I would say a big characteristic, at least for armed martial arts, is the presence of much heavier armor in the West as compared to the East (or anywhere else, for that matter). It's not a new observation that Europeans were practically swimming in ferrous geology compared to the more fertile soil of Asia, and one practical consequence of this was that European soldiers could almost completely encase themselves and their horses in steel armor, while their peers in China and the Middle East had to make do with leather, wood, and cloth. A coat of mail worn by a regular footsoldier in 13th century England would have made a Prince or General on any other continent jealous.
Slashing techniques work acceptably well against the softer armor of Asia, but aren't terribly effective against steel mail or plates. Thrusting and piercing, on the other hand, are much harder to lessen, and it wasn't until the 15th century that the European understanding of force and pressure enabled the construction of armor that could repel sword or spear thrusts.
In that light it makes sense that western swordplay favored overall straight swords for better thrusting until armor went out of style completely, that western spears are less designed for slashing maneuvers and more for things like jousting, and that archers and javelin-throwers were such a significant component of European armies. Even the axe-heads on halberds aren't designed to cut through armor, but to forcibly dismount cavalry and then cut open their armor with the pokey ends.
There are exceptions, obviously. The highland claymore was designed for slashing and hacking, but predictably the Picts and Scots that used it rarely wore armor. The Cossacks (who were mostly unarmored and had their cultural, if not actually ethnic, roots in Central Asia) used curved swords for slashing. And although sabers came into fashion once armor was on the way out, lance-wielding medium cavalry remained an integral part of continental cavalry units until the 20th century.
This may have had some effect on unarmed combat systems in Europe, but the influence of fighting for sport rather than conquest or defense thereagainst is strong enough that I don't see it.
I'd broadly agree, but note that historical European fencing (meaning all manner of close-combat techniques) included a very significant array of un-armored combat methods with various weapons.
In the same vein, a strong argument can be made for the case that the more sophisticated MAs from, say, the Renaissance period had only a tangential relationship to actual battlefield combat. Then as (often) now, MAs requiring intensive individual training in refined techniques were often practiced as recreational activities, "gentlemanly accomplishments", self defense systems and (then, but not so much now) as preparation for formal duels of honor.
There is no "True WMA" definition anyone here will discover. It's an arbitrary cut-off, and WMA practitioners too frequently rely on the giant false generalizations of european history and proto-history that don't line up and ignore big regional divergences and better splits from other periods.
"Western" vs. "Eastern" always ends up in false dichotomies - the terms don't describe the state of martial arts in the past, the term "Western" usually means this:
"Older martial arts that have to be at least partially reconstructed that we refer to because we're reacting to eastern ma fanboys who think others don't have any martial heritage and we personally happen to be of a european background so we reconstruct their arts as a counter-example - though we say "Western" instead of "European" so we get to pretend that it's a huge legacy of similar practices going back to Greece and Rome, even if there were tons of breaks and changes in between and boy doesn't everyone love simplified binary oppositions..."
That's not an ideal definition for WMA, but that's what the word means in present day discussion. IMO people should quickly jump to just saying they practice ringen / medieval wrestling and striking or German or Italian school longsword, etc. and skip that whole BS categorization.
As I mentioned in another recent thread, the term WMA was actually chosen (at a time when most of the English-speaking "major players" in this field were members of the same YahooGroups email list) partly in order to create an identifiable acronym. We considered "EMA" for "European Martial Arts" but figured that could also be read as "Eastern Martial Arts".
Come to think of it, EuroMA kind of works for purposes of online shorthand...
Since then, the term has evolved into an umbrella covering "European martial arts" including both living-lineage styles (savate, jogo do pau, etc.) and what are more often defined as "historical European martial arts" (HEMA) or "historical European fencing" (HES). The latter are more specifically reconstructed styles (German longsword fencing, Renaissance Italian dagger fighting, etc.)
Many people who specialise in particular schools/styles do simply refer to those styles by name, but there still seems to be a need/desire for a workable term for "martial arts originating in the 'Western World' - if only to name online forums like this one.
I actually agree with EuroMA term more than WMA. I personally have been studying Irish Martial Arts and there history for most of my life considering a family style of fighting originating in Ireland and passed down to me from my grandfather. I haven't really considered the blanket term of WMA until this thread. I personally blanket martial arts only as far as to their country of origin, Filipino, Indonesian, Japanese Chinese... etc... because each country and it's culture are what influence the styles of combat. Because of given technology available, each country had to answer the same question of defense in it's own way.
Feel free to start a new thread on your family style - I'm sure people would be interested to learn about it.
Originally Posted by littlehazey
Thanks for the suggestion, I just may... It's nothing too special, just a combination of boxing, kicking, stick fighting and some wrestling... pretty simple stuff by comparison to what else is out there, but it relies more on what most would consider dirty tricks... like eye gouges and groin shots... but I'll give it a shot and see what kind of response I get.
Originally Posted by DdlR
That's true, but it's equally the case for e.g. Japanese martial arts from the 17th century on. However, I would still argue that European armed fighting shows a clear lineage to medieval battlefield combat--the swords in the Langes Messer video in another thread are straight and medium-shortish, and the two killing blows shown were both stabs to the face.
Originally Posted by DdlR
Likewise the heart target on fencing jackets until the 19th century, the use of bucklers until the 17th century, the use of lunges, and so forth.
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