Martial arts may have started on the battlefields, but today, the many styles represent a means to self-improvement. Simply put, martial arts better the lives of those who practice them.
Martial arts can be divided into the armed and unarmed arts. The former include archery, spearmanship, and swordsmanship; the latter, which originated in China, emphasize striking with the feet and hands or grappling. In Japan, traditionally a warrior’s training emphasized archery, swordsmanship, unarmed combat, and swimming in armour. Members of other classes interested in combat concentrated on arts using the staff, everyday work implements (such as thrashing flails, sickles, and knives), and unarmed combat. Perhaps the most versatile practice was ninjutsu, which was developed for military spies in feudal Japan and also included training in disguise, escape, concealment, geography, meteorology, medicine, and explosives. In modern times, derivatives of some of the armed martial arts, such as kendō (fencing) and kyūdō (archery), are practiced as sports. Derivatives of the unarmed forms of combat, such as judo, sumo, karate, and tae kwon do, are practiced, as are self-defense forms, such as aikido, hapkido, and kung fu. Simplified forms of tai chi chuan (taijiquan), a Chinese form of unarmed combat, are popular as healthful exercise, quite divorced from martial origins. Derivatives of many of the armed and unarmed forms are practiced as a means of spiritual development.
The primary unifying aspect of the East Asian martial arts, which sets them apart from other martial arts, is the influence of Daoism and Zen Buddhism. This influence has resulted in a strong emphasis on the mental and spiritual state of the practitioner, a state in which the rationalizing and calculating functions of the mind are suspended so that the mind and body can react immediately as a unit, reflecting the changing situation around the combatant. When this state is perfected, the everyday experience of the dualism of subject and object vanishes. Since this mental and physical state is also central to Daoism and Zen, and must be experienced to be grasped, many of their adherents practice the martial arts as a part of their philosophical and spiritual training. Conversely, numerous practitioners of the martial arts take up the practice of these philosophies.
Because the world of martial arts is so diverse with so many different styles of martial arts out there, choosing a martial arts style can be a mind-boggling undertaking.
Martial arts originated as ancient combat techniques. Depending on the form, they involve performing technical and often explosive moves such as kicks, punches, and throws; some types use swords, bow and arrow, or other weapons. Practitioners boost their strength, agility, balance, power, reflexes, flexibility, and cardiovascular endurance. Equally important as the fighting and technical aspects of martial arts are the mental and spiritual components, which focus on improving mental endurance, resilience, and concentration; controlling emotions and negative thinking; and even, ultimately, transcending the ego and its mental traps.
There are many different types of martial arts, including taekwondo, karate, and jiu jitsu, as well as MMA (mixed martial arts). Below are definitions of some of the most popular styles.
The world of martial arts is a diverse one, let take a look at a few of the more common styles around. There are so many different styles and different types of martial arts out there. How many of them are you familiar with? Well, if you want to test your martial arts general knowledge, go through our list and find out how many martial art styles you’re familiar with.
Martial arts have been around for thousands of years and many types of martial arts have emerged throughout history with different styles of movement and fighting. With so many martial arts styles out there, it is easy to get confused by the terminology and disciplines. To ease your confusion, we offer our own brief description of each martial art’s discipline, origins, philosophy, and style.
If you’re looking to join martial arts for your fitness, spiritual harmony or to hone your mind and body, picking the right martial arts style is essential if you’re going to enjoy yourself.
Types of Martial Arts
This is a martial arts style that originated from Okinawa, Japan in the early 20th century and is one of the most popular styles. Karate is, more than anything else, centered on self-defense and self-discipline.
It revolves around powerful punches, kicks, open hand strikes, blocks, as well as the use of elbows and knees. However, learners are generally taught to prevent and stop attacks rather than going on the offensive.
Karate is sometimes referred to as the art of the “empty hand” as it rose to popularity in Japan at a time when weapons were outlawed in the country. This style has taken to the philosophy of yoga and other Japanese physical practices.
That’s why it has gone beyond the movie studios to become part of everyday life. It encourages practitioners to adhere to the principles of respect, discipline, and the relentless pursuit of improvement.
