10 Famous Forms of Martial Arts Explained

10 Famous Forms of Martial Arts Explained

There are many reasons one chooses to practice any of the countless forms of martial arts. Whether it is for relaxation purposes, self-defense, competition or just sport you are looking for, this list comprises the most popular forms of martial arts out there. You will find here the history, origins and main focuses of each combat style from which you can choose from that best fit your personality.

Before considering to undergo any kind of physical training, keep in mind that martial arts are not all about kicking and punching. More often than not, masters of any style commend balance between body and mind with emphasis on discipline. Basically, a clear head, noble intentions and a taste for self-improvement stand at the very core of each martial art variation.


1. Tai Chi

This form of ancient Chinese martial art loosely translates as “supreme ultimate boxing”.  However, since its inception, many different forms have been attributed to this marvelous fighting style. Because of the health benefits it provides, many take up this kind of training in order to improve their overall quality of life. However, others choose to practice this sport in order to qualify in multiple competitions and make a name for themselves. These competitions are usually divided into multiple categories. Even so, only two are worth mentioning, as they represent the closest version of the ancient Tai Chi.

Light contact competitions focus mainly on a certain level of self-defense. Both the attacker as well as the defender have to push their hands away from each other once the first contact has been made. As a result, any form of striking, kicking, trapping or throwing is forbidden. Full contact competitions, however, allow the practitioners to use more diversified combat techniques. In this case, everything from striking to completely immobilizing the opponent is permitted. However, the main philosophy of Tai Chi promotes self-defense over meeting an attack with opposing force. An ideal user of Tai Chi must yields and sticks to an incoming attack rather than to consider hurting his opponent. If necessary, he is allowed to overpower the attacker but only without inflicting a great deal of damage.

2. Krav Maga

As opposed to the peaceful ways of Tai Chi, the Krav Maga user focuses on inflicting as much damage as possible on the opponent. Hence, the practitioner targets the most vulnerable body parts in order to inflict permanent damage or even kill the opponent. As a result, the Krav Maga user will aim for the eyes, throat, groin, liver, ribs, face or solar plexus. Also, each practitioner is taught to counterattack as soon as possible if not even preemptively, in order to increase his chance of immobilizing the opponent. Furthermore, Krav Maga techniques focus primarily on simultaneously attacking and defending, while maintaining awareness of the immediate surroundings.

Even though the Krav Maga seems like an extremely brutal form of martial arts, it encourages its users to embrace a more peaceful resolve. However, if there is no more room left for talking, this combat style focuses on finishing a fight as quickly as possible. As aggressive as this fighting style appears to be, its origins are even darker. The founder was Imre Lichtenfeld, a Hungarian-born jew and practitioner of different forms of martial arts. In the mid-1930s, anti-Semitic riots threatened the Jews living in Bratislava. As a consequence, Imre Lichtenfeld took it upon himself to protect the Jewish citizens of Czechoslovakia. Because of this, he went on to set the basis of the Krav Maga, a mixture that consists of combined boxing, aikido, wrestling and judo techniques. Nowadays, this contact-combat style is used by the Israeli Defense Forces as a means of self-defense against hostile individuals.

3. Jeet Kune Do

It is safe to assume that by now everybody on the planet knows about Bruce Lee. For some, at least, the sound of his name seems familiar. However, after studying the art of Wing Chun under Yip Man, he went on creating his own fighting style, namely Jeet Kune Do. This eclectic style combines the best techniques of Wing Chun, Kung Fu, Western Boxing, and other versions of martial arts into one supreme combat style. It might seem like a cliché, but this particular form of martial arts involves fighting without fighting, as Bruce himself stated. The main philosophy revolves around “using no way as way” and “having no limitation as limitation”. Simply put, Bruce Lee’s version of a perfect combat style was for the opponent to be completely oblivious to what your intentions might be.

The purpose of using Jeet Kune Do in a close-combat scenario is to distance yourself from any pattern and to think in a simple manner, without any kind of ornamentations. Hence, the basic principles of Jeet Kune Do are represented by simple direct attacks, immobilization, attack by drawing, attack by combination and progressive indirect attack. The four ranges of combat when talking about Jeet Kune Do are punching, kicking, grappling and trapping.

4. Wing Chun

This exquisite form of martial art focuses on self-defense where the user is allowed to either strike, kick, trap, grapple or throw the opponent in an attempt to immobilize him. It is a close-range combat style perfected by the famous Yip Man, the master of Bruce Lee. The main advantage of a Wing Chun user is that he can develop reflexes by searching for an insecure defense in his opponent stance. Hence, this particular form of martial art focuses mainly on trapping one’s hands in order to render the opponent immobile. Also, Wing Chung relies heavily on kicks, punches and elbow strikes in close-combat.

The most important part to be aware of should you decide to take up Wing Chun classes is a proper stance. All the techniques are based on a relaxed body stance, so it may be easy to slide out of certain positions during training. No matter the size of the opponent, Wing Chun fighting style promotes proper body stance and clever use of one’s agility in order to win over a much larger competitor. Because the main focus is on trapping, Wing Chun users keep their punches and kicks to the minimum, if possible. Otherwise, straight punches and simple kicks are used when counterattacking.

5. Muay Thai

One of the most appealing forms of martial arts has to be Muay Thai, for sure. This combat style uses stand-up striking and various clinching techniques. This fighting style has its roots in the 16th century Thailand and one of the most famous practitioners is the actor Tony Jaa. However, as much impressive as it is, Muay Thai is also one of the most complete and brutal fighting style. Because of all the body parts you can use in defending and attacking, this style is also known as “the art of eight limbs”. This is because the practitioner can make use of knees, fists, shins and elbows in almost every technique. With so many “weapons” at his disposal, this particular combat style makes the practitioner a very efficient full-contact fighter.

