Martial Arts (Definition, Origin, Scope, Styles, Weapons)

martial arts

Definition of Martial Arts

The word ‘martial’ derives from the name of Mars, the Roman god of war. The term ‘Martial Arts’ literally means “Arts of Mars.”

This term comes from 15th-century Europeans who were referring to their own fighting arts that are today known as Historical European martial arts.

A practitioner of martial arts is referred to as a martial artist.

Martial arts are codified systems and traditions of combat practiced for several reasons such as self-defense; military and law enforcement applications; competition; physical, mental, and spiritual development; entertainment; and the preservation of a nation’s intangible cultural heritage.

Though studied for various reasons, broadly speaking, martial arts share a single objective: to defeat a person physically or to defend oneself from physical threats.

Some martial arts are linked to spiritual or religious beliefs/philosophies such as Buddhism, Daoism, or Shinto while others have their own spiritual/non-spiritual code of honor.

According to Paul Bowman, the term martial arts was popularized by mainstream popular culture during the 1960s to 1970s, notably by Hong Kong martial arts films (most famously those of Bruce Lee) during the so-called “chopsocky” wave of the early 1970s.

According to John Clements, the term martial arts itself is derived from an older Latin term meaning “arts of Mars”, the Roman god of war, and was used to refer to the combat systems of Europe (European martial arts) as early as the 1550s.

The term martial science, or martial sciences, was commonly used to refer to the fighting arts of East Asia (Asian martial arts) up until the 1970s, while the term Chinese boxing was also used to refer to Chinese martial arts up until then.

Some authors have argued that fighting arts or fighting systems would be more appropriate terms on the basis that many martial arts were never “martial” in the sense of being used or created by professional warriors.

Martial arts are commonly associated with East Asian cultures but are by no means unique to Asia.

Martial Arts Origin

The oldest works of art depicting scenes of battle are cave paintings from Spain dated between 10,000 and 6,000 BCE that show organized groups fighting with bows and arrows.

Chinese martial arts originated during the Xia Dynasty more than 4000 years ago.

It is said the Yellow Emperor Huangdi (legendary date of ascension 2698 BC) introduced the earliest fighting systems to China.

The Yellow Emperor is described as a famous General who, before becoming China’s leader, wrote lengthy treatises on medicine, astrology, and martial arts.

One of his main opponents was Chi You who was credited as the creator of jiao di, a forerunner to the modern art of Chinese wrestling.

The foundation of modern Asian martial arts is likely a blend of early Chinese and Indian martial arts.

During the Warring States period of Chinese history (480-221 BC) extensive development in martial philosophy and strategy emerged, as described by Sun Tzu in The Art of War (c. 350 BC).

Legendary accounts link the origin of Shaolinquan to the spread of Buddhism from India during the early 5th century AD, with the figure of Bodhidharma, to China.

Written evidence of martial arts in Southern India dates back to the Sangam literature of about the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD.

The combat techniques of the Sangam period were the earliest precursors to Kalaripayattu.

In Europe, the earliest sources of martial arts traditions date to Ancient Greece. Boxing (pygme, pyx), wrestling (pale), and pankration were represented in the Ancient Olympic Games.

The Romans produced gladiatorial combat as a public spectacle.

Many historical combat manuals have survived from the European Middle Ages.

This includes such styles as sword and shield, two-handed sword-fighting, and other types of melee weapons besides unarmed combat.

Amongst these are transcriptions of Johannes Liechtenauer’s mnemonic poem on the longsword dating back to the late fourteenth century.

Likewise, Asian martial arts become well-documented during the medieval period, Japanese martial arts beginning with the establishment of the samurai nobility in the 12th century, Chinese martial arts with Ming era treatises such as Ji Xiao Xin Shu, Indian martial arts in medieval texts such as the Agni Purana and the Malla Purana, and Korean martial arts from the Joseon era and texts such as Muyejebo (1598).

European swordsmanship always had a sportive component, but the duel was always a possibility until World War I.

Modern sport fencing began developing during the 19th century as the French and Italian military academies began codifying instruction.

The Olympic Games led to standard international rules, with the Féderation Internationale d’Escrime founded in 1913.

Modern boxing originates with Jack Broughton’s rules in the 18th century and reaches its present form with the Marquess of Queensberry Rules of 1867.

Folk styles

Certain traditional combat sports and fighting styles exist all over the world, rooted in local culture and folklore.

The most common of these styles is folk wrestling, some of which have been practiced since antiquity, and are found in the most remote areas.

Other examples include forms of stick fighting and boxing.

While these arts are based on historical traditions of folklore, they are not “historical” in the sense that they reconstruct or preserve a historical system from a specific era.

They are rather contemporary regional sports that coexist with the modern forms of martial arts sports as they have developed since the 19th century, often including cross-fertilization between sports and folk styles.