This Korean martial art may be one of the world’s oldest. It emphasizes kicking in particular, though the practice also incorporates hand strikes, joint locks, throws, and punches.
the Korean art of self-defense, one of the oldest forms of martial arts (reaching back over 2,000 years), and the most widely practiced martial art in the world. Training involves learning a system of blocks, kicks, punches, and open-handed strikes, as well as varying forms of take-downs, throws, and joint locks, all of which develop strength, speed, balance, flexibility, and stamina. Taekwondo is known for its emphasis on kicking techniques, as compared to other martial arts such as karate. In addition to self-defense training, students learn prearranged sequences of techniques known as forms or poomsae (known in other martial arts as kata). Tae kwon do and judo are the only two martial arts included in the Olympic Games.
Tae Kwon Do is another martial art that traces its origins through Korea’s 5,000 year history. An article by the Kukkiwon World Tae Kwon Do Headquarters, breaks down the name to mean tae (“foot” or “to step”), kwon (“fist” or “fight”), and do (“way” or “discipline”). It can mean “to put fists under control”, or as the article puts it, “the right way of using all parts of the body to stop fights and help build a better and more peaceful world.”
People all over the world are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of physical exercise in their daily routine. Although Taekwondo is an ancient form of self-defense, more and more people are taking it up as a route to fitness. Encompassing various aspects of life skills, taekwondo helps the individual develop a greater bond between body and mind.
It began as a way of training the body and mind in the Koguryo kingdom and was used to train leaders during the Shilla period. Tae Kwon Do teaches punches, kicks, and blocks and uses the blocks and punches together in patterns of movement called forms, or poomse.
Jujitsu (Jujutsu, Jiu-Jitsu)
With famous adherents such as Jessica Alba, Ice T, and Ryan Phillipe, Jujitsu is another popular Japanese martial arts style. Unlike karate that involves lots of powerful kicks and punches, Jujitsu mostly incorporates a wide range of chokes, pins, locks, holds, and joint manipulations.
Developed in China and Japan, this martial art is a forerunner of both aikido and judo. All three martial arts rely on grappling, a technique that involves fighting in close proximity to your opponent with lots of body contact; it can involve anything from throws to strangle-type holds to taking your opponent to the ground or floor and fighting there. Jujitsu uses the attacker’s momentum to do joint locks (in which you force your opponent’s joint, such as an elbow or knee, beyond its normal range of motion, resulting in pain or injury) to restrain the opponent. One variant, Brazilian jujitsu, relies on choking the opponent and continuing the fighting on the ground.
Instead of directly defending attacks through blocks (as with most martial arts such as karate), Jujitsu mainly focuses on neutralizing the attacker. In most cases, a Jujitsu fighter redirects the attacker’s energy and momentum through the above-mentioned ways.
As a result, the Jujitsu fighter can easily render the attacker useless through calculated moves and joint locks; two combinations that make Jujitsu a very effective but also a deadly martial arts style. The most popular type of this style is the Brazilian Jujitsu, which focuses on joint locking and choking the opponent while fighting on the ground.
This martial art also originated in Japan. Like jujitsu and aikido, it’s based largely on grappling, but in this case with an emphasis on throws and pinning the opponent to the ground.
A relatively modern Japanese martial art (created in 1882). The goal of judo is to either throw or takedown one’s opponent to the ground and immobilize or subdue them with a grappling maneuver, joint lock, strangle hold, or choke. Strikes and thrusts by hands and feet or weapons are only allowed in pre-arranged forms (kata), and are not allowed in competition or free practice.
The idea here is to take down the opponent to the ground with the main intention of subduing or immobilizing them. In other words, this is a martial arts style that’s based on using your opponent’s strength to your advantage to overpower him/her.
While strikes, the use of weapons as well as thrusts by hands and feet are not allowed in either free practice or competition, they can be allowed in prearranged forms such as the Judo Kata.
