How Many Different Types of Martial Arts Styles Are There?

Martial arts can be defined as having to do with the skills learned concerning combat practices as a form of self-defense. Having existed for thousands of years, martial arts is an ever-changing sport that has evolved into the different styles we know today.

Although the more popular styles of martial arts originate in big Asian countries such as Japan, China, and Korea, many styles originate in countries all over the world.

How many different types of martial arts styles are there?

Surprisingly, there are more than 170 varieties of martial arts. Some styles are more well-known than others, such as Karate and Taekwondo, while there are other more rare styles such as Kino Mutai and Bokator.

What are the different types of martial arts styles?

There are four main divisions of martial arts that are arranged by geographic origin, namely Japan, China, Korea, and Brazil. Although these are the most popular regions for martial arts practice and origin, that’s not to say, some styles don’t come from other countries.

Below are the top 10 most popular styles of martial arts around the world.

1. Karate

Originating in Japan, Karate was first acknowledged as a style of martial arts in 1933. The word “karate” literally translates to “unarmed” and as a discipline teaches artists techniques of unarmed self-defense. As a discipline, karate involves the use of kicks, strikes, and defensive blocks to defend oneself from bodily harm.

More specifically, striking in Karate refers to the use of punching, kicking, knee strikes, open-handed strikes, and elbow strikes. In addition to striking techniques, a “karateka” or a Karate instructor, teaches grappling, restraints, and vital-point strikes as well.

Although Karate has been in practice since long before its official recognition in 1933, the popularization of this style of martial arts in America came to be with its introduction into movies in the 1960s and 1970s. With this popularization, the word Karate began to be used as a general name for all martial arts, however, this is a misleading term as Karate is a unique discipline in and of itself.

Lastly, it was the publicity of this discipline in the movies that led to a rush of Karate schools all over the world.

2. Judo

Judo was conceived in Japan in 1882 as a style of martial arts that combined physical combat with mental bravery. The word “Judo” translates into “gentle way” and is a style of unarmed self-defense that’s been featured in the Summer Olympics since 1964. As a discipline, Judo focuses on two overarching principles: efficient use of energy and evenly matched opponents.

Judo training centers on throwing opponents, pinning opponents, or forcing an opponent into submission. Inducing submission can be achieved through the use of a joint lock (literally locking or immobilizing an opponent’s joints) or a chokehold.

Although some Judo schools teach basic strike and weapon usage, such practices are not a leading principle of Judo and are not permitted in Judo competitions.

Moreover, Judo is credited with inspiring secondary martial arts forms such as Krav Maga, Mixed Martial Arts, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to name a few. Finally, Judo is a powerful sport that requires both physical strength and skillful mental control.

3. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or BJJ was conceived in Brazil in 1920 by three Judo-trained brothers. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a battle sport that employs principles of ground fighting and submission holds.

The predominant philosophies involved in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu include taking an opponent to the ground, controlling an opponent, and maintaining dominance over an opponent. Additionally, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu involves chokeholds and joint locks used to force opponents into submission.

One of the most important skills a student of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu learns is takedown; this involves using force to take out an opponent’s knee and bring them to the ground. From the takedown position, an opponent is easier to control and dominate. From the takedown position, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu results in ground-fighting. As a ground-fighting sport, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teaches fighters the unique skill of defending themselves from their back.

While ground-fighting, opponents use a guard hold which involves disabling an opponent’s leg; from this position, a fighter’s goal is to break free from the opponent’s guard hold. Primarily, a ground-based fighting sport, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teaches fighters techniques to force an opponent into submission without the use of violence.

4. Muay Thai

Muay Thai originated in Thailand in the 13th century and is sometimes referred to as Thai boxing. Unlike Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai is a stand-up style of martial arts.

Muay Thai involves striking and clinching methods and, in practice, fighters are not permitted to take opponents to the ground as in other styles of martial arts. Muay Thai is known as the “art of eight limbs,” the fists, elbows, knees, and shins being the eight limbs used to fend off opponents.

When compared to other stand-up combat sports such as Karate, Muay Thai engages the use of the eight striking points whereas Karate only employs four (hands and feet).

When Muay Thai originated, it was developed as a discipline taught to soldiers to defend their kingdom; historically, this style of martial arts utilized lethal blows. Modern Muay Thai is practiced globally and prohibits the use of lethal maneuvers, however, is nonetheless a completely effective method of self-defense.

5. Krav Maga

Krav Maga is a style of Israeli martial arts that is used to train soldiers for hand-to-hand combat. Krav Maga uses a unique blend of martial arts moves that include punches, kicks, knees, elbows, and wrestling techniques for self-defense.

Through the use of instinctual moves and aggressive exchanged attacks, practitioners of Krav Maga are trained to become highly proficient in this style of martial arts in a short period of training time. Three overarching principles command Krav Maga; they are efficiency, aggression, and most importantly, survival.

