Martial arts are extensive systems of codified practices and traditions of combat, practiced for a variety of reasons, including self-defense, competition, physical health and fitness, as well as mental and spiritual development.
The term martial art has become heavily associated with the fighting arts of eastern Asia, but was originally used in regard to the combat systems of Europe as early as the 1550s. An English fencing manual of 1639 used the term in reference specifically to the “Science and Art” of swordplay. The term is ultimately derived from Latin, martial arts being the “Arts of Mars,” the Roman god of war.
Some martial arts are considered ‘traditional’ and tied to an ethnic, cultural or religious background, while others are modern systems developed either by a founder or an association.
Health and fitness benefits
Training in martial arts imparts many benefits to the trainee, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
Through systematic practice in the martial arts a person’s physical fitness may be boosted (strength, stamina, flexibility, movement coordination, etc.,) as the whole body is exercised and the entire muscular system is activated. Beyond contributing to physical fitness, martial arts training also has benefits for mental health, contributing to self-esteem, self-control, emotional and spiritual well-being. For this reason, a number of martial arts schools have focused purely on therapeutic aspects, de-emphasizing the historical aspect of self-defense or combat completely.
According to Bruce Lee, martial arts also have the nature of an art, since there is emotional communication and complete emotional expression.
Source and References http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martial_arts