The types of
martial arts


From the legends:

"Boxing is my real passion. I can go to ballet, theatre, movies, or other sporting events... and nothing is like the fights to me. I'm excited by the visual beauty of it. A boxer can look so spectacular by doing a good job."

- LeRoy Neiman -

Boxing is, of course, one of the oldest and most well-known martial arts and sports. You see it in the Olympics, Muhammad Ali is one of the greatest athletes in history and was a master of the form. Any number of films focus on the sport, but of course Rocky is the most famous of those.

Boxing's style is distinctive; it's aggressive and focuses exclusively on punching to the upper body. It's high energy, and so is good for fitness, but as a practical means of self defence it lacks a creative thrust and counters to attackers who are less likely to play by the rules.

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From the legends:

"My message is that they have to embrace capoeira with all their hearts because capoeira has a lot to offer to the people who dedicate themselves. The more you devote to capoeira, the more capoeira will return to you."

- Mestre Accordeon - From -

Brazil's own martial art, Capoeira has a story worth learning about all in itself. Slaves, being slaves, were not allowed to practice martial arts, so they came up with an elaborate dance-like martial art that allowed them to disguise what they were doing in a way that the slavers would let them be.

This martial art is very beautiful to watch, and is typically accompanied by music. Famous MMA fighter, Anderson Silva, trained in Capoeira, as have actors such as Wesley Snipes. In itself, however, Capoeira is more showy and performance art than practical martial art, and you'll never see someone use this martial art to effectively defend themselves from an attack.

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Krav Maga

From the legends:

"People respect power, and it comes in many forms, Krav Maga is power, and people will respect you for knowing it."

- Imi Lichtenfeld -

The Israeli police and defence force learn this style of martial art as part of their official training, and that should tell you all you need to know about it; Krav Maga is a pure-play self defence martial art, less worried about rules and tradition than it is with crippling an opponent, fast.

You'll learn how to deliver brutal attacks to the groin, eyes, neck, and fingers, all of which are designed to incapacitate your opponent as quickly as possible. It's also a martial art that will teach you how to turn objects around you into weapons. For people who are looking to go through the fulfilling process of earning belts and rankings, be aware that Krav Maga is interested in none of that. Nor will it ever be an Olympic sport, and it's also not interested in helping to develop the spirit to go with the physical enlightenment.

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Muay Thai

From the experts:

"Through development of a strong and healthy body, a strong mind and spirit that refuse to 'give up', you acquire attributes as confidence, self control, strength, power, self esteem, and through self defense training we build a powerful character, thus creating a better well-rounded person and citizen. This is the ultimate goal."

- Costa Prasoulas, Zeus International Martial Arts Academy - -

People often think of Japan, Korea and China when they think of Asian martial arts, but Thailand's Muay Thai is... well, it's arguably the most effective of all the martial arts out there. Muay Thai is the 'art of eight limbs', and what that means is that it will teach you how to use every part of your body - elbows, knees high kicks - to find the weak spots in the opponent.

Muay Thai is so effective at being a generalist martial art that it has become a default part of the training regime for MMA fighters. And if you ever want to see the master of the form at work, watch Ong-Bak. Tony Jaa is to Muay Thai what Bruce Lee was to Jeet Kune Do.

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Tae Kwon Do

From the experts:

"Just as a stool requires three legs to stand upright, so the taekwondoist must cultivate basic skills, meaningful forms, and effective sparring in order to have both feet firm planted in the art."

- Doug Cook - -

Korea's national martial art is, by numbers, the most popular martial art in the world. Given that it's an Olympic sport, that probably comes as no surprise. Tae Kwon Do is well known around the world for its near-absolute focus on kicks, though taking the sport out of the martial art, students will also learn how to make use of their elbows, fists, and knees.

As a practical martial art there's a greater focus on defence and staying out of harm's way in Tae Kwon Do than some other martial arts, and with that comes a degree of focus on self control and discipline in training, making it a useful martial art in personal development as well as physical training. It's also a well organised sport in the same vein as boxing is.

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Kung Fu

As much art as martial art these days, Kung Fu is China's contribution to combative martial arts. It's a beautiful, flowing style of martial art that focus heavily on kicks, blocks, and open and closed hand strikes, with the goal being as much to protect the practitioner from damage as it is to incapacitate the opponent.

Kung Fu is heavily entwined in Buddhist and Taoist philosophy, making it a highly spiritual martial art, and there are any number of variations that you can learn depending on who you learn from. For example, some learn Shaolin style, while others will learn Wing Chun. Jackie Chan is, of course, a Kung Fu legend, and Bruce Lee incorporated a lot of Kung Fu into the development of his own style.

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Jiu Jitsu

From the experts:

"BJJ is unique in that it constantly requires us to problem-solve. At it’s most fundamental level it’s simplicity makes it very, very effective in real-world situations - but as you progress and become more skilled, it’s complexity becomes increasingly fascinating. It is challenging, yet rewarding - simple, yet effective. One can spend their whole life in an effort to develop mastery of this wonderful and beautiful art."

- John Will, BJJ Australia - -

Jiu Jitsu was developed as a way that an unarmed samurai could counter and kill an armed opponent. Its goals are simple but efficient, get in close so the enemy's sword is mitigated, and then pin and lock the opponent so they are rendered defenceless.

