18 Different Types of Martial Arts

Explore different styles in this comprehensive guide.

Different Types Of Martial Arts
Different Types Of Martial Arts

Looking to learn a martial art but unsure which one is right for you? With over 180 martial arts styles practiced worldwide, choosing the most suitable can be daunting. This comprehensive guide will detail different types of martial arts and offer an insightful overview, making it easy for you to make an informed choice.

Let’s start your journey towards becoming a skilled martial artist!

Key Takeaways

  • Martial arts transcend mere fighting techniques; they are profound expressions of culture, history, and personal empowerment.
  • The panorama of martial arts includes styles like Muay Thai, Taekwondo, Karate, Kung Fu, Aikido, and many more.
  • Each discipline stands out with its unique techniques, be it striking, grappling, or weapon mastery.
  • Embracing martial arts can lead to enhanced physical prowess, agility, mental fortitude, and spiritual growth.

Understanding Martial Arts

Martial arts are fighting styles from around the world. Each style trains people to fight or defend themselves. Some martial arts use strikes with fists, elbows, knees, and shins like Muay Thai.

Tai Chi helps find inner peace by using slow movements. Other styles stress fast moves and powerful kicks such as Taekwondo.

Anyone can learn martial arts to get fit or for self-defense. These training techniques help with balance, speed, strength and mental focus too! From Japan’s Karate to China’s Kung Fu, each practice has its own set of rules and techniques.

Various Types of Martial Arts

There are numerous types of martial arts, including Muay Thai, Taekwondo, Tai Chi, Kickboxing, Karate, Kung Fu, Aikido, Judo, Kendo, Krav Maga, Wing Chun, Jeet Kune Do, Hapkido, Capoeira, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Ninjutsu, and Escrima.

Different Styles Of Martial Arts

1. Muay Thai

Originating in Thailand, Muay Thai, often referred to as Thai Boxing, is a powerful martial art and combat sport recognized for its dynamic use of fists, elbows, knees, and shins. Historically rooted in the techniques of Siamese warriors on the battlefield, Muay Thai has evolved over time from a necessity for close-quarters combat and self-defense into a globally respected sport and a key component of Thai culture.

Known as the “Art of 8 Limbs” because of its multi-faceted striking techniques, Muay Thai fighters display a blend of strength, speed, agility, and tactical brilliance in the ring. Their aggressive and intense fighting style is complemented by clinch holds and devastating clinch techniques.

Training in Muay Thai is demanding, aiming to foster endurance, power, precision, and mental resilience. Fighters and practitioners engage in rigorous sessions that incorporate pad work, heavy bag drills, sparring, and specialized power drills to enhance their overall capabilities. With a rich legacy tracing back to ancient warriors and a contemporary reputation for effectiveness in both competition and self-defense, Muay Thai continues to captivate and inspire enthusiasts worldwide.

2. Taekwondo

Originating from Korea, Taekwondo is a vibrant and fast-paced martial art with roots tracing back to traditional Korean fighting styles such as Taekkyeon and Subak, which date as far back as 37 BC. Renowned for its high and rapid kicks, as well as meticulous hand techniques, this martial art has taken the global stage by storm, earning recognition and admiration from enthusiasts worldwide.

Modern Taekwondo began to evolve in the 1940s and 50s, post the Japanese occupation in Korea. Unlike the calm, meditative approach of Tai Chi, Taekwondo is exhilarating and action-packed, drawing parallels with the vigorous nature of Muay Thai and kickboxing. Both Taekwondo and kickboxing prioritize swift strikes and a combination of punches and kicks, emphasizing speed and agility in their techniques. While sharing some similarities with Karate, another Asian martial art known for its powerful strikes and open-hand techniques, Taekwondo remains unique with its iconic high-kicking methods.

Integral to Taekwondo training is the fostering of values like self-discipline, respect, and mental strength. Its comprehensive training covers self-defense methods, forms or patterns, sparring, and even board-breaking techniques. By combining intricate footwork with swift strikes and blocks, Taekwondo presents a harmonious blend of beauty, athleticism, and practicality, making it a sought-after martial art for both discipline and defense.

