Different Types of Martial Arts Part II by Matt Williams

by admin on May 13, 2011

The Deadly Arts Part II

In my last article, The Different Types of Martial Arts, I sought to assess the differences between the major martial arts of the world and what it is that truly sets them apart. After coming up with a basic four-tier system for categorizing them, whether they are internal or external, striking or grappling, I examined six major arts, researched their history, and tried to determine where they fell into that system. And while I thought that those six martial arts were a good starting point, I felt that they simply weren’t enough! One cannot hope to do justice to thousands of years of history and hundreds of cultures with one paper. So, without further ado, here is my second installment on the Deadly Arts!



Aikido is a Japanese martial art that emerged out of the larger practice of Jujutsu during the 1920’s. Much like jujutsu, aikido is a grappling-based martial art that relies on using an opponent’s own strength against them. In addition, it relies on exclusively “soft” techniques: wrist manipulations, joint locks and throws that are designed to disarm and incapacitate an opponent without causing serious injury. Its development is attributed to Morihei Ueshiba, who created it as a synthesis of his own martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs.

Aikido is often translated as “the Way of unifying (with) life energy” or as “the Way of harmonious spirit.” Aikido is performed by blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on. This requires very little physical strength, as the practitioner “leads” the attacker’s momentum using entering and turning movements. The techniques are completed with various throws or joint locks. Today aikido is found all over the world in a number of styles, with broad ranges of interpretation and emphasis. However, they all share techniques learned from Ueshiba and most incorporate a sense of concern for the well-being of the attacker as well as the defender.



  A Brazilian art form that combines elements of dance, music, martial arts, and sport. It traces its origin to the 16th century, when African slaves were first imported to Brazil by the Portuguese. While the exact time and place is subject to dispute, there is little doubt that its roots are African or what its original intent was. Beginning in the Quilombos, free slave communities established in Brazil’s interior, Capeoira was practiced in conjunction with dance and music to disguise its true purpose. This was, quite clearly, to train the freed slaves how to defend themselves against slave traffickers and authorities who came into the interior looking for them. By the 19th century, due to growing urbanization and the increased presence of slaves in the cities, Capoeira was officially suppressed as an art due to growing concerns over street fighting. In fact, in an 1862 police ledger, out of 4,303 arrests made in the city, 404 were arrested for the simple act of practicing Capoeira.

By 1890, the Brazilian government passed a full-scale prohibition against the art. This was due in part to the ongoing problem of inner city violence but also due to the fact that many practitioners had become body guards and mercenaries now that slavery was outlawed. Anyone found practicing it was now subject to arrest and even torture by the police. This, however, did not deter people from maintaining the art. Capoeira maestres continued to practice and even demonstrate the art in public, especially for tourists. In 1932, Maestra Bimba was even granted permission by the municipal government to establish a school in the city of Salvador. In 1940, the ban was officially lifted by the state of Brazil, and by the 1970’s, Capoeira became one of the nation’s biggest exports. Today, the art is recognized internationally and remains an active exporter of Brazilian culture to the world.



Hapkido is a Korean martial art that employs numerous techniques, many of which are borrowed from other forms of fighting. Foremost amongst these are karate, jujutsu and aikido, which had a strong influence on Korean martial arts during the late 19th and early 20th century when Japan was occupying Korea. For this reason, Hapkido is often described as an “eclectic” form of self-defense, incorporating joint locks, throws, pressure point attacks, kicks, punches and other strikes into one system. In addition, a number of traditional weapons are used, including the sword, rope, nunchaku, cane, short stick, and staff which vary in emphasis depending on the style. The art evolved from largely from the teaching of jujutsu and aikido in Korea by Choi Yong-Sool, a martial artist who returned to Korea after World War II after 30 years of living in Japan. This system was later combined with kicking and striking techniques of indigenous and contemporary arts such as taekkyeon and tang soo do (both of which went into the development of modern Tae kwon-Do).

The name is most often translated as “the way of coordinating energy”, “the way of coordinated power” or “the way of harmony”. This depends on the translation of the name. Hap is often translated to mean “ridiculous”, “coordinated”, or “joining”, while Ki describes internal energy, spirit, strength, or power; and Do means “way” or “art”. It is most often translated as “the way of coordinating energy”, “the way of coordinated power”, “ridiculous energy way” or “the way of harmony”, depending on how literal one wants to be. However, the working definition emphasizes the arts harmonious coordination of energy and power into a single discipline.



