Saturday, September 23, 2023

10 Best Martial Arts in the World

When it comes to the best martial arts in the world, there’s a lot to choose from. Here’re the top 10 martial arts, ranked for their popularity, deadliness, ease of execution, and other key factors.

Martial Arts Defined

When thoughts turn to martial arts, what comes to mind? Perhaps, it’s those seemingly impossible gravity-defying stunts with a remarkable display of skills, control, and athleticism. However, martial arts are way more than that. You can loosely define them as a combat sport or a system for attack, defense, and counter-attack. Some even practice certain martial arts for spiritual advancement.

Specifications might vary, but all martial arts have cultural roots, usually in East Asia (Japan, China, Korea & Vietnam), India, and Brazil. While most practices employ bare-handed combat techniques, some might involve arms and equipment. The motive stays the same across all forms – to subdue the opponent – but the intensity of force, brutality, and intent varies from one form to the other.

The Best Martial Arts in the World: A Historical Perspective 

The history of martial arts dates back to antiquity. Even though East Asia is considered the hotbed of martial arts, its origin can be traced to ancient India and Greece. Evidenced by ancient works of art dating to the 3rd millennium BC, these cultures initially practiced a primitive form of wrestling, which transitioned into belt wrestling with time. Written between the 2nd BC and 2nd AD, the Sangam literature explicitly detailed combat techniques that gradually matured into Kalaripayattu.

Per Sun Tzu, martial arts were flourishing in China between 480 and 220 BC under the patronage of Emperor Huang Di and his successors. The martial arts back then were a blend of armed disciplines for training soldiers and spies. East Asian martial arts evolved dramatically when India exported Buddhism and South Indian disciplines to China. Ta Mo, an Indian monk traveled to China in the 5th century CE to train Shaolin Temple monks, which resulted in the emergence of the Five Animal Styles.

Types of the Best Martial Arts in the World 

Every country has its own native style of fighting and, hence, the diversity in martial arts. Although the motive remains the same across all fighting styles, not all are executed in the same way. Some are more aggressive, forceful, and violent than others. Simply put, some are Hard Martial Arts, and some, Soft Martial Arts. Even though they are self-explanatory terms, here’s precisely what they are.

  • Hard Martial Arts

They involve the use of greater force and aggression to injure the opponent into submission. You not only block the flurry of fists and feet inflicted on you but also strike back with the sole intention to take out the attacker. The hard martial art techniques require strength, nimble footwork, and the right skeletal alignment. Use them to attack, counter the attack or defend yourself – it’s up to you. Examples include karate, kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do, Jiu-Jitsu, or anything that intends to hurt.

  • Soft Martial Arts 

Soft martial art techniques are all about defense. Instead of retaliating with a greater force, you use the attacker’s brute force against him/her to discourage further attacks. As you typically move in a circle, away from the attacker, blocks are out of the equation. Rather, the focus is on positioning yourself and waiting for the opportunity. Once the attacker is off-balance, you unleash throws, armlocks, checks & blocks, and other techniques to overcome the attacker minus brute force.

The Best Martial Arts based on the Country of Origin 

Depending on the country of origin, you can classify the best martial arts in the world into four prime categories – Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Brazilian. Let’s elaborate on each, one at a time.

  • Japanese Martial Arts

The tradition of martial arts runs deep in Japan. Over the centuries, numerous combat techniques emerged and coexisted, influencing each other but retaining their individuality. Rather, some of the best martial arts in the world in 2022 have their roots in Japan. For classification’s sake, they divide Japanese combat arts into “Traditional” and “Modern”. Any form that has been practiced prior to 1870 (the Meiji Restoration Era) are Traditional form. Anything originating after that is Modern.

Japanese use terms like Koryu (古流) and Kobudo (古武道) to describe Traditional martial art forms, and Gendai Budo (現代武道) for the Modern ones. The Traditional forms were war-oriented, involving techniques used on the battlefield. While both are different in training tools, techniques, and credo, a large number of Modern forms are a modified version of the Traditional forms. The conventional martial schools across Japan have helped the traditional forms to retain their original character.