3. Tai Chi

Originating in the heart of China, Tai Chi, also known as Tai Chi Chuan, is deeply rooted in Taoist philosophy, aiming to achieve a harmonious balance between body, mind, and spirit. Often linked to the legendary Taoist monk, Zhang Sanfeng, the martial art’s historical accuracy is a subject of debate, yet its essence remains consistent throughout generations.

Characterized by its slow, graceful, and fluid movements known as sequences, Tai Chi promotes relaxation, balance, and inner harmony. These sequences, performed continuously and interconnectedly, cultivate internal energy and promote physical health. The emphasis on mindful body movements, regulated breath, and mental focus elevates the practitioner’s awareness, further enhancing stamina and endurance.

As an augmentation to individual sequences, Tai Chi involves “tui shou” or partner work. This aids in developing sensitivity and responsiveness to an opponent’s motions, refining the technique and enhancing the practice.

Popular across the globe, many martial artists incorporate Tai Chi into their routines, appreciating its subtle power and the tranquility it brings. With its deep-seated ties to China, Tai Chi is not just a martial art; it’s a testament to the rich tapestry of Chinese culture and tradition.

4. Kickboxing

Kickboxing, a globally popular combat sport, finds its roots in the 1960s by blending the striking elements of boxing and karate. However, its influence extends beyond just these two disciplines; it has also absorbed elements from various martial arts such as Muay Thai, Taekwondo, Kung Fu, Aikido, and Judo.

This full-contact fighting style is characterized by its combination of fast kicks and quick punches, resulting in fluid and agile movements. Kickboxers employ a plethora of techniques, from punches, kicks, and knee strikes to, in some styles, the use of elbows. These techniques not only endow practitioners with effective self-defense skills but also contribute to their physical conditioning.

Training in kickboxing often involves pad work and heavy bag training, essential for honing accuracy, speed, and timing. Mitts or Thai pads are commonly used tools, assisting both practitioners and their coaches. Additionally, sparring plays a pivotal role in kickboxing training, providing a realistic yet controlled environment to apply learned techniques. With its dynamic mix of power and technique, kickboxing offers both fitness benefits and self-defense capabilities.

Kickboxing Workout
Kickboxing Workout

5. Karate

Originating from the island of Okinawa, Japan, during the Ryukyu Kingdom era (14th to 19th century), Karate stands as a testament to the rich tapestry of Japanese martial arts. This traditional fighting style is renowned for its powerful strikes, kicks, knee and elbow strikes, and open-hand techniques. Historically practiced in secret as a self-defense measure against bandits and threats, it reflects the discipline, honor, and traditional values deeply embedded in Japanese culture.

Karate has seen global adoption and has been influential in various martial arts such as Muay Thai, Capoeira, and Taekwondo. However, it shares a closer kinship with Muay Thai due to their emphasis on robust strikes. Despite these parallels, each martial art retains its distinct techniques and essence.

Today, Karate is more than just a combat technique; it’s a journey of self-improvement, fostering discipline, respect, and inner strength. The holistic training regimen involves a combination of basic techniques (kihon), forms (kata), sparring (kumite), and self-defense techniques. Practitioners focus on refining posture, balance, coordination, speed, power, and mental acuity, making Karate an embodiment of both physical prowess and spiritual growth.

6. Kung Fu

Deeply embedded in Chinese heritage, Kung Fu is more than just a martial art—it’s a reflection of ancient Chinese philosophy, legends, and military combat techniques. With roots that some legends trace back to an Indian monk named Damo in the 5th or 6th century AD, Kung Fu’s introduction to the iconic Shaolin Temple of China is often celebrated as a defining moment in its evolution.

Kung Fu isn’t just a single, monolithic style. It’s a vibrant tapestry of multiple types including, but not limited to, Shaolin Kung Fu, Wing Chun, Tai Chi, Baguazhang, and Xingyiquan. Each style is distinctive, yet they all emphasize fluidity, quick strikes, kicks, throws, and in some styles, acrobatics. Moreover, the training isn’t limited to just physical prowess. It encapsulates a deep philosophical pursuit of balance, harmony, discipline, and self-cultivation.