A controversial and antiquated style, Ninjutsu is an unconventional and even guerilla style of fighting that combines armed and unarmed combat with espionage and escape artistry. It traces it practice to the shinobi, mercenaries and assassins that known in Japan as ninja. And while there are several modern schools that claim to teach Ninjutsu, there is no centralized style or representative body. The name itself combines the word nin (stealth, secrecy, patience) with jutsu (art or technique). The term therefore can be translated as “the art of stealth”.

Ninjutsu was developed by groups of people mainly in the provinces of Iga and Shiga in central Japan during much of Japan’s medieval period. Throughout history the shinobi have been seen as assassins, scouts and spies who were noted for their use of stealth and deception. They became particularly famous during the Edo period of Japan, a period marked by feudal rivalries and political turmoil when ninjas were employed as information gatherers and assassins by all sides. Because these activities were seen as dishonorable, Japanese warlords hired people who existed below Japan’s social classes to perform these tasks, people not bound by the bushido. For these reasons, the ninja were often seen as form of social advancement for women and peasants who had no other opportunities for progression.

In addition to combat training, ninjas were also extensively schooled in the arts of non-detection, avoidance, misdirection, disguise, escape, concealment, and also medicine. In accordance with their skill sets, ninjas were expected make use of swords, spikes, throwing knives, throwing stars, bows, spears, blow darts, smoke and glass grenades, and grappling hooks.  Due to their success, a shroud of mystery began to surround the ninja, with some going so far as to claim that they possessed magical powers that allowed them to go unseen, or strike from the shadows and then disappear!

By the 19th century, the art of Ninjutsu all but disappeared from Japan, due to a combination of social factors and legal pressure. With the end of feudal rivalries, assassins were no sought after, and with the desire to modernize Japan and centralize all authority, the schools were suppressed. In addition, the methods of the ninja fast became obsolete thanks to the development of firearms and modern espionage. Today, there are many schools that claim to teach true Ninjutsu, but these claims are dubious and considered suspect.



Not to be confused with the deplorable racial term, this martial art and combat sport is Russian in origin. The name, in fact, is an acronym which stands for SAMooborona Bez Oruzhiya, which literally translates to “self-defense without weapons”. Beginning in the 1920’s as a form of unarmed combat training for the Red Army, Sambo was a merger of judo, Karate, and many other forms of wrestling adopted from abroad. Since that time, it has gone on to become an international sport and even made a show of itself at the 1980 Summer Olympics held in Moscow.

Its invention is traced to two Russian practitioners of the martial arts: Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov. Oshchepkov spent much of his life in Japan and studied judo under its founder Kano Jigoro, while Spiridonov was a veteran of World War I who specialized in wrestling and self-defense. Both were responsible for bringing their own styles to the fore, Oshchepkov focusing more on “freestyle wrestling” and judo techniques, and Spiridonov focusing more on soft techniques that did not rely on strength. This was due in large part to injuries Spiridonov suffered during the war. In time, the two styles cross-pollinated each other and came to merge. Years later, a student of Oshchepkov named Anatoly Kharlampiev began to teach the combined system and the art of Sambo was born.

In 1938, it was recognized as an official sport by the USSR All-Union Sports Committee. Because of its prevalence in the Russian military, it is often referred to by the more generic term, Systema (the System). However, unlike Systema which can involve weapons and strikes, Sambo is distinct in that it focuses on unarmed combat and predominantly on grappling and takedowns.



Also known as boxe francaise, this martial art is a national sport in France that combines boxing with graceful foot techniques and weapons to accomplish what many refer to simply as “French Kickboxing”. This is due to the fact that, much like Kickboxing, it is different from Muay Thai in that only punches and kicks are permitted in competition and not knees, shins or elbows. The name itself means “old shoe” in French, and is a reference to the fact that practitioners are expected to wear shoes while training.

Savate began as a form of street fighting in Paris and northern France during the 19th century. It was similarly paralleled by forms of fighting amongst sailors in southern France, especially around the port city of Marseilles and neighboring Italy. But while British sailors and street fighters used only their fists in combat – in accordance with the Queensberry rules, kicking considered unsportsmanlike – French sailors relied on kicks and open handed slaps, most-likely to circumvent the law which considered fists to be a weapon. Shoes were also worn to prevent serious injury and with the advent of cloth gloves, French fighters were able to use punches once again, but the rule remained in effect.