Judo is only slightly older than Aikido; the International Judo Federation says it was developed by Jigoro Kano as a method of physical, intellectual, and moral education in May, 1882. He wanted a way to defend himself, but after studying jujutsu, realized that it focused more on a strong body and not the spirit or education.
He removed dangerous jujutsu techniques, improved falling methods, decreed that fighters must grab each other and opened his first studio to teach his new methods. Judo techniques are divided into throws (nage waza), controls (katame waza), and kicks (atemi waza). Atemi waza is not allowed in competition. Judo became an Olympic sport in 1964.
A number of fighting styles that have developed over the centuries in China. There are common themes to the various styles (which are usually classified by families, schools, or sects). Some styles include physical exercises that mimic animal movements, while others are inspired by Chinese philosophies, religions, and legends. Internal styles focus mainly on harnessing of qi, while external styles concentrate on improving muscle and cardiovascular fitness. Some of the more common styles include Eagle Claw, Hung Gar, Five Animals (Shaolin Kung Fu), Monkey, Praying Mantis, and Wing Chun. (The term kung fu is often used in the west to refer to Chinese martial arts, however its original meaning refers to one’s expertise in any skill, not just martial arts.)
Kung Fu is actually a “catch-all” Western term for Chinese martial arts, according to Black Belt Magazine. Chinese martial arts date back to 2600 B.C. but the Kung Fu we’re more familiar with began around 527 A.D. when Ta Mo arrived at the Shaolin Temple and created 18 Buddhist Fists.
Having originated in the Chinese Buddhist monasteries and Shaolin Temples around 500 CE, Kung Fu is a self-defense practice that incorporates graceful and flowing movements.
In addition to kicks, open and closed-hand strikes and blocks, Kung Fu also integrates agile reflexes, cardiovascular fitness, strategies, and the ability to read your opponent’s mind.
Most Kung Fu variations such as the Praying Mantis, Hung Gar, Wing Chun draw inspiration from Chinese religions, philosophies, legends, and various animal movements.
Developed by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), krav maga (meaning “battle combat” in Hebrew) focuses on hand-to-hand combat with grappling, wrestling, and hand strikes. It also teaches the practitioner to use virtually any ordinary object in the environment—a tree branch, a garbage can lid—to help fend off an attacker, even one who is much larger and heavier. Classes are often taught by Israelis who served in the IDF.
Krav Maga is a martial arts style that originated in Israel. It is basically a tactical system that teaches the learner how to prevent or handle violent attacks. Krav Maga was developed to present itself as a fighting style that can be executed in real world scenarios. Krav Maga techniques are taught across various sectors such as anti-terrorism, special commando units, air marshals, and law enforcement etc.
A hand-to-hand combat system developed in Israel that involves wrestling, grappling and striking techniques, mostly known for its extremely efficient and brutal counter-attacks used to keep the practitioner safe and incapacitate the opponent by any means necessary. Generally, there are no rules in krav maga, and it has no sporting federation. In addition, there is no official uniform, although some organizations recognize progress with rank badges, levels, and belts.
Although it involves grappling, wrestling and the use of hand strikes, Krav Maga encourages the practitioner to use virtually any object in the vicinity to defeat the attacker.
In essence, Krav Maga has no rules, no etiquette, no fighting pattern, and the practitioner can use anything to incapacitate or defeat the opponent.
That being said, Krav Maga is the official combat style of the Israel Defense Forces. It’s a technique that’s largely used in real-world scenarios such as in fighting anti-terrorism or by air marshals, special commando units, and other law enforcement agencies.
The Korean art of self-defense, one of the oldest forms of martial arts (reaching back over 2,000 years), and the most widely practiced martial art in the world. Training involves learning a system of blocks, kicks, punches, and open-handed strikes, as well as varying forms of take-downs, throws, and joint locks, all of which develop strength, speed, balance, flexibility, and stamina. Taekwondo is known for its emphasis on kicking techniques, as compared to other martial arts such as karate. In addition to self-defense training, students learn prearranged sequences of techniques known as forms or poomsae (known in other martial arts as kata). Tae kwon do and judo are the only two martial arts included in the Olympic Games.