Thus, the traditional Thai art of muay boran developed into the modern national sport of muay Thai, which in turn came to be practiced worldwide and contributed significantly to modern hybrid styles like kickboxing and mixed martial arts.

Singlestick, an English martial art can be seen often utilized in Morris dancing.

Many European dances share elements of martial arts with examples including Ukrainian Hopak, Polish Zbójnicki (use of ciupaga), the Czech dance odzemek, and the Norwegian Halling.

Modern history

Late 19th to early 20th century

The mid to late 19th century marks the beginning of the history of martial arts as modern sports developed out of earlier traditional fighting systems.

In Europe, this concerns the development of boxing and fencing as sports.

In Japan, the same period marks the formation of the modern forms of judo, jujutsu, karate, and kendo (among others) based on revivals of old schools of Edo period martial arts which had been suppressed during the Meiji Restoration.

Modern Muay Thai rules date to the 1920s.

In China, the modern history of martial arts begins in the Nanjing decade (1930s) following the foundation of the Central Guoshu Institute in 1928 under the Kuomintang government.

Western interest in Asian martial arts arises towards the end of the 19th century, due to the increase in trade between the United States with China and Japan.

Relatively few Westerners actually practiced the arts, considering it to be mere performance.

Edward William Barton-Wright, a railway engineer who had studied jujutsu while working in Japan between 1894 and 1897, was the first man known to have taught Asian martial arts in Europe.

He also founded an eclectic style named Bartitsu which combined jujutsu, judo, wrestling, boxing, savate, and stick fighting.

Fencing and Greco-Roman wrestling were included in the 1896 Summer Olympics.

FILA Wrestling World Championships and Boxing at the Summer Olympics were introduced in 1904.

The tradition of awarding championship belts in wrestling and boxing can be traced to the Lonsdale Belt, introduced in 1909.

20th century (1914 to 1989)

As Western influence grew in Asia a greater number of military personnel spent time in China, Japan, and South Korea during World War II and the Korean War and were exposed to local fighting styles. Jujutsu, judo, and karate first became popular among the mainstream from the 1950s-60s.

Due in part to Asian and Hollywood martial arts movies, most modern American martial arts are either Asian-derived or Asian-influenced.

The term kickboxing was created by the Japanese boxing promoter Osamu Noguchi for a variant of Muay Thai and karate that he created in the 1950s.

American kickboxing was developed in the 1970s, as a combination of boxing and karate. Taekwondo was developed in the context of the Korean War in the 1950s.

The later 1960s and 1970s witnessed an increased media interest in Chinese martial arts, influenced by martial artist Bruce Lee.

Jeet Kune Do, the system he founded, has its roots in Wing Chun, western boxing, savate, and fencing.

Bruce Lee is credited as one of the first instructors to openly teach Chinese martial arts to Westerners.

World Judo Championships have been held since 1956, Judo at the Summer Olympics was introduced in 1964.

Karate World Championships were introduced in 1970.

Following the “kung fu wave” in Hong Kong action cinema in the 1970s, several mainstream films produced during the 1980s contributed significantly to the perception of martial arts in Western popular culture.

These include The Karate Kid (1984) and Bloodsport (1988). This era produced some Hollywood action stars with martial arts backgrounds, such as Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris.

Also during the 20th century, several martial arts were adapted for self-defense purposes for military hand-to-hand combat.

World War II combative, KAPAP (1930s) and Krav Maga (1950s) in Israel, Systema in Soviet-era Russia, and Sanshou in the People’s Republic of China are examples of such systems.

The US military de-emphasized hand-to-hand combat training during the Cold War period but revived it with the introduction of LINE in 1989.

1990 to present

During the 1990s Brazilian jiu-jitsu became popular and proved to be effective in mixed martial arts competitions such as the UFC and PRIDE.

In 1993 the first Pancrase event was held. The K-1 rules of kickboxing were introduced based on 1980s Seidokaikan karate.

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

With the continual discovery of more medieval and Renaissance fighting manuals, the practice of Historical European Martial Arts and other Western Martial Arts is growing in popularity across the United States and Europe.

November 29, 2011, UNESCO inscribed taekkyeon onto its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List.

Martial Arts Scope

Martial arts vary widely and may focus on a specific area or combination of areas, but they can be broadly grouped into focusing on strikes, grappling, or weapons training.

Below is a list of examples that make extensive use of one of these areas; it is not an exhaustive list of all arts covering the area, nor are these necessarily the only areas covered by the art but are the focus or best-known part as examples of the area:

Striking

  • Punching – Boxing (Western), Wing Chun
  • Kicking – Capoeira, Savate, Taekwondo
  • Other strikes (e.g. Elbows, knees, open-hand) – Muay Thai, Karate, Shaolin Kung Fu

Grappling

  • Throwing – Glima, Judo, Jujutsu, Sambo, Shuai Jiao
  • Joint lock – Aikido, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Hapkido
  • Pinning Techniques – Judo, Wrestling

Weaponry

  • Traditional Weaponry – Fencing, Gatka, Kendo, Silambam, Kali
  • Modern Weaponry – Eskrima, Jogo do Pau, Jukendo

Many martial arts, especially those from Asia, also teach side disciplines that pertain to medicinal practices.

