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Top 15 Types of Martial Arts

If you are starting your journey into contact sports, we hope this list of the Top 15 Types of Martial Arts will give you a good understanding of what you are getting into. If you are new to fighting and looking to find your fit, there are so many different types of martial arts to choose from. From the deadliest types of martial art styles to the most popular martial arts, the style can be classified and pointed out by a handful of characteristics that differ from style to style. One of these characteristics are the ranges.
Throughout a list of all martial arts, once you know the basics of each, you can link the martial art with the range. These ranges are known as trapping, grappling, striking, and kicking. Although one type of fighting does not solely just work with one range, there is a most common range that you see throughout the style.
The martial arts meaning involves various skills and sports that generally come from Japan and are based on ways to defend oneself and also, attack. Most practices emphasize the base of learning that involves defense. Types of martial arts self-defense are used to neutralize threats, which solidifies the reputation of martial arts, which is used more in a defensive situation and not simply, just to attack.
A specific style can also be recognized by its moves. Whether its martial art moves like powerful high kicks in Taekwondo or not so fluid moves in Krav Maga, you can test them and do research beforehand to see what the best type of martial arts is for and which is the most effective martial art for your personality, work ethic, and body.
With all the different styles varying in range, methods, origins, and art form, for someone like you who is hoping to find their niche, it might be difficult to choose. Although you could possibly just go through all the different types of martial arts styles one by one to see which one best fits you, we’re going to try and help you find your niche without all the extra work.

How to choose a martial arts style:


martial arts Photo Credit: Samuli Koukku Flickr via Compfight cc

Instead of searching “martial arts by type mentioned on Wikipedia” or taking those highly ineffective “which martial art is for me quiz”, we hope that we can lay out a bit of information about the different styles, including in our list of fifteen, the top 10 fighting styles of all time and the best martial art for street fighting.
When you’re looking to narrow down the different styles, you should ask yourself a series of questions pertaining to your decision and path to take.
Why: Why do you want to practice martial arts in the first place? Once you’re able to pinpoint a major reason or two as to why you want to start dabbling in martial arts, you can move on to the next step of categorizing your reason. Here are four common categories that you should normally be able to file your reason into —
Peace of Mind: Martial arts will be your go-to to just release stress and be an outlet for your inner peace and control. You just want to throw yourself into a focus and discipline.
Style of Preference: Tai Chai

Fitness: If you’re looking to get ripped and use martial arts as a way to work on your fitness, you should aim for the styles with more movement and the training includes a lot more cardio.
Style of Preference: Kickboxing

Self-Defense: With the way the world is going, this doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. If you’re looking into martial arts simply to be able to defend yourself, there are certain types of martial arts defense that work more effectively with street safety.
Style of Preference: Jiu-Jitsu

Competition: Entering into a specific style might set you up on a perfect path on how to learn martial art the right way. If you are looking to get into competition, learning a broad range of various, specific styles can help you hone in on your specialty but still be familiar with different forms. This will help you broaden your fighting style in the ring but also will make you better and more adaptable against an opponent.

How Much: Money, sure, but more importantly, time. Before you suggest a particular style, you need to be honest with yourself about how much time you’re going to be willing or can give to your practice. Most martial arts training is grueling, very physical and requires a lot of time, not only to train but also to rest. This is an investment that you’ll be making on yourself, but once you’ve defined your motivations more clearly, you can answer this question much easier.

Do you Believe what they Believe? Most styles of martial arts are rooted in beliefs about life, culture, and spirituality. These foundational beliefs shouldn’t test your religion but will put you face-to-face with your own philosophies. Although this might not be that important if you are looking for martial arts to just be your outlet to throw a few punches and kicks but if you’re heading into the style for rigorous practice and truly immersing yourself, this should be a very important question to ask.

Does This Type of Martial Arts Match My Personality? A highly active person who is looking for an outlet to burn all their energy shouldn’t look into a martial art like the slow-moving controlled tai chi. Make sure that the martial art style you choose should be in line with your personality and your goal. For instance, yes, you could be extremely fidgety, but maybe your goal is to become a calmer and more disciplined person.