Training in Kung Fu is a holistic journey. From mastering intricate stances and footwork to honing hand strikes, kicks, and weaponry, students undergo rigorous drills and sparring sessions. The aim? To refine timing, distance management, and defense. Beyond the combative skills, Kung Fu is a discipline that nurtures the mind, urging its practitioners towards continuous self-improvement, both physically and mentally.

Today, Kung Fu’s influence permeates many corners of the martial arts world, testament to its enduring legacy and the rich history of the Chinese martial tradition.

7. Aikido

Aikido, hailing from Japan in the 20th century, beautifully marries martial techniques with a deep philosophy centered on peace, unity, and personal growth. Influenced by other disciplines like Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu, Aikido doesn’t advocate direct confrontation. Instead, it artfully emphasizes blending with and redirecting an opponent’s energy, harnessing their force against them.

Rather than relying on brute strength, Aikido practitioners, or Aikidoka, employ a gamut of fluid, circular techniques like joint locks, throws, and pins. The goal? Neutralizing an attacker without inflicting undue harm. This harmonious approach is rooted in Aikido’s core principles: blending with the attacker’s energy, maintaining a centered posture, and redirecting their force.

Training in Aikido isn’t merely about self-defense tactics. It’s a journey of self-discovery. During sessions, Aikidoka alternate roles as uke (the attacker) and nage (the defender), enabling them to experience and refine techniques from both perspectives. Additionally, they engage in kata (structured forms), ukemi (art of falling and rolling), and even randori, a challenging freestyle practice against multiple adversaries.

In the realm of weaponry, traditional tools like wooden swords and staffs find their place, further enriching the depth of this art. For those who embrace Aikido, it offers not just a means to defend but a path to understand oneself and connect harmoniously with others.

8. Judo

Originating from the Land of the Rising Sun, Judo isn’t just a martial art—it’s a legacy, a philosophy. Founded by Jigoro Kano in the late 19th century, Judo beautifully marries elements of traditional jujutsu with various other martial arts, crafting a system centered around practical self-defense and efficiency.

The essence of Judo lies in its strategic use of leverage and technique. Practitioners learn to harness an opponent’s energy, turning their strength into a weakness. It’s not about brute force, but about skillful throws (nage-waza), deft grappling (katame-waza), and a repertoire of sweeps, reversals, counters, and combinations. These techniques, when mastered, allow for a seamless flow of movement, ensuring maximum output with minimal effort.

But Judo is more than a series of techniques. It’s an Olympic sport, having graced the international stage since 1964. Its training sessions are as much about the mind as the body, focusing on physical conditioning, meticulous technique repetition, dynamic randori sessions, and mental discipline. The practice not only sharpens self-defense skills but also fosters personal growth, emphasizing mutual respect and sportsmanship.

In the dojo, as you work in tandem with a partner, perfecting those controlled movements, you’re not just learning how to defend—you’re embarking on a journey of self-discovery.

9. Kendo

Kendo, deeply rooted in Japanese history and the traditions of Bushido (the way of the warrior), is a renowned martial art focusing on swordsmanship using bamboo swords, aptly called “shinai”. Originating from the ancient arts of kenjutsu, Kendo was officially recognized in the early 20th century as a distinct Japanese martial art.

The essence of Kendo lies in its emphasis on discipline, mental focus, and character development. Practitioners are taught precise strikes, thrusts, and defensive maneuvers, simulating real sword techniques. Beyond the physical, Kendo imbues values of respect, humility, and the embodiment of Bushido principles.

Training in Kendo goes beyond mere swordplay. It’s a comprehensive regimen where footwork, body movement, and agility are stressed, ensuring practitioners move with both stability and grace. “Kata”, or forms, help refine techniques and strategies, while sparring sessions, known as “keiko”, offer combatants a chance to test and hone their skills in controlled bouts.