This is particularly prevalent in traditional Chinese martial arts which may teach bone-setting, qigong, acupuncture, acupressure (tui na), and other aspects of traditional Chinese medicine.

Martial arts are commonly associated with East Asian cultures but are by no means unique to Asia.

Throughout Europe, there was an extensive system of combat martial arts, collectively referred to as Historical European martial arts that existed until modern times and is now being reconstructed by several organizations, while Savate is a French kicking style developed by sailors and street fighters.

In the Americas, Native Americans have a tradition of open-handed martial arts, that includes wrestling and Hawaiians have historically practiced arts featuring small and large joint manipulation, a mix of origins occurs in the athletic movements of Capoeira that were created in Brazil by slaves, based on skills brought with them from Africa.

Types of Martial Arts (Martial Arts Styles)

There are about 180 different types of martial arts globally, comprising thousands of fighting styles, techniques, and forms.

While most of the renowned martial arts styles originate from Asia, we also have some really popular styles from other parts of the world.

Aikido – Aikido is a Japanese martial arts style focused on redirecting the attack away from you. Aikido concentrates on throwing, joint locks, traditional Japanese weapons, etc.

Aikijujitsu – Aikijujitsu is a sub-genre of Jujutsu. In contrast to Jujutsu, Aikijujitsu focuses more heavily on blending with the opponent, moving joint locks, and other esoteric principles.

American Kenpo – American Kenpo is a hybrid martial arts style. It is also known as Kenpo Karate.

Angampora – Angampora is a Sri Lankan martial art that focuses on unarmed combat, grappling, weapons, and pressure points.

Araki Ryu – Araki Ryu is a Japanese martial art focused on traditional Japanese weapons such as the sword, spear, staff, etc.

Bagua Zhang – The “Eight Trigram Palm” style is one of the 3 best-known Wudang styles. Best known for its “circle walking”.

Bajutsu – Bajutsu is a Japanese martial art focused on military equestrianism.

Bakom – Bakom (also known as Vacon) is a Peruvian martial art that combines Jujutsu with street fighting techniques. It was designed for survival in the slums of Peru.

Bajiquan – Bajiquan is a Chinese martial arts style that is famous for its explosive power and elbow strikes.

Bando – Bando is a martial arts style from the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).

Bartitsu – Bartitsu is an English martial art that combines boxing, cane fighting, jujutsu, etc. Revival of this martial art is due to renewed interest in Sherlock Holmes (as he was a fictional master of Bartitsu).

Bataireacht (Irish Stick Fighting) – Bataireacht is a martial art better known as Irish stick fighting.

Bokh (Mongolian Wrestling) – Bokh is a traditional wrestling martial art that was practiced by Mongol warriors. It is better known today as Mongolian Wrestling.

Budokan Karate – Karate Budokan was founded in 1966 by Chew Choo Soot in Malaysia.

Budokon – Budokon is a hybrid system that combines martial arts training with Yoga.

Bojuka – Bojuka is a self-defense system focused on grappling and strikes to an opponent’s vital areas.

Bojutsu – Bojutsu is a weapon-based martial art focused on the long staff (Bo).

Bokator – Bokator is an ancient Cambodian martial art that includes grappling, strikes, and weapons training.

Boxing – Boxing is a martial arts style focused purely on powerful punches.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a Brazilian martial arts style focused on ground fighting (i.e. grappling).

Bujutsu – Bujutsu is the Japanese martial art of the Samurai.

Butthan – Butthan is a martial art from Bangladesh. It is focused on subjects such as mediation, self-defense, weapons, etc.

Byakuren Kaikan – Byakuren Kaikan is a Japanese martial art focused on full-contact sparring. This style originated out of Shorinji Kempo.

Catch Wrestling – Catch Wrestling is a grappling martial art created in the late 1800s that combines techniques from wrestling, Judo, Jujutsu and other grappling martial arts.

Canne de Combat – Canne de Combat is a French martial art that focuses on a sports version of cane fighting.

Capoeira – Capoeira is a very fluid and acrobatic martial arts style from Brazil.

Choy Li Fut – Choy Li Fut (or Cai Li Fo) is a substyle of Kung Fu that combines long and short-range techniques.

Chun Kuk Do – Chun Kuk Do is a Korean and American hybrid system created by Chuck Norris (martial artist and movie star). In 2015, this martial art was renamed the Chuck Norris System.

Combat Hapkido – Combat Hapkido is seen as a spin-off of traditional Hapkido. It has a much greater focus on self-defense and grappling than traditional Hapkido.

Combat Hopak – Combat Hopak (or Boyovyy Hopak) is a Ukrainian martial art supposedly derived from Cossack military traditions.

