What I mean by the "oldest martial art" is an organized martial art or lineage of martial arts that we have history about from a reliable source including its origins and date that it was designed. I'd like to know how far back can we rewind in the history of martial arts.

Please note that that I am looking for a lineage of martial arts if possible; I'm looking for the oldest art with proof. This art may not be practiced today or greatly altered.

Now I may know that there is not a 100% definite answer to this question, but what is the best answer possible that we can be sure about?

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    Do you mean a martial art that is practiced today just like it was practiced when it was invented? Martial arts do change greatly over time. I guess what you really want to know is if there's a lineage that can be traced back in an unbroken line, with no gaps in its history. So, person A taught person B, and person B taught person C, and so on. And with evidence confirming each person's authenticity. That's a tall order. Many claim multi-hundred-year old lineage lines, but they often don't show the evidence they claim to have. Aug 14, 2014 at 2:28
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    Now, if you're just talking about martial arts that may no longer exist and don't have any lineage to look at, history mentions many of them. The gladiators of ancient Greece, for example. There are statues and pictures showing gladiators in various martial arts poses that we would recognize today. Military arts, also, go back thousands of years BC. But again, kind of hard drawing a line from them to current day martial arts. Aug 14, 2014 at 2:31
  • Lots of overlap with this question. Aug 17, 2014 at 20:31

3 Answers 3


According to Wikipedia's Martial Arts Timeline the oldest martial art identified is Ancient Egyptian. There are murals in the Beni Hasan tomb depicting wrestling that date back to 20th Century BCE.

If you want the very first martial art, that's probably going to be "pointy stick". That Wikipedia link is pretty good. It shows approximate dates of important events for many of the martial arts. Like anything with Wikipedia, it is subject to being wrong, due to humans being involved, so check your sources.

  • There's really not an answer to this question, or if there is one, we would have to talk about what we mean by martial arts. If we mean a systemized method of combat, well people have been doing that probably for as long as people have been fighting. ::shrug:: Still an interesting question. Aug 15, 2014 at 12:00
  • Indeed but your answer is much more complete than mine and does answer all the aspects of the question. Aug 15, 2014 at 12:22

Heracles is a good start. He was the patron of Palaestra (παλαίστρα) which had rules, competitions, and training schools. I guess we are talking about a few hundred years BC -- I could not find an example of earliest primary sources. If you are going with the legends, 776BC were the first Olympic games.

From the IEP:

The very name palaestra derives from the verb palaiein, meaning “to wrestle.” Palaestrae had three basic functions: (1) as training areas for combat sports such as wrestling and boxing, (2) as areas for cult activity, and (3) as meeting places for discussion, philosophical and otherwise. Plato’s depiction of Socrates engaging in philosophical discourse provides a most vivid picture of life in the Classical Athenian palaestrae.

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    Plato himself was a wrestler. His name means "broad"/"flat" and was given to him by a gymnastic coach, according to Diogenes. His real name was Aristocles. Aug 14, 2014 at 17:55

Kalaripayattu always came up as the oldest martial arts, anytime I looked into that topic. I've even seen it being mentioned as the oldest MA in many other documentaries as well.

here's the snippet from wiki:

Kalaripayattu (pronunciation: [kɐɭɐripɐjɐtːɨ̆]) is an Indian martial art which originated in the state of Kerala. It is considered to be the oldest fighting system in existence.

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    The wiki article refers to the 'Discovery Channel' with a link that doesn't exist anymore. I don't think it is worth much as proof.
    – THelper
    Feb 5, 2015 at 7:02
  • Fight Quest did an episode on it as well, where they said the same thing.
    – ibimon
    Feb 6, 2015 at 11:25

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