Martial Art Fighting Styles

Martial arts have been around for thousands of years, dating back to the countries of Japan, China and India in the 600s B.C. From there, martial arts expanded into dozens of different styles and forms, many of which are currently taught in the United States and around the world.


Probably the most well-known of all martial arts fighting styles by name, karate originated in Okinawa, Japan. The word “karate” means “open hand.” Karate is made up of a series of basic strikes, kicks and throws that are taught to students and then implemented in sparring sessions. Like many of the martial arts, karate places a special emphasis not only on the physical form of fighting, but also on mental discipline, and the use of force only when necessary and only in a disciplined manner. Karate emphasizes self-mastery first, noting that the most difficult opponent to overcome is ultimately oneself.

Kung Fu

Immortalized by TV shows and movies, Kung Fu dates back to around 500 A.D., brought to China by an Indian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma, the original Zen “patriarch.” Kung Fu became a staple of Chinese military training throughout the middle ages, and is now practiced all over the world. Its signature style is rooted in Buddhism, as meditation and self-awareness are keys to mastering this particular martial art. Kung Fu is practiced in over 1,000 different styles and is characterized by using fluid, controlled motions along with evasive footwork to overwhelm an opponent.

Muay Thai

A form of Indochinese kickboxing, Muay Thai originated, as its name suggests, in Thailand around 1300 A.D. and is a national sport in the country. Muay Thai is characterized by opponents using eight points throughout the body—both fists, feet, elbows and knees—to make contact with an opponent in an attempt to score a knockout. It is distinguished from most forms of kickboxing in that it allows participants to attack opponents who are on the ground, and does not prohibit strikes and blows while the two opponents are grappling.

Jiu Jitsu

Another of the martial arts originating in Japan, Jiu Jitsu gained popularity in the United States after World War II soldiers picked up the fighting style in their journeys to the Pacific and brought it back home. Unlike its counterparts of karate and Kung Fu, Jiu Jitsu places heavy emphasis on ground fighting techniques, such as holds, joint locks and pins, since it was originally developed to be a fighting style used against an armed or armored opponent when strikes and blows would be largely ineffective. A Brazilian form of Jiu Jitsu similarly teaches its students to use an opponent’s leverage and balance against them in order to secure victory.

About this Author

James Patterson specializes in health and wellness topics, having written and produced material for the National Institutes of Health, the President’s Cancer Panel, and an Inc. 500 Hall of Fame company. He is also a former sportswriter, with writing experience in basketball, baseball, softball, golf and other popular sports, and writes relevant sports titles.