The Many Types of Martial Arts

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
August 03, 2018

Which type of martial arts is for you? Among traditional martial arts, some focus on fighting standing up, others on throwing your opponent to the ground.

Americans usually first see martial arts in the movies. Karate, or “empty hand,” is the best known, but there are many types of martial arts. If you’re looking to channel Bruce Lee, for example, he was doing Kung Fu, the general name for a variety of styles from China.

The Belgian Jean-Claude Van Damme practiced Muay Thai boxing, the national sport of Thailand.

Jason Bourne movies feature Krav Maga, a style developed in the late 1940s in Israel, where it is still taught to soliders and spies.

Which type of martial arts is for you? Among the many traditional martial arts, some focus on fighting standing up, others on throwing your opponent to the ground. Another group concentrates on grappling on the ground. A few, like Kendo and Kali, employ weapons. Tai Chi and Chi Gong are now taught for their health benefits.


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Teaching Kids Martial Arts


There’s a lot of overlap among these different types of martial arts, but each has its own combination of moves.

Some American schools teach several martial arts styles together, or “mixed martial arts,” a mixture of grappling, stand-up fighting, takedowns, and throws.

Here’s a partial list of different types of martial arts:

Stand-up styles. To defend yourself standing up, you’ll learn how to strike or block your opponent using both your arms and legs. The most common martial arts that focus on stand-up fighting are, of course, boxing and kickboxing, and Karate, Muay Thai, Capoeira, Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do, and Krav Maga.

Throwing styles. Aikido and Judo are both martial art forms focused on throwing. Others include Hapkido and Shuai Jiao.

Grappling or ground-fighting styles. First you need to get your opponent to the ground, and then, if you practice one of these different styles of martial arts, you’ll be able to keep him there: Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Jujutsu, Luta Livre, Russian Sambo, Sumo.

Meditative styles. You might practice ancient martial arts to obtain benefits we associate with yoga: becoming more aware of your breath, centering, and building muscle strength. Tai Chi and Chi Gong are best known in the United States. Tai Chi is especially popular with American seniors.

If you like to travel, you could make a point of sampling martial arts by country before you go on a trip, and then watch it performed in its land of origin or take more lessons there.

Go to South Korea to learn Tae Kwon Do; you can study the language at the same time.

Go to Japan, or specifically Okinawa, to study karate. A short list of karate styles or karate disciplines includes: Goju-Ryu, Kyokushin, Shito-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu, Shotokan, and Wado-Ryu. Karate, which first became popular among Japan's military in the 1800s, is actually one of the younger martial arts. You can also study Judo in a Japanese dojo.

Go to Brazil to learn Capoeira, which combines fighting techniques and African-influenced music and dance.

Which are the deadliest martial arts? Silat, from Malaysia, tops one list, followed by Kung Fu, Taekwando, Muay Thai, and MCMAP (the U.S. Marine Corp Martial Arts Program), which Marinessometimes call Semper Fu.


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: How to Prevent Falls with Tai Chi


April 08, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN