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A Complete List of All the Popular Martial Arts

The Birth of MMA The first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was organized on November 12, 1993, in Denver, Colorado, with the aim of finding out the most effective martial art through real fights between competitors, each trained in a different fighting discipline. In subsequent fights, the fighters started adopting more effective techniques from other arts, which led to the development of mixed martial arts (MMA). Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Tony Jaa, and Scott Adkins are just a few of the prominent names that come to mind when you think about martial arts. Their gravity-defying moves and stellar on-screen performances have helped them attract a huge fan following. Particularly, they have awakened a great deal of interest in martial arts among the general public.However, what Hollywood shows you is just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds, if not thousands of martial arts out there. Each one of them was born out of the need for self-defense, and as such, is as effective as any other. In the following lines, we take you through a list of some of the most popular forms of martial arts in existence today.List of Martial Art Styles Kung fu The term kung fu means ‘a skill or ability to do something’. It is also referred to as ‘Wushu’. This martial art is believed to have been created by the monks of the Shaolin temple in China.Kung fu comprises development of external strength: muscles, ligaments, and tendons, as well as internal strength: mental focus and chi manipulation. It includes both, bare-handed fighting techniques, and also the effective use of rudimentary weapons. Judo The name Judo means the ‘gentle way’. This art was developed in Japan by Jigoro Kano in the late nineteenth century.Judo is basically an unarmed martial art, which has been derived from Ju-Jitsu. It trains the practitioner in the use of different holds and grappling techniques, to quickly unbalance an opponent, making him fall down, where a joint-lock or a choke is employed in order to get him to submit. Karate The term Karate means ’empty handed’ in Japanese. Master Gichin Funakoshi made this self-defense methods simple, and appended a philosophical touch to the art. He is widely credited for introducing and popularizing it in the main islands of Japan.Karate borrows from different Chinese martial arts, and is basically an unarmed combat system that relies on using the hands and feet to deliver, as well as defend against punches and kicks. Jeet Kune Do Bruce Lee, the noted martial artist and actor, is the initiator of this system. The name, when translated, means ‘way of the intercepting fist’.Jeet kune do is a more modern form of martial art, which incorporates techniques from kung-fu, fencing, and boxing. Its main principle is to be able to adapt according to the opponent’s fighting style and situation. It relies on strong and fast offensive maneuvers, including kicking, punching, grappling, and trapping to defeat the enemy. Krav Maga The birth place of this art is Israel. However, owing to its effectiveness, military units and police forces have been practicing it all over the world.Krav maga is a form of self-defense, which teaches one to use reflexive responses to get through threatening situations. In it, defending against both, unarmed as well as armed opponents is taught. It also comprises several drills and exercise routines to build stamina and strengthen the muscles. Capoeira This art originated in Brazil during the 19th century among the African slaves. Drums and other musical instruments are used to create a rhythm to the tunes of which this art is practiced.Capoeira constitutes various elements from dance and acrobatics, and is known for its rapid and complex moves, that include a variety of kicks and spins. It relies on the practitioner’s speed and power to take down an opponent. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was borrowed from Judo by the Gracie family in the early 20th century. It mainly focuses on ground-based fighting, using grappling maneuvers and submission techniques. Tae Kwon Do The phrase Tae kwon do means ‘the way of hand and foot’ in Korean. It is a Korean martial art that borrows from Okinawan karate, Chinese martial arts, and ancient traditional Korean combat arts of taekkyeon and gwonbeop.It is a form of unarmed self-defense system, wherein the emphasis is on potent kicks, rather than on hand strikes. Arnis Arnis is a fighting style developed in the Philippines by its inhabitants as a means of self-preservation against invaders and local conflicts.In this martial art, weapons like knives, swords, and rattan sticks are used, along with various stances, blocking, footwork, and disarming maneuvers to overpower an opponent. Muay Thai This is the national sport of Thailand. It is known as the science of 8 limbs, because it comprises 8 striking points as opposed to 2 in boxing and 4 in other traditional arts. Muay thai fighters can employ the knees, elbows, feet, shins, and fists to strike the opponent. It works well for both, normal as well as close-range combats. Jujitsu Jujitsu is one of the most