Our Ultimate Glossary Of Martial Arts Disciplines

The earliest martial arts disciplines can be traced back to ancient Egypt. So many new forms have surfaced since then that understanding or even remembering the names of most of these disciplines can be difficult.

Whether you’re new to martial arts or want to try out a style you’ve not come across before, we’ve created an ultimate glossary of martial arts disciplines. But a quick word of caution – you might not have heard of all of these…


Aiki Jujitsu

Aiki Jujitsu is a circular, angular and linear Japanese martial art which can be used to deal with attacks with or without weapons. It was founded by Minamoto no Yoshimitsu around 900 years ago and to this day it is the most effective and safest martial art used by law enforcement and security personnel. While it is a more offensive version of Jujitsu and its movements are more circular, like Jujitsu it involves strikes, joint locks, throws and pins.

Did you know? Translated into English, Aiki Jujitsu means “the art of pliancy, using harmonious spirit”.



Aikido is another very commonly practised, modern martial art that was founded in Tokyo the 1920s. Like Aiki Jujitsu, Aikido is founded on harmony – blending with an attack and absorbing the attacking power to redirect the attack into powerful joint locks or projections. Unlike Jujitsu, Aikido requires endurance, flexibility and controlled relaxation.

Did you know? Aikido is the only martial art allowed in the US federal prison system.


Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Created by the legendary martial artists and brothers Carlos and Helo Gracie in the early 20th century, Brazilian JiuJitsu is a form of self-defence which is based on grappling and ground fighting. It focuses on the skill of controlling one’s opponent through submission techniques such as joint locks, chokes and strangles. The fundamental principle of this discipline is to enable a smaller, weaker practitioner to use leverage, grip and position to overcome a bigger and stronger opponent.


Did you know? Mel Gibson was taught Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu techniques, which he used in the Lethal Weapon films.



This is an umbrella term that encompasses the traditional Japanese martial arts disciplines such as Kenjutsu, SoJutsu and JoJutsu. Bujutsu translates as “martial art”, “military science”, or “military strategy” depending on context, and is often used when referring to martial arts for real world or battlefield situations.

Did you know? Bujutsu came into fashion during the Medieval period and can be traced back to the thirteenth century.


Pronounced “cap-wearer”, this discipline is an Afro-Brazilian martial art form of self-defence which utilises acrobatics, dancing, music and song. It is believed that Capoeira was first created during the 16th century, by slaves who were transported from West Africa to Brazil by Portuguese colonists.

Did you know? In the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, wizards from the Durmstrang school practise Capoeira moves.



Hapkido is regarded as being the “anti-martial art”, in that it emphasises deflecting an opponent’s attacks instead of forceful blocking. Developed in Korea in the mid-20th century, Hapkido adds striking and punching to joint-locks, throws and grappling, making it one of the original Mixed Martial Arts.

Did you know? Many of the fictional character Batman’s moves are based on the principles of Hapkido!



Iaido (pronounced “ee-eye-do”) is the art of drawing a Japanese sword from its scabbard to gain an advantage over your opponent. It goes back 500 years and is one of several styles of Budo, which means “way of war”.

Did you know? Iaido is still practised by thousands of people to this day, using a real sword with a blunt edge known as an iaito.


Jeet Kune Do

Jeet Kune Do, often abbreviated as JKD, is a hybrid form of martial arts which was founded by Bruce Lee in 1967. Although Lee did not like to refer to Jeet Kune Do as a style, it has a clear system which fuses elements of Kung Fu, fencing and boxing. Translated, “jeet” means to intercept or to stop, “kune” is the fist and “do” is the way, i.e. the way of the intercepting fist.

Did you know? Unlike other martial arts styles, which only incorporate one or two ranges of combat, Jeet Kune Do utilises four – kicking, punching, trapping and grappling.



Judo was created by Jigori Kano in Japan in the late 19th century and is usually translated to “the gentle way”. Although it’s a relatively modern martial art, Judo has been an Olympic sport for more than 50 years. It’s a descendant of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is primarily a throwing style of martial art where the objective is to take down an opponent.

Did you know? A Judo referee will stop the game by shouting the word “Matte” and start the contest by shouting “Hajime”.



This martial art consists of joint locks, throwing, grappling and striking techniques. Jujutsu means “the gentle art”, and it is also known as Ju-Jitsu or Jiu-Jitsu in many Western countries. Jujutsu soared in popularity during the late 19th century, when Japan forbade carrying a sword in everyday life.