Traditional Japanese Martial Arts
  • Kenjutsu
  • Battojutsu
  • Jujutsu
  • Sojitsu
  • Sumo
  • Ninjutsu
Modern Japanese Martial Arts
  • Karate
  • Judo
  • Kendo
  • Aikido
  • Iaido
  • Kyudo
  • Chinese Martial Arts 

Often, they mention martial arts and China in the same breath. With a history dating back to the 4th century BC, Chinese martial arts have evolved and diversified over time. However, a majority of them involve bare-handed combat, inspired by Buddhism, Chinese warfare credos, and legends handed down through the ages. They use umbrella terms, Kung Fu and Wushu to describe the various combat styles according to their characteristics. The martial arts linked to Shaolin monastic order mimic five animals and require practitioners to adhere to an uncompromising code of conduct.

Based on the region of their origin, the Chinese martial arts are broadly classified as:

North Chinese Martial Arts 
  • Baguazhang
  • Shaolin Kung Fu
  • Bajiquan
  • Taijiquan
  • Chāquán
  • Chuojiao
  • Eagle Claw
  • Praying Mantis
South Chinese Martial Arts 
  • Bak Mei
  • Wuzuquan
  • Choy Li Fut
  • Wing Chun
  • Hung Gar
  • Choy Li Fut

Brazilian Martial Arts 

Football isn’t the only thing that Brazil is known for. The South American country has a vast range of martial arts for all tastes, situations, and requirements. Rather, some of the world’s deadliest martial arts originated here. Interestingly, some of these combat techniques came with slaves arriving primarily from West-central Africa. Here’s a brief insight into popular Brazilian martial arts.

  • Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: It involves grappling to subdue the opponent/attacker
  • Capoeira: Practiced by the Afro-Brazilian population, it blends athleticism, dance, and music
  • Vale Tudo: With fewer rules and full contact, it’s a major contributor to MMA development.
  • Luta Livre: A defensive martial art, it’s a cross between Judo and wrestling.
  • Huka-Huka: Practiced primarily by the Yawalapiti population, it’s a variant of wrestling.
  • Tarracá: Prominent in the Northeastern parts, it’s another variation of wrestling.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

Thanks to globalization, the fusion of different martial arts led to the emergence of Mixed Martial Arts or MMA. True to its name, MMA involves a mixture of different fighting styles adopted from different martial arts. These modern martial art techniques permit you to strike and grapple while standing. Burst on the scene in the 20th century, MMA is exploding in popularity. What was initially confined to competitive fighting, emerged as a coveted fitness regime across age groups and cultures.

    Benefits of the Best Martial Arts in the World

    Martial arts are an advantage that no one can let pass up. Even though you might be keen to pursue the best martial arts in the world, knowing the benefits will help.

    Here are the top 10 martial arts in the world and the details that make them special.

    10 Best Martial Arts in the World

    1. Karate

    KarateKarate tops the list of the best martial arts in the world for its sheer popularity and benefits. With 100 million across 192 countries practicing Karate for fitness, safety, and competition, it has a global footprint. Inspired by Chinese combat styles, Karate burst onto the scene in the 14th century under the patronage of Ryukyu kings in Okinawa Island, Japan. In the 20th century, it proliferated to the rest of the world and is currently being taught in schools for students’ holistic development.


    In karate, the focus is on converging your physical and mental power at the point and the moment of impact. Here, no arms are involved but you are free to strike and block with hands, elbows, knees, and feet. Practitioners also resort to grappling, knife-hands, spear-hands, throws, joint locks, and more to subdue the opponent. When it comes to sporting karate, you pretend to hit the opponent, keeping your strikes a few inches short. Grappling, locks, and throws are permitted, though.

    The 3 K’s: 

    Karate is all about 3 Ks – Kihon, Kata and Kumite. Exploring them is vital for understanding Karate.

