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Martial Arts That Originated in Europe

Martial arts are thought to come from ancient Asia or modern day Asian countries. This is true, to an extent. But, not all martial arts have originated in Asia. People live all over the world and the need to fight, defend, attack and create something new is not limited to one continent.

Philosophy and tradition play a large part in most martial arts, but some have been created out of purely practical reasons. Europe has a few martial arts of its own and here they are, in no particular order.


Boxing is considered a noble art. It is an old form of fighting that can be traced back to the 1600s BCE, in Ancient Greece. Boxing, however, as we know it, is not the same as ancient boxing. The Marquess of Queensbury Rules were drafted by John Chambers in 1867, and are generally accepted boxing rules. 

The game evolved over the couple of millennia it existed, into what we know today, as a well-developed sport. While its origins can be traced back to Ancient Greece, it was developed and molded into what we know as boxing in Britain. It is an Olympic Sport, as well as a sport that is very popular, in almost all parts of the world.


Wrestling is a name for many sports, but traditionally, wrestling refers to a style of wrestling known as Greco-Roman wrestling, folkstyle, freestyle, catch, submission and many more. Wrestling has its origins in Ancient Greece, and has grown to evolve and be practiced in almost every country in the world. Its origins, however, are European and we have two Olympic disciplines, in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. These two sports, apart from being Olympic disciplines, are practiced all over the world.


Sambo does not have the historic richness of boxing or wrestling but it does have some historic meaning behind it. It is a blend of multiple words, an acronym, from the phrase samozashchita bez oruzhiya, meaning self-defense without weapons. It is a Soviet martial art, used to enhance the hand-to-hand skills of the military, developed during the 1920s. It was developed by Oschepkov and Spiridonov, as well as the political influence of Kharlampiyev, who managed to get the sport recognized by the Soviet government, in 1938, its official birth year. 

Sambo has a world championship tournament, as well as practitioners everywhere in the world. It is one a combination of wrestling, judo and striking techniques, depending on the style of sambo. Sports sambo is more lenient and combat sambo is more rigorous and reserved for those who prefer more hardcore workouts and sports.

Хоружий Юрий Александрович, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Savate is what is known as French kickboxing. Savate’s name comes from a word which means old shoe and refers to heavy boots. It originated in the 19th century in France. Traditional savate originated in Paris and was pretty brutal. The sport had practitioners wear heavy boots and while the kicks didn’t go above the groin, they were strong. Most kicks had the intention of breaking a bone behind them. 

Savate allows only kicks with the foot, and not the knees or shins, which one might find in traditional kickboxing. It is practiced everywhere nowadays, with plenty of amateur tournaments, and without its very early brutality.

Europe is home to many martial arts, from the ones mentioned above to fencing and its many forms, combat Hopak, stick fighting, and many more.