Different Martial Arts Styles

Diverse countries, philosophies and resources–not to mention needs–have spawned a wide variety of fighting styles around the globe. It is important to also remember that martial arts focus not only on the physical motions of fighting but also on a literal way of life, including adherence to certain codes of honor and moral or ethical conduct.


Capoeira is sometimes thought of as being of African origin, sometimes Brazilian; according to USA Dojo, it was developed in the 1500s by African slaves taken to Brazil. Originally disguised as a dance since the slaves were prohibited from practicing any means of defense, capoeiristas typically form a circle and play rhythms on percussion and stringed instruments; practitioners enter the circle, two at a time, and engage in a series of often acrobatic movements; blows are never landed, and a heavy emphasis is placed on evasion instead of blocking.

Aikido and Hapkido

Japanese in origin, Aikido focuses on controlling an opponent by means of that opponent’s own energy. Instead of punching and kicking, Aikido combines joint locks and throws with circular footwork.

Hapkido is a Korean martial art with some similarities to Aikido, although Hapkido techniques tend to be a bit “harder” (more direct, less circular) in style and Hapkido does incorporate some punching and kicking techniques.

Taekwondo and Karate

Taekwondo and Karate both appear, at first glance, to be quite similar. Taekwondo is Korean in origin and focuses primarily on using the fists and feet. While some Taekwondo techniques are useful for self-defense, the art is also practiced for competition (Taekwondo is an Olympic sport) and performance.

Karate is a general term applied to almost any of the “empty hand” self-defense arts that originate from Okinawa and other parts of Japan; Shotokan, Shito Ryu, Gojo Ryu and Wado Ryu are the four main Karate disciplines. As with Taekwondo, Karate practitioners tend to focus on punching, kicking and blocking.

Jeet Kune Do

No listing of martial arts styles would be complete without mentioning Jeet Kune Do, the body of knowledge created and passed on by Bruce Lee. Jeet Kune Do involves elements from numerous martial arts and combat styles, and is more a synthesis of philosophy and training than a strictly defined art form.

Judo and Ju Jitsu

Judo is practiced both as a form of self-defense and as a competition art, as is Ju Jitsu. Both are Japanese in origin and involve joint locks and throws. Brazilian Ju Jitsu, which is more a training style than a separate body of techniques from the Japanese styles, was made popular by the Gracie family from Brazil and is now a wildly popular combat system in its own right.


Kendo is one of several Japanese martial arts that focus on the use of a weapon (two-handed sword). Kendo is practiced with bamboo or wooden swords, and combatants wear protective gear including a breastplate and helmet.

About this Author

Marie Mulrooney has written professionally since 2001. Her diverse background includes numerous outdoor pursuits, personal training and linguistics. She studied mathematics at the University of Alaska Anchorage and contributes regularly to various online publications. Print publication credits include national magazines, poetry awards and long-lived columns about local outdoor adventures.