The Krav Maga principle of survival allows for moves that are otherwise not allowed in other styles of martial arts. For instance, in Krav Maga training, practitioners are taught to use headbutts, groin strikes, eye gouges, and other dangerous defense maneuvers.

Krav Maga is different from other forms of martial arts because of its no-holds-barred philosophy; essentially, all is fair on the battlefield, therefore no tactic or move is prohibited in Krav Maga. Lastly, Krav Maga teaches students to turn everyday items such as pens and keys into a weapon if necessary.

6. Taekwondo

Originating in Korea more than 2,000 years ago, Taekwondo is considered one of the oldest styles of martial arts. Taekwondo is named for the art of using one’s extremities to defend oneself in this martial arts style; Tae means foot, Kwon means hand, and Do means art.

Although Taekwondo was popular thousands of years ago in Korea, it didn’t arrive in the US until the 1950s with the appearance of master instructors who came with the sole purpose of spreading the art form.

Concerning the physical moves of Taekwondo, the emphasis is on building punching and kicking techniques; the three predominant types of kicks include head-height kicks, spinning kicks, and fast kicks. The physicality of these Taekwondo moves focuses on endurance, strength, and flexibility.

Furthermore, Taekwondo is ruled by five main principles, namely courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and unbeatable spirit. These rules coupled with the physical fighting skills learned through Taekwondo come together to emphasize both moral and physical discipline.

7. Kung Fu

Originating in the Xia Dynasty more than 4,000 years ago in China, Kung Fu is a martial arts form that focuses on a marriage of spiritual and physical discipline. Often mistaken for a martial arts style in and of itself, Kung Fu translates to “acquired skill” and refers to the learning of self-defense skills such as punching, kicking, and pivoting.

Most similar in form to Karate or Taekwondo, Kung Fu is a fundamentally unarmed style of self-defense. The term Kung Fu is mainly used as a general term to characterize the study of many secondary forms of martial arts. Although Kung Fu incorporates many physical movements, it is best known for quick, artful movements coupled with mental scheming.

Kung Fu skills are acquired over a duration of time through human discipline and focus; Kung Fu is said to improve mental sharpness, physical skill, blood circulation, stress levels, and concentration.

8. Aikido

Founded in the early 20th century, Aikido is a martial arts form hailing from Japan. Most similar in practice to Judo and Jiu-Jitsu, Aikido is a self-defense system that focuses on the use of throws, kicks, punches, and joint locks to ward off a threat.

Unlike other styles of martial arts, Aikido’s focus is on achieving peaceful, non-violent resolutions in combat. Nonetheless, Aikido does train practitioners in the use of weapons such as a sword, a staff, and a knife.

Notably, Aikido combines the use of meditation techniques with combat training to conjure balance of body and mind. In other words, Aikido focuses on the well-being of both the mind and body.

Aikido involves more than inflicting bodily harm or killing, it’s doing so with compassion, sensitivity, and integrity. An Aikido warrior is a template of bravery, courage, and most importantly, honor. Finally, more than combative self-defense, Aikido is a style of martial arts that promotes spiritual and physical growth to hone character and wisdom.

9. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

First denoted as such in 1993, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) descends from a mixed origin. Encompassing wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, Judo, Karate, or any other combat style martial art. MMA is an extreme combat style of martial arts.

Notably, MMA is a full-contact sport that allows a variety of self-defense techniques. MMA is one of the most popular competitive combat sports in the US today. Mixed Martial Arts matches are set in an octagon-shaped cage where the only two rules disallow biting and eye-gouging.

During MMA matches, protective equipment is required some of which include a mouth guard, headgear, and shin guards. As a discipline, MMA focuses on the acceptance of two overarching techniques: grappling and striking. Striking employs the use of punches, kicks, knee strikes, and elbow strikes. Lastly, there are a handful of ways to be rendered victorious in an MMA match: knockout, submission, and forfeit to name a few.

10. Kun Khmer

Kun Khmer is a style of martial arts and combat fighting practiced in Cambodia. Typically practiced by young athletes, Kun Khmer consists of both kicking and striking, however, its primary focus is its powerful kicking techniques.

The end goal in any Kun Khmer matchup is to technically knock out one’s opponent. While Kun Khmer is most popular for its hip-rotating kicks, this style of martial arts also employs striking methods such as punching, knee hits, elbow strikes, and snapping kicks.

In a Kun Khmer match, opponents fight for dominant positions with a short-term goal of closing wide gaps to allow for short-range knee and elbow strikes. Some of the principles of Kun Khmer disallow striking an opponent when he or she is on the ground, biting, blows to the back, or blows to the genitals.

Finally, Kun Khmer shares many similarities with Muay Thai and is best known for its spinning kicks as well as lethal elbow and knee strikes.

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