Reality Check Question: Although you might have a specific branch of martial arts in mind, thinking you finally found the one, you might have to reconsider. Realistically speaking, even though you might really want to try Taekwondo, you might have to settle for kickboxing because that’s the only style offered at your local gym or the price is way too expensive at the school fifteen minutes away. A few components that you need to consider before choosing a martial art is:

  • Proximity and Convenience of the Location
  • Your Budget
  • The Qualifications of the Martial Arts Instructor
  • Your Own Physical “Limitations”

Without further ado, we’re now going to introduce to you the various types and styles of martial arts for you to get a feel and a small introduction to each, which might help you on your way to finding the perfect martial arts style for you. Some of these styles might attract you with their different types of martial arts kicks, punches, or blocks, and others might even persuade you with the different types of martial arts weapons, but if you stick with the questions we introduced to you earlier, it might help you on your journey to finding the perfect match.

With each style of fighting, we’re going to tell you from where, when, and how it originated. We will also let you know of some major modern competitions you might be aware of to check out if you want to get to know them a little bit better. Lastly, we are going to give you a few characteristics that define the style of martial art, for you to be able to remember it later.

1. MMA


MMAPhoto Credit: CombatSport Flickr via Compfight cc

Dated all the way back to Ancient Greek Olympics, Mixed Martial Arts was later derived from their original form of a fighting sport called pankration. This Greek word means “all powers”. The hand-to-hand combat was brutal, the only two rules were that you weren’t allowed gouge out eyes or bite. Later the origins of MMA moved to China through a Buddhist monk, which inspired the different forms of Asian martial arts.
As the word spread all around the world, from Asia to Brazil, the fighting used in MMA expanded, using the many styles to truly be a mixed martial arts competition. As the sport developed, opponents began learning from each other, and fighters who specialized in just one style was then introduced to various others until it was common practice for a fighter to be trained in at least two martial art categories.

MMA and its origins follow fighting and styled mixed martial arts in a very colorful history through the ages. From different types of cultures and various introductions to a new type of fighting coming in from around the world, MMA developed and became very popular amongst the people. Although it’s not a specific style of fighting, more like a handful of forms put together, it still has an extremely rich history that can be traced back to see when and where each style came into play.


Greece in Ancient times

Modern Competitions:

UFC — Ultimate Fighting Championship



UFC Photo Credit: Frivas84 Flickr via Compfight cc

Karate is also a famous practice that has made its way to the states and probably one of the most popular styles of martial arts. Karate has been known as the art of the “empty hand”, where you can easily see the style that with each hit and block is done with an open hand.

Karate was founded in Okinawa, most interestingly enough, it is rumored to have been thought up of and put into practice because there was a time in that particular region where full weapons were actually banned by invading armies, so those willing to fight had to learn this particular practice to be able to fight. Karate uses knee and elbow strikes, kicking, punching, and also palm-heel strikes and teaches about vital points and lightning-fast hand techniques. An interesting fact about karate is that the Japanese actually still teach their police and military forces karate, to be trained in non-armed combat.

Karate is known for the roundhouse kick, the sidekick, and again, using your palm. This style can also be used for self-defense against knives and guns. This practice, however, doesn’t have as much close-combat grappling techniques. This means that of course as you have seen in the karate movies, you can attack multiple opponents at once, but to disarm and make them submit by otherwise grappling, holding, and locking isn’t part of the style.


Okinawa Japan around the 1600s

Modern Competitions:

Karate World Competitions, etc.




This style is a fusion of boxing and karate where you are characteristically using only the hands and feet when throwing punches or kicking. There are several different practices of kickboxing. It has become a very Americanized aerobic style offered nationwide in most gyms across the country but can also be found in Muay Thai, which is much more of an original, traditional version.

