This article is from the Martial Arts FAQ, by Matthew Weigel firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
A Martial Art can be defined as a system of techniques, physical and
mental exercises developed as an effective means for self-defense and
offense, both unarmed and with the use of weapons.
The origin and history of Martial Arts is a controversial issue. We
can see signs of Martial Arts in Greek, Egyptian, African, Japanese,
Chinese, Thai, as well as other cultures. There is a clear trail
leading from the Southern China-regions up to Korea, Okinawa and
Japan. The details before that, and the exact details of that
transfer, are greatly debated by historians and Martial Artists.
Some people think that martial arts are, to quote "Stonwulfe,"
... supposed to be a physically, mentally, and spiritually
beneficial activity; a source of enlightenment and a path for
healthy living and longevity.
The real binding part of all the different martial arts described, and
not described, in this document is that they try to teach students how
to fight. Some do that better than others, some incorporate other
things such as spirituality or meditation, but there is no common
thread beyond fighting. So while it might be appropriate to claim that
your martial art, or even maybe the family of martial arts your martial
art hails from, is expected to provide something beyond fighting skill,
it probably doesn't apply to all martial arts.