Martial Arts

Oriental martial arts are heavily influenced by eastern philosophy such as Buddhism. Here I list several famous types of eastern martial arts. I divide them by country, and then I list them in chronological order from when they were invented. Many of these have many variations. It is a matter of opinion how different a martial art has to be in order to be considered a separate martial art. Also, there are many possible ways to write the names in the Latin alphabet. There are other things that some people include as martial arts but that I chose not to because they are not true martial arts in the traditional sense. Qi Gong, or Chi Kung, is a Chinese system of meditation, breathing techniques, and mysticism that is supposed to cure illness and clear the mind. Go is a popular Chinese board game. The Chinese Lion Dance includes elements of martial arts.


1. Kalaripayate – ancient, from two Sanskrit words, "kalari" and "payat", it literally means a military training ground. This may be the father of all other eastern martial arts. They fight both with and without weapons. They progress from a wooden staff to a sword, dagger, mace, etc. to a long flexible sword that can be used a whip, to final stage which is no weapons at all.


2. Kung Fu - ancient, contains references to nature. It may have originally been inspired by Kalaripayate. There are hundreds of different types of Kung Fu. In northern China, where people have longer legs, and there is flatter ground, there is more jumping. In southern China, where people have shorter legs, and it's more mountainous, there is greater emphasis on arm movements. Some forms of Kung Fu involve weapons. Kung Fu employs kicks, strikes, throws, body turns, dodges, holds, crouches and starts, leaps and falls, handsprings and somersaults. These movements include more techniques involving the open hand, such as claws and rips, than those used in karate. There were five major systems developed in northern China: Wa, Cha, Fa, Pao, and Shaolin. Shaolin Kung Fu is probably the most famous, and is a style descended from a system taught at the Shaolin Temple. It developed as a long fist style, emphasizing kicks over hand techniques. Tong Long, or Praying Mantis, Kung Fu was invented in the 19th Century by Chou Ah-Nan. According to the story, he invented the style when he saw a praying mantis kill a bird. Another type of Kung Fu is Choy Lee Fut invented by Chan Heung.

3. Tai Chi Chuan - 17th Century, originated in the Chen village in central China. It's based on a series of counters and deflections. The oldest style is Chen, and from it developed other styles such as Yang, Wu, etc. It probably derived from a Shaolin Kung Fu system with soft elements added. It was developed by the Chen family over several generations. Tai Chi Chuan, often called tai chi, originated as a form of self defense, and then became a form of ceremonial ritual combat, and finally became a form of exercise practiced for supposed health benefits in a manner similar to yoga. It employs slow graceful movements that are stylized renditions of original arm and foot blows. According to folklore, the art was invented when a guy saw a bird fighting a snake. Because the snake was soft and flexible, it could defeat the bird.

4. Wushu – 1960’s. Literally translated, "wu" is military, "shu" is art. Therefore, this was originally just the Chinese name for martial arts. Some people still use the word in that sense. However, during the cultural revolution, the Communists felt that comrades shouldn’t be fighting each other, even in mock combat, and so they suppressed traditional kung fu, and invented a version of Kung-fu, where it’s not people fighting each other, but in a competition analogous to gymnastics. It’s considered very beautiful.

5. Bagwa Chung - walking positions enable one to move smoothly and lightly, like a coiled spring, with speed and power. Includes both offensive and defensive movements that balance the body. Develops internal and external strength.

6. Ship Pal Gae - Forms are soft and hard. Develops flexibility, coordination, strength and speed. The mind, body and weapons used must be as one. Strong eye contact is maintained with the opponent, and movements are usually offensive. The hands and feet are used in all different directions, with both angles and circles.


7. Huwarangdo - 16th Century, contains the spin kick and circular movements, mentions pressure points, very complex. The study of Huwarangdo is divided into four categories: internal, external, mental, and weapons.

8. Hapikido - invented in 1945, based on Huwarangdo, designed as self-defense and to defeat opponents with a single movement. It involves a very high speed spin kick.

9. Tangsudo - Koran version of karate

10. Taekwando - probably early 20th Century. It's primary element is kicking. It also involves simple blocks. It's very simple.


11. Karate - 17th Century. When Japanese took over the island, they banned all weapons. Then the islanders developed a form of free hand fighting. At various times, the Japanese forbade the Okinawans to own weapons, so during these periods, Okinawan Samurai could not own swords or other weapons. Okinawa, also called the Ryuku Islands, was also a major trading center. Thus Okinawans met Chinese fighters, and studied their martial arts. Okinawans combined their natural fighting art of "te", meaning "hand", with the Chinese, or "kara", fighting skills they learned. The result was called "kara-te" or "Chinese hand". They also learned to fight with agricultural tools, and this became known as "kubudo". Karate involves open-handed self-defense, and involves any part of the body. It has shouting. There are several styles. Three main centers of karate developed in the three main population centers of Okinawa: Shuri-te, Naha-te, and Tomari-te. The style known as Shorinryu came from the Shuri area. The three types of Shorinryu are Sobayashi, Kobayashi, and Matsubayashi. Goju Ryu Karate was developed in the late 1920's by Chojun Miyasi. Karate is the most popular martial art today. This is because American troops were on Okinawa from April 1, 1945 to May 15, 1972.


12. Sumo - 2000 years old. Originally taught to Japanese soldiers as a form of hand to hand combat, it became a spectator sport in the 17th Century. It's fought inside a 15 foot circle. The only rules are that you must not leave the circle, and only your feet may touch the ground. Modern Sumo prohibits kicking, gouging, and hair pulling but allows pushing, slapping, throwing and grappling. According to one folktale, humans first witnessed Sumo when a Japanese god defeated a Japanese warlord with it. However in the process, humans learned of Sumo, and became more powerful as a result. According to another folktale, two Japanese gods were fighting over who would rule Japan. They settled the dispute with a Sumo match. The victor impregnated many Japanese women, and today all Japanese are descended from that specific god.

13. Kendo - 17th Century. In 1603, Ieyasu became the first of the Tokugawa shoguns. Japan became a military dictatorship, and remained so until the 19th Century. Since there was therefore far less internal warfare, traditional arts of war evolved into competitive sports. One of these was Kendo which was traditional sword fighting. To make it less dangerous, they began fighting with bamboo swords, and wearing protective clothing.

14. Kydo - 17th century. Japanese archery performed with a very long bow.

15. Ninjitsu - ancient, art of stealth, based on forces of nature. It was considered dishonorable. It involved assassination, espionage, theft, etc. They would fight with various weapons.

16. Jujitsu -evolved from a form of Ninjitsu which intended to break bones. Jujitsu had an emphasis on defending yourself without a weapon from someone with a weapon, or from many attackers.

17. Judo - invented in 1882 by Dr. Jigaro Kano (1860 - 1938) who developed it from Jujitsu. He designed it as a sport, and never intended for it to be self-defense. It includes throws and grappling. It was first included in the Olympics in 1964.

18. Aikido - invented in 1942 by Morohei Ueshiba (1883 - 1969) who developed it from Jujitsu. He intended it as a competitive sport although today it's never used a such. Today, it's used as a form of exercise like tai chi. "Aikido" translates as "the way of harmony with universal force". In Aikido, an attack is avoided with flowing circular movements. The opponent can then be brought to the ground with painful immobilizing joint locks. You control the attacker by throwing him off balance. You avoid an attack with circular movements.


19. Muay Thai

The Philippines

20. Eskrima

United States

21. Kenpo - American version of karate

22. Jeet Kune Do - invented by Bruce Lee in the 1960's.