Coreeda – Coreeda is an Australian aboriginal martial art focused on wrestling.

Cuong Nhu – Cuong Nhu is a Vietnamese-American hybrid martial art that combines elements from Shotokan Karate, Aikido, Judo, Wing Chun, Vovinam, Tai Chi, and Boxing.

Daido Juku Kudo – Daido Juku Kudo is a Japanese martial art that practices mixed martial arts techniques while wearing a traditional gi.

Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu – Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu is a traditional Japanese martial art focused on unarmed combat, throws, strikes to vital areas, joint locks, etc.

Dambe – Dambe is an African martial art focused primarily on boxing but it also uses kicking techniques.

Danzan Ryu – An American hybrid form of Jujutsu. It is also known as Kodenkan.

Defendo Alliance – This European martial art is focused on realistic self-defense training.

Defendu – A British martial art created by William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes. This system was taught to Office of Strategic Services agents and Allied troops in World War 2.

Dumog – Dumog is a Philippine martial art focused on wrestling.

Dutch Kickboxing – Dutch Kickboxing was formally developed in the 1970s and is often seen as a modified version of Muay Thai.

Eagle Claw Kung Fu – Eagle Claw Kung Fu is a Chinese martial art known for its gripping techniques, strikes, joint locks, takedowns, and pressure point attacks.

Enshin Kaikan – Enshin Kaikan is a Japanese martial art that utilizes the Sabaki method (which seeks to turn an attacker’s power against him). This martial art involves kicks, punches, sweeps, throws, etc.

Eskrima, Arnis & Kali – Eskrima is a martial arts style from the Philippines focused on the use of stick and blade weapons (i.e. Yantok). This martial art is also known as Arnis and Kali.

Fencing – Fencing today is mainly an Olympic-style sport. However, there is a sub-style called historical fencing which focuses on fencing as a martial art.

Fu Jow Pai – Fu Jow Pai is a Chinese martial famous for its “Tiger Claw” style.

Gatka – Gatka is an Indian martial art focused on weapons, especially swords.

Glima – Glima is a Scandinavian wrestling-based martial art that was created by the Vikings.

Gongkwon Yusul – Gongkwon Yusul is a Korean hybrid martial art that includes elements from Hapkido, Jujutsu, Judo, and Boxing.

Gungsol – Gungsol or Gungdo is a Korean martial art focused on archery.

Haidong Gumdo – Haidong Gumdo is a Korean martial art focused on sword techniques. It contains elements similar to Kenjutsu and Iaido.

Hanbojutsu – Hanbojutsu is a martial art that utilizes the Hanbo (a 3-foot wooden staff).

Han Mu Do – Han Mu Do (or Hanmudo) is a Korean martial arts style. It is seen as a “smoother” and more “open-hand” cousin to Hapkido. Hanmudo students also train with weapons.

Hapkido – Hapkido is a Korean martial arts style focused on punches, kicks, throws, and joint locks.

HEMA – Historical European Martial Arts – HEMA refers to mainly sword-based martial arts based on techniques used in Europe from around the 1300s to the 1800s.

Hojojutsu – Hojojutsu is a Japanese martial art that uses ropes to restrain or disable an opponent.

Hung Ga – Hung Ga (or Hung Gar) is a southern Chinese martial art that combines 5 animal styles (Crane, Dragon, Leopard, Snake, and Tiger).

Huyen Langlon – Huyen Langlon is a martial art from northeastern India.

Hwa Rang Do – Hwa Rang Do is a Korean martial art that includes sparring, self-defense, weapons training, and grappling.

Iaido – Iaido is a Japanese martial art focused on the drawing of a sword (bokken, iaito, or shinken) from its scabbard. This martial art relies heavily on katas (forms) and does not utilize sparring.

Iaijutsu – Iaijutsu is the combat version of Iaido.

Icho-Ryu – Icho-Ryu is a fusion of martial arts such as Aikido, Goju Ryu Karate, Jujutsu, Judo, and Aikijujutsu. It was created to meet the needs of law enforcement officers.

Itto-Ryu – A Japanese martial art focused on the sword. There are many sub-styles of Itto-Ryu and this martial art had a significant influence on the development of modern Kendo.

Jailhouse Rock – Jailhouse Rock (JHR) is a martial arts system that was developed in the US prison system.

Jeet Kune Do – Jeet Kune Do is a martial arts style created by Bruce Lee (martial artist and movie star).

Jojutsu – Jojutsu (or Jodo) is a Japanese martial art focused on the short staff (Jo).

Judo – Judo is a Japanese martial arts style focused on grappling, joint locks, and throws.

Jujutsu – Jujutsu is a Japanese martial arts style focused on joint locks, holds, and throws. It tries to redirect or manipulate the force of an attack to defeat the attacker.

Jukendo – Jukendo is a Japanese martial art focused on the bayonet.