Because shins are awfully sensitive to any kind of injury, Muay Thai users constantly train in order to harden the bone. This implies that they have to roll a baseball bat on their shins for hours on end a day, in order to break down the bone structure. This way, the shin bone grows back harder and some nerves may even suffer permanent damage. However, all of these make a fighter’s every kick more powerful and the user is unable to feel pain anymore. All in all, Muay Thai focuses primarily on the use of elbows and shins along arms and legs in order to immobilize the opponent.

6. Taekwondo

This spectacular form of martial arts comes from South Korea and is the result of a mixture of various techniques borrowed from Karate and other traditional Chinese martial arts. As opposed to most martial art styles, Taekwondo focuses primarily on jumping and spinning kicks, head-height kicks, and fast kicking techniques. As of 2000, it has been recognized as an Olympic sport, regulated by the World Taekwondo Federation.

The fact that this particular combat style involves more kicking than punching has raised some intense arguments. If you watch a Taekwondo competition or demonstration, you will be able to see for yourself why. The reason is that neither of the opponents engage in a punching exchange. Instead, they keep their arms as close to the body as they can and try to kick the competitor. Even though punching is not forbidden in Taekwondo, practitioners prefer to set themselves at a safe distance from the opponent’s kicks. At the same time, in a competition punches do not score as much as a kick. So, in order to score as many points as possible, some taekwondo practitioners only use punching in order to distance themselves from the opponent.

7. Karate

It should come as no surprise that many of the modern day forms of martial arts have their origins in ancient Japan. No different is karate. This particular fighting style is the predecessor of many other martial arts variations all over the world. This is because it involves full-contact, semi-contact as well as light-contact combat. In short, it comprises and specializes in all ranges of single combat. Also, it uses a wide range of punching, elbow striking, knee striking, kicking, grappling and joint locking techniques. Vital-point strikes have been more recently added to modern karate, as well.

As of 2020, karate will be recognized as an Olympic sport, allowing the experienced users to show off their best techniques and fighting skills. As opposed to other forms of martial arts, karate benefits from a wide range of body stances that a practitioner can use during combat. This multitude of different body positions helps the user develop a higher level of power, movement and also flexibility. Such stances include high stances, sideways stances, frontal stances, middle height stances, and low stances.

8. Aikido

Like many other forms of martial arts before, the main focus of Aikido is self-defense. Closely related to Tai Chi, as far as philosophy goes, the creator was aiming to make a form of martial art that any person could use in order to defend themselves. As a result, even though the practitioners of the other forms of martial arts can use weapons in their demonstrations, Aikido relies on self-defense with no weapons. The main purpose of using Aikido techniques is to use the opponent’s momentum against himself rather than attacking or counterattacking.

One of the most prolific users of Aikido is the actor Steven Seagal. Actually, he is a 7th-degree black belt master. Furthermore, Aikido techniques revolve around joint locking, grappling or wrist twisting techniques in order to disable an armed opponent. One of the most notable features of Aikido is that the user can defend himself while sitting all the same as if he was to stand face to face with the attacker.

9. Judo

Yet another of the most famous forms of martial arts originates from Japan: Judo. The term loosely translates as “gentle way” in English. However, it doesn’t seem like a peaceful resolve at all. Nevertheless, when compared to other forms of martial arts like the Krav Maga or Muay Thai, this seems like one of the best ways to bring a fight to a peaceful resolution. As opposed to other fighting styles, Judo users do not use kicking or punching in their techniques. The main purpose it to throw or take the opponent to the ground. Initially, it was created as a means of relaxation and for sport. However, soon enough it proved to be a very effective martial art to be put to use in close combat.

The two main principles upon which it was founded is the use of leverage against an opponent and consequently winning a fight through “maximum efficiency, minimum effort”. As a result, using proper technique and body stance, the practitioner can overpower any opponent or attacker regardless of his size. Judo has been recognized as an official Olympic sport in 1964 for male practitioners. However, it wasn’t until 1992 that women could participate in judo competitions, as well.

10. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Somewhat resembling the Krav Maga, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is also an equally brutal full-contact fighting style. It involves some techniques and practices that are otherwise forbidden in other forms of martial arts. Such brutal methods consist of biting, eye gouging, hard striking, choke holds and joint locks. Nothing is wrong with joint locks, but a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu user is able to easily break any part of the attacker’s body. Once the opponent is on the ground, the practitioner can manipulate any part of the body until it breaks.

The main focus of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a perfect balance. Hence, the practitioner will look for openings in the attacker’s defense in order to bring him to the ground. As a result, he can swiftly immobilize any hostile individual, inflict serious damage and then walk away unharmed. In the end, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu aims to balance defense with same time counterattack in the most effective way possible.


These famous forms of martial arts are as equally enjoyable to watch as they are to practice in your spare time. However, you must take into account the time you have to put up for improving your fighting skills and the sacrifices you have to make. If you want to make a name for yourself, like many other prolific martial arts masters before you, that is.

If you decide to go down this road, always remember that relaxation stands at the core of every combat style. Also, if you do master either one of these incredible forms of martial arts, remember that the main purpose is self-defense. No matter how skilled you think you are, do not try to use the techniques you learn as a means to deliberately hurt others or start a fight. Should you ever forget that, remember that martial arts are all about inner peace, relaxation, and discipline.

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Garrett Freeman

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