Japanese Martial Art Styles

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Overview of Japanese Martial Art Styles

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An Overview of Japanese Martial Arts

There is something incredibly mesmerizing about Japanese martial arts – the way the participants move, the stances, the attacks and kicks – it fascinates and interests millions around the world. However, Japanese martial arts isn’t about attacking as many believe; instead it primarily focuses on balance (mentally, spiritually and physically) and then self-defense and attacking.

Karate and Judo are two of the main forms of martial arts that are recognized as from coming from Japan. They have become part of the modern Japanese culture and have spread all throughout the world. It is difficult to find a country somewhere which does not have a Japanese training hall (known as a dojo), training young children to adults. Competitions and events are held all over the world, with Judo becoming a male Olympic sport since 1964 and 1988 for women. According to the Union of Karate-do Federation, more than fifty million people worldwide practice a form of Japanese martial arts.

Development of Ranks
As with most activities, there are ranks to accomplish with all martial arts. Unlike other activity levels, the ranks you achieve are visible to all. Depending on the school or system, you progress from tenth to first, or eighth to first. When you start out, you don a white belt; intermediates wear brown, and advanced users will wear black or black and red belts.

Japanese training styles

Here’s a short list of some of the Japanese martial arts styles. These training styles from Japan are by no means a complete list. Many of these major Japanese styles also have off-shoots and style variations. This list of Japanese martial art styles is only meant as an overview to help get you started in your search for the best martial art style for your own training.

Kyudo “The Way of the Bow”

Kyudo is the oldest out of all Japanese martial arts. The earliest mentioning of Kyudo dates to the 12th century. At this time, the samurai cleans were competing for supremacy and archery was used to overthrow their clans. Kyudo, or “the Way of the Bow”, is considered a spiritual form of Japanese martial arts, where it isn’t just important to hit the target but to release it when the mind is empty.

Kendo “The Way of the Sword”

Kendo, known as Japanese fencing, originates to the early part of the 18th century when training swords made from bamboo and iconic armor (known as bogu) were created to help fencers learn to hit the correct areas. Today, when these areas are hit, the fencer earns points. Fencers are expected to stamp their feet and shout loudly (known as kiai) with each strike.

Judo “The Gentle Way”

Judo was created by Dr Kano Jigoro who, as a teenager, was considered a weakling. As a result, he devoted himself to martial arts in university and eventually created a new type of jujutsu which was classified as Judo in 1884. It became known as The Gentle Way as it uses the strength of your opponent to defeat them; in reality, however, it is quite a rough and ready sport. Judo is a refinement of the ancient martial art of Jujutsu. Modern Judo has been an Olympic sport since 1964. Judo’s main emphasis is gaining control over your opponent to throw or take them off balance.

Karate “The Empty Hand”

The roots of Karate (or The Empty Hand as it is otherwise known) originate back in mainland China and then further developed in Ryukyu before it became annexed as Okinawa. Karate didn’t actually arrive in mainland Japan until the early 1920s. It focuses on self-defense as well as spiritual and mental balance, but does feature many offensive moves at the end of each movement, including punches, kicks and strikes with elbows and knees. Karate involves a variety of techniques, including blocks, strikes, evasions, throws, and joint manipulations. Karate practitioners perform basics, forms or katas, and kumite (sparring). The word karate is a combination of two Japanese characters: kara, meaning empty, and te, meaning hand; representing “the way of the empty hand.”

Aikido “The Way of Harmony”

Aikido is considered the baby out of all the traditional Japanese martial arts. It was developed during the 1920s by Ueshiba Morihei, taking features of kendo and jujutsu and mixing them with lots more spiritual aspects and philosophy. As Aikido uses a lot of punches, students are taught to fall properly first and foremost. Partners are taught how to punch and throw each other using their opponent’s own energy, without causing any damage. Aikido is a Japanese martial art involving throws and joint locks. Aikido doesn’t emphasize punching or kicking opponents, but rather on using their own energy to gain control of them or to throw them. The word Aikido consists of three characters which can be translated as “the way of unity with the fundamental force of the universe.”

Other Japanese Style Martial Arts


Iaido is the art of reacting to a surprise attack by counter attacking with a sword. Mainly performed solo, the Iaido practitioner executes various techniques against single or multiple imaginary opponents. The word characters for Iaido represent “the way of harmonizing ones-self in action.”


Kendo, is the art of Japanese fencing. Kendo practitioners utilize wooden swords (bokken) and bamboo swords (shenai) in their training. Kendo stylists use armor during their sparring sessions with the shenai. Kendo is from the character “ken” or sword, and roughly translates as “the way of the sword.”


Ninjutsu is the ancient Japanese Art of the Ninja. The name Ninjutsu can be roughly translated to art of stealth. Ninjutsu practitioners used a combination of all of the Japanese styles and trickery to gain advantage over their opponents and complete their missions. In addition to exotic weaponry, Ninjutsu practitioners learn disguise, camouflage, and stealth tactics.


Sumo a ritualized ceremonial sport. Grapples, pushes, and slaps are studied in this battle of brute force and weight

There are many other forms of Japanese martial arts but these are the most popular around the world. If you are interested in learning any of them, then talk to someone in a local martial arts training school who can provide you with further information.

By |2018-11-28T15:34:36-08:00December 7th, 2010|Japanese Martial Arts, Martial Arts Training|