Juttejutsu – Juttejutsu is a Japanese martial art that focuses on the martial arts weapon known as the Jutte (Jitte).

Kajukenbo – This is an American martial arts style that combines techniques from many different martial arts such as Judo, Karate, Eskrima, etc. It was designed to be effective in real-world self-defense situations and street fights.

Kalaripayattu – Kalaripayattu is an ancient martial arts style from India.

KAPAP – KAPAP is the Hebrew acronym for Face-To-Face-Combat. While not as well known as Krav Maga, this Israeli martial arts system is used by several of Israel’s elite military units.

Karate – Karate is a Japanese martial arts style focused on punches, hand/elbow strikes, knee strikes, and kicks. Major Karate styles include the following:

  • Goju-Ryu
  • Isshin-Ryu
  • Kyokushin
  • Shito-Ryu
  • Shorin-Ryu
  • Shotokan
  • Wado-Ryu

Keijojutsu – Keijojutsu is a Japanese martial art focused on police stick fighting (batons).

Kendo – Kendo is a Japanese martial arts style focused on sword fighting (i.e. Bokken and Katana).

Kenjutsu – Kenjutsu is a Japanese martial arts style focused on sword techniques. In contrast to Kendo, Kenjutsu is less focused on sparring.

Kenpo or Kempo – Please visit the American Kenpo section.

Keysi – The Keysi Fighting Method is a self-defense system “created to act and react while defending yourself”. This system has been featured in movies such as the Batman series that starred Christian Bale.

Kickboxing – Kickboxing is a martial arts style focused on powerful kicks and punches.

Kinomichi – Kinomichi is a martial arts style that originated in France and was developed by one of the students of the founder of Aikido.

Kino Mutai – Kino Mutai (Kina Mutai) is a Philippines martial art that uses unconventional tactics such as biting and eye-gouging.

Kobudo – A Japanese (Okinawan) martial arts focused on weapons training. Weapons used include the bo staff, sai, tonfa, and nunchaku.

Kokondo – Kokondo is a style that combines techniques from Karate and Jujutsu.

Krabi-Krabong – Krabi-Krabong is a weapon-based martial art from Thailand.

Krav Maga – Krav Maga is a martial arts style from Israel focused on winning in “real life” combat situations.

Kuk Sool Won – Kuk Sool Won is a Korean martial art focused on strikes, kicks, grappling, joint locks, weapons training, and healing techniques.

Kumdo – Kumdo is a Korean sword-based martial art that is similar to Kendo.

Kung Fu – Kung Fu is a Chinese martial arts style focused on hand/arm strikes, kicks, and even weapons training. Please see the main Chinese martial arts styles section for more Kung Fu styles but listed below are a few of the many different Kung Fu styles:

  • Bajiquan
  • Choy Li Fut – Also known as Cai Li Fo.
  • Eagle Claw Kung Fu
  • Hung Ga – Also known as Hung Gar.
  • Leopard Kung Fu (Bao Quan)
  • Monkey Kung Fu (Hou Quan)
  • Praying Mantis Kung Fu
  • Shaolin Kung Fu
  • Tiger Claw Kung Fu (Fu Jow Pai)
  • Zui Quan – Zui Quan is better known as the “Drunken Fist” style.

Kung Fu To’a – Kung Fu To’a is an Iranian martial arts style that combines Kung Fu and Yoga.

Kuntao – Kuntao is a Southeast Asian martial art that utilizes hand strikes, kicking techniques, grappling, and martial arts weapons (i.e. sword, staff, and spear).

Kyudo – Kyudo is a Japanese martial arts style focused on archery.

Kyujutsu

Kyuk Too Ki – Korean kickboxing.

Kyusho Jitsu – A martial art focused on targeting pressure points.

Laamb – Laamb is a Senegalese martial art that combines wrestling and punches.

Lathi Khela – Lathi Khela is a Bangladeshi stick-fighting martial arts.

Lerdrit – Lerdrit is a military martial art used by the Royal Thai Army.

Leopard Kung Fu (Bao Quan) – Leopard Kung Fu is a Chinese martial art that focuses on aggressive speed and agility to defeat an opponent.

Lethwei – Lethwei is a Myanmar (Burma) martial art that is similar to Muay Thai and Kickboxing. However, Lethwei has fewer restrictions as this martial art allows techniques such as headbutts.

LimaLama – A martial art from Samoa.

Linh Quyen Dao – Linh Quyen Dao is a Vietnamese martial art.

Lua – Lua is a traditional Hawaiian martial art that focuses on bone breaking, boxing, wrestling, weapons, etc.

Luta Livre – Luta Livre is a Brazilian grappling martial art known in Portuguese as “Free Fighting”.

Malla Yuddha – Malla Yuddha is an Indian and Southeast Asian martial arts focused on combat wrestling.

Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) – The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program is focused on unarmed combat, knife training, bayonet techniques, etc.

Mau Rakau – Mau Rakau is a weapons-based martial art developed by the Maori of New Zealand.

