THE history of martial arts can be traced back thousands of years to Asia.

Many of the most prominent martial arts originate from the region — such as kung fu, karate and hwa rang do.

Shaped by many factors, there are a large number of distinct styles and schools of martial arts.

Sometimes, schools or styles are introduced by individual teachers or masters, or as a brand name by a specific gym.

The western interest in East Asian martial arts dates back to the late 19th century, and grew thanks to an increase in trade between the West with China and Japan.

European martial arts before then was focused on the duelling sword among the upper classes on one hand, and various styles of folk wrestling among the lower classes on the other.

Edward William Barton-Wright, a British railway engineer who had studied jujutsu while working in Japan between 1894–97, was the first man known to have taught Asian martial arts in Europe.

When he returned to England he brought two masters with him, but their reception was unfavourable, the British public, used to boxing and the musical hall strongman, thought it was 'farcical' and the masters 'knockabout comedians'.

It was only after the two masters went on a tour of the music halls, challenging all comers with a £1 prize for every minute they lasted in the duel that people began to appreciate the qualities of jujitsu and accept it for the art it was.

Fast forward to the 1970s and 1980s and there was an increased media interest in the martial arts, thanks in part to Asian and Hollywood martial arts movies and television shows such as Kung Fu and Martial Law that incorporated martial arts moments or themes.

Following Bruce Lee, both Jackie Chan and Jet Li are prominent movie figures who have been responsible for promoting Chinese martial arts in recent years.

One person who looms large in the early days of karate in Britain is Vernon Bell, who was born in 1922.

A founder member of the Amateur Judo Association, in 1949 he became a professional judo coach, grading to first dan in 1952.

In 1957 he became the first Briton to hold a black belt in karate and formed the British Karate Federation.

Six years later a federation team took part in the first European Karate competition in Paris.

The modernisation of karate over time included the adoption of the white uniform that consisted of the kimono, dogi and coloured belt ranks, which had first originated in judo.

A number of martial arts clubs have been formed across East Lancashire over the years and today we look back at some of the club members and prize winners, both young and old, who have practised the arts over the years.

Martial arts clubs teaching karate, and different forms of it, such as Budokwai karate, Wado Kai karate and Tani Kai karate, alongside Kempo Ju-Jitsu and Bredakwai, have flourished throughout our communities.