Types of Martial Arts: Ultimate Breakdown of Different Styles

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I still remember the first time watching the Karate Kid as a child. I remember my heart racing and palms sweating, with my eyes glued to the TV screen to soak in all the martial arts action. That’s the moment my passion for martial arts began. However, as a child, I thought that the martial arts were nothing more than karate. The media doesn’t do a great job of portraying just how many martial arts there really are. Then when I developed a serious interest in them, I was almost overwhelmed by the number of radically different disciplines and the colorful history behind them. 

Here, I’ll go through some of the different types of martial arts. There are various martial arts styles, each with their own principals, values, benefits, and shortcomings.



Striking forms, otherwise known as stand-up fighting, include any martial art that is performed while standing. The objective of these types of martial arts is to indispose, block, or injure an opponent by means of hits, rather than a submission.


Some striking styles incorporate other combat forms. For example, clinch fighting (grappling) and kendo (dueling). Karate and kung fu are probably the first to come to mind when thinking of striking style, but this field also includes:

  • Boxing
  • Capoeira
  • Kickboxing
  • Krav Maga
  • Mauy Thai
  • Tae Kwon Do
  • Tai Chi
  • Tang Soo Do


Advantages of Striking Martial Arts

Striking styles (with few exceptions) tend to focus more on mental capacity and skill rather than brute force. Since you primarily use your whole body to perform striking forms, they’re also an effective means of weight loss and fitness.

a woman boxing training on a heavy bag

As skill is more important than weight or size, these are appropriate for most people. Striking forms also include meditative styles (like Tai Chi) which is suitable for all ages and improves mental health, too.


Disadvantages of Striking Martial Arts

Most people take up these types of martial arts with the intention of self-defense. However, they are often unrealistic in real-life situations when self-defense is needed. This is because they are limited in their katas, and could leave you unprepared against opponents who are more versatile (or armed).

Most striking styles entail intensive exercise and could be discouraging to continue with. There is also a risk of injury that is often overlooked—mostly fractures, sprains, and strained joints.

Striking styles also require patience and can be the most difficult to progress in, or to master. They are time-consuming and require dedication and commitment.




Grappling martial arts styles are based on taking your opponents down, and either pinning or forcing them into submission. Grappling styles rarely include strikes or weapons and typically rely on throws, holds, and leverage.


As with striking, the objective of grappling forms is to either incapacitate or injure your opponent. This style includes:

  • Bokh
  • Brazilian jiu-jitsu
  • Catch wrestling
  • Judo
  • Jiu-jitsu
  • Sambo
  • Sumo
  • Western wrestling


Advantages of Grappling Martial Arts

Realistically, grappling forms are generally much more effective when it comes to self-defense. Unlike striking forms—which involve moves most people can mimic on instinct—grappling styles give you the upper hand if your opponent is inexperienced. This emphasis on technique means one can compete comfortably against someone much bigger, heavier, and physically stronger.

two people in gi training brazilian jiujitsu on a mat

Even more so than striking, grappling does not require specialized equipment. Because of this, it’s often a more affordable option. It improves fitness and could also assist with building muscle.


Disadvantages of Grappling Martial Arts

Grappling leaves you at a disadvantage if you’re fighting multiple opponents. Although it is effective, it is not the perfect means of self-defense and could work against you in a life or death situation.

Grappling can place a lot of strain on your body, and you are at risk of various (and serious) injuries. You are also more likely to injure your hands when partaking in grappling styles.



Instrument Focused (Weapons-Based)

Instrument-focused or weapons-based martial arts use weapons to strike, rather than open-handed combat. They are similar to striking forms in that they are most commonly performed standing up and rarely incorporate throws or grapples.

Instrument-focused martial arts can also be used alongside open-handed techniques to supplement specific fighting styles.

Weapons vary, but include melee, ranged or projectile, flexible, and defensive weapons. Blades and staves (or similar) are popular choices. Weapon styles include:

  • Bojutsu
  • Fencing
  • Gatka
  • Kali
  • Kendo
  • Zulu stick fighting


Advantages of Instrument-Based Martial Arts

Weapons based martial arts can have many positive effects on you. They improve your hand-eye coordination and balance, can heighten your senses, and increase your speed and agility. Since many of them are striking styles as well, you will reap the health and fitness benefits, too.

two people training kendo in full safety gear

Thanks to the modern safety equipment worn during training, one could argue there is also a lessened risk of serious injury for beginners.


Disadvantages of Instrument-Based Martial Arts

Since tools are needed, weapons-based martial arts will cost you extra—and the weapons aren’t exactly cheap. Also, depending on the martial arts discipline of your interest, there may be some difficulty locating a gym/class to learn the discipline.

Although it’s less risky in terms of injury, it can be a lot more painful if you don’t have protective gear. Depending on the style, or weapon, it could also be more dangerous.




Many people start off with karate because of its popularity and similarity in the media. However, I hope this article helped you broaden your views on the wide variety of martial arts forms available.

There are so many martial arts styles that fulfill various needs and interest. It’s worth some research so that you can make an informed decision before you dedicate your effort and time.

Also, remember that if none (or many) of these types of martial arts appeal to you, there are hybrid styles (such as MMA) that you can check out as well!

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