    • Kihon: It involves all the fundamentals, from stance to blows and blocks. The practitioner has to master Kihon to build a strong foundation and advance his/her practice and career.
    • Kata: It stands for ‘form,’ denoting sets of different moves applicable in different situations. Here, the focus is on developing a sense of direction, techniques, agility, strength & rhythm.
    • Kumite: It stands for sparring. Herein, you are pitched against a partner and asked to use the Kihon and Kata methods to defend yourself and take out the opponent in a controlled manner.

    Karate borrows its philosophy from Bushido, where you strive to achieve collective development of the body, mind, and spirit. The body learns the art of movement while the brain, the art to stay still. Likewise, the spirit is cleansed through the right behavior. Here are the guiding principles of Bushido:

    1. Yuki: Chivalry & Audacity
    2. Jin: Love & goodwill toward all
    3. Reigi: Politeness & Appropriate Action
    4. Makoto: Realism & Genuine Sincerity
    5. Meiyo: Pride & Fame
    6. Chugi: Dedication & Allegiance
    7. Seigi: Decisions guided by morality
    Sport Karate

    While traditional karate is primarily about self-defense, sport karate has much to do with winning competition. In the former, you deliver a ‘finishing blow’ to subdue the attacker, whereas, in the latter, you unleash a furry of blows on the opponent with speed and accuracy to earn points. In sport karate, competitors falling in the similar weight category are pitted against each other. Each round lasts for 3 minutes within which you have to either outscore the opponent or achieve an 8-point lead. In a tie, the one who scores the first point wins. If no one scores, Hantie kicks in.

    The Takeaway: Think of traditional karate as an art perfected over the years solely for self-defense. On the other hand, sport karate is a sport with a profound element of recreation and competition.

    • Country of Origin: Japan
    • Alternate Name: Karate-Do
    • Focus: Striking
    • Nature: Full, semi, and light contact
    • Invented by: The residents of the Ryukyu Islands
    • Olympic Sport: Introduced in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

    2. Kung Fu

    Karate Kung FuKung Fu was born in China and, to an extent, resembles karate. The first thing about Kung Fu is attacking your opponent with speed and force before he/she attacks you. And if he/she does, you need to be able to defend yourself. Historically, Chinese warriors used Kung Fu as a self-defense technique. There are many parts to Kung Fu, each having its own style and fighting mechanisms.

    Kung fu is also believed to be a deadly martial art since it involves the mind. Buddhist monks are said to transfer their mental power to the body during a Kung Fu fight. Shaolin monks started Shaolin Kung Fu and used these tactics against pirates in Zhangjiagang on July 21, 1553. There were thousands of casualties among the pirates, while only four of the monks sustained injuries.

    • Country of Origin: China
    • Alternate Name: Wushu and Quanfa
    • Focus: Striking, throwing, and gripping
    • Nature: Full Contact
    • Invented by: Bodhidharma and the Shaolin Monastery
    • Popular Proponent: Bruce Lee

    3. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

    Brazilian Jiu-JitsuBrazilian Jiu-Jitsu is right there among the top martial arts in the world. True to its name, Jiu-Jitsu is a Brazilian martial art that focuses on grappling using joint locks and the choking technique to beat the opponent. The martial art was developed from Judo, which was being practiced way before World War II. Judo includes various techniques from classical Jujutsu that also focus on ground fighting techniques.

    Jiu-Jitsu proves that no matter how small or physically weak you are, you can balance your strength and use techniques for defense against a comparatively bigger and stronger enemy. You can train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for self-defense, sporting tournaments such as gi and non-gi, martial art competitions, or just to stay fit.

    • Country of Origin: Japan
    • Alternate Name: BJJ, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Gi/Nogi Jiu-Jitsu
    • Focus: Submission and Grappling
    • Nature: Full Contact
    • Invented by: Helio Gracie
    • Popular Proponent: Jason Statham

    4. Judo

    JudoJudo originated in Japan and is about throwing or taking down your opponent to gain points. In Japanese, Judo means the gentle way. This martial art has been here since 1882 and even enjoys the status of an Olympic sport. That’s enough for a sport to be one of the best martial arts in the world. Judo is not only a physical sport but also stimulates the mind.

