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Angkor Wat The sheer diversity of cultures in Southeast Asia has played a large part in the evolution of martial arts in the region.Southeast Asia consists of contemporary Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. These countries occupy both peninsular and island landforms, with China to the north and India to the west.

Many of the distinctive cultural institutions, including the martial systems, were shaped by Indian and Chinese civilizations.
 At the same time, a wealth of religious practices - including Shaminism,Christianity,Islam,Sikhism,Hinduism and Buddhism have all cotributed to the philosophical underpinnings of indigenous,imported, and hybrid art forms.

Although information regarding the earliest cultures in the area is sketchy at best, archaeological evidence indicates that the area was populated gradually and undramatically. Early immigrants of Malayan stock formed the core of the indigenous population. The earliest cultures owe a debt to southwestern China, and the religions were animistic. Much later with the arrival of Hinduism and Buddhism (Mahayana, followed a few centuries later by Hinayana) from India and, beginning in the thirteenth century, Islam, many of these indigenous practices were absorbed into the imported religions. Animistic principles may still be seen in Southeast Asian martial systems.

The earliest history of the region (from Chinese sources) notes an Indian presence in Annam (coastal "Indochina"), Cambodia, and Thailand and on the islands of Java, Sumatra, and Celebes by at least the third century A.D. Although influence came in from various regions of India, Indian cultural features were restricted to the elite members of society, exerting no more than minimal influence on the culture of the folk until the popularization of Hinayana Buddhism in the thirteenth century.

The intrusion of European colonialism into the region had minimal impact on traditional combative systems, beyond driving them underground in some cases. In the period following Japanese incursions in World War 11, some practitioners incorporated that nation's martial arts like karate into native martial systems.

The martial arts in Southeast Asia coexist with dance and drama in some cultural traditions. Indonesia, Burma, and Thailand, for example, maintained at least into the late twentieth century dances that incorporate forms also seen in their combative arts. Among the Shan tribes of Myanmar in the early twentieth century, dance embodied and was likely to have been a vehicle for the practice of the indigenous boxing and weapons systems, and traditionally both Muay Thai (Thailand) and Lethwei (Burma) boxing matches were preceded by martial dancing.

Pencak Silat (Indonesia) and Bersilat (Malaysia) utilize musical accompaniment during practice and exhibition. The role of silek (silat) as an element of west Sumatran folk drama as recently as 1998 has been well documented.
Thai Dancers

Angkor Wat

Archaeological evidence in the form of physical representations of human combat from the Khmer Empire (A.D. 802‑1431) that have been found in the thousands in association with the Temple of Angkor Wat, built in the first half of the twelfth century by Suryavarman 11 (r. 1113‑1150), and the walled city of Angkor Thom and its Bayon Temple, built late in the same century by jayavarman VII (1181‑1219), suggests a long history of martial arts.

Although contact from India came early on in Khmer history and exerted profound cultural and religious influence, the statues and relief figures portrayed more closely resemble Chinese boxing stances than any known arts of India.
Southeast Asian arts range from full-contact aggression to a more gentle focus on self-development. Muay Thai the direct and effective kickboxing sport uses elbows and knees, is a simple yet brutal art.
In contrast the Burmese art of Pongyi-Thaing is non-violent and stresses  Hindu and Buddhist principles in an attempt to develop a practitioner's mind,body and spirit.

Those who practice the ancient Burmese art of Bando Yoga seek to cultivate health and in former times their readiness for battle by defending themselves against both armed attack from without and internal disease from within, leading to a more peacefull existence free from confrontation and conflict.


Muay Thai

Muay Thai is the most widely recognized of the martial arts of Thailand. In its contemporary form Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, is known as an international sport. Precise information is lacking on the system's origins because of the destruction of Siamese records in 1767 during one of their continuing conflicts with Burma (now Myanmar). As a combative system, however, it has figured prominently in the legends surrounding the centuries of conflict between the two countries.

In the late eighteenth century, a tradition maintains that Thai boxer Nai Khanom Tom was given the opportunity to fight for his freedom after being captured in a battle against the Burmese. He affected his release by defeating a dozen Burmese boxers. Other versions of this legend vary in their particulars, but in all versions, the Thai triumphs. In documented contemporary encounters, on the other hand, Muay Thai experts have fallen to the larger Burmese fighters.



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