In essence, Kendo is not just about wielding a shinai; it’s a journey of personal growth, rigorous physical training, and an immersion into the heart of Japanese warrior traditions.

10. Krav Maga

Originating from Israel, Krav Maga is a martial art designed for the real world. Developed in the 1930s by Imi Lichtenfield, this unique fighting style was birthed during a tumultuous time of anti-Semitic violence, intending to provide Jewish communities with effective self-defense tools against imminent threats.

Krav Maga stands out by borrowing techniques from diverse martial arts, refining them into a cohesive and practical form of self-defense. With an emphasis on swift, efficient movements, its primary objective is to neutralize threats rapidly. The art prioritizes building conditioning, endurance, and a meticulous execution of techniques, ensuring an individual’s safety in high-risk scenarios.

Training in Krav Maga delves deep into real-life situations, arming practitioners with tools to handle close-quarters combat and weapons-based assaults, including defense against knives, sticks, and firearms. The inclusion of strikes—like punches, kicks, and elbows—targeting an opponent’s vulnerable points, further underpins its real-world effectiveness.

Widely recognized and respected, Krav Maga is utilized by military and law enforcement agencies globally, underscoring its reputation as a formidable and adaptable martial art for today’s ever-evolving challenges.

11. Wing Chun

Wing Chun, a specialized branch of Kung Fu, is a martial art steeped in tradition and historical significance. Originating from southern China during the waning days of the Qing dynasty, there’s an intriguing folklore surrounding its inception. Legend has it that a wise Buddhist nun, Ng Mui, conceptualized Wing Chun. She designed it with a thoughtful purpose: enabling smaller individuals to defend themselves effectively against larger adversaries.

At its core, Wing Chun shines in close-range combat. It’s not just about the physical punches or kicks, but the philosophy behind each movement. The art emphasizes rapid, targeted strikes, focusing on an opponent’s vulnerabilities. What sets it apart is its emphasis on the economy of movement, the simultaneous dance of attack and defense, and the clever utilization of an opponent’s energy against them. This strategic approach allows for efficiency, making it especially formidable in self-defense scenarios.

Training in Wing Chun is as much about the mind as the body. It cultivates speed, precision, and coordination, enhancing one’s reflexes and honing the ability to anticipate and counter an opponent’s moves. Whether it’s the signature rapid-fire straight punches or the low kicks meant to disrupt balance, every technique is a testament to Wing Chun’s genius.

Dive into Wing Chun, and you’re not just learning a martial art; you’re embracing a legacy of strategy, resilience, and empowerment.

12. Jeet Kune Do

Jeet Kune Do, often translated as the “way of the intercepting fist”, is a revered martial art developed by the iconic Bruce Lee in the 1960s. Born from Lee’s passion and expertise, this discipline is a fusion of diverse techniques, drawing from styles like Wing Chun, Western boxing, fencing, Muay Thai, Taekwondo, and Kickboxing.

At its core, Jeet Kune Do champions simplicity and directness. It’s not just about throwing punches or landing kicks; it’s about using the most efficient, direct technique tailored to the moment. By minimizing unnecessary movements, practitioners can harness speed, power, and adaptability, emphasizing the importance of fluidity between ranges and techniques.

Training encapsulates drills, sparring, and scenario-based exercises, all designed to cultivate agility, timing, and a seamless flow of actions. But beyond physical prowess, Jeet Kune Do fosters a philosophy of open-mindedness, personal growth, and a constant pursuit of self-improvement. It’s more than just a combat sport – it’s a journey towards mastering oneself.

13. Hapkido

Originating from Korea, Hapkido is a comprehensive martial art that gracefully integrates joint locks, throws, striking techniques, pressure points, and even traditional weapons such as swords and staffs. Drawing inspiration and elements from Taekwondo, Judo, and Aikido, it offers a full-scale approach to self-defense.

