What is Martial Arts?

Self-defense, combat, or recreational purpose – martial arts is one sport that can come in handy in any situation. There are hundreds of forms that are practiced across the world, and each has its own characteristics.

Martial arts is a combination of various sports that compel you to use your hands and feet for self-defence or attack. It first originated in countries like China, Korea and Japan, and since then, has gained massive popularity all over the world. There are many popular fighting styles to choose from, with karate and judo being the most liked ones.

Origin and History

The martial arts that we see today are quite different from the sport that existed in ancient times. All these forms have gone through an evolution and have emerged quite differently.

Zen Buddhism and Martial Arts


There has been a long association between Zen Buddhism and martial arts. Several books talk about this connection, with Eugen’s Herrigel’s classic Zen being a very popular one. Additionally, there have been films made glorifying and glamorizing this connection as well.

The two are mainly linked because of Zen’s origin in China. Zen was considered a special school in the early 6th century and was also the birthplace of monks of Shaolin who performed martial arts. To this day, these monks still perform these acts. However, it is debated that these monks are mere actors now who perform solely for the sake of entertainment.

Zen Buddhism mainly attempts to find the true meaning of life without being misled by any confounding variables like the logical thought process or the use of language. It began in China and then quickly spread to places like Korea and Japan. Much like this concept, martial arts, in its essence, also tries to find a connection between the mind and soul and, in doing so, tries to get a better understanding of life.

Types of Martial Arts

With over 170 forms, it can be hard to keep track. However, there are some forms of martial arts that take precedence over others. These aren’t just very popular but also provide extensive benefits to the individuals performing them. Here is a list of these popular forms.

Japanese Martial Arts

Much of what people know of Japanese martial arts comes from its depiction in movies and theatres. It is a very systematic form of martial arts that allows for greater precision and accuracy. Some famous forms include jujitsu, aikido, and judo.

Jujitsu or Jiu Jitsu

Jiu Jitsu

This is one of the most popular forms of Japanese martial arts that make use of very few or almost no weapons at all. It mainly works by performers holding, throwing, or even paralyzing bows to dominate their opponent. It emerged in the early 17th century, a time that saw the emergence of the warrior class, bushi.

The art requires a warrior to make use of his skills in combat and display his swordsmanship skill. In earlier times, it was deployed as a guaranteed method to either cripple or kill your opponent. It was a very common form of attacking during war or battle. It also included techniques that involved choking, throwing, kneeing, or completely immobilizing your opponent. People made little use of weapons in order to perform these actions during the battle.

However, the technique has evolved over the years. It is commonly associated with the word ‘ju’ in Chinese. This roughly translates into ‘gentle.’ Contrary to what people think, this is not a misleading characterization. This is because, in jujitsu, the subjects are required to exhibit a certain level of control. They are required to bend or yield to the direction of the attack by the opponent and then use that to their advantage.

Another interesting thing about this technique is that it makes use of some tough parts of the body. One had to involve knuckles, knees, elbows, and fists to tackle the vulnerable joints of the enemy. It decreased in popularity after 1877, the year the Satsuma rebellion occurred. However, much to everyone’s delight, it resurfaced after 1990.


Martial art isn’t as aggressive as many people think, and aikido is proof of that. This is a unique style of fighting that is mostly peaceful in nature. It was first taught by the famous fighter Morihei Ueshiba. He was a believer in self-defense more than he was a believer in anything else. His technique involved using your opponent’s moves to your advantage.

Morihei emphasized that one should use an opponent’s aggression against himself, rather than attempting to strike or become the aggressor oneself. His goal in life was to create an attacking system that allowed users to slow down or dominate the attacker without seriously injuring him. He was also strictly against any method that attempted to cause real harm to the attacker.

Additionally, his technique emphasized the need for caution. He wanted his students to remain safe while deploying any method on the field.

Aikido is also known for its strong association with spirituality. Moreover, it is mainly based on neo-Shinto practice and philosophy, which makes it stand out among other martial arts techniques.

Over the years, there have been some distinct names added to the appeal of the arts. These include Steven Seagal, one of the most popular martial arts movie actors of all time. Moreover, Kisshomaru, the third child of Morihei, became really popular after his father’s death.


Almost everyone in Japan and in the world is familiar with this form of martial arts. It gained massive popularity after the 1960s. However, the sport didn’t see an easy journey to fame. It originated in 1882 and had to struggle for quite some time before people started taking it seriously. It was, however, in the 1960s that it came to be recognized as an Olympic sport.

Much like aikido, this is also a relatively gentle form of martial arts. This is because judo itself translates into gentleness. It is a competitive form of martial arts that compels your opponents to give up. There are a couple of ways in which this is done.

The performer can either throw the opponent on the ground or force him to submit. The latter is often done by using a ‘holding’ method. The attacker can also immobilize the opponent with a pin and achieve the same result.

Some famous practitioners have given rise to the popularity of Judo. The most famous person is Jigoro Kano, who is also the founder of the art. It was his efforts that introduced judo and that bought it to the Olympic stage.