Today, savate is practiced all over the world and in spite of its roots, is considered one of the safest contacts sports in existence. Many countries (including the United States) have national federations devoted to promoting Savate and hold competitions. Modern codified savate provides for three levels of competition: assault, pre-combat and combat. Assault requires the competitors to focus on their technique while still making contact; and referees assign penalties for the use of excessive force. Pre-combat allows for full-strength fighting so long as the fighters wear protective gear such as helmets and shinguards. Combat, the most intense level, is the same as pre-combat, but protective gear other than groin protection and mouthguards is prohibited.



  Silat, rather than being a single martial art, is actually a collective word used to refer to the various indigenous martial arts of the Malay Peninsula, Malay Archipelago and South East Asia. Much like Kung Fu, it includes a range of styles that focus either on strikes, joint manipulation, bladed weapons, throws, animal-based techniques, or some combination thereof. Silat is one of the sports included in the Southeast Asian Games and various other region-wide competitions.

Like many ancient martial arts, Silat emerged from a number of indigenous fighting and hunting systems practiced by the natives of Malaysia, Indonesia and South East Asia. In addition, the regions proximity to India and China also allowed for the importation of various fighting techniques, methods, and philosophical belief systems. For example, in addition to Hindu wrestling, which also incorporates thigh-slapping, many forms of Silat were influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism. The southern Chinese were also influence by and played on influence on Silat, practicing their own form known as Kuntao.

It is widely believed that the first forms of Silat were influenced by observing animals, as one myth that comes from Sumatra suggests. Another myth claims that the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, who had a huge influence on the institution of Kung Fu thanks to his visit to the Shaolin monastery, also played a role in the development of Silat. It is said that during while travelling from India to Southeast Asia via the Sumatra-based kingdom of Srivijaya (located on the southern tip of Sumatra), Bodhidharma introduced pre-determined sets (aka. kata, forms, or patterns) as well as the concept of combining spiritual training with fighting techniques. The arrival of immigrants from Okinawan in the 15th century and after due to trade and displacement also brought with them the art of Karate, which was to have a large influence on Silat through the incorporation of largely unarmed fighting techniques.

In time, these various arts came to be practiced by the armed forces of the various kingdoms that dominated the area. With the introduction of Islam, there have also been attempts to move Silat away from its ancestral practices and ancient forms of spiritual worship. This was especially the case during the 1980’s and 90’s when the Islamisation movement began in the region. However, the Hindu-Buddhist and animist roots of the martial art have never been erased and the art remains a potent example of the culture and traditions of the Indonesian, Malaysian and South-East Asian peoples.



  Sumo is a full-contact form of wrestling that was developed in Japan and is considered both a modern sport and an ancient ritual. Over the centuries, its role has changed due to the whims of Japanese rulers or the dictates of history. For example, Sumo has often been used as a form of entertainment in royal courts or as a symbol of affluence, while at other times was relied upon as a training tool during times of civil strife. In any case, the rules and customs have evolved over time, while certain ritualistic aspects have remained static and unchanged.

For example, it is believed that Sumo began as an extension of the Shinto faith. Across Japan, there are many shrines where ritualized dance is carried out, religious practitioners are expected to “wrestle” with a kami (a Shinto divine spirit). In time, it grew to become a form of competition in the royal court where representatives from each province were ordered to attend and participate as a way of fostering a spirit of unity. During the Edo period of Japan (ca. early 17th to late 19th century), Sumo became professionalized and modernized, serving as a form of entertainment but also additional income for samurai and ronin.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the rules for Sumo competition had been refined and regulated with the introduction of a ring. Whereas victory was awarded in old competitions based on who could pin their opponent first, modern Sumo came to rely on a point system whereby competitors scored based on pins, throws, or forcing the opponent outside the ring. However, ancient ritual and ceremony remain very much a part of this modernized, nationalized sport. Before a match, competitors throw heaps salt (an ancient cleansing ritual), rinse their mouths out with water, dress in ceremonial loin cloths, and perform a ritualized dance before the audience (this consists of stamping his feet to drive away evil spirits). Sumo wrestlers are also considered a national symbol in Japan, with athletes living a strict life, often in the seclusion of special training compounds.

Different Kinds of Martial Arts I by Matt Williams


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