Top 10 Martial Arts: Full Names and Descriptions

top 10 martial artsWhen you think about martial arts, names like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li might come to mind. Bruce Lee was considered one of the most influential martial artists of all time. Then, you have Chan and Li who have been major movie stars that incorporate Chinese martial arts into their films.  Many people ask, what is the best martial art out there? Well, I’ve come up with a list of the top 10 martial arts out there, you can try them and decide for yourself! Are you looking to start your own martial arts academy? If so, check out this course on Running a Dojo.

In the 90’s the US popularized Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). MMA is a full contact, combat sport, that combines grappling and striking, with standing and ground fighting. MMA allows a wide variety of martial arts and techniques, creating a unique dynamic that favors a versatile martial artist. MMA often involves Judo, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, Karate, Kickboxing, and wrestling.

Martial arts are practiced for a variety of different reasons including self-defense, physical fitness, entertainment and competition. Some even consider martial arts as a way of achieving spiritual growth. If you’re interested in finding the right martial arts for you, check out our course on Martial Arts for Beginners. I have accumulated a list of the the top 10 martial arts today, not in any particular order.

1. Judo

Judo is a competition based sport that originated out of Japan. The primary objective is to throw or takedown your opponent for points. Although it was created for sport and exercise, it has proven to be an effective martial art in close combat through the use of leverage. “Maximum efficiency, minimum effort” is the cornerstone of the martial art. With proper technique and balance, a person can beat a much larger opponent. The major weakness in the art of judo is the lack of any striking techniques in competition or practice.

2. Kickboxing

Kickboxing can be for fitness, self-defense or sport. There are different origins of the sport, but we are most familiar with the American version of kickboxing. Kickboxing combines punches, knees, headbutts, and kicks to disarm an opponent or attacker. A swift front kick to the face is more than enough to disarm any person. The key to kickboxing is speed and agility, the person must strike before the attacker can react and respond.

Advanced kickboxers are known to do “combat qi,” which involves physical conditioning of the body through repeated damage, until there are no pain signals that are sent to the brain to distract the fighter. Some highly trained kickboxers will roll a baseball bat across the surface of the shin for hours a day to break down and rebuild the tibia there. After repeated damage, the tibia grows back stronger and thicker each time, until the fighter can kick hard objects without feeling pain in the shins. The major weakness of the sport of kickboxing is that there is very little attention paid to self defense throughout training.

3. Karate

Karate originated in Japan and is practiced primarily for sport. It involves the typical kicking, punching, elbows and also incorporates open hand techniques. The main focus is on attack deflection, controlling and disabling attacks that come from directly in front of you. Instead of focusing on hits to the face and head, punches are directed towards the solar plexus, just below the sternum, a weak point on the body. This will effectively knock the air out of the opponent and disable him.

4. Aikido

Aikido is a martial art that originates from Japan and is designed primarily for self defense. The creator of aikido wanted to make an art that a person could use to defend themselves, without causing injury to their attackers. Aikido loosely translates to “the way of harmonious spirit.”

The majority of aikido is not striking, it is based on the principle that an attacker exposes themselves each time they go on the attack. The person is supposed to recognize the vulnerability and respond with an attack to ensure that he is not exposed himself. The defender is instructed to go with the movement of the attacker and use his momentum against him, instead of fighting against it.

You may recognize Steven Seagal as a movie star that practices Aikido, believe it or not, he is an authentic 7th degree black belt! His trademark move was the forearm return. An attacker comes at him with a straight punch and he steps to the side, grabbing the wrist, and using the momentum with a twist to disable the attacker’s wrist. The attacker will likely be put off balance and may break his wrist in the process.

Aikido also includes joint locks, a grappling technique that extends the joints to their maximal degree of motion. These do not take much speed, but rather proper technique to disable an attacker.

5. Taekwondo

Taekwondo, a Korean martial art, combines both self-defense and attack, as a way of sport and exercise. The martial art focuses on high kicks and quick hand movements. Taekwondo is based upon the belief that the leg is the strongest and furthest reaching limb that a person has, thus having the greatest potential to be used as a powerful weapon while keeping an attacker at a distance.

The sport is very good to enhance agility, power, balance, flexibility and endurance. You may have seen these martial artists on tv breaking wood planks, cement blocks or bricks with their bare hands and legs. These athletes combine their mental focus and acuity with the strength and technique they develop through training.

6. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an all around ruthless sport based out of Brazil. Martial artists are taught vicious and aggressive moves such as eye gouging, choke holds, biting, grappling, hard striking, and joint locks. Once an attacker is brought to the ground, the first step is to grab a limb and manipulate it at the joint until it breaks. After the attacker is immobilized, the martial artist can unleash an arsenal of fists and elbows to the face.

The key to the art is understanding and recognizing your own and your attacker’s center of gravity. Once you learn to lower your own center of gravity underneath that of your attacker, you can manipulate his body and throw him off of you. There is also an understanding of balance where if your attacker reaches out with one part of his body, the other part must balance. It is the standing leg that the martial artists learns to disable and break. Each defense becomes a counter attack.

7. Traditional Boxing

Muhammad Ali would float like a butterfly, sting like a bee each and everytime he entered the ring. Western boxers are known for their agility, both with their punches and without. These athletes can throw punches harder, faster, and more on point than any other martial artist. Just to learn proper punching technique takes several years!

There is no kicking allowed, so you best be sharp with your hands and quick with your feet to keep your balance. Boxers are usually very lean, tough, and solid. They are not as thick or heavy as body builders, because they rely heavily on their agility in the ring. Boxers are ingrained with the idea of protecting their head and learn from the very beginning to keep their gloves up.

Boxing is very natural to a lot of individuals and it can be a lot of fun. This martial art is readily available at most martial arts gyms and many traditional gyms as well. It provides an excellent outlet for sport, discipline, conditioning, and fighting.

8. Wrestling

Wrestling is one of the oldest forms of combat, probably originating from Europe. I’m not referring to the WWE, which many of you may think is true wrestling. On the contrary, traditional wrestling is performed on a mat with no ropes. Wrestling is one of the few martial arts that is also practiced in schools everywhere, from middle school all the way up to college.

9. Krav Maga

Krav Maga is Israel’s national martial art. It has been designed for the purpose of street survival and it is taught to the entire defense force of the country. This martial art involves aspects of Jiu Jitsu grappling and ground fighting, Karate kicks and knees, and traditional boxing punches. This is not a simple sport, in Krav Maga, the defense is aimed at killing the aggressor. The defense is also the attack. It is a counter attack of sorts where you protect yourself from attack, while simultaneously incapacitating the attacker. They also focus on attacking weak areas of the body, namely the eyes, groin, and throat.

10. Muay Thai

Muay Thai originated in Thailand and is also known as the Art of Eight Limbs. This martial art uses punches, kicks, knees and elbows in forming an attack. The sport can be very violent and brutal, but due to many safeguards today, it has become a more universal sport for fun and entertainment. Muay Thai is also one of the staples of MMA style fighting because it not only incorporates western boxing punches, but also brings in kicks, knees and elbows.

I’ve given you a list of the top 10 martial arts today, now its your turn to try them out! If self-defense is your motivation, also try looking at our course for busy and working adults, 30 Minute Self Defense. If you’re looking for something for the little ones to get involved in, check out Martial Arts for Kids.