The other famous name is LeBella. He was a stunt performer, a professional wrestler, and the author of many books on Judo. The last name that comes to mind is Hidehiko Yoshida, a gold medalist who is still known for his toughness and unwavering attitude in the field.


Kendo is widely loved across the world. It is a traditional form of martial arts that requires you to use both your hands in yielding a wooden sword. The method is a derivation of the famous samurai method.

The history of Kendo is quite unique. After the unification of Japan in 1600, sword combat took a hit. People no longer felt the need to indulge in the sport. This led to the introduction of Kendo, a technique that made use of wooden swords to ensure better patience, discipline, and skill. The end goal of this technique is to build character.

In the early 18th century, bamboos were used to create swords that were used for this purpose. These could ensure proper practice without being too risky. It is also interesting to note that the learning of this art was compulsory in Japanese schools from time to time. Additionally, an International Kendo Federation came into existence in 1970.

Many kendo matches still occur. Most of them require the contestants to wear a traditional jacket and a long skirt. They are also required to wear other things like gloves, protectors, and masks for added safety. The shinai or the bamboo sword is placed in both hands. The contestants are allowed to switch between hands and perform a variety of techniques.

All in all, it is one technique that is widely practiced among military groups, police, and even students in Japan. Many people in other countries like Canada and Brazil are also fans of the art.

Chinese Martial Arts

Chinese arts is commonly referred to as Kung Fu and is really popular among the masses. These styles have developed over centuries and are still evolving to this day. All of these styles can be put into simple categories or families, depending on their common traits.



One of the most popular forms of martial arts, karate, is revered by the general public. People not in China but all over the world love karate for the diversity it offers. It mainly involves things like striking, kicking, and defensive blocking of your opponent. The main idea behind karate is to maximize your body’s power so that you can have the most significant impact.

It evolved firstly in East Asia over the course of centuries. It came to be known as a prominent style in Okinawa in the 17th century. However, in 1920, some Japanese schools also taught parts of the technique. Now, different schools and systems train karate in their own unique way.

The most significant striking surfaces in karate include the knuckles and the outer edges of your hands. However, some people also make use of their elbows, knees, forearms, and heels to disempower their opponents. Karate enthusiasts tend to spend a lot of their time practicing on wood or padded surfaces. This not only hones their skills but also teaches them consistency and better control.

Tactics, spirit, and good timing are also central to karate, and they all come in handy to ensure better success in the field. An expert is also able to break a pine board that is several inches thick with his bare hands. All in all, physical toughening is as important in karate as is mental toughening.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi

When one thinks of martial arts, one rarely thinks of very peaceful or calm tactics. However, tai chi is pretty different from all the other forms of arts in this category. It is mainly a defense training method used for its effects on mental and physical health.

The form mainly involves a lot of slow movements that mainly disempower the opponent without causing any real bodily harm. It is interesting to know that tai chi has been around for so many centuries and still has managed to retain good popularity.

It dates back to the 12th century when Zhang Sanfeng, a Taoist monk, started practicing it. However, much of the research on the origins of this form of martial arts is unsubstantiated. Despite that, what it lacks in historical facts, it makes up for in clarity. The philosophy behind the form of arts is pretty clear.

It is believed that using force to tackle force brings both sides’ added disadvantages. It not only distresses both parties but also leaves them seriously injured. This is why, in tai chi, one is required to meet brutal force with softness. This will make the opponent exhaust himself and give up on his own. In doing so, you not only get to protect yourself but also ensure you have higher moral ground.

Korean Martial Arts

A trademark of military personnel in Korea, Korean martial art forms enjoy great fame in and outside the country. They are mainly taught to ensure better growth and recreation of the masses.



Korean Martial arts gained popularity a bit late, but one form that made the most impact was undoubtedly Hapkido. The word roughly translates into ‘a way of coordinated energy’. It is mainly a Korean form of self-defense method that doesn’t harm your opponent severely. It is a traditional form that makes use of legs and feet.

In the post-Japanese colonial period of Korea, some Korean nationals were responsible for putting modern-day Hapkido on the map. Choi Yong Sool and some of his students, mainly Chinil Chang, are still known for their impeccable services for the form.

In Hapkido, the striker is required to use traditional kicks, and foot sweeps in a circular motion. However, these are not the only things that one needs to learn. As an expert, you will also have to incorporate circular throws and punches in the technique. This not only helps you make your opponent yield to your dominance but also ensures that you don’t cause any severe harm. This technique, in its essence, is very much like Aikido.

The main emphasis of the technique is using circular motions of both hands and feet in a very free-flowing manner. This may seem like a technique that requires little precision, but that is what many people misunderstand. A Hapkido enthusiast will be required to spend hours and hours perfecting just the circular motion. In the end, whoever is able to change the direction of force by changing the axis of rotation will be considered the true winner.



One of the most scientific and appealing forms of martial arts, Taekwondo comes with an extensive history. It is a systematic form of fighting that teaches you much more than simple physical skills. The main idea behind the sport is to teach people the right way to enhance their spirit and revolutionize their bodies and souls. In doing so, it also tackles the mind and ensures it works in harmony with the body.