This Korean martial art may be one of the world’s oldest. It emphasizes kicking in particular, though the practice also incorporates hand strikes, joint locks, throws, and punches.
Although Taekwondo is one of the oldest forms of self-defense and martial arts styles, it has become more of a fitness movement that integrates various aspects of life skills such as discipline, respect, and personal strength. That’s not all; it also involves speed, balance, stamina, flexibility, and may include throws, take-downs, and joint locks.
Some of the athletes who utilize taekwondo include “Ottogi” Dae Hwan Kim, “Pretty Boy” Kwon Won Il, and ONE Lightweight Kickboxing World Champion Regian “The Immortal” Eersel
Like jujitsu, this Japanese martial art—meaning “the way for harmony” or “unification of your spiritual energy” or ki—makes use of the momentum and strength of the opponent to achieve your objective (sometimes called “nonresistance”). Aikido doesn’t use kicking and makes less use of hand strikes than jujitsu. Instead, the practitioner uses a lot of turning motions and pushing movements accompanied by joint locks.
Like Karate, Aikido also comes from Japan. The term literally translates to “the way of the harmonious spirit”. The main aim of Aikido is to help learners defend themselves without causing harm to the assailant. So, there is very little striking in Aikido. Instead, learners are taught to leverage the opponent’s weakness, which according to Aikido, is something that is often exposed by the opponent unknowingly.
Aikido is perhaps the most spiritual martial arts style as it loosely translates to “the way of harmony of the spirit”. For this reason, an Aikido practitioner is always encouraged to use the opponent’s kinetic energy to take control of the situation and render the opponent powerless.
That’s why an Aikido practitioner uses fewer kicks and hand strikes and instead uses a lot of pushing movement, turning motions, and joint locks (but only when necessary).
A Korean martial art which uses joint locks, kicks, punches, and other striking attacks. Weapons such as sword, nunchaku, rope, cane, and staff are also used, although their emphasis varies. Hapkido focuses on using circular motions, non-resisting movements, and control of the opponent, using footwork and body positioning to gain leverage and avoid strength against strength. Although aikido and hapkido are thought to share a common history, they differ significantly in philosophy, range of responses, and execution of techniques.
This Korean martial art incorporates a variety of weapons, including belts, ropes, and canes. They’re used in moves including kicks, joint locks, throws, and hand strikes to the body’s pressure points.
While many people think that Hapkido and Aikido share similar principles (possibly because of the names), they are significantly different. For example, Hapkido can include the use of weapons such as cane, rope, and sword, albeit varyingly.
Needless to say, this is quite different from Aikido in terms of execution of techniques, range of response, and even the general philosophy.
It originally focused on pressure point strikes, joint locks, and throws, but now includes highly refined kicks and hand strikes. Weapon usage is also taught, including canes, staffs, and belts. It’s usually considered a form of self-defense rather than a martial sport.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
A full contact sport that allows a variety of fighting styles to be used (including martial and non-martial arts techniques). Striking and grappling techniques, either standing or on the ground, are allowed. The early years of the sport saw a wide variety of traditional styles, but as the sport evolved many styles were shown to be ineffective. It is now common for fighters to train in multiple styles, creating a more balanced skill set.
It involves fighting either while standing up or on the ground. A fighter can employ various techniques such as grappling, striking, choking, kicking, punching and many more. In essence, MMA incorporates various fighting techniques including submission, boxing, Jujitsu, Karate, Muay Thai, Judo and many more.
Mixed martial arts is as old as combat itself. It was practiced in various forms in ancient Greece, China, Egypt, India, Italy, and Japan. But the rules and regulations were different in each country.
Despite the old variations of the discipline, modern mixed martial arts involves the use of grappling and striking both standing up and on the ground.
Most of the matches that take place in the ONE Circle are mixed martial arts bouts, and there are 11 ONE World Titles currently contested in this discipline.
Muay Thai (Thai Boxing)
Muay Thai is commonly called the national sport of Thailand, and it is a martial art that dates back to the days of the Konbaung Dynasty in Siam.
