What is the oldest combat sport? For the purpose of this article, let us assume that “pre-modern” means before modern, and we define “combat sport” as any competitive athletic activity that utilizes striking, or otherwise designed body movements, as a method of competition. Although not entirely correct, Google Trends is an excellent way to determine how popular various martial arts and combat sports have been in terms of the amount of Google search results for the particular term over time.
In 2021, the Internet was in its infancy. Today, it is an enormous power source, which can be used to conduct an enormous amount of research. Using the Internet, the earliest evidence we have for pre-modern martial arts can be traced back to ancient Egypt. The earliest example of a strike technique that uses the upper body as striking tool dates back to around 1200 B.C.
In comparison to modern-day sports, ancient martial arts don’t have nearly the same history, but many of the concepts that they did have since their inception. It should be noted that this is not to say that the arts don’t have a rich history or even that they aren’t significant. Quite the contrary. Through analysis of the types of strikes and positions used in a variety of combat sports, one can discover a common ancestor that dates back at least 5000 years, making these sports very old in comparison to most other types of sports.
Many people would argue that boxing and MMA are not martial sports, and therefore, aren’t really martial sports. There are some valid points, but what if we take a step back and look at the mechanics of how the two sports originate? Interestingly enough, the two sports share a lot of the same principles that evolved from each other, especially when it comes to using your legs as weapons. Both originated in various cultures across the world, with different approaches to how to fight, but with some fundamental similarities that have remained through the years.
First, both boxing and Judo share some common points in that they utilize a head butt to deliver a knockout. While there is no way to verify this directly, it is obvious that both sports place a heavy emphasis on the use of your head to stun or defeat an opponent. Most of today’s younger fighters also spend a large amount of time drilling leg attacks, parries, etc… Though these are all things that come naturally to a fair number of martial arts fighters, there is something to be said for going back to basics and learning how to fight using your head, legs, and punches. Of course, today there are more martial arts techniques being added to the mix, but many of these stem from the roots of old-school Judo or Aikido.
Second, both boxing and Judo have a long and storied history of use and popularity. There really is no arguing that either sport is more popular than any others in history. Both have a strong fighting reputation and a long and illustrious history. While mixed martial arts has had its fair share of successful fighters, the beginning of mixed martial arts competitions was actually a competition staged in Greece, though the style has taken different twists over the years. Either way, Judo and Aikido are without a doubt the oldest combat sport in history.
Finally, both boxing and Judo have a long and storied history of use and popularity amongst the ranks of the armed services. Interestingly enough, while the United States has always had a large number of Army, Navy, and Marine personnel who spend much of their training time in a ring or sparring gym, the beginnings of both Aikido and Judo can be traced all the way back to ancient China. There, both wrestling and martial arts were integral parts of everyday life for many members of the military. It is interesting to note that the United States Army still actively trains its members to be proficient in wrestling techniques. This is hardly surprising when you consider the fact that wrestling is an extremely useful skill to have as far as military personnel go.
What makes these sports so incredibly interesting and different from one another is that they do not rely solely on the strength of the body. Many fighters in both boxing and Judo make use of kicks, punches, and knee strikes. Both are highly athletic contact sports that require agility, flexibility, and the use of every part of the human body. In addition, there is a great deal of skill required in each of these sports. With regards to Judo, it is necessary to be extremely flexible in order to Dodge the large and heavy strikes received from the ground fighters. In the case of boxing, the ability to endure numerous blows is absolutely necessary.