In today’s world, taekwondo has garnered huge praise and is now part of the official games played at the Olympics. The word itself can be broken down into two-three main parts. Tae translates into ‘foot or ‘step on,’ Kwon means ‘fight or fist.’ Lastly, ‘do’ translate into ‘way’ or ‘discipline;’ these three parts make up the principles of taekwondo.

As the name suggests, one will have to make use of both their fists and feet to achieve success. But fighting is not the central idea in this form of martial arts. The primary goal is to use the technique to ensure peace prevails in any given situation. So in a way, taekwondo teachers teach you to use your fists and legs in every possible way to stop or control any fights happening around you.

It is also interesting to note that this form of art has developed over the last 5000 years. Over the course of so many centuries, it has managed to evolve more than many other forms. It was earlier known as ‘subak’ in Korea. It began as a way to train your mind and body to work in accordance with each other. However, in the ‘Shilla period, it came to be known as the backbone of Hwa Rang Do that wanted to create progressive leaders in the country.

Taekwondo is also very different from some main forms of martial arts. For starters, it doesn’t make use of hands and fists as much as other arts do. Secondly, the aim is to use the mind much more than the body. Thirdly, principally, taekwondo aims to create a much larger impact on the world.

But Taekwondo is very different from many such oriental martial arts. Physically, it is very dynamic with active movements that include a mirage of foot skills. The principle physical movements are in simpatico with that of the mind and life as a whole. Plus, it possesses dynamic poses from another perspective.

It also asks people to deploy harmony in every area of their lives. In doing so, people can not only find unique things to do but also add authenticity and growth to every part of their life.

Brazilian Martial Arts

Most Brazilian forms of martial arts allow for intense combat and focus on teaching self-defense mechanisms to performers. These forms are also fluid in terms of rules and regulations.

Mixed Martial Arts or MMA

Brazilian Martial Arts

MMA has managed to create an unwavering reputation for itself. It is a hybrid form of martial arts that incorporates different techniques from things like wrestling, karate, judo, and even boxing. In this way, MMA came to be known as one of the most diverse forms of martial arts in the world.

MMA is also interesting in terms of its rich history. It was initially categorized as a very brutal sport that was dangerous to indulge in. It also didn’t come with any clear set of rules, a fact that made it all the riskier. However, over the years, MMA has successfully managed to dissociate from that image. It is now considered one of the most revered and praised forms of martial arts in the world. But despite its changing image, this form of martial arts is still sanctioned in all 50 states of the USA and many other countries.

Mixed martial arts became popular after they were played in the ancient Olympic games of 648 BCE. Ancient Greece armies were trained using this form of art so that they could fatally harm their opponents on the field. The lack of rules meant that things like kicking or hitting your opponent when they are already down or injured were allowed. Additionally, things like eye-gouging were forbidden.

In ancient times, a match of MMA would automatically end as soon as one of the contestants accepted defeat or became unconscious. However, it is sad to note that in many instances, contestants also died during combat, a fact that was normalized in ancient Greece. In 393, Theodosius, the Roman Emperor, saw the brutality of the sport and restricted MMA from being played in the Olympic games.

However, the sport resurfaced again in Brazil in the early 20th century. The two people who were famous for reinventing the rules of the game were Helio and Carlos Gracie. They not only enhanced the popularity of the game but also began a jiu-jitsu school in 1925. With the introduction of the school, the sport again came into the limelight. The brothers would hold competitions every now and then, which were attended by huge crowds.

In North America, the sport garnered many people’s attention after the Gracie family decided to perform in the United States in the early 1990s. They showcased their talents in a tournament in Colorado that came to be known as UFC 1. After that, the sport gained further popularity and came to be known as one of the most engaging and intriguing sports under the martial arts category. Betting on UFC events is also becoming more and more popular, with a high number of bookmakers focusing on this exciting activity.

Other Martial Arts

Apart from the commonly known Chinese, Japanese and Korean forms, hundreds of styles are deployed across the world. Some other popular art styles include:

Muay Thai

Muay Thai

Thailand is yet another country known for its popular forms of martial arts. The most popular one is Muay Thai. Compared to other forms of martial arts, this one is relatively new. It has been around for only a few hundred years. It was developed as a form of art that made use of the entire body. Participants were asked to indulge in close-combat by using their entire bodies as weapons.

However, it is sad to know that much of the history of this form was lost when the Burmese attacked Ayudhaya. Ayudhya was not only the capital of Siam but was also known for being the center of historical artifacts.

It is said that the history of Muay Thai was available inside the historical sites in Ayudhaya and its temples. The Burmese not only looted the jewels from these temples but also burned down any important documentation placed inside. In doing so, they also removed much of the books written on this form of martial arts. However, some volumes were saved and are now considered a treasure of the Thai heritage.

Muay Thai is roughly translated into ‘the art of eight limbs.’ This is because it compels you to use eight main points of contact between your body and the opponent’s body during the war. The strikers’ hands become their swords, and the forearms are considered to be the armor. Additionally, your knees and legs are considered to be your staff and your ax.

All in all, in Muay Thai, your elbows and knees are in constant search of an opening to use to their advantage. All this allows you to use your entire body as one singular unit.