Military Martial Arts – Military martial arts are martial arts styles used by and/or developed for the military. They are designed for real-life combat situations versus sport-based martial arts that ban certain techniques to avoid injuries.

Mixed Martial Arts – Mixed Martial Arts utilize techniques from a variety of different martial arts styles (i.e. wrestling, jiu-jitsu, boxing, karate, etc.) to defeat an opponent.

Monkey Kung Fu (Hou Quan) – Monkey Kung Fu is an unorthodox and acrobatic style used to disorient and attack opponents from unusual angles and positions.

Muay Boran – Muay Boran is a Thai martial art. Modern Muay Thai evolved from this martial arts style.

Muay Thai – Muay Thai is a martial arts style from Thailand. It is similar to kickboxing but also involves elbow and knee strikes. Given its powerful kicks and knee strikes, Muay Thai is often an element of MMA training.

Naginatajutsu – Naginatajutsu is a Japanese martial arts style focused on the long pole weapon known as the Naginata.

Nam Hong Son – Nam Hong Son is a Vietnamese martial art.

Nhat Nam – Nhat Nam is a Vietnamese martial art.

Ninjutsu – Ninjutsu is a martial arts style developed from the techniques used by ninjas (Japanese spies and assassins).

Nippon Kempo – Nippon Kempo is a Japanese martial art that uses punches, kicks, joint locks, and grappling techniques.

Niten Ichi-Ryu – Niten Ichi-Ryu is a two-sword martial arts style created by the famous Japanese samurai, Miyamoto Musashi.

Niyuddha – Niyuddha is an ancient Indian martial art focused on kicking, punching, and throwing.

Nunchaku Do – Nunchaku Do is a martial art focused on the sports usage of the Nunchaku(Nunchucks).

Nunchakujutsu

Okichitaw – Okichitaw is a hybrid martial art that combines the traditional fighting techniques used by the Cree Indians (Native Americans) with techniques from martial arts such as Taekwondo and Judo.

Panantukan – Panantukan is the boxing component of Filipino martial arts. Panantukan is not a sport, but rather a street-oriented fighting system.

This martial art is also known as Suntukan, Pangamot, Pakamot, and Mano-Mano.

Pankration – This Greek martial arts style combines grappling, kicking techniques, and boxing. It was part of the first Olympics in 648 BC.

Pehlwani – Pehlwani is an Indian martial art focused on wrestling & grappling techniques.

Pencak Silat – Pencak Silat is the name used to refer to a variety of Indonesian martial arts.

Pradal Serey – Pradal Serey is a Cambodian martial arts similar to Muay Thai and Kickboxing. Pradal Serey is well known for its use of elbow strikes to win a fight.

Praying Mantis Kung Fu – Praying Mantis Kung Fu is known for its redirection, joint manipulation, pressure point attacks, and trapping tactics.

Quarterstaff – The British martial arts that uses a 6-9 foot wooden staff. Famous from the tales of Robin Hood.

Qwan Ki Do – Qwan Ki Do (Quan Khi Do) is a Vietnamese martial art founded by Pham Xuan Tong in the 1960s.

Sambo – Sambo is a Russian martial arts style. There are two main types of Sambo; Combat Sambo and Sports Sambo.

Sanshou (or Sanda) – Sanshou is a martial arts style developed for the Chinese military. It is focused on combat training and combines elements of kung fu, grappling, and self-defense techniques.

Savate (French Kickboxing) – Savate is a French martial arts style focused on boxing and kicking. No knee strikes are allowed.

Schwingen – Schwingen is a Swiss martial art focused on grappling.

Shaolin Kempo Karate – Shaolin Kempo Karate is a hybrid martial art that combines techniques from Shaolin Kung Fu, Karate, and Asian wrestling.

Shaolin Kung Fu – Shaolin Kung Fu is a well-known style of Kung Fu. This martial art was developed by the monks at the Shaolin Temple in China.

Shin Kicking – Shin Kicking is an English martial art or combat sport where the contestants kick each other in the shins until one withdraws from the contest.

Shindo Jinen Ryu – Shindo Jinen Ryu is a martial art that combines elements of Karate, Aikido & Jujutsu.

Shintaido – Shintaido is a martial art that combines Karate, Kenjutsu, and Bojutsu with spiritual and mediation elements.

Shootfighting – Shootfighting is a combat sport similar to Mixed Martial Arts. It is focused on techniques from “Muay Thai Kickboxing and total body Submission Grappling”.

Shooto – This Japanese martial arts style is similar to mixed martial arts and was created by Satoru Sayama.

Shorinji Kempo – A Japanese martial art that combines personal growth, health, and spirituality with self-defense techniques such as punches, kicks, escapes, throws, etc. It is seen as a modified Japanese version of Shaolin Kung Fu and was established in 1947.

Shuai Jiao – A Chinese martial arts focused mainly on wrestling and grappling techniques.

