Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Martial Arts and the Olympics

During this 2012 Olympic season, I learned about a side of the ancient Greek Olympics that might make some of today's martial arts fighters think twice before entering that kind of Olympic competition.

The August 2012 edition of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) magazine has an amazing article by Katherine Dawson titled: 'Victory or Death': Ancient Olympic Sports.

As I read this well referenced article, I was surprised by how violent some of the ancient Olympic games were especially when looking through the lens of today's Olympic sporting events!

Katherine writes, "Unlike the modern jock of today, ancient athletes had to harden their bodies for the brutality of potentially life-threatening contests... Some events reached a point where states found it necessary to immunize athletes from laws against committing homicide when opponents were accidentally killed." (pg 20)

According to this article, some of the ancient "games" could be mortal contests where contestants exercised and developed their military combat skills on the field of sport.

Contrast this with the current popular understanding of the Olympics as promoted at the official website of the Olympics which alludes to the ancient games as being a peaceful event associated with religious festivals and which "aimed to show the physical qualities and evolution of the performances accomplished by young people..."

Clearly there has been a shift in purpose over the centuries as well as what seems to be a whitewashing of that portion of Olympic history!

And yet, the summer Olympics do retain events that are both remnants of former combat arts as well as events of modern martial arts: archery, boxing, fencing, javelin throw, Judo, shooting, Taekwondo, and wrestling.

Here's the link to 'Victory or Death': Ancient Olympic Sports. See pages pages 18-24.

And here are the references cited in this article:
Ancient Olympics: A History by Nigel Spivey. Oxford University Press. 2012
Combat Sports in the Ancient World: Competition, Violence and Culture by Michael Poliakoff. Yale University. 1987
Sport and Society in Ancient Greece by Mark Golden. Cambridge University Press. 1998
The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years by H.W. Pleket.. Chatto & Windrus Ltd. 1976
Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World by Donald Kyle. Wiley Blackwell. 2007
The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games by Tony Perrottet. Random House. 2004
The Ancient Olympic Games by Judith Swaddling. University of Texas Press. 2008
Athletics of the Ancient World by E. Norman Gardiner. Dover Publications. 2002
Sport in the Ancient World from A to Z by Mark Golden. Routledge. 2004
More Than Just a Game: The Military Nature of Greek Athletic Contests by Nancy Reed. Ares Publishers. 1998
Greek Athletes and Athletics by H.A. Harris. Greenwood Press. 1979

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