The term “martial arts” probably brings to mind an image of someone wearing the traditional, loose-fitting white uniform (gi) chopping a stack of boards in half with his bare hand. However, although breaking boards is a common exercise in the karate form of martial arts, martial arts can actually refer to any number of methods of hand-to-hand combat practices.
The oldest forms of martial arts can in fact be attributed to ancient China, but martial arts have been practiced in various forms in countries around the world throughout history. Outside eastern Asia, martial arts included fencing in England, boxing in Egypt, wrestling in Greece, and even gladiator combat in Rome. Martial arts can be armed or unarmed, including punching, kicking, and grappling barehanded or combat utilizing weapons such as sword or staff.
The practice of any of these types of martial arts can be utilized for combat and self-defense, for physical fitness, for competition, and for mental and spiritual development. We’ll describe some of the most prevalent and effective forms of martial arts for you here, although we will certainly not attempt to rate any form as being better than any other, because the simple fact is each and every one of these can be utilized effectively in combat by someone with extensive training and experience. Can a sumo wrestler defeat a kickboxer? Can a swordsman take down a Jiu Jitzu practitioner? Maybe. Maybe not. But if you’ve ever watched an Ultimate Fighting Championship you’ve seen unusual mixes of fighting styles wherein it’s the best fighter who prevails, not the best martial art.
This fighting form was originally developed in India by traveling Buddhist monks who needed to be able to defend themselves from highway bandits without themselves doing harm. Jiu Jitzu is a form of grappling that allows the combatant to subdue their opponent without killing anyone. The style made its way to Japan, then later to Brazil, with certain developments in style.
Jiu Jitzu is basically based on ground fighting, teaching takedowns as well as takedown defense, and submission moves like choke holds and joint locks. Brazilian Jiu Jitzu was developed by the Gracie family, with Royce Gracie becoming the first UFC champion in 1993 and giving the fighting form the nickname, “Gracie Jiu Jitzu.” A Gracie Jiu Jitzu fighter is most dangerous on his back in guard position.
A much more contemporary, stand-up fighting style that is actually a combination of several traditional martial arts forms such as Karate and Western Boxing. The first kickboxing competitions were held in Japan in the 1960s, followed shortly by American competitions in the 70s. Although the term wasn’t coined until the 1900s, various forms of kickboxing have been in practice for several centuries. For instance, the French savate style of kickboxing, Boxe pieds-poings (feet-fists boxing) was recorded in the late 1700s.
Kickboxing has various rules in different countries, but it is basically any standing combat sport that allows both punching and kicking- jab, uppercut, flying punch, roundhouse kick, crescent kick, spinning, sweeping and jumping kicks in all styles.
This style was developed in the 1940s in Korea for combat and self-defense, created by General Choi Hong Hi by combining an ancient Korean fighting style, Taekkyeon, and Japanese Karate. Taekwondo is an Olympic sport, and taekwondo sparring has been named the most popular martial art in the world (1989.) Translated into English, the word taekwondo means “the way of the foot and the hand.”
This martial art is practiced by people of all ages and genders, and includes specific techniques of training and performance. Students of taekwondo learn relaxation and meditation exercise, they memorize basic patterns and forms, learn self- defense techniqes, engage in stretching and aerobic workout, learn to throw and fall and to break holds, and participate in sparring matches.
Contemporary sports fencing was developed from a historical style of swordplay that was extremely popular throughout Europe in the 1800s, and is basically a form of martial arts that utilizes three types of bladed weapons: the standard foil, sabre and epee. Fencing was performed in both duels of honor and for sport, and was one of the original sports in the Olympic Games. In classical sportsmanship fencing, safety equipment is worn including a wire mesh fencing mask, gloves and jacket with breast protection. Blades are blunt, or button tipped.
During a conventional fencing bout, the fencer utilizes a specific and graceful stance, and moves that include thrust, parry, attack and return in what appears to be a choreographed dance with blades.
Developed in the Japanese Ryukyu Kingdom in the 15th century, karate has been historically the most popular and well recognized form of martial arts. It was brought to the US after WWII servicemen stationed on Okinawa discovered the style, and increased in popularity with the martial arts movies of the 1960s and70s. The word karate has been used generically to describe any form of Oriental martial art, but it is a very specific fighting style that uses punches, kicks, open-handed strikes, as well as grappling and throws.
This form of martial arts is best known for its focus on real-world, street-fighting situations that call for the use of extremely effective and very brutal counter-attacks. This tactical fighting style was developed in Israel, and its name translates to mean “contact combat.” Krav Maga is a true hybrid of martial arts forms, combining many different styles including Jiu Jitzu, Muay Thai, wrestling, Wing Chun, boxing, and grappling.
The main philosophy of Krav Maga is to neutralize threats with aggressive, simultaneous defensive and offensive moves. The first basic principle of Krav Maga is to avoid confrontation if possible. When avoidance is impossible, then the second basic principle is to finish a fight as quickly and effectively as possible. This involves attacking pre-emptively or immediately counter-attacking, targeting the opponent’s most vulnerable body parts such as eyes, throat, ribs, knees, even the groin. A student of Krav Maga is also taught to develop constant awareness of his surroundings and to be able to identify potential threats, as well as to seek to avoid confrontation whenever possible.