A distinguishing feature of Hapkido is its principle of redirecting an opponent’s energy. Instead of combating force with force, practitioners learn to use an adversary’s momentum against them. This method doesn’t just rely on strength but emphasizes adaptability and technique, making it particularly effective in real-world scenarios where opponents vary in size and strength.

Choi Yong-Sool is often recognized as the pioneer of Hapkido, having introduced it in the mid-20th century. Under his influence and others’, the martial art evolved to be versatile, allowing practitioners to respond adeptly to different types of attacks. This adaptability, combined with training, helps in fostering physical strength, flexibility, coordination, and mental discipline.

One of Hapkido’s core tenets is achieving a harmonious balance between the mind and body. It’s not just about physical prowess but also about fluidity, circular motion, and maintaining mental focus. As students advance, they journey through structured forms, stances, footwork, striking techniques, and combination drills, allowing for systematic skill progression.

In essence, Hapkido isn’t just a martial art—it’s a philosophy, teaching its practitioners to navigate challenges with agility, both in combat and life.

14. Capoeira

Capoeira stands out in the world of martial arts as a vibrant blend of dance, acrobatics, and music rooted deeply in Brazilian culture. This distinctive martial art can trace its origins back to the 16th century, when enslaved Africans ingeniously merged traditional combat techniques with dance. This fusion not only camouflaged their martial arts training from their captors but also allowed them to retain a connection to their cultural heritage.

Central to Capoeira is its emphasis on fluid and rhythmic movements. Practitioners, or capoeiristas, expertly weave together a symphony of strikes, kicks, sweeps, and takedowns, punctuating their routines with evasive maneuvers, spins, and the occasional dramatic flip. Beyond the physical prowess, the acrobatic flourishes inject a sense of flair and dynamism, making it a spectacle as much as a combat form.

But Capoeira isn’t just about movement—it’s an immersive experience. Training sessions often feel like harmonious gatherings, where capoeiristas engage in partner drills, practicing sequences of attacks, defenses, and evasions. All the while, the backdrop of rhythmic music and songs fosters a sense of camaraderie, ensuring that while skills are honed, bonds are also forged.

15. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, commonly referred to as BJJ, is a dynamic martial art with deep roots in Japanese Jujutsu, once practiced by the ancient samurai. Its transformation into the modern form we recognize today was majorly influenced by the Gracie family in Brazil. BJJ emphasizes the power of technique and leverage over brute strength, making it a great equalizer for individuals of all sizes and genders.

What sets BJJ apart is its focus on groundwork and grappling. With its origin story featuring the likes of Mitsuyo Maeda, a pioneering Japanese judoka, the art swiftly integrated tactics such as sweeps, takedowns, joint locks, and chokes. Practitioners are trained to gain dominant ground positions, like the rear mount, to deftly apply joint locks or chokeholds.

BJJ is often practiced in a traditional uniform known as a ‘gi.’ Training sessions in BJJ aren’t just about techniques. They involve partner drills, rolling sessions, and simulations of real combat situations, ensuring that every practitioner is well-prepared for both sport and self-defense. Moreover, with its proven effectiveness in mixed martial arts (MMA), Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu continues to be a sought-after discipline in the martial world. Safety, skill, and strategy are the cornerstones of this art, ensuring that every sparring session is both an educational experience and a nod to its rich history.

Build Confidence
Build Confidence

16. Jiu-Jitsu

Jiu-Jitsu, often recognized as Japanese Jujutsu, is a time-honored martial art originating from the tactics of ancient Japanese samurai warriors. Steeped in a rich history, this martial art primarily focuses on grappling, submissions, and close-quarters combat, enabling efficient self-defense in both standing and ground scenarios.

At the heart of Jiu-Jitsu is the art of using leverage, precision, and technique over sheer force. This approach empowers even smaller fighters to effectively neutralize and overcome adversaries much larger in stature. The underlying principle is to redirect an opponent’s force against them, a concept that has significantly influenced the evolution of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Training in Jiu-Jitsu is holistic, encompassing partner drills, rolling sessions, and the all-important ‘ukemi’—the technique of falling and rolling safely. With a blend of throws, joint locks, pins, immobilizations, and strangleholds, Jiu-Jitsu offers a comprehensive combat toolkit for both the seasoned martial artist and the curious beginner. Dive in, and experience the synergy of mind, body, and technique!