Did you know? The earliest recordings of the techniques used in Jujutsu were made in 711 AD.



Like Jujutsu, Karate is among the most popular forms of martial arts. It was first introduced by Gichin Funakoshi in 1921 and is predominantly a striking art which incorporates punching, kicking and open-hand techniques such as knife-hands and palm-heel strikes. The word “Karate” means the “empty hand” or the “Chinese hand”, and it got its name through its rapid use of hands and legs.

Did you know? Karate will become an Olympic sport for the first time at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.



Kendo is a traditional Japanese martial art which translates into English as “way of the sword”.  It rose to prominence during the Nara period in the late 8th century and is a martial arts version of fencing which involves the use of bamboo swords (shinai) and protective armour (bōgu). The goal of Kendo is to act with a “full spirit” – it’s therefore one of the noisier martial arts!

Did you know? From 1970 to 2006, Japan had never lost a World Kendo Championship in any of the four divisions (Women’s Team, Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles) until the Men’s Team lost to the USA in a narrow defeat.


Krav Maga

Krav Maga is a hand-to-hand self-defence and combat system which was developed for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and security forces (Shin Bet and Mossad). Developed by Hungarian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld in the late 1930s, it emphasises aggressive and simultaneous attack and defence. Common moves include attacks to the eyes, neck and throat.

Did you know? Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have all practised Krav Maga in preparation for acting roles.


Kung Fu

Kung Fu is arguably the most mainstream of all the martial arts. However, most Kung Fu styles use a wider range of techniques than Karate systems. It might also surprise you to learn that, traditionally Kung Fu is not a martial art at all. Translated, it means “acquired skill”, which can refer to skills achieved through hard work, strength and ability. It is believed that monks at the Shaolin Temple in Henan province, China, first practiced Kung Fu in the 6th century.

Did you know? Contrary to popular belief that Kung Fu was created by a Chinese practitioner, its founder was a Buddhist monk from India named Bodhidharma.



Kyudo, meaning “way of the bow”, is the Japanese martial art of archery, which has been around since prehistoric times in Japan. For most practitioners, Kyudo is an art and not a sport, and an archer’s attitude and dignity are more important than hitting the target. Considered one of the more dangerous martial arts, it is generally not taught to practitioners aged under 15.

Did you know? More than 100,000 people practising Kyudo in Japan alone, and just under half of these practitioners are women.


Muay Thai

Developed from around the mid-18th century onwards, the ancient martial art of Muay Thai is known for its stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques. Often referred to as the “Art of Eight Limbs”, Muay Thai includes striking with punches, elbows, knees and kicks, as well as grappling from the standing position. However, grappling on the ground is not permitted.

Did you know? Legendary martial artist Bruce Lee drew inspiration from Muay Thai and is credited with pioneering modern-day Mixed Martial Arts.



Ninjutsu is a Japanese martial art which was originally used in espionage. Very little is known about its history, but the first documented practise of Ninjutsu took place during the Genpei War between 1180 and 1185. It places particular emphasis on mental discipline, physical conditioning, armed and unarmed combat and, historically, concealment.

Did you know? Togakure-ryū is reportedly the oldest recorded form of Ninjutsu and was founded in 1162.



Although it was developed during the 1940s in Korea, Taekwondo’s roots stretch back more than 2,000 years. The term ‘Taekwondo’ literally translates to “the way of the foot and the fist”, as it includes head-height kicks, jumping and spinning kicks and fast kicking techniques. Taekwondo is so popular that today it is practised by 60 million people in 184 countries.

Did you know? Taekwondo has been featured in movies featuring famous actors such as Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris.


Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a slow-moving, meditative form of Chinese martial art that began a few thousand years ago. It uses the Taoist principles of Yin and Yang to develop a healthy body and tranquil mind and is believed to have been created by a Taoist monk in the 12th century.

Did you know? Research has shown that Tai Chi boosts the brain and memory as efficiently as serious mental exercises and strenuous aerobic exercise.


If you’re practicing or instructing any of the above disciplines, you need martial arts insurance to cover yourself in the event of an accident or injury.

At Insure4Sport, we provide Personal Accident cover if you suffer an injury while practising martial arts and require physiotherapy, as well as Loss of Earnings cover if you are unable to work because of your injuries.

We also offer Public Liability for martial arts practitioners in case a claim is made against you for injury to another person or property damage.


Whether you’re practising or instructing Tai Chi, Kung Fu or one of the many other martial arts listed here, get an instant online quote with us today.  

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