However, even if Thailand was responsible for its origins through Muay Thai, it still remains the nation’s sport. After Bruce Lee appeared on its screen and aided kickboxing to become popular in mainstream media, it blew up. From Full Contact Karate sponsored by PKA (Karate’s sanctioning body) slowly developed into PKO, the Professional Kickboxing Organization. After that immersion, it then took a turn and was developed and passed through the years in various kickboxing style organizations to become the popular sport in the United States that it is today.

The organization today that hosts and are responsible for seeing major competitions and controlling rules and regulations are called WKN, the 21st-century Kickboxing Federation. The mainstream, U.S. version that you can attend at your local gym are usually kickboxing infused with cardio, as a non-contact workout. Sometimes these classes have pads, but normally, there is no fighting involved. However, you can also go the more traditional route and try your hand at getting your black belt in kickboxing.


Thailand 2000 years ago, then to the United States in the 1970s

Modern Competitions:

World Championships



BOXINGPhoto Credit: johann walter bantz Flickr via Compfight cc

First recorded in the 17th century in Britain, it is rumored that the Duke of Albemarle had regulated a fight between his butler and his butcher. However, the sport had seemed to explode after that, appearing in amphitheaters across England without gloves as a bare-knuckle boxing competition.

Although you can date boxing’s origin as far as the Ancient Greeks when they went at it in hand-to-hand combat in 688 B.C., the English really honed in on the sport and ran away with it. The sport became official when, in 1867, there was an implementation of rules called the Marquess of Queensberry Rules.

One of the most popular boxers is heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and brawler George Foreman. There are plenty of different styles of boxing, called outside fighters, inside fighters, and brawlers. The outside fighters are called boxers, the brawlers are called sluggers, and the inside fighters are called swarmers. With all the different styles, there is a governing rule and way of boxing that dictates the sport.

In boxing, you can use punches, normally all above the waist. Boxers cannot hold, trip, push, bite, or spit against their opponent. There are various rules as well, prohibiting boxers from hitting the groin area to also head-butting, attacking with any other part rather than the knuckles of a closed fist, hitting the back, back of the head, back of the neck, and kidneys. You can’t hold the rope hold an opponent or dos too far below the belt of an opponent. Although it can be ruled by knockout, most matches are officiated and call the winner based purely on points that are accumulated for a final score which is compared with the opponent.


The first “boxing match” originated in 1681 in Britain

Modern Competitions:

Olympic and Commonwealth Games and World Championship



Photo Credit: TKD NDS 2.0 Flickr via Compfight cc

This style is an open or empty hand type of combat that uses the entire body. The breakdown of the word can help you better understand the description and meaning of the word. For example, the word Tae means to kick or to smash with your feet. Kwon means punching or destroying with your hand or fist. Do means way or method.

This particular style uses a variety of moves that differ greatly from one another but all take great athleticism to complete. The style uses blocks, dodges, jumping kicks, punching, and parrying actions. If you’re looking for a style of fighting that is extremely disciplined and transforms, really, you’re way of life, then taekwondo might be what you’re looking for. The discipline it takes to learn this particular style of self-defense is easily transferable to many other aspects of your life.

The design of taekwondo is a combination of the abrupt and linear way of moving found in karate and combined with the more flowing, circular movements of Kung-fu. They added their own, native kicking techniques to perfect and construct the style of taekwondo, which was developed from several different styles that contributed to its style.

If you are looking for discipline, taekwondo is for you. It also boasts the eleven commandments of Taekwondo, which is: Loyalty to your country, faithfulness to your spouse, respect your brothers and sisters, respect your teachers, indomitable spirit, finish what you begin, respect your parents, loyalty to your friends, respect your elders, never take life unjustly, and loyalty to your school.


A combination of different styles of martial arts in Korea over 2,000 years ago

Modern Competitions:

Taekwondo Tournaments, U.S. Open



Photo by Ryan Tang on Unsplash

This style of martial arts is known for its fluid body movements, almost as if dance fighting. Muay Thai is also known as the “art of eight limbs”, which takes into account all the different body parts used in the style. For example, in Muay Thai, you use your feet, elbows, fists, and knees.

