7 Most Popular Types of Martial Arts – Helping You Pick The Right Style

Ever since Bruce Lee bursted into mainstream popularity back in the 1970s, Martial Arts gained an unprecedented boom in popularity and momentum, every kid wanted to do Karate and beat up the bad guys!

Then came MMA in the nineties, finally an answer to the question “Which Type of Martial Art is Better?” Starting a revolution in the way Martial Arts are thought about and taught. What was once an art is now a fiercely competitive sport.

With the UFC now being a multi million dollar company that hosts events worldwide, it’s no wonder that many people want to try their hand at learning a new martial art.

They’re a great workout, stress reliever, and if need be, a way to keep you safe.

But before you go off and sign up in the first dojo you find, let’s take a look at the main six different types of martial arts and what makes them stand out. That way you’ll know if a Martial Art is for you without wasting your time and money to find out!

Types of Martial Arts

While there are thousands of different types of Martial Arts out there, most of them can be roughly grouped into six different categories, based on what type of combat they aim to master and how they train.

However, there are also thousands of FAKE martial arts. If you run into someone claiming to master “Energy” “Chi” or any other weird supernatural powers, you’re better off saving your money.

I’ve grouped each type of martial art into a category that is easier to understand. Below you find these categories, I hope this makes it easier for beginners to understand.

But hey, get confused, and want more clarification or want my recommendation for your personal situation, leave a comment down below. I get back usually same day 🙂

Here we go,

Striking Martial Arts Styles

Also known as the Stand Up styles because these focus on combat while standing upright, these are what brought Martial Arts to the mainstream in the first place.

From Jack Dempseys legendary boxing matches in the 1920s, to Bruce Lee’s blindingly fast punches and flashy kicks, striking styles have very different ways to defend yourself when fighting upright.

Punches, kicks, blocks, knees and elbows are all fair game when striking, used more, less or not at all depending on what type of Martial Art you choose to practice. While some also incorporate elements from other styles to a degree.

Striking Martial Arts Styles include:

  • Boxing
  • Muay Thai
  • KickBoxing
  • Karate
  • Kung Fu
  • Tae Kwon Do
  • Krav Maga

Grappling Styles

When most people think of a fight, they usually imagine trading punches, maybe a kick here or there. In reality, fights are a messy affair that often ends up on the ground.

Grappling styles know and take advantage of this, teaching their students how to control their opponent on the ground and end the fight with a series of holds and chokes.

The famous BJJ champion Rickson Gracie once  said “The ground is my Ocean, I’m the Shark, and most people don’t know how to swim”.

This is because for those who have never trained in any sort of grappling, fighting on the ground is completely foreign and counter intuitive. As anyone who has tried Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can attest, at first, it seems like magic.

However, most of these styles recognize that fights start standing up, and teach some element of takedowns to get your opponent to the ground, where you are strongest.

Grappling Styles include:

  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Luta Livre
  • Wrestling
  • Russian Sambo
  • Jujutsu or Japanese Jiu Jitsu

Take Down Martial Arts Styles

Anyone on the receiving end of a throw or take down can tell you, it’s no fun. Getting dropped on your back will rattle your teeth and leave you jarred. It may even end the fight all together.

Especially in a street fight, landing on your head or back on concrete is a surefire way to get knocked out instantly. That’s why these types of martial arts have developed around dropping your opponent to the ground in a not so gentle way.

As I said above, there is a decent amount of overlap with grappling styles, the ground styles need a way to drop their opponents, and the throwing styles need ways of dealing with opponents on the ground.

Throwing or Take Down Types of Martial Arts include:

  • Judo
  • Aikido
  • Hapkido

H3 Low Impact Martial Art Styles

Not everyone goes into martial arts to compete in tournaments and fight people inside an octagon. Some folk turn to martial arts for spiritual purposes, to improve their physical fitness, or to learn self-defense. If this is the case for you this type of martial art is perfect for you Judo is great for self-defense is a way to not only keep yourself protected but also a great way to get a nice workout in all while enjoying your time and learning a new martial art.

For those that want to get healthy, but don’t really want to get punched, thrown or choked, low impact martial arts are a great choice. You often see the elderly get into tai chi to keep up their health without facing injury risk.