17. Ninjutsu

Ninjutsu is a unique style of Japanese martial arts that was developed and practiced by ninjas. It involves a combination of striking, grappling, throwing, and joint locking techniques.

Ninjas are also skilled in using various weapons like swords, shurikens (throwing stars), and rope darts. In addition to combat techniques, training in Ninjutsu includes meditation to enhance focus and mental discipline.

Endurance exercises are also part of the training to build physical strength and stamina. The main focus of Ninjutsu is on blending with the environment and employing stealthy tactics and deception to gain an advantage over opponents.

18. Escrima

Hailing from the beautiful islands of the Philippines, Escrima (or Arnis or Kali, depending on where you are in the archipelago) is not just any martial art—it’s a testament to Filipino combat ingenuity. This style doesn’t just teach you how to wield sticks and blades effectively, it offers an intricate dance of strikes, blocks, joint locks, and throws. So, whether you’re armed or just relying on those trusty limbs of yours, Escrima’s got you covered.

Its emphasis? Pure practicality and efficiency. Think of it as a martial art designed for the real world. Whether you’re in a tight alley or an open field, Escrima’s close-quarter combat techniques and weapon disarms will ensure you’re always a step ahead. But beyond its combat efficacy, training in Escrima sharpens your hand-eye coordination, making you more agile and alert in everyday life.

Escrima can be applied to both armed and unarmed combat, providing practitioners with a versatile set of skills for self-defense.

How to Choose the Right Martial Art to Learn

Choosing the right martial art to learn can be a daunting task with so many options available. Here are some factors to consider when making your decision. First, think about your goals and what you want to achieve through learning martial arts.

Do you want to focus on self-defense, physical fitness, or personal development? Understanding your motivations will help narrow down the choices. Second, consider your physical abilities and limitations.

Some martial arts styles place more emphasis on strength and power, while others focus on agility and flexibility. Choose a style that aligns with your natural strengths or one that challenges you in areas where you want to improve.

Third, research the different styles and their training methods. Each martial art has its unique techniques and approaches to combat or self-defense. Find a style that resonates with you and matches your preferred learning style – whether it’s striking techniques like punches and kicks or grappling techniques like throws and submissions.

Finally, try out different classes or schools before committing to one style. Many places offer trial sessions or introductory packages that allow beginners to experience the training firsthand.

This way, you can get a feel for the instructor’s teaching style, the atmosphere of the class, and see if it’s something you enjoy.

Remember: It’s important not only to choose a martial art but also find an instructor who is knowledgeable, experienced, patient (especially for beginners), and creates a safe environment for training.

Keep these considerations in mind when choosing the right martial art for yourself – understanding your goals, assessing your physical abilities, researching different styles, and trying out classes – as they will guide you towards finding an art form that suits both your interests and capabilities.

Read also:


1. What are some different types of martial arts?

Some different types of martial arts include karate, taekwondo, judo, and jiu-jitsu.

2. Which martial art is best for self-defense?

Krav Maga is often considered one of the most effective martial arts for self-defense as it focuses on practical techniques for real-life situations.

3. Can children learn martial arts?

Yes, many martial arts schools offer classes specifically designed for children to learn self-discipline, respect, and basic self-defense skills.

4. How do I choose the right type of martial art to learn?

When choosing a martial art to learn, consider factors such as your fitness level, goals (self-defense or competition), location availability, and personal preferences in terms of striking versus grappling techniques.


In conclusion, martial arts offer a wide range of styles and techniques for self-defense, fitness, and personal growth. From the powerful strikes of Muay Thai to the graceful movements of Tai Chi, there is something for everyone.

Whether you want to compete or simply improve your physical and mental well-being, exploring different types of martial arts can be a rewarding journey filled with discipline, respect, and lifelong learning.

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