This is the martial art you want to learn if you're a little guy - it teaches you how to use the momentum, weight and strength of your opponent to your advantage. It's heavy on the throwing, locking, grappling and restraining, but it also teaches a how to make use of a good, hard strike to a vital point. It is, potentially, a deadly martial art, making it useful in real defence situations, and a variation of it, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, is very popular with MMA fighters as part of their training.

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Russian Sambo

From the legends:

"The best strength and conditioning exercise known to mankind is called wrestling."

- Carl Sanderson -

Sambo is a brutally effective martial art that is every bit what you would expect of something implemented into Soviet military training. The genesis for the style was in bringing together the most effective techniques of Karate, Judo, Russian Wrestling and the European arts that were in Russia at the time, into one "ultimate" style.

So, a little like Krav Maga, Sambo's origins is in its military use, meaning that it is practical in real world situations and a useful training tool for some of your favourite MMA competitors. Fedor Emelianenko himself came from a background in Sambo.

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As steeped in tradition and bizarre to people outside of Japanese culture as it is, it's easy to forget that Sumo wrestling is a practicing martial art. Not one that will help you out in a real-world fight as much as some of the others, perhaps, but the sheer ability for a Sumo to leverage their power and size would make them intensely fearsome opponents to any but the most expert martial artists in other fields.

Outside of Japan the sport is of niche interest, at best, but an increasing number of competitors from overseas are making the move to Japan to become enormously wealthy Sumo wrestlers. And, for all their size, the work Sumo wrestling puts on the body is incredible. For non-professionals looking to simply stay fit, Sumo is actually a very good choice.

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From the legends:

"Aiki is not a technique to fight with or defeat an enemy. It is the way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family."

- Morihei Ueshiba -

Aikido is the martial art for people who are genuinely interested in defending themselves without becoming aggressive. The martial art focuses exclusively on taking an opponent's power and countering it, generally with the goal to incapacitate - but not necessarily harm - the opponent. For this reason it is considered the art of peace. With that in mind it makes good use of throws and locks, which wind, demoralise, and pin the attacker.

The name isn't as famous as some of the other martial arts, but this one should be - Steven Seagal, the actor behind many box office travesties (and some good ones such as Under Siege), is one of the highest ranked practitioners of the style in its history. Seagal operated a dojo dedicated to the style in Osaka and everything!

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From the legends:

"The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants."

- Gichin Funakoshi -

Japan's most well-known martial art without a doubt, Karate actually came from Okinawa, the tropic island that only relatively recently became part of Japan. It's a striking martial art that makes use of punches, kicks, knees, elbows and open hand strikes, while also putting strong focus into blocking, and, notably, how to breathe properly to maximise combat effectiveness.

Okinawans also were banned from using weapons while developing this martial art style, so the weapons that this fighting style use are, in fact, derived from farming tools, and that in turn means that in most situations a karate practitioner will be able to find useful weapons to defend him or herself around them.

Legend Chuck Norris was a successful karate tournament fighter.

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From the experts:

"Kendo is the art of forging your true self, of becoming a better person by channeling your full spirit and determination into the here and now battle for ippon between your opponent and yourself (who is doing the same) using the sword."

- Sawaki Kodo -
From George McCall - Kenshin 24/7 -

If you're looking for a fighting style that focuses exclusively on weapons techniques, then Kendo is the way to go. Another Japanese martial art style, Kendo is an old martial art that keeps many of the samurai techniques and philosophies alive today.

This is a very high energy sport, much like European fencing, and the sheer discipline and control that it mandates makes it a very high skill sport too. You'll sweat a lot through a standard Kendo training session or match. And while it's not an Olympic sport, there are millions of Kendo practitioners around the world, and there is a global championships every three years.

It goes without saying, however, that unless you happen to have a sword with you and an opponent that is happy to play by the rules, Kendo isn't going to be a particularly useful real-world self-defence martial art.

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Tai Chi

From the experts:

"There is no mystique to Tai Chi Chuan. What is difficult is the perseverance. It took me ten years to discover my chi, but thirty years to learn how to use it. Once you see the benefit, you won’t want to stop."

- Ma Yueh Liang -
From Tai Chi Daily -

Most people assume that Tai Chi, which we see people practicing in the park to slow, deliberate movements, is more like yoga than a real martial art; good for the spirit, and a great way to remove stress, but not actually a "martial art" in terms of teaching people how to defend themselves.

That all changes when you see someone like Jet Li speed the movements of Tai Chi up. In purifying the mind and soul, the deeply spiritual Tai Chi is, in fact, a practical martial art that teaches practitioners to deflect aggressive forces and preserve the body. It's not about meeting force with force, because Tai Chi teaches that that could lead to injury and unwellness. Rather, it's a purely defensive martial art that attackers tend to find very tricky indeed.

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Which martial art style
is right for you?


How aggressive do I want to be with my martial art?


How important is tradition and spirituality to your goals in taking up a martial art?


Which is more important to you - strikes or throws/ grappling?


How important is it that the martial art resembles a sport to you?


My favourite action actor is… and I want to fight like him


Do you want to learn how to use weapons as well?


Do you need to use your opponent's weight against him/her?


Do you want to look like a performance artist as you fight?


How important is a sense of progress to you as you learn the martial art?


Are you looking for martial arts to help train you for other things?