The Greek race is certainly
well-known
for its athletic and military achievements in the PreChristian era. In truth, we must credit them for both the word "athlete" and the ideal it expresses. It was also the Greek soldier who would represent the standard for the rest of the world to follow for centuries.



The contribution of the Greeks
to the evolution of the martial arts, as we presently know them, is now certainly evident. Fighting systems that have originated in both Eastern and Western parts of the world may indeed be linked to this ancient combat form.
Over 2000 years ago, the ancient Greeks had developed a brutal, all-out combat form which they named Pankration (pronounced pan/cray/shun or pan-crat-ee-on depending on the dialect).



The term is derived from
the Greek adjectives pan and kratos and is translated to mean "all powers" or "all-encompassing." First introduced into the Olympic Games of 648 B.C., pankration would soon become the most popular and most demanding of all athletic events. It integrated every physical and mental resource - hands and feet, mind and spirit - in the closest simulation of no-holds-barred competitive fighting that any culture has ever allowed.



Only biting and gouging
were prohibited. Anything else went, although the tough Spartan contingent allowed these, too, in their local athletic festivals. The techniques included a murderous mixture of Hellenic boxing and wrestling: hook and uppercut punches, full-powered kicks, elbowing and kneeing, joint locks, as well as numerous submission chokeholds.

Kicking was an essential part
of pankration, especially rising kicks to the groin or stomach, and powerful leg sweeps meant to take an opponent off his feet. Kicks above the belt were used sparingly, with blows aimed to the head or face only when one's adversary was on the ground and too weakened to block or catch the attacker's foot. Due to this unique tactic alone, some combative experts credit pankration as the first comprehensive unarmed fighting system on record.
Pankration bouts were extremely brutal and sometimes life-threatening to the competitors. Rules were minimal in number. In addition, there were no weight divisions and no time limits.



The fighting arena or "ring" was no more than
twelve to fourteen-feet square
to encourage close-quarter action. Referees were armed with stout rods or switches to enforce the rules against biting and gouging. The rules, however, were often broken by some participants who, realizing they were outclassed by a heavier and stronger foe, would resort to such measures to escape being seriously maimed. The contest itself continued uninterrupted until one of the combatants either surrendered, suffered unconsciousness, or, of course, was killed.

Although knockouts were common,
most pankration battles were decided on the ground where both striking and submission techniques would freely come into play. Pankratiasts were highly-skilled grapplers and were extremely effective in applying a variety of takedowns, chokes, and punishing joint locks. Strangulation was most feared during ground combat, and was the leading cause of death in matches. A fighter would immediately raise his arm in defeat once his opponent's forearm had secured a firm grip across the windpipe or carotid artery.

The feats of the ancient pankratiasts became legendary
in the annals of Greek athletics. Stories abound of past champions and masters who were considered invincible beings. Arrichion, Dioxxipus, and Polydamos are among the most highly-recognized names, their accomplishments defying the odds by besting multiple armed opponents in life-and-death combat, and battling and killing lions when human competition was no longer a feasible challenge. It is also theorized that the famed strongman Hercules was the first Olympic victor in pankration. Exhibitions of superhuman strength were frequently witnessed by the awe-struck Greek people. Practitioners displayed the power of pneuma (Gr. inner energy) by breaking stones and planks with their bare fists and driving their hardened feet through forged war shields.

The Romans would later adopt pankration
into their particular athletic contests, but their modifications would degrade it to a mere blood sport. The fighters were now armed with the dreaded caestus, a weighted and spiked glove which reigned blows with deadly results. In Rome it was not unusual for such public brutality, as it was the rule rather than the exception, to quench the spectator's thirst for gore. This alteration, however, diminished the skill and aesthetic value that the Greek race had come to admire in their athletes. Rarely, if ever, did a true Greek pankratiast participate in the savage gladiatorial arenas of Rome , even though the were often tempted by higher purses and positions within the powerful Roman empire .
Pankration was basic to the majority of the Greek warriors who served under Alexander the Great during his invasion of India in 326 B.C. Many authorities now contend that this dispersal of pankration techniques throughout the subcontinent laid the foundation for countless Asian martial arts which evolved soon thereafter, including Chinese kung fu, Okinawan karate, and Japanese jiujitsu. This theory has been the subject of a raging controversy for the past twenty years.

The rediscovery of pankration, in Italy and Europe,
was set in motion at the beginning of the 80s by a group of university teachers that were sport enthusiast and, at the same time, devoted to the classical historical period. They gathered an extensive documentation about martial arts, centered especially on the Mediterranean basin. However, they wished to go beyond the mere scientific elaboration and to competitively try out those disciplines found in archeological finds and ancient texts. Therefore they contacted a group of martial arts enthusiasts that, up to that time, were devoted especially to Eastern disciplines. In 1994, thanks to that collaboration, the Ars Dimicandi Institute was founded in Italy with the aim of combine historical-archeological studies of combat arts and their experimentation. In addition to the study of martial arts thereís that of the Scrima, the union of all types of sidearm combat from the ancient times up to now, modern fencing excluded. In 1997, the Fipaclis was founded with the object of promote the Ars Dimicandiís disciplines in the world of agonistic sport.