However, that doesn’t mean these types of martial arts are useless for combat, they were once used for fighting and can be used again, even if there is no live sparring to get used to combat situations. In fact, Judo and Aikido were originally taught to be used to disarm weapons from opponents.

Low Impact Styles include:

  • Tai Chi
  • Chi Gong based styles

Weapon Based Martial Art Styles

Some of the styles we mentioned above, like Krav Maga, involve weapons in some capacity. Like disarming an opponent carrying a knife or gun. While this is extremely useful and could save a life some day, some of us might want to study an art purely focused on a weapon.

The most known example of this is fencing, featured in the olympics and countless movies. but there are also others like Kali that focus on knife and machete fighting.

Weapon Based Martial Art Styles include:

  • Fencing
  • Kendo
  • Kali

Hybrid Martial Arts Style – Mix of Every Type of Martial Arts

Before the rise of Mixed Martial Arts competitions, Martial Artist rarely fought outside of their discipline. Boxers fought boxers, Wrestlers faced wrestlers and so on.

This led to certain stagnation of the arts, as the room for innovation was constrained by rules and tradition. Moreover, plenty of techniques were based around specific rules, a boxer never had to worry about kicks, so they never learned how to defend against them.

As the UFC grew in popularity, fighters realized that there was no top martial art. Instead, the best path was to learn the most effective techniques possible regardless of where they come from.

This is when, Hybrid Styles really came into the scene. They had experienced some fame with Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, but it wasn’t until MMA  that they became mainstream.

Hybrid Styles Include:

  • Mixed Martial Arts
  • Jeet Kune Do
  • Ninjutsu

Most Popular Types of Martial Arts

Listed below are the most common types of martial arts fighting styles that are most widely known today.

Boxing

There’s not a lot to say about boxing that most Westerners don’t know already. Two people trade punches inside the ring, for several rounds.

From Jack Dempsey, to “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather Jr. and legends like Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Mike Tyson.

striking type of martial art - boxing
Mike Tyson Throwing his Hay Makers

Boxing has been a part of American history and culture for the entire 20th century and it shows no signs of stopping. Since the most watched Pay per View event in history was a boxing match.

Not only that, but boxing has for a long time been an olympic sport and even has its own World Championship

BJJ – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

One of the newer martial arts, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was developed by the Gracie brothers in the 1920s, after being taught Judo. It places emphasis on ground fighting, making use of chokes, holds and submissions to end fights.

grappling type of martial art - BJJ jiu jitsu

While for many years it remained in relative obscurity, BJJ became mainstream after it was first implemented in the early years of the UFC.

Royce Gracie won the first, second and fourth UFC championships, always delivering blindingly quick submissions to opponents much larger than himself.

As a result, BJJ became world renowned for giving the smaller guys a chance against heavier and stronger opponents

Muay Thai

Literally meaning Thai Boxing, Muay Thai is an art that features a combination of striking techniques and clinching. It is also called “The Art of Eight Limbs” as fighters use not only punches and kicks but also elbows, knees and shins to fight each other.

striking style of martial art - muay thai

It is Thailand’s national sport and has been steadily rising in popularity since the 1800. Back then it took the sport world by storm, as it did away with the mystical, spiritual aspect of martial arts, and instead focused on taking down your enemy quickly and efficiently.

Judo

Created in 1882 by Jigoro Kano, after being bullied in his childhood, Judo literally means “The Gentle Way” as it focuses on making use of the opponent’s strength and force to take them off balance and bring them down.

take down type of martial art - judo

In the founders own words “Resisting a stronger opponent will result in your defeat, adjusting to and evading their attack will make them lose their balance and you will succeed.”

Now an olympic sport, Judo is taught worldwide and has many famous representatives such as Ronda Rousey.

Related Reading: Judo Vs Jiu-Jitsu

Mixed Martial Arts or MMA

One of the most well known styles out there, thanks to the huge sports organizations like UFC and Bellator, that promote fights and the multiple fighters like Connor McGregor and Jon Jones that have reached star status by dominating the competition.

striking type of martial art - MMA

It’s almost impossible to pin down what disciplines make up MMA, as there are no set rules and anyone practicing multiple martial arts could be said to practice MMA. However, there are a few that are seen over and over in the top fighters in the game.

These are Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, Judo, Muay Thai, KickBoxing and Sambo, among others.

The focus is on having different techniques in the fighter’s arsenal to employ in each different stage of the fight.