    In Judo, your prime focus will be to pin the opponent down to the ground, usually, by throwing him. You can use your hands and feet for defense and also strike and thrust. But you can only use your hands or feet in a pre-arranged form and not haphazardly. Judo was known as Jiu-Jitsu before it was introduced in the Olympics. A judoka is someone who practices Judo and the judo uniform is called judogi. Judo is one of the most practiced Japanese martial arts that anyone can train for.

    • Country of Origin: Japan
    • Alternate Name: BJJ, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Gi/Nogi Jiu-Jitsu
    • Focus: Submission and Grappling
    • Nature: Full Contact
    • Invented by: Kanō Jigorō
    • Popular Proponent: Steven Seagal

    5. Kickboxing

    KickboxingKickboxing is a form of exercise, sport, or self-defense. There are other varieties, but most of us are familiar with American Kickboxing, which uses knees, headbutts, punches, kicks, and other techniques to take down the opponent. Kickboxing is a relatively new martial art, having been founded in Japan in 1959 by Osamu Noguchi and Tatsuo Yamada. When Karateka Yamada wanted to establish a whole karate game without the participants hitting each other, the two pioneers came up with kickboxing.

    Yamada asked Noguchi, the manager of Thai fighter Nak Muay, to institutionalize kickboxing as both of them shared a passion for Muay Thai. But kickboxing wasn’t that popular back then until the 1970s when it was introduced to America. Kickboxing is now considered to be a hybrid of combat sport and martial arts. Combat because kickboxing has plenty of overlap with other sports and a martial art because it was influenced by karate and Muay Thai. As of now, kickboxing is one of the top martial arts in the world.

    • Country of Origin: Japan
    • Alternate Name: Boxe Pieds-Points
    • Focus: Striking and Kicking
    • Nature: Full Contact
    • Invented by: Osamu Noguchi and Tatsuo Yamada
    • Popular Proponent: Jason Statham

    6. Aikido

    AikidoAikido is another Japanese martial art that serves as a self-defense mechanism. The martial arts is Morihei Ueshiba’s brainchild, who wanted to create martial arts to help people defend themselves without inflicting any injuries to their opponents. The English translation of Aikido is “the way of harmonious spirit” that anyone can learn and practice. The main component of Aikido is not striking the opponent. Instead, the defender discovers the vulnerabilities of the attacker and acts accordingly. At the same time, the defender makes sure he/she is not disclosing his vulnerabilities himself.

    When the attacker attacks, the best thing a defender could do is to go with the attacker’s movement and use that to take advantage of him instead of fighting with him. The most famous practitioner of Aikido is Steven Seagal, a trained professional who has won a 7th-degree black belt. If you want to learn Aikido, you might as well want to watch his videos. After all, he’s one of the top martial artists in the world.

    • Country of Origin: Japan
    • Alternate Name: Shodokan Aikido, Yoshinkan, Aikikai and Ki Aikido
    • Focus: Grappling and softness
    • Nature: Full Contact
    • Invented by: Morihei Ueshiba
    • Popular Proponent: Sean Connery

    7. Taekwondo

    TaekwondoThis martial art was born in Korea in the 1940s and comprises different fighting skills that were popular at that time. Taekwondo is derived from the words Tae, which means kick, Kwon, which means to strike with your hands, and Do, which means to hit. Therefore, Taekwondo is a striking skill where you use your foot techniques and speed. With over 100 million practitioners, Taekwondo is one of the top martial arts in the world.

    The main focus of Taekwondo is kicking, which gives practitioners an advantage over other martial arts. You can use your legs to kick instead of punching like in other martial arts. Thus, it’s easier to knock your opponent out in just a few seconds. Taekwondo’s kick alone is the most important reason why we can’t leave Taekwondo out of our world’s best martial arts list.