This style uses all types of strikes, like punches, kicks, and strikes from the elbows and knees. This fun and versatile Type of Martial Art also makes its way using clinching techniques. What sets it apart from kickboxing is that in kickboxing, you can only punch or kick above the waist, but in Muay Thai you can land low kicks to the legs knees and elbows. You are also allowed to grab and clinch the opponent’s kicking leg.

This style is really effective in self-defense and is pretty easy to learn because of its raw simplicity. Muay Thai also combines an aerobic workout with an anaerobic one, giving you the perfect style to burn fat — sometimes even up to 1,000 calories an hour. It is also one of the key foundations based on MMA. The fighting style’s own foundations are based on the characteristics directed to humble, to discipline, and also to inspire. They also instill a high development in the qualities of courage, humility, and a warrior spirit.


Thailand, middle of the 18th century

Modern Competitions:

Found in MMA





Originally developed for the Israeli army as a use for combat to defend Jews, Krav Maga is known all over the world as a style for street fighting, its meaning is actually Hebrew for “contact combat”. It is specifically a combat-centered method of fighting, having its main focus centralized around bringing an end to the opponent as quickly as possible. Krav Maga is a type of martial art that uses methods where the fighter attacks the opponent’s weakest parts of the body.

It blends a combination of the two styles of fighting of Jiu-Jitsu and Judo and lends in grappling, striking, and takedowns to immediately submit the opponent in a high power, quick situation. To this day, it is still used in the Israeli army and the Israeli secret service.

As a workout, it is a great way to target the increase of strength and stamina and provides an outlet for losing weight, improving your overall physical fitness, and to develop and sharpen your mental fitness. Overall, it combines the styles of boxing, Muay Thai, and wrestling, all in one. Although there are not really popular competitions over here using Krav Maga, you can see only a few of its moves in fighting like MMA. Most other moves in this style are not used or not legal in regulatory fighting.


Israel WW2

Fonder is Israeli-Hungarian fighter Imrich Lichtenfeld

Modern Competitions:




Photo Credit: martialenergyau Flickr via Compfight cc

Even though this form of Jiu-Jitsu is very similar to Judo, although it differs in some respects, such as its emphasis on fighting strategies and the development and adherence to fighting rules. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be divided into three different categories that make up the fighting style that it is. The three categories are: self-defense, free fighting competition, and sports grappling.
If you are looking for a style that is very similar to the same movements of Jiu-Jitsu but are a smaller or weaker individual, you might want to look into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The entire style bases itself on leverage against your opponent. This type of martial arts style actually introduces a most unusual paramount, highlighting the specialization of its style fighting form while the fighter is actually most vulnerable, on their back. This type of specialization makes it not only beneficial for smaller fighters because it introduces them to the tactic of leverage, it also shows them that size doesn’t mean everything. Its core principles and methods also give an example where you can fight even if you’re placed on your back.
Maeda introduced this style fighting to the Gracie Family, with grandmasters Carlos and Helio Gracie.

Derived from Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and then introduced in Brazil in 1914 by Esai Maeda/Conde Koma

Modern Competitions:

Local Competitions and World Championship



Photo Credit: ellarsee Flickr via Compfight cc


This Japanese fighting type of martial art style has the meaning of “the way of harmonious spirit”. This type of style is actually considered one of the deadliest martial arts in the world. You might have spotted this style in movies where one of the fighters actually ends up deceased, which would make sense.

The style is scattered with powerful pain control locks which will subdue the opponent to your will, having just locked them in their wrists or arms. It is a quick way to “win” a fight. Interestingly enough, the point behind Aikido is that it takes the opponent’s strengths and uses it directly against them. For example, if you are fighting in Aikido, you will blend with the direct movements of your opponent and take that momentum and redirect the force of their attack towards them.

Aikido also uses sword-play, spear-play and combines it with Jiu-Jitsu. It envelopes itself in the idea and application of the entire body’s strength directly to a single point. It is also mainly developed under the idea of principle rather than strict technique. The founder Ueshiba had said that you were to “always imagine yourself on the battlefield under the fiercest attack”.