In the 19th century, King Chulalongkorn turned the martial art into a sport. In the years to follow, rules and regulations were introduced. Aside from competition, Muay Thai is learned for self-defense, health, and personal betterment.
“The art of eight limbs” emphasizes punches, kicks, knees, and elbows, but it also involves sweeps and clinch work.
A martial art from Thailand which uses stand-up striking and clinching techniques. It makes prominent use of punches, kicks, elbow strikes, and knee strikes, using eight points of contact, in contrast to the hands and feet (four contact points) more often relied upon in other martial arts. Numerous techniques associated with Muay Thai can be found in MMA.
The style involves clinching techniques and stand-up striking. It requires the practitioner to convert different parts of his/her body into weapons of war. For instance, the hands can become swords and daggers, the knees can be used as an ax, the elbows can become hammers, the legs can turn into a staff while the shins and the forearms can be used as protective armor.
With its roots in China, Tai Chi is a martial arts style that is not only practiced for its defense training but also its numerous health benefits (improving muscle strength, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, better night sleep). This style generally involves elegantly choreographed slow-motion poses and positions.
Also known as tai chi chuan, this Chinese martial art involves choreographed, slow-motion postures. Some forms use a sword or other weapons. It’s said that tai chi originated when a Chinese monk saw the fluid movements of a crane fending off a snake and combined the graceful movements with Taoist breathing techniques. In the West today, tai chi is usually practiced as a form of exercise, rather than as a martial art.
Legend has it that Tai Chi’s slow-motion movements and postures are inspired by the slow movements of the crane bird fending off a snake in combination with the elegant movement of Taoist breathing practices. This is to enable you to relax, maintain an attitude of patience, and stay gently focused even when under the attack.
As the story goes, Capoeira is a Brazilian martial arts style that was initially invented by Angolan slaves who wanted to hide their self-defense techniques as dance moves. This is why it involves constant dance moves, lots of music, endless movements, and, of course, fighting.
This Brazilian martial art was originally developed by Angolan slaves who disguised their self-defense moves as dance. It’s very acrobatic, with flips, punches, and kicks.
In its purest form, Capoeira involves two practitioners (known as Capoeiristas) surrounded by other participants in what is known as Capoeira wheel. Some of the participants must play percussion instruments to offer a thrilling musical background. And despite the rhythms, the fighters should use deception and maneuvers to confuse, control, and outwit the opponent.
Kumdo (also spelled Gumdo) means “the way of the sword” and is an ancient martial art that originated in Korea. It dates back over 2,000 years to the time of the 3 Kingdoms of Ancient Korea. According to the World Haidong Gumdo Association, in the 18th century, real swords were exchanged for bamboo swords, and practitioners began wearing protective equipment.
This made the art safer to practice without compromising its focus on spiritual and mental prowess. Kumdo classes include breathing and stretching exercises, sparring, sword forms using practice blades, sword theory, and etiquette.
Gumdo was almost lost to the world during the Yi/Chosun Dynasty (1392-1907) as the government modernized weapons for national defense. The 1910 Japanese invasion of Korea led to a banishment of Korean culture and Gumdo was replaced by Kendo, although masters taught others in secret. After the liberation of Korea in 1945, masters were free to teach again. According to the World Haidong Gumdo Association, the basic techniques include fencing, cutting, thrusting, combat, and abdominal breathing exercises. It’s one of the fastest growing martial arts in the world.
Kempo, often spelled as kenpo, describe the same martial art. “Kempo” is the more traditional spelling and “kenpo” is the contemporary spelling. Its history is as confusing as the spelling of its name. While some kempo association sites speak about techniques being passed down through a family, others mention Bodhidharma instructing monks at the Shaolin temple to restore their physical health and train them to defend the temple. What all the stories agree on is that kempo has its roots in both Japanese and Chinese martial arts. Kenpo karate is the oldest style taught in the U.S. and was created in 1949 by William K.S. Chow and taught by his student, Ed Parker.
Read more Why Should You Learn Martial Arts?