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Martial arts is an English translation of the Japanese word “武芸 bu-gei”. Literally, it refers to “武 martial” and “芸 arts”.

It was first used in the Japanese-English dictionary “Takenobu Japanese-English Dictionary (Collection of the National Diet Library of Japan)” published by a Japanese in 1918, and then spread to the general public in the West. This is why the term “martial arts” is now often associated with oriental martial arts that are strongly associated with orientalism, rather than simply referring to combat systems.

According to Paul Bowman, the term martial arts was popularized by mainstream popular culture during the 1960s to 1970s, notably by Hong Kong martial arts films (most famously those of Bruce Lee) during the so-called “chopsocky” wave of the early 1970s.

According to John Clements, the term martial arts itself is derived from an older Latin term meaning “Arts of Mars”, the Roman god of war, and was used to refer to the combat systems of Europe (European martial arts) as early as the 1550s. In contrast to the Japanese term Budo, (武道), The character Bu 武 the Chinese Han character, meaning to stopping the blades or oppose Violence, and Do or Tao 道 meaning path, translated as the path or way against violence, Denoting traditional training in China and Japan for the exponent was to transcend doing harm to another by redirecting the personal ego towards more positive virtuous endeavours.

The term martial science, or martial sciences, was commonly used to refer to the fighting arts of East Asia (Asian martial arts) up until the 1970s, while the term Chinese boxing was also used to refer to Chinese martial arts up until then.

Some authors have argued that fighting arts or fighting systems would be more appropriate terms on the basis that many martial arts were never “martial” in the sense of being used or created by professional warriors.