ancient martial arts out there, and more than 2,500 years old. It was originally developed as a means of self-defense against armored opponents, such as the Samurai warriors of the time, on whom punches and kicks were ineffective. This technique therefore emphasizes on locks, throws, and other defensive techniques, to unbalance the opponent and bring him to the ground. KenjutsuKenjutsu means ‘the method, or technique, of the sword’. It is a sword fighting style, that has its origins in Japan. It was used by the samurai to master the use of katana. SumoSumo is a full contact Japanese martial art, which has a history spanning centuries. It is basically a test of strength, wherein one wrestler tries to force another outside the bounds of a circular ring, or make him touch the ground with any body part other than the soles of his feet.Traditionally, sumo wrestlers are required to live together in sumo training stables, where all the aspects of their daily lives are governed according to the strict set of rules laid down by the Japan Sumo Association. SamboSambo is short for ‘Samooborona Bez Orushia’. In Russian, it implies ‘self-defense without weapons’. It is a relatively modern form of martial art, having been first brought into practice in the 1920s by the Soviet Red Army as a means to improve their hand-to-hand combat skills.This style merges the most effective techniques from several martial arts, including Judo and a number of other traditional wrestling styles. Along with powerful strikes and blows, it also comprises throwing, groundwork, and submission techniques. NinjutsuThe word Ninjutsu, when translated, means the ‘art of stealth’. It is a fighting style which mainly focuses on espionage tactics and guerrilla warfare. Ninjutsu was formulated and commonly practiced by the shinobi, popularly known outside Japan as the ninjas. It involves strict mental and physical conditioning, and the employment of several unconventional moves of combat. Aikido’Ai’ means harmony, ‘ki’ means spirit, and ‘do’ means way. Founder Morihei Ueshiba developed this fighting style by combining his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs.Unlike most other martial arts, the central principle of Aikido is to allow practitioners to defend themselves, while at the same time prevent their attackers from being seriously injured. The focus is on using the attacker’s energy and momentum against him, by using strategic entering and turning movements, and to quickly get him on the ground, where a submission lock can be employed. Yoseikan BudoYoseikan Budo is a composite martial art, into which various other techniques from other martial arts have been integrated. It consists of altered techniques of Judo, Aikido, Jujitsu, and Karate.While the current form of this fighting style as practiced in the USA comprises mainly groundwork and submission maneuvers, originally, it also included striking techniques as well as the use of different weapons. American KenpoDevised by Ed Parker, American Kempo is a style of fighting that is viewed as a form of self-defense. Different versions of this art are taught by a number of instructors, since Ed died before naming a true successor.American Kempo makes use of a rapid succession of hand strikes, aimed at overwhelming the enemy and landing as many blows as possible in a short time duration. Kicks are rarely used, and are typically kept low with the intention of preventing the practitioner’s balance from being lost during a fight. Wing Chun Kung FuWing Chun kung Fu is a concept-based martial art, which is taught as a means of self-defense. It is named after the legend of a young Chinese woman called Yim Wing-Chun, who was able to defeat a warlord in a one-on-one confrontation through it.It employs both, striking and grappling techniques, along with a specialized close-range combat repertoire. Choi Kwang DoChoi kwang do is a modern self-defense technique developed by Kwang Jo Choi, who initially was a tae kwon do practitioner. He developed this new martial art form to prevent the injuries which he believed resulted from practicing tae kwon do.Choi kwang do focuses on flexibility and smooth fluid movements, which generate sufficient force without putting a lot of strain on the joints. It also comprises breathing and stretching exercises, from yoga to conditioning the body, and to improving flexibility. Vovinam Viet Vo DaoVovinam Việt Võ Đạo was formulated by grandmaster Nguyễn Lộc, intending to teach the practitioners an efficient means of self-defense, which he believed would play a crucial role in freeing Vietnam, which was ruled by France back then.This fighting style is practiced with and without the use of weapons, and is designed to train both, the body and the mind. It includes hand strikes, kicks, elbow strikes, and grappling and escaping techniques. Both attack as well as defense is given equal weightage in this art. GatkaGatka is a south Asian martial art that has its origins in northern India, and what is now Pakistan. It was mainly practiced by the Punjabi Sikhs.Gatka is a weapon-based combat training, which mainly focuses on training one to use swords and shields. Its techniques are effective for both, offense as well as defense, and are very spectacular