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How many different types of martial arts are there? The sheer volume of martial arts is so vast that to cover each one would take an insane amount of volumes. However, most martial arts are a subset of a “parental system” and examining the parental system may prove easier and more concise.


Of all the types of martial arts, karate are probably the most well known as it is the most prevalent in terms of the operation of commercial schools. Karate is a generic term that means “empty hand” and there are a great variety of karate systems that originated from Okinawa and later spread to other lands where indigenous forms of karate were developed. Japan, Korea and the United States are the primary realm of these alternate systems of karate and their interpretations of the system have proven quite popular.

Kung Fu

Of all the types of martial arts in existence, kung fu remains second only to karate in popularity and, like karate, there is no system known as “kung fu.” Kung Fu (aka Gung Fu) means ‘great effort’ and can refer to a multitude of Chinese self defense systems that number in the hundreds each with their own goals and focus.


Kickboxing is a wildly popular sport around the world and there are many different types of martial arts that specialize in a mix of boxing and kicking. In Thailand the art of Muay Thai is hugely popular and the indigenous kickboxing art of Savate is hugely popular in France. At one time, kickboxing was incredibly popular as a spectator sport in the United States, but the popularity waned in the early 1980’s. Today, in the USA, spectators of kickboxing enjoy the spectacle in the realm of mixed martial arts.


Of all the types of martial arts, grappling arts have become incredibly popular in recent years thanks to the explosion in popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA), but the arts found in MMA are nothing new as they have been around for centuries. Judo, jiu jitsu, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are many centuries old and have experienced a huge resurgence. Additionally, there are a number of other grappling systems (Chin Na, Catch as Catch Can Wrestling, etc) that all have a tremendous amount to offer to those with an open mind towards new systems.

Ultimately, one should find the art that appeals to the most as the basis of learning and then move on to other styles so as to broaden skill and understanding. While this may take many decades, the end result will be worth it in the end.

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