Japan, about 100 years ago

The founder is Morihei Ueshiba

Steven Seagal, popularity peaked in the 90’s.



Photo Credit: WingChunMilano Flickr via Compfight cc


Wing Chun or Wing Chun Fu is a very specific, unique, and scientific style of martial arts. Coming from Kung Fu, which originally came from China, this style was invented and derived in Hong Kong by Ip Man. This is actually one of the most well-known forms of Kung Fu. The original Kung Fu movies with Donnie Yen featured Wing Chun Kung Fu. It was also used by Bruce Lee before he mastered his own style called Jeet Kune Do.

This type of Kung Fu is so popular, especially in movies because of its fast and efficient fighting style. It focuses on taking down the opponent by targeting the center line of their body, from the crown of their head down to the crotch. The various target approaches are all found along or near to this line of the body, which are the eyes, the nose, the chin, throat, solar plexus, navel, groin, and the knees. First of all, a hit to any of these parts of the body are extremely painful and can send anyone down, there are also vital organs found beneath most of these parts of the body.

Since it boasts a technique that specializes in targeting rather than physical takedown, anyone can learn and practice this type of Kung Fu, and be successful in it as well. It is a high-effective street fighting practice because it has one sole purpose: to take your opponent out.


Hong Kong by Ip Man

Modern Competitions:

Found in U.S. Open Martial Arts Championship



Photo Credit: Mandrak photographie Flickr via Compfight cc


Known for its dancing base and art form rather than fighting technique and skill, Capoeira has its origination in Brazil half a century ago during the slave trade. This type of martial art fighting style is more of a dance and a game, blazoned with grace, history, tradition, creativity, and intuition, not to mention a lot of strength.

Since the slaves did not know how to read and write, they passed on the forms and style of Capoeira through word of mouth and practice from generation to generation. The slave trade with various tribes from West and Central Africa came to Brazil and used Capoeira as a form of liberation, and helped cultivate and centralize a new identity.

It wasn’t until the 20th century where masters emerged and worked to bring it out to mainstream Brazil and to the rest of the corners of the world. Throughout various capoeiristas, those who practiced Capoeira, the sport and style were developed and introduced to become a popular fighting style shown and seen all over the world.

Rather than a fight, it is more of a game, where there is a fluidity of acrobatic movements between two fighters who are agile and studied in the martial arts. The movements involved include straight kicks, escapes, takedowns, gymnastic flourishes, and sweeps.


Brazil 500 years ago

Modern Competitions:

World Capoeira Federation and World Championship



Photo Credit: Christopher Kayfield Flickr via Compfight cc


Its original usage and creation were based on a simple form of combat for the battlefield setting in a time of war. This style is often suggested to be best for those who are smaller, or who are less likely to become bigger. It focuses on “gentler” aspects of fighting and allows a smaller fighter to compete and have leverage and control over a stronger and bigger opponent.
In jujutsu, you focus on blocking, the aspect of throwing and controlling an opponent and setting up grappling techniques. Although there is not many striking in Jujutsu, there are a lot of carefully thought out joint locks and choke holds. Since the origins of this style used little to no weaponry, its main methods were rather focused on using more efficient, neutralizing movements to make the energy ineffective — by means of pins, joint locks, and throws.

Specifically defined as the “unarmed”, close combat system, this style also teaches how to counter an attack using defensive methods such as blocking strikes, releasing yourself from the grasp of your opponent, and shifting or changing your position to avoid an attack.


Japan during the Sengoku Period, which means the Age of Warring States, from 1467 to 1603.

The Founder is Takenouchi Hisamori

Modern Competitions:

Olympic sport and the derived version of Judo

13. JUDO


Photo Credit: chrisbudo73 Flickr via Compfight cc

This Olympic and probably most famous mixed martial art style was formed by combining jiujitsu with wrestling and mental discipline. The history can also be traced all the way back to sumo wrestling, which even dates back much further to 720.
Judo was actually introduced while Japan was being infiltrated by Western culture. Even though the popularity of Jiujitsu was falling around the time of the origin of Judo, Kano took the best from all the different jiujitsu styles and created Judo. After traveling to Europe, the word spread and then was part of the Olympics and became the sport it is today.