Shuri-Ryu – Shuri-Ryu is a martial art that combines elements of Karate and Kung Fu.

Sibpalki – Sibpalki is a Korean martial art that teaches close combat skills that were utilized in the late 1700s.

Sikaran – Sikaran is a Philippines martial arts focused almost exclusively on kicking.

Silambam – Silambam is an Indian martial art focused primarily on staff fighting.

Silat – Silat is a Southeast Asian martial arts style focused on strikes (i.e. elbow and knee), throws, takedowns, and weapons training.

Siljun Dobup – Siljun Dobup is a sword-based martial art based on Japanese and Korean traditions.

Singlestick – This ancient English martial art uses a wooden rod to practice techniques that were originally designed to teach cutlass fighting to sailors.

Small Circle Jujitsu – Small Circle Jujitsu is an American martial art. It is a hybrid grappling system and utilizes modified techniques from martial arts such as Jujutsu, Judo, and others.

Sojutsu – Sojutsu is a Japanese martial art focused on spear fighting.

Soo Bahk Do – Soo Bahk Do is a Korean martial art that grew out of Tang Soo Do.

Special Combat Aggressive Reactionary System (SCARS) – This martial arts program was taught to US Navy Seals in the 1980s and 1990s.

Spochan – Spochan is a martial art that uses “air soft” weapons to practice various sword & stick-based fighting techniques.

Ssireum – Ssireum is a Korean martial art focused on wrestling.

Sumo – Sumo is a Japanese martial art focused on wrestling.

Systema – Systema is a martial arts style used by some Russian special forces (i.e. Spetsnaz).

Taekkyeon – Taekkyeon is a Korean martial art focused on low kicks, leg sweeps, trips, pushes, etc.

Taekwondo – Taekwondo is a Korean martial arts style focused primarily on punches, blocks, strikes, and kicks (i.e. spinning hook kick).

Tahtib – Tahtib is an Egyptian martial art focused on stick fighting. Students generally train with a 4-foot wooden stick.

Tai Chi – Tai Chi is often seen as a “gentle” martial art because many seniors use its slow movements to improve their health & balance and to reduce stress.

Taido – Taido is a Japanese martial art that combines elements of Karate with gymnastic maneuvers & dynamic movement.

Taiho Jutsu – Taiho Jutsu is a Japanese martial art that was originally designed to help feudal police arrest armed criminals.

Tang Soo Do – Tang Soo Do is a Korean martial arts style that is similar to Taekwondo and Karate.

Tantojutsu

Teukgong Moosool – Teukgong Moosool (or Tukong Moosul) is a martial art that was developed by South Korean special forces units.

Tessenjutsu – Tessenjutsu is a Japanese martial art based on the use of Tessen (war fans).

Thien Mon Dao – Thien Mon Dao is a Vietnamese martial arts.

To-Shin Do – A “modernized” version of Ninjutsu.

US Army’s Modern Army Combatives Program – This is the martial arts program taught by the U.S. Army.

Vale Tudo – Vale Tudo is a Brazilian martial arts system that is similar to Mixed Martial Arts but with even fewer rules. The limited number of rules can result in more injuries during Vale Tudo contests.

Varma Kalai – Varma Kalai is an Indian martial art focused on pressure points. They claim that is also used for healing applications.

Vovinam – Vovinam is a Vietnamese martial arts style.

Wing Chun – Wing Chun is a Chinese martial arts style focused on strikes, grappling, and weapons training.

Won Hwa Do – Won Hwa Do (or WonHwaDo) is a Korean martial art known for its circular techniques.

Wrestling – Wrestling, while used mainly for sports today, is an ancient martial arts style of fighting. It focuses on grappling, throwing, and “pinning” your opponent.

Wushu – Wushu is the modern-day sports version of Kung Fu. Wushu was developed in the 1950s as an attempt to unify the multitude of traditional Chinese martial arts into one national style.

Xtreme Martial Arts – Xtreme Martial Arts (XMA) combines gymnastics with martial arts techniques to create acrobatic martial arts “tricks”.

Yabusame – Yabusame is a Japanese martial art focused on archery while mounted on horseback.

Yamanni-Ryu – Yamanni-Ryu is a martial arts style that focuses on training with Okinawan weapons (Kobudo).

Yaw-Yan – Yaw-Yan is a Philippine kickboxing martial arts. It also utilizes grappling techniques and defenses against weapons.

Yongmudo – Yongmudo (Yongmoodo) is a Korean martial arts style that combines techniques from martial arts such as Taekwondo, Judo, and Ssireum.

Yoseikan Budo – Yoseikan Budo is a Japanese martial arts system that combines several different martial arts including Aikido, Jujutsu, Judo, Karate, Kobudo, and Boxing.

Zui Quan – Zui Quan is better known as the “Drunken Fist” style of Kung Fu.

Zulu Stick Fighting – Zulu stick fighting is a South African weapons-based martial art.

