The Oldest Martial Arts In The World
published on September 3, 2023
curated and posted by BRWLRZ Team

Ever since humans have existed, we have developed various methods of self-defense. This fact has led many to wonder what the oldest martial arts in the world are and if they’re still practiced.

Here’s a list of some of the oldest martial arts in the world. Read below to learn a bit about the world’s oldest martial arts and how they were developed.

Explore The Oldest Martial Arts In The World

Pankration

  • Originated: 2000 B.C.
  • Country: Greece
  • Still Practiced? Yes

The ancient art of Pankration is one of the oldest martial arts in the world. It’s a well-documented ancient hybrid-martial art.

It is a fighting style that consists of both striking and grappling techniques. An early form of MMA that would influence various future martial arts and wrestling styles.

In Greek mythology, it is said that Hercules used Pankration to defeat the Nemeaon Lion. Pankration dates back to the first Olympic Games, but the teachings go back to centuries earlier.

The presentation of Pankration has changed over the years, but the techniques have stood the test of time. It’s a martial art that helped influence the development of modern MMA.

Shuai Jiao 

  • Originated: 2697 B.C.
  • Country: China
  • Still Practiced? Yes

When people think of jacket wrestling, they first think of Judo, but it wasn’t the first form of jacket wrestling. Shuai Jiao is one of the oldest martial arts in the world and arguably the first form of jacket wrestling.

This Chinese wrestling style was first developed as a game played by ancient Chinese soldiers. They would wear bull horns and try to knock each other out of a ring.

Martial artists of the period refined this wrestling and turned it into Shua Jiao. Armor was replaced with short jackets, and the throws and sweeps began to be refined.

It has been the most popular form of sport multiple times in Chinese history. Thanks to curious martial artists. Shua Jiao is starting to have a resurgence in popularity.

Shuai Jiao Shuai Jiao

Kalaripayattu 

  • Originated: 1000 B.C
  • Country: India
  • Still Practiced? Yes

One of India’s oldest martial arts in the world is the sword art of Kalaripayattu. This sword-based martial art is one of the oldest sword-fighting styles in the world.

Historians date that this sword and shield martial art began being formalized around 1000 B.C. According to Hindu legend, the art of Kalaripayattu was created by Parasurama, the sixth avatar of the Hindu deity Bishnu.

The original Shaolin monk, Bodhi Dharma, was said to be a Kalaripayattu practititoner. This martial art has withstood the test of time and is still widely practiced.

Kalaripayattu Kalaripayattu

Taekkyon 

  • Originated: 50 B.C.
  • Country: Korea
  • Still Practiced: Yes

Taekkyon is the oldest known Korean martial art, dating back to around 50 B.C. Some ancient books and art suggest Taekkyon was practiced during the Korean Three Kingdom period around 18 B.C.

The art of Taekkyon is a heavy-kicking-based martial art that uses long-range attacks. Predominantly kicks that are swift and powerful.

Before the Japanese occupation of Japan, Taekkyon was the most popular martial art in Korea. For half a century, the practice of Taekkyon or any Korean martial art was forbidden.

When Japanese occupation, Taekkyon would have a rebirthing period. Even being influential in the development of Taekwondo.

Today, Taekkyon is on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. Ensuring that the martial art will be shared with future generations.

Taekkyon Taekkyon

Muay Boran 

  • Originated: 13th Century
  • Country: Thailand
  • Still Practiced? Yes

Everyone knows the art of Muay Thai, but some don’t know the fighting style it evolved from. Muay Boran was the predecessor to Muay Thai and one of the oldest martial arts in the world.

Formal Muay Boran was developed in 13th century Thailand, but the techniques were developed over centuries. Ancient Thai soldiers that predate the Siam kingdom were documented using an ancient style of Muay Thai.

These techniques of war were formally named Muay Boran. The techniques in Muay Boran are identical to the techniques of Muay Thai except for one detail.

Muay Boran was developed to defend yourself in a war, while Muay Thai techniques are for sport. Many techniques in Muay Boran would be deemed illegal in Muay Thai. In modern-day Thailand, the art of Muay Boran is still practiced and thriving. 

Muay Boran Muay Boran

Malla-Yudda

  • Originated: 3000 B.C.
  • Country: India
  • Still Practiced? Yes

India has another one of the oldest martial arts in the world, Malla-Yudda. It’s an Indian style of Pancrase that uses a variety of different striking and grappling techniques.

Malla-Yudda dates back to somewhere between 3000 B.C. or even before then. It’s a martial art that is divided into four different styles that are named after Hindu gods.

  • Hanumanti: Technical Superiority
  • Jambuvanti: Grappling Techniques
  • Jarasandhi: Breaking Limbs
  • Bhimaseni: Pure Strength

Sadly, the art of Malla-Yudda is not widely practiced anymore. Only a few communities within Northern India still practice the ancient Malla-Yudda techniques.

Boxing 

  • Originated 600 BC
  • Country: Multiple
  • Still Practiced: Yes

Boxing is easily one of the oldest martial arts in the world. It’s a fighting style that every culture in the world practices a variation of.

Humans instinctually attack with their hands, which is why boxing was one of the first martial arts developed. There is no exact date to point to, but humans have been boxing for over fifteen thousand years.

Artifacts from numerous ancient cultures show that they practiced forms of boxing and passed down the teachings. Boxing was even one of the first Olympic Games that were held in 668 B.C.

Over a period of time, boxing has been refined and become the world’s most practiced martial art.

Wrestling 

  • Originated: 15k to 20k Years Ago
  • Country: Multiple
  • Still Practiced: Yes

Early humans weren’t just punching each other but also wrestling. The grappling art of wrestling is one of the oldest martial arts in the world practiced by all cultures.

Historians believe that formal wrestling training dates back 15-20 thousand years. Some of the first sporting events, including the Olympics, had a wrestling event.

Every culture in the world practices a form of wrestling. The two most practiced wrestling styles in the world are freestyle and Greco-Roman.

The reason why wrestling is one of the oldest martial arts in the world is because we figured out grappling works.

Stickfighting

  • Originated: Early BC
  • Country: Multiple
  • Still Practiced: Yes

Just like every culture had a form of boxing and wrestling, almost all ancient cultures practiced stick-fighting. A stick was the first weapon that humans started using to defend themselves.

They figured out that using a big stick gives them a range advantage and keeps their enemies at bay. Just about every ancient culture has documentation of a stick-based self-defense system.

Each style used different types of sticks that had different sizes and densities. For example, many of the stick-fighting styles of Asia use bamboo in their weapon styles.

Many of the older styles, like Bojutsu, Tahtib, and Zulu stick-fighting, are still practiced today. They are now practiced more as a sport but still give practitioners invaluable self-defense skills.

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