to watch. KumdoKumdo is a modern Korean martial art derived from Japanese Kendo. Translated, it mean the ‘way of the sword’.Kumdo is taught using ‘juk do’, which is a 4-split bamboo sword, and ‘ho goo’, meaning the head and body gear. Real swords are also used, but only for the demonstration of skills, and not in actual sparring sessions. KajukenboKajukenbo is an American hybrid martial art. The name Kajukenbo is indicative of the different arts that are used in this style: Ka – Karate, Ju – Judo and Jujutsu, Ken – Kenpo, and Bo – Western and Chinese boxing.This fighting art incorporates striking, kicking, throwing, take-downs, joint-locks, and also weapon disarmament techniques. Kyokushinkai KarateThis was created by Sosai Masutatsu Oyama in 1955. It is a full-contact fighting style, that has a large international presence, with more than 12 million followers in only the last few decades.Kyokushin is considered by many to be the strongest form of karate. It is known for its rigorous training and physical conditioning. It comprises intense body contact moves in sparring, and heavily relies on circular motions for increased momentum. Praying MantisThis style was designed by Wong Long, and has two different versions – Northern and Southern. The name praying mantis was inspired by the speed and aggression displayed by the insect – mantis.A distinct characteristic of the northern mantis technique is the ‘praying mantis hook’, which is a hook made of one to three fingers, and used to direct force in a whip-like manner. Circular motions are used to deflect head-on attacks, and precise strikes are used to attack the enemy’s vital spots.Southern mantis emphasizes close-range combat using spurts of high-energy movements. It mainly involves hand techniques and a limited number of low kicks. Tai Chi ChuanKnown all over the world for its health benefits and for its effectiveness in reducing tension and stress, tai chi chuan is a Chinese martial art that was originally designed to train one for self-defense. It relies on the use of internal power (chi), which the practitioner learns to use through years of training, exercises, and meditation.The use of tai chi in combat is a test of one’s understanding of this method of fighting. Unlike other martial art forms, it requires the employment of appropriate changes, such as yielding and sticking, rather than using opposing force against an oncoming attack. Shotokan KarateShotokan is a form of karate developed by Gichin Funakoshi and his son Gigo (Yoshitaka) Funakoshi.This Japanese fighting style focuses on developing powerful, anaerobic techniques and speed.Initial training helps develop power and speed, and as the student advances to the brown or black belt, development of a much more fluid style, also comprising grappling and throwing, is achieved. Greco-Roman wrestlingThis is a wrestling style which forms a popular sport that is practiced worldwide. It requires the practitioner to develop physical strength through heavy training as well as proper technique and form through a lot of practice.This style doesn’t allow the use of holds below waist level, so a lot of focus is put on using throws in the offensive, and in avoiding them in the defensive by hooking onto the opponent’s leg. The goal in Greco-Roman wrestling is to pin the opponent’s shoulders to the ground. KickboxingKickboxing, as the name suggests, is a combat technique that employs kicking and punching to take down an opponent. It is based on other prominent martial arts, including muay thai, karate, and Western boxing. Kickboxing is a major sporting event across the world, and is also practiced as a means of self-defense and for staying fit. Hwa Rang DoThis Korean martial art was created by Joo Bang Lee and his brother Joo Sang Lee. It includes learning various fighting techniques, mental-ability training, spiritual training, and even different artistic pursuits.In the physical training, a practitioner will learn different punching and kicking techniques, and how to defend against them, as well as against locks, throws, and other offensive maneuvers. Using and defending against various weapons, such as nunchakus, long staffs, sticks, and swords is also taught. IaidoIaido is a modern Japanese sword fighting technique, that teaches the use of the samurai sword for attacking using a single strike.It uses smooth controlled motions, that typically begin with the drawing of the sword from the scabbard, striking the opponent, and then replacing it back in. It requires a lot of practice and a great deal of concentration. KalaripayattuKalaripayattu is an Indian martial art, widely considered to be the oldest fighting system in existence. It is now chiefly practiced in the Indian states of Kerala, parts of Tamil Nadu, and by some of members of the Malayali community in Malaysia.This martial art form utilizes strikes, kicks, jumps, grappling, and other complex maneuvers. It also includes training in the use of weapons, as well as different healing methods. KendoKendo is a modern weaponized martial art that has originated from the ancient swordsmanship technique – kenjutsu. It is now practiced mainly in Japan, and also in many different places around the world.Kendo is a style of fencing that