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A Comparison of Martial Arts Styles

author image Sarah Collins
Sarah Collins has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Penn State-University Park and formal education in fitness and nutrition. Collins is an experienced blogger, editor and designer, who specializes in nutrition, fitness, weddings, food and parenting topics. She has been published in Arizona Weddings, Virginia Bride and on Gin & Pork and Bashelorette.com.

Martial arts have a long, rich history, dating back as far as 2,500 BC. Over thousands of years, combat for sport and for defense has traveled across the globe and evolved into multiple styles. From Japanese kenjutsu to Chinese Wushu to Brazilian Vale tudo, there are multiple styles of martial arts that most westerners won't recognize. However, a handful are now regularly practiced; some, such as Judo and taekwondo, feature as Olympic events in the Summer games.

While various styles of martial arts might be more common or originated in different countries, they're all combat sports — meaning they incorporate kicks, punches and other defense moves.

Read More: List of Martial Arts Moves


One of the most-practiced martial arts in the U.S., Karate originated in Japan. Although it's based on fighting techniques, such as kicks and jabs, its aim is improve the student's character and boost self-awareness. Training is not only focused on mastering the moves, but also mastering self-discipline and creating a strong character. Karate's first appearance at the Olympic games will occur in 2020.

Typical karate moves include front kicks (mae-geri), upper blocks (jodan uke), knee strikes (hiza-geri), elbow strikes (hiji ate) and palm-heel strikes (shotei uchi).


Like karate, taekwondo stresses character and self-discipline over the competition and fighting aspect of the sport. However, taekwondo — which literally means "foot-fist-discipline" — originated in Korea, though variations traveled to China and Japan. Taekwondo is an official Olympic sport, unlike other martial arts forms such as jiujitsu.

Some basic techniques of taekwondo include hand strikes (chigi), foot strikes (jeek gi), thrusts/punches (chirugi), sparrin (kyorugi) and rolling/tumbling (goorugi).


Like both taekwondo and karate, judo evolved as a sport that's focused on mental discipline. It's also part of the Summer Olympic Games. Like karate, it also originated in Japan. However, unlike some other forms of martial arts, judo most often does not include kicking, punching or striking moves, though striking can be used in certain settings — but not in competition or free practice.

Its name combines the words "Ju," which means "gentle," and "Do," which means "The Way." Instead of strikes and kicks, judo practitioners aim to throw or trip their competitor to get the other person on their back.

Judo includes throwing techniques (nage-waza), grappling techniques (katame-waza) and, occasionally, striking techniques (atemi-waza).


Unlike karate, judo and taekwondo, jiu-jitsu or jujutsu is not an Olympic sport. There are two forms: Japanese jujutsu and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The former is much more formal and focuses on formal movements, many of which are taken from Judo, while the latter is more intent on ground fighting and self-defense. Overall, though, the goal of jiu-jitsu is to teach a smaller individual how to defend himself against a larger person.

Traditional beginner jujutso moves include front snap punches na dkicks, side breakfast, forward rolls and escape wrist grabs, front strangles and back strangles. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu techniques involve ground grapping, escapes and take-downs, usually ending on the ground.

Read More: Traditional Jujitsu Vs. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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