Taking a lot of mental discipline as well as physical fitness and form, Judo’s methods let you lift and throw your opponents directly onto their backs. It also gives you techniques where you are pinning your opponents to the ground. To win at Judo, you have three different ways. You can either pin your opponent on their back while maintaining control of their heads and shoulder for 25 seconds, you can win by locking their arm, or by choking until the opponent gives in. The last way not previously mentioned is actually throwing the opponent and having him or her landing hard on their back.


Japan in 1882

Jigoro Kano

Modern Competitions:

One of the most popular forms of martial arts and is a World and Olympic sport.



Photo Credit: singaporejkd Flickr via Compfight cc


With the literal translation of “the way of the intercepting fist”, Jeet Kune Do was created by Bruce Lee just a few decades ago in the 1960s. Derived from the theory of Wing Chun, Bruce Lee combined various styles of taekwondo, wrestling, boxing, and fencing.

This type of style uses physical speed, timing, footwork, power, and coordination. Rather than being extremely strict in the teaching and practice of Jeet June Do, Bruce Lee emphasized rather on the aggregate of principles for developing the martial mind and body. He said it was more of a philosophy rather than a style. With this style, he had hoped to free his followers from clinging only to certain styles and allowing them to use techniques but express themselves freely which was different from other Types of Martial Arts.

From the five ways of attack, the four parts of JKD, inside fighting, simultaneous blocks and intercepting attacks, three ranges of combat, emphasis on low kicks, and combat realism, Bruce Lee tried to cover it all when fulfilling his credentials and characteristics of his “new” martial art “style”.


Bruce Lee in the 1960s

Modern Competitions:

There are competitions and gyms



Photo Credit: Leo Tard1 Flickr via Compfight cc

Throughout history, wrestling can be traced back over 5,000 years ago, from the Sumerians to Ancient Egypt to the Greeks, wrestling was seen as an art form or ways of competition. The true professional wrestling, however began in France in 1830.

The only rule during that time was to not allow holds below the waist. However, in 1904, freestyle wrestling was introduced and is now engaged in with the Olympic Games. If you are okay with being and staying on the ground, wrestling might be the right type of martial arts for you. It is a combative sport with techniques that involve grappling, throws, take downs, clinch fighting, joint locks, and pins.

The objective of the style is to place your opponent on his or her back and pin them with any part of both shoulders on the mat for the minimum of two seconds.


Sumerians 5000 years ago

Modern Competitions:

Olympics and World Competitions

We hope that this guide has helped introduce to you fifteen different types of martial arts and styles of fighting as well as introducing and helping you guide your way into choosing which style best works for you. With all the different fighting styles and methods out there, we’re confident that you can find one that fits not only your needs in terms of what you’re looking for in a fighting gym but also can match your personality and fitness goals as well. Some styles are more disciplined than others. Some take more time to master. Some don’t even have the option of mastering them. Some are more for fun and taking out stress and aggression while others are a full-blown practice of concentration, discipline, and foregoing the foundations of their ancient sport.

Although you might have thought you found the perfect fit for you by using this guide and furthering more personal research on your own time, you might find that you cannot go through with that type of fighting because of practical reasons, such as a budget, or location. Either way, try your best to find your passion or a style you like to have the best chance of sticking with it and seeing it through. If you only go for practicality, you might not enjoy it at all, giving you a poor reason and a weak foundation to build your new passion and sport upon.
There are many martial arts around the world. The Wikipedia List of Martial Arts is a great resource that will teach you Martial Arts around the world.
Whether you are learning to fight for amateur purposes or want to pursue a professional career in the sport, always make sure that you’re having a good time. Although any type of martial art sport requires a lot of discipline and physically rigorous training, you are choosing to participate in it, so remember to enjoy the moment.
We have shown you a list of the top 15 most popular Types of Martial Arts. With the help of Wikipedia, we have put together a list of over 190 plus Martial Arts Types around the world.


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