uses both the hands to maximize the power of the strikes. It requires a lot of physical and mental conditioning through intense practice. Nowadays, Kendo is practiced using wooden swords and by wearing protective gear. NaginatajutsuNaginatajutsu is an old Japanese martial art devised for learning how to wield the naginata, which is a weapon that resembles the Medieval European glaive. The naginata was used against cavalry, as its length helped in keeping a safe distance from the horses and their riders. It was popularly used by female samurai for defending their homes when their husbands were away at war.Naginatajutsu mainly uses thrusting motions along with long arcing ones. As a modern-day sport, it is practiced with bamboo naginnata, wearing protective gear. Boxing This is one of the oldest and most natural form of fighting known to man. In boxing, the hands are curled into fists and are used to throw punches. The hands are also used to shield the face and neck against attacks. Though a boxer solely uses his hands for fighting, he needs to train his legs too in order to achieve greater balance, speed, and agility. Professional boxing events brutally test a boxer’s strength, stamina, and reflexes, along with his willpower. Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsuDaitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu is a Japanese combat art made popular by headmaster Takeda Sokaku, who is regarded as either the restorer or founder of this art.The main principle of this style of fighting is to quickly neutralize an attack, and to gain the upper hand early on. It utilizes throwing techniques, joint manipulation, and different means of using the enemy’s force and movement against him. It involves striking the attacker’s vital areas to set up joint-locking or throwing tactics. Freestyle WrestlingFreestyle wrestling has its origins from ‘catch-as-catch-can’ wrestling in Great Britain and USA. It is a form of amateur wrestling, where the ultimate aim is to throw or pin down your opponent to the ground. Unlike Greco-Roman, this style allows the wrestler to use his own or his opponent’s legs in offense as well as defense.Freestyle wrestling is considered to be the most complete style of stand-up wrestling, featuring elements of traditional wrestling, sambo, and judo. Pencak SilatThis is a set of Indonesian martial arts, that depends on the usage indigenous weapons and animal styles. The word ‘pencak’ signifies performance, while the term ‘silat’ signifies fighting and self-defense.Pencak silat was developed as an effective method of combat and self-defense by the people of these islands, to protect and fight against the Japanese and Dutch, and years of internal civil war. This fighting style draws from boxing and wrestling. It features both, armed and unarmed fighting techniques. SanshouThe Sanshaou system of fighting was originally developed by the Chinese military as an effective combat art. It was derived from traditional kung fu and a number of other modern combat techniques.Sanshaou comprises close-range fighting, using rapid kicks and punches. It also includes wrestling take-down maneuvers, such as throws, sweeps, knee and elbow strikes, etc. Sanshaou is widely considered to be a part of Chinese martial arts. Tang Soo doThis ancient style of fighting originated about 2,000 years ago in Korea, and is considered to be one of the oldest forms of karate. It also consists of elements from other prominent martial arts, such as subak, taekkyon, and Chinese kung fu.Tang Soo do practitioners use hand strikes, kicks, and blocks to defend themselves. They also utilize grappling techniques similar to jiu-jitsu or aikido. This style highly emphasizes on breathing techniques. Mani Juego de maní, also known simply as mani, is a mixed martial art that was developed in Cuba by the African slaves. Its name, when translated, means the ‘game of war’.Mani is a style of combat which is disguised as a dance. It was practiced by slaves during their free-time from labor. It consists of techniques such as low licks, foot sweeps, punches, head-butts, etc. It also involves a number of jumps and cartwheel-type evasive steps. Each one-on-one fight ends with a take-down or grappling maneuver. Mani also includes the use of weapons, such as a cane staff, knives, etc. Kalenda Kalenda started around the 1720s in Trinidad, and is a kind of folk music and dance, along with being a martial art. It basically is a stick-fighting routine, popular among the inhabitants of the Caribbean islands, which is used as a form of dance performance in recent times. The name Kamau Njia means the ‘way of the silent warrior’ in Swahili. It is modern martial art that focuses on the development of instinctive movements, taking advantage of an individual’s natural defense and offense in order to overpower the enemy.It heavily focuses on real-time scenario-based training against grabs, strikes, weapons, and ground attacks. The idea is to hone the practitioner’s reflexes for functioning reflexively during the pressure and distress of an attack. Kamau njia borrows from a variety of other martial arts, including jiujitsu, aikijutsu, kempo, boxing, African dance, etc.


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