence the connotation with fighting. But it’s not all about violent battle. Since the days of yore, many martial arts styles have preached the importance of self-confidence, inner power and a mysterious vital energy known as “chi” in the Far East, “prana” in India, and the “spirit” in the Western world. Upon harnessing this mysterious chi, martial artists are able to perform seemingly impossible feats, such as breaking solid blocks of wood, ice or stone with their bare hands or executing the famous One Inch Punch, which shot Bruce Lee to fame in 1964.
Whilst for many of today, the martial arts evoke images of Jacky Chan and Mr Miyagi, they in fact boast an ancient and fascinating history of combat, and a promotion of a way of life; a marriage of power and harmony of the spirit, allowing one to feel safe, confident, powerful and healthy. From some of the most familiar, to some of the more far-fetched, we explore the different styles and unique powers of martial arts and their contribution to our overall well-being.
Wing Chun is a mix of Kung Fu techniques and the best of the dragon and crane styles. The striking and grappling techniques focus on short-range combat and self-defence. Three hand forms are taught: firstly, Siu Nim Tao (small idea), where one harnesses inner chi and performs each of the 108 main hand techniques. Secondly, Chum Kiu (searching for the bridge), which is a series of kicking and pivoting techniques. Finally, Biu Jee (explosive fingers), which is the culmination of your hitherto acquired skills with the addition of weapons and the Chi Sao (sticking hands) technique. Wing Chun focuses on harnessing one’s chi more than developing brute strength.
Bernard Fung, a long-time practitioner of Wing Chun, describes the importance of the ‘empty mind’ concept in martial arts, “The most important part in generating power for any technique is to stay relaxed…not letting emotions get in the way of achieving your goals.” Along with combat technique, Fung has also been taught discipline and respect through his practice. “Martial arts has made me humble and has awakened me more on how to act as a person,” he adds. An experienced and high-level Wing Chun practitioner is said to be one of the most lethal martial artists.
Iaido (the way of harmonising oneself in action) is a modern Japanese martial art that teaches the Iaidoka (practitioner) to react to surprise attacks by wielding a sword, quickly striking the opponent and then wiping blood from the blade, before returning the sword to its sheath. Whilst in the past, Iaido was used in warfare, today it is performed as a series of waza(acts) against one or more imaginary opponents. To make these waza believable, the Iaidoka requires a vivid imagination and unwavering concentration in performing the refined movements of Iaido. Miliardo HF Mak, Associate Chief Iai Instructor at the Hong Kong Iaido Kenjutsu Club, explains the physical benefits of Iaido, “[Martial arts] has improved my cardiovascular and respiratory functions, as well as my muscle endurance and power.” In addition to physical fitness, the Iaidoka requires a peaceful mind, devoid of stress, to be both at ease and alert to oncoming attacks. “In following the moral values of Bushido [the way of the warrior], my practice has improved my patience and endurance in everyday life,” continues Mak. “Iaido is good for everyone. Especially the post-90s generation, who can be so self-centered and have very poor patience.”