So here you are, reading an article about martial arts. It would therefore be safe to presume you have at least a faint interest in them, but what are they? If you were to walk up to a typical media-exposed American and ask them this question, they will probably start talking about Brock Lesnar and Chuck Liddell, and look at you strangely if you drop the names Jigoro Kano or Ueshiba. To me, there is a distinct difference between the newer trend of Mixed Martial Arts and the East Asian origins from which they come, which I can simplify with just two words: sport and philosophy.
While MMA is fun to watch, can get you in great shape, and its practitioners could easily dominate the untrained person in hand-to-hand combat, classical martial arts go much deeper. Their intention was not only to teach its students how to fight, but literally how to live their lives every moment of every day. The intention of MMA is similar to that of professional boxing (or olympic Judo, or any similar sport environment of combat): to win the match based on the rules and parameters set forth by the judges and referees. I have absolutely no problem with sport, and please do not misinterpret me to be bashing or belittling mixed martial artists. To the classical martial artist they are simply apples and oranges.
Traditional martial arts are found all over the world, from Brazil and China, to Greece and India. The ones which these articles will be discussing are primarily originated from China and Japan. Culturally, these societies have incorporated Buddhism and Shinto into their lives for thousands of years. These systems of philosophy brought about a way of looking at life and the world around us in a very different way than their Western counterparts. In Asia, everything is interrelated, part of a greater system, while in the West, everything is a distinct separate entity. Therefore when designing their systems for hand-to-hand combat, these world views influenced and biased the way it was structured. Classical martial arts often discuss the interrelationship between attacker and defender, the strike and its block, the throw and the subsequent fall.
With these things in mind, for the purpose of the discussions herein, we will view 'martial arts' as systems with goals such as self-discipline, empathy for one's fellow man, moving in harmony with nature, enhanced awareness, and perfection of character as their primary goals, with combative prowess being nothing more than an added bonus.