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I believe that all human beings are martial artists. Some of us have embraced the artist’s way and others are latent with potential. But who were we before we were martial artists?  

We could just as easily ask when humans first brushed their teeth. In fact, historians believe we started brushing our teeth approximately 5000 years ago, during the same period certain exercises were being developed to prevent disease. Yoga was in full creation to purify the spirit, and teeth cleaning was becoming a thing. Teeth cleaning and yoga are valuable disciplines. Notably, they demonstrate how our species, diverging from our neanderthal relatives, made an important commitment to care for our physical health.  

We now know that gum-disease and rotting teeth can lead to dementia. During this ancient time, however, no one lived long enough to see the effects of gum disease on brain health. Modern-day humans have a different task at hand – that of mental health. We have, for the most part, downloaded the guide to physical health; the post penicillin era allowed us to move less and less for overall health and more for the physical body alone. But we don’t get to stray too far from our genetics. Now, in the 21st century, we see more depression, more anxiety, and a human race walking hand-in-hand with violence to self and others. Of course, there are the great leaders of our time such as Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, who understand that physical health is enhanced by emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being, but they are the exceptions. 

Who were those early humans and why is this relevant for us now, in the 21stcentury?  

Our ancient martial art ancestors had war to confront. They had famine.They had lands and clans to protect. There were very real reasons for combat, weapons, self-protection, and self-defense. These male and female ancestors also handed down practices to keep our spirits clean and our minds sharp. Women in combat were just as important as men, if not more, because women guarded the home, often concealing weapons within their clothing. If they had to use them, it meant the men on the battle ground had not survived. The practice of preparing for battle became an art. By definition, a Martial Artist is a person who is skilled in a war-like trade, occupation, or in the present day, hobby. 

But we also know that a martial artist understands etiquette, lineage, discipline, study. We know, and have experienced, that to be a martial artist is to understand humility, to keep a strong and fluid body and mind, to walk quietly until it is time to act. We know we must keep a low profile and check our ego at the door. We understand that bowing is an ancient tradition honoring the master and teacher. We know that being a martial artist is a way of life.  

We could say that since the first human ancestor arrived, some 5-7 million years ago, our species had a martial arts template laid out for us. We had to survive. We had to hunt. We had to protect our family. We had to evolve, a process that requires acute attention to internal and external stressors. The development of wisdom teeth took eons and now we are finding baby humans being born without them. Individual discernment contributes to the evolution of our species. If that is not martial arts, I’m not sure what it is!  

The main difference between then and now is our ability to be conscious and to self-reflect. It is our ability to learn, our willingness to adapt, the magical ability of our mind to cling to the past, jump into a made-up future, and then bring it back to the present that makes us human.  

“Simply to let the world know that our country has always been a land of hero-sages.”-Yi-Kyu-bo, 1168-1241, quote from Master Barry Harmon’s book, 5000 years of Korean Martial Arts. 

While this quote is from thousands of years ago, it is relevant today because it reminds us that people, and martial artists in particular, have always had the capacity to respond, to find inner stillness, to listen to the whispers in the wind, and to assess the next best move.  

To put things in perspective, at one point there were no humans with eyes on planet earth. Some 100 billion years ago there was no sight. So, to say today that the “sea is blue” is an awareness that is offered because we have eyes. Before then, concepts like a blue sea were latent. The seas were there, ready to be blue, but only full of potential at this point. I believe that all human beings are martial artists. But some of us have embraced the artist’s way and others are still pre-sighted, latent with potential. We are still evolving.  

No matter what your sacred martial arts training has been, sometime, approximately 5000 years ago the rise of martial arts began. We have been martial artists as long as we have been brushing our teeth.  

Now, more than ever, humans have the opportunity to evolve as martial artists. We are at war with our planet. We need a global tribe of martial artists to come together and assess the next best move: to be of service to our planet is to ensure we revel in the art of giving which is a natural antidote to depression and anxiety. At Jungshin Fitness, we make it easy to give back: 


Annika Kahn is the founder of Jungshin Fitness. She is a lifelong athlete and a 4-time world grand champion in the Korean Art of Kuk Sool Won. Annika is an international presenter with 20+ years of experience and offers instructor training worldwide as well as education and corporate seminars on the connection between positive mental health and movement.