Stand up requires striking techniques, knees, elbows, kicks and punches. The clinch is when grappling and throws come into play and as the fight ends on the ground, pure grappling styles like BJJ and Sambo rule as fighters try to secure chokes or holds.

Karate

Over 2 centuries old, the word Karate is Japanese for “Empty Hand”, as the discipline focuses on unarmed striking with hands, fists, elbows, knees and kicks.

striking style of martial art - karate

It’s the most popular and well known martial art out there, in part thanks to hundreds of martial arts movies that popularized its name. In fact, many in the western world use the word Karate to refer to any Asian Martial Art.

Practitioners are known as Karatekas and are not only taught to fight, but also self discipline and restraint, as many masters have expressed that Karatekas should not be quick to fight or abuse their skills.

Karate is expected to debut on the Olympic stage on the upcoming Tokyo Games.

Related Reading: Karate Vs Taekwondo

Getting Started – Pick The Type of Martial Art That Best Suits Your Goals

Alright, now you know what to expect out of the different Martial Arts out there and if you’re anything like I was, you’re itching to get started on your Martial Arts journey! So let’s quickly go through what you need to do first.

Pick a Martial Art Style and Find a School

Pretty obvious, I know, but you’d be surprised at how complicated this can be.

There’s two ways you can go about this, you can either see what martial arts schools are close enough to where you live, then pick a martial art out of those available.

Or, you can research different Martial Arts, find the one you like, and hope that there’s a school close enough to you.

This shouldn’t be a problem with more popular disciplines, like, BJJ, MMA, and Boxing, but if you’re looking for something less common, you might find the schools available are pretty far, or that there are none.

No matter what way you go about it, there’s one thing you cannot skip, RESEARCH!!!

There’s more to a Martial Art than cool looking moves and fighting, I always suggest newcomers look up most common injuries, the standard cost of classes and martial arts gear and what to expect regarding sparring, progression and more.

Watch a class

Hopefully, you’ve found more than one school close enough to you, but even if you only found one, I always tell people they shouldn’t dive right into a class, and most importantly hand over their money.

Even within the same martial art, each school can take a widely different approach, some are more competitive, focused on tournaments while others are more recreational, some schools prioritize live sparring, while others focus more on technique.

This is why you should always ask to watch a class before you sign up and give them your hard earned money!

You’ll get to see the instructor’s teaching style and what an average class entails. If you’re lucky, you might even get a free class out of it! Some places offer beginners a try out first!

If you found a school that works for you, you’re good to go! Welcome to the wonderful world of martial arts! Just sign up and get started!

Keep Showing up / Be Consistent

This is the most common mistake I see from aspiring Martial Artists. Influenced by Hollywood movies and TV shows, they think after a few classes they’ll be fighting like the heroes in their movies.

Unfortunately, like anything worth doing in life, it takes hard work. When people realize this, most of them quit.

That’s why I always make it a point to tell our new guys, KEEP SHOWING UP!

Yes, you’re gonna suck at first, yes you may feel embarrassed (even though you shouldn’t) but if you keep showing up, one day it’s gonna “click”, and you’ll see just how far you’ve come.

My Recommendation

Picking the type of martial art that best suits what you want out of martial arts is your first step. Which fighting style do you like most? Find it.

Define a place for martial arts in your life

This is closely related to my last point about being consistent and to always show up to class.

If you want to become a Martial Artist, you need to realize that it’s not something you’ll be doing for a couple weeks, it’s something you’ll be doing for years, it becomes a part of your life.

This is why after a few weeks or months of class, you should start thinking of your relationship with Martial Arts, why you practice them and how they fit into your life, goals and priorities.

For some, this will be easy, a fun way to get fit, self defense, competition. Even a mix of all three. For others it might be harder, and can even change over time. I never thought I would compete when I started BJJ, but as I progressed, I wanted to test my mettle.

I went from hitting around on my punching bag, to intense heavy bag workouts, to full on competing in different IBJJF weight classes. To this day, I am still competing.

Defining how martial arts fit into your life goals will help determine how much time, money and effort you should sink into them. I’ve seen way too many people slack on their work and school because they’re too much into training.

This isn’t wrong per se, but if you’re trying to be an engineer, skipping one class to study for a final won’t kill you.

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