    • Country of Origin: Korea
    • Alternate Name: TKD
    • Focus: Striking and Kicking
    • Nature: Full Contact
    • Invented by: Choi Hong Hi
    • Popular Practitioner: Chuck Norris

    8. Muay Thai

    Muay_ThaiMuay Thai, or Thai boxing, is a martial art born by the Thai people. In medieval times, South China and the present Thailand region were war zones. It led to a need for a martial art that people could learn quickly for self-defense. Muay Thai served as a perfect martial art that helped the people of Thailand defend the border between Southwest China and Thailand. As a warrior skill, Muay Thai is considered to be one of the deadliest martial arts out there.

    There was even a Thai boxing fight between the Burmese King and the Thai King, Naresuan. The fight led to the birth of Muay, where eight limbs work together to make the fighting effective. The eight limbs include knees and elbows that fighters can use to take down their opponents. These limbs can be used to strike enemies hard or to defend against them.

    • Country of Origin: Thailand
    • Alternate Name: Thai Boxing
    • Focus: Striking and Kicking
    • Nature: Full Contact
    • Invented by: Nai Khanom Tom
    • Popular Practitioners: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jet Li

    9. Wrestling

    WrestlingYou cannot leave wrestling off the list of the top martial arts in the world. It’s a popular martial art that originated in ancient Greece and served as combat. Think of it as a traditional form of WWE. Traditionally, wrestling was played on the ground above a mattress, and there were no ropes involved. The martial art includes punches, throws, takedowns, joint locks, pins, clinch fighting, and several other moves.

    Wrestling comes in all shapes and sizes. Think folkstyle, freestyle, submission, catch, and Greco-Roman. Even judo and sambo are types of wrestling. Wrestling is always a physical game rather than a mental one, where two or multiple competitors fight as a team against the opposite team to gain control of the game. Wrestling is even included in some of the army’s hand-to-hand combat training operations. It’s also an Olympic sport.

    • Country of Origin: Greece
    • Alternate Name: Thai Boxing
    • Focus: Throws, takedowns, joint locks, and grappling
    • Nature: Full Contact
    • Invented by: Ancient Greeks
    • Popular Practitioner: Dwayne Douglas Johnson (The Rock)

    10. Sambo

    SamboSambo was invented in the 1990s as a combination of Thai boxing, Judo, kickboxing, and boxing. It gained instant popularity and emerged as one of the world’s top martial arts. Sambo is a self-defense tactic created by the USSR and practiced by their elite units. From Red Army soldiers and government agents to security guards and private bodyguards, everyone in Russia uses Sambo as a self-defense mechanism.

    In sambo, the participants fight without using punches, but it is based on the two most dangerous martial arts, jiu-jitsu, and Aikido. Even though the game was primarily designed for police and military officials, anyone can train for Sambo. It allows elbows, blows to the head, and knees to be involved. Then there is Special Sambo, which is a martial arts style only available to secret clubs or members of special groups. Likewise, American freestyle sambo is for the general public and not to be trained for professional reasons.

    • Country of Origin: Russia (Erstwhile USSR)
    • Alternate Name: Sombo
    • Focus: Hybrid
    • Nature: Full Contact
    • Invented by: Vasili Oshchepkov, Viktor Spiridonov and Anatoly Kharlampiyev
    • Popular Practitioner: Vladimir Putin (Russian President)


    The ten best martial arts in the world aren’t the only ones that can be included on this list. Many others are also deserving of mention. Consider the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, as well as Silat, Eskrima, Bascom, Rough and Tumble, Vale Tudo, Ninjutsu, Line, Krav Maga, and other martial arts. Check out other relevant pieces on our blog if you need additional ideas. Also, please leave a comment below with the names of your all-time favorite martial artists and arts.

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    Rohit Kumar
    Rohit Kumar
    Passionate about content quality and attention to detail, Rohit has penned over 15,000 copies for some of the leading online and offline publications in his eight-year career. Currently heading the content team at Dunia Ka Gyan, he believes in team spirit, ingenuity, and reader satisfaction.

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