Martial Arts Weapons

Chinese martial artists taking a pose with Chinese Martial Arts Weapons

Martial arts weapons can be classified either by type of weapon or by the martial arts school using them.

By Weapon Type

Melee weapons

Bladed weapons
  • Swords: see Types of swords
  • Knives
  • Daggers: see List of daggers
  • Axe
  • Sickle
  • Kama
  • War hammer
Polearms
  • Halberd
  • Spear
  • Guandao
  • War scythe
Blunt weapons
  • Clubs/Mace/Baton
  • Stick/Staff / Sjambok
  • Tonfa / (side handled) baton
  • Knuckleduster

Ranged weapons

  • Bow and arrow
  • Crossbow
  • Bullet-shooting crossbow
  • Slingshot
  • Slings
  • Boomerang
  • Blowgun
  • Shuriken
  • Chakram
  • Firearm
  • Taser
  • Ballistic knife

Flexible weapons

  • Chain weapons
  • Whips
  • Ropes
  • Tabak-Toyok
  • Slapjack
  • Nunchaku

Defensive weapons

  • Pepper spray
  • Armors
  • Shields

By martial arts tradition

Eskrima

Kendo

Pencak Silat: Weapons of pencak silat

Kalarippayattu

Swordsmanship:

  • Chinese swordsmanship
  • Japanese swordsmanship
  • Korean swordsmanship
  • European swordsmanship

Martial Arts Equipments

Martial arts equipment can include that which is used for conditioning, protection, and weapons.

Specialized conditioning equipment can include breaking boards, dummy partners such as the wooden dummy, and targets such as punching bags and the makiwara.

Protective equipment for sparring and competition includes boxing gloves, headgear, and mouthguards.

Martial Arts for Self-Defense, Military, and Law Enforcement Applications

Some traditional martial concepts have seen new use within modern military training.

Perhaps the most recent example of this is point shooting which relies on muscle memory to more effectively use a firearm in a variety of awkward situations, much the way an iaidoka would master movements with their sword.

During the World War II era, William E. Fairbairn and Eric A. Sykes were recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to teach their martial art of Defendu (itself drawing on Western boxing and Jujutsu) and pistol shooting to the UK, US, and Canadian special forces.

The book Kill or Get Killed, written by Colonel Rex Applegate, was based on the Defendu taught by Sykes and Fairbairn.

Both Fairbairn’s Get Tough and Appelgate’s Kill or Get Killed became classic works on hand-to-hand combat.

Traditional hand-to-hand, knife, and spear techniques continue to see use in the composite systems developed for today’s wars.

Examples of this include European Unifight, the US Army’s Combatives system developed by Matt Larsen, the Israeli Army’s KAPAP and Krav Maga, and the US Marine Corps’s Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP).

Unarmed dagger defenses identical to those found in the manual of Fiore dei Liberi and the Codex Wallerstein were integrated into the U.S. Army’s training manuals in 1942 and continue to influence today’s systems along with other traditional systems such as eskrima and silat.

The rifle-mounted bayonet which has its origin in the spear, has seen use by the United States Army, the United States Marine Corps, and the British Army as recently as the Iraq War.

Many martial arts are also seen and used in Law Enforcement hand-to-hand training.

For example, the Tokyo Riot Police’s use of Aikido.

Martial Sport

Martial arts have crossed over into sports when forms of sparring become competitive, becoming a sport in its own right that is dissociated from the original combative origin, such as with Western fencing.

The Summer Olympic Games include judo, taekwondo, western archery, boxing, javelin, wrestling, and fencing events, while Chinese wushu recently failed in its bid to be included, but is still actively performed in tournaments across the world.

Practitioners in some arts such as kickboxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu often train for sports matches, whereas those in other arts such as aikido generally spurn such competitions.

Some schools believe that competition breeds better and more efficient practitioners, and gives a sense of good sportsmanship.

Others believe that the rules under which competition takes place have diminished the combat effectiveness of martial arts or encourage a kind of practice that focuses on winning trophies rather than a focus such as cultivating a particular moral character.

The question of “which is the best martial art” has led to inter-style competitions fought with very few rules allowing a variety of fighting styles to enter with few limitations.

This was the origin of the first Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament (later renamed UFC 1: The Beginning) in the USA inspired by the Brazilian Vale tudo tradition and along with other minimal rule competitions, most notably those from Japan such as Shooto and Pancrase, have evolved into the combat sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

Some martial artists compete in non-sparring competitions such as breaking or choreographed routines of techniques such as poomsae, kata, and aka, or modern variations of the martial arts which include dance-influenced competitions such as tricking.

Martial traditions have been influenced by governments to become more sport-like for political purposes.

The central impetus for the attempt by the People’s Republic of China in transforming Chinese martial arts into the committee-regulated sport of wushu was suppressing what they saw as the potentially subversive aspects of martial training, especially under the traditional system of family lineages.

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