According to data collected from 2016 – 2018, the estimated population of Adults 15+ participating in Martial arts in Australia was 248,351 (or 1.2% of the Adult 15+ population).
Today, you can expect the numbers to have grown even bigger.
This shows that martial art is a big thing in Australia, with the most popular styles originating from other parts of the world.
Most styles of martial art practiced in the country (as you would soon find out) have worldwide popularity which means you have probably heard of them.
Unfortunately, no indigenous Australian martial art makes this list.
Now, here are the 10 most popular martial arts in Australia.
#1. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
This art has indeed grown from a wide cross-section of martial arts and sporting disciplines.
The growth of MMA in Australia has been influenced by Olympic wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Boxing, Kickboxing/Muay Thai, and traditional martial arts.
MMA, in its recognized and regulated form, was introduced to Australia in 1993 by the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It was predated by Vale Tudo in Brazil and Shoot Wrestling in Japan.
Through video and bootleg copies of UFC events in the mid-90s, MMA gained an underground following.
Initially, dedicated Australian practitioners traveled overseas to gain their belts and returned to start schools.
But now, Mixed Martial Arts training and gyms have evolved.
The long history of boxing in Australia and the more recent variant of kickboxing/Muay Thai provided a large injection of fighters with a striking base.
Boxing is one of Australia’s oldest martial art sports, with the first ever recorded match taking place in Sydney on 8 January 1814 between two convicts, John Parton and Charles Sefton.
This art has continually grown in popularity as a type of entertainment on the goldfields, (a subversion of ‘proper’ Victorian society) and in contemporary professional sport.
Indigenous Australians have excelled in boxing for decades, starting with the early 1900s boxing troupes where several Aboriginal fighters started.
Though boxing has declined in popularity in the United States over the years, it remains a massive sport in other regions like Australia.
Australians love the sport and turn out in large numbers for big matches.
Karate is a very popular martial art and is widely taught across Australia, and has become a hugely popular sport, especially for boys of all ages.
Karate is a Japanese martial art that was influenced by Chinese Kung Fu and is primarily a stand-up fighting style focused on striking.
Strikes include kicks, punches, knees, elbows, and open-hand techniques.
A style may also include other techniques, such as grappling, throws, and joint locks.
Some styles also train weapons such as nunchaku (often called ‘nunchuks’), sai, and tonfa.
#4. Kung fu
Kung fu expectedly makes this list. It is popularly practiced in some parts of Europe including Australia.
Kung Fu can be seen as the Chinese version of Karate.
This art was however formalized much earlier (527 A.D.) in a Shaolin Temple.
Interestingly, this martial art was not used primarily as a form of self-defense but rather as an exercise to bring health to sickly and weak Buddhist monks.
Many of the movements in Kung Fu and Karate are very similar.
However, an observer will note that Karate seems a bit choppier in comparison and individual movements are easier to spot.
A Kung Fu artist, on the other hand, will flow from one technique to another.
Know however that Kung Fu is an overarching term that can be applied to different sub-styles, so not all practitioners will move in the same ways.
The sport of Taekwondo which is a Korean martial art is one of the most popular martial arts in the world.
It is also popular in Australia where numerous clubs are available.
According to Australian Taekwondo (also known as AUS TKD) which is the National Sporting Organization for Taekwondo in Australia, there are over 50,000 active taekwondo participants, and approximately 300 taekwondo clubs in Australia.
Taekwondo is a big game in Australia, and Sports Taekwondo Australia is in fact affiliated with World Taekwondo and the Oceania Taekwondo Union.
Taekwondo in Australia is also recognized by the Australian Olympic Committee.
According to the Judo Federation of Australia, there are over 170 judo clubs around the country.
Interestingly, 86% of judo participants in Australia participate in judo for Fun & Fitness.
However, Australians haven’t done badly in professional judo.
For example, at the Olympics, Australia’s Ted Boronovski took the bronze medal in the open-weight division during the 1964 Tokyo Olympiad, the first Olympiad in which Judo was an official event.
Maria Pekli took the bronze medal in the women’s 57kg division in the 2000 Sydney Olympiad, bringing Judo to the attention of that generation for the first time.
The Judo training camps for juniors are now being sponsored by Australia’s National Sports Research Center to raise their skill level, which again proves that the future of Australian Judo looks bright.
#7. Muay Thai
Muay Thai has grown increasingly popular in Australia.
Outside Thailand, (the home country of the art) no country is probably more obsessed with Muay Thai than Australia.
Recently, a record crowd of more than 56,000 attended a controversial contest at Etihad Stadium.
Australians are known for having a long list of fan favorites, as well as a host of world champions.
Some great Australian Muay Thai fighters in history include John Wayne Parr, Nathan Corbett, Steve McKinnon, Toby Smith, and Caley Reece.
Though similar to Muay Thai, kickboxing is a martial art of its own which is also quite popular in Australia, particularly among men.
Australia Women’s kickboxing is not very popular when compared to men’s participation in the sport.
This is because women have faced legal challenges in participating in New South Wales, which outlawed their ring participation.
#9. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
While BJJ can no longer be considered new to Australia, its popularity amongst Australians and Aussie kids has grown dramatically in the past few years.
Its popularity since the 90s grew so much that FIFO workers (guys that fly to the worksite for a week or two and then fly home for a week or two) sometimes find others to get together and roll at their work site.
Little cities outside of the urban center have jiu-jitsu gyms.
BJJ has grown so steadily in Australia that it is pollinating the surrounding areas.
For example, In South East Asia, the jiu-jitsu scenes in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam are heavily influenced by Aussies living abroad, with Aussie blokes working as either instructors or owners in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Phenom Penh.
Known as the ‘Peaceful Martial Art’, Aikido is a non-aggressive, modern Japanese martial art that was developed in the early 20th century by the late master Professor Morihei Ueshiba, commonly called O Sensei.
Presently there are thousands of practitioners in Australia, and a trend toward a degree of regulation of Aikido by the Australian government has recently become evident.
The National Aikido Association of Australia (Aiki Kai Australia) was founded by Sugano Shihan (Shihan means master teacher) in 1965.
This Association now has highly graded representatives in most States of Australia.
Here you have it, the 10 most popular martial arts in Australia. Tell me what you think about this list.
Do you think a particular martial art needs to be included or removed? Let me know in the comment below.
Hi, my name is Godwin. I am a passionate martial artist with black belts in Taekwondo and Karate. I have over 15 years of martial art experience. I created this platform to enable me to help you learn martial art the right way.