4 Styles of Japanese Martial Arts

Modern styles of self-defense and competitive fighting owe a large debt of gratitude to the various Japanese martial arts styles. Except for the Chinese martial arts, known collectively as Kung Fu, it is the highly formalized forms of Japanese martial arts that dominate action movies and neighborhood gymnasiums. 

The four most common styles of Japanese martial arts are​ Aikido, Iaido, Judo, and Karate. A brief introduction to each follows. 

Men practicing aikido martial arts
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Morihei Ueshiba sought a style of fighting that was peaceful in nature. We're talking about true self-defense, the kind that emphasizes holds instead of strikes and using an opponent's aggression against them rather than being the aggressor.

His goal was to create a form of martial arts that allowed practitioners to protect themselves without seriously harming the attacker. The martial arts style of Aikido that he founded during the 1920s and 1930s is just that. 

There is a strong spiritual aspect to Aikido, as it is based on neo-Shinto philosophy and practice. 

Some Famous Aikido Practitioners

  • Morihei Ueshiba: The founder of the martial arts style of aikido.
  • Steven Seagal: Seagal is one of most famous martial arts movie actors of all-time.
  • Kisshomaru Ueshiba: The third child of Morihei Ueshiba, Kisshomaru became the international leader of aikido when his father died.
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Boy holding a Iaido sword, drawn with both hands.
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Between the years 1546 to 1621, a man by the name of Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto Shigenobu lived in what is now considered the Kanagawa prefecture of Japan. Shigenobu is the man credited with formulating and establishing the exclusive art of Japanese sword fighting that is known today as Iaido.

Because of its potential for injury, Iaido is usually demonstrated in solo performances. Like most Japanese martial arts, Iaido is steeped in religious philosphy—in this case, Confucianism, Zen, and Taoism. Iaido is sometimes called "Zen in motion."  More »

Judo players fighting
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Judo is a popular martial arts style that originated in 1882,  and Olympic sport with a relatively recent history. The term judo translates as "the gentle way." It is a competitive martial art, with the goal of either throwing or taking an opponent to the ground, immobilizing him with a pin, or forcing him to submit with a hold. Striking blows are used only rarely.

Famous Judo Practitioners

Jigoro Kano: The founder of judo, Kano brought the art to the masses and his efforts eventually got it recognized as an Olympic sport.

Gene LeBell: LeBell is a former American judo champion, author of many judo books, stunt performer, and professional wrestler. 

Hidehiko Yoshida: A Japanese judo gold medalist (1992) and well-known MMA fighter. Yoshida is known for wearing his gi into matches and for his terrific throws, toughness, and submissions. More »

Men and women in martial arts class
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Karate is primarily a striking martial art that emerged on the island of Okinawa as an adaptation of Chinese fighting styles. It is a very old fighting style with origins dating to the 14th century, when China and Okinawa established trade relations and Chinese martial arts were absorbed.

There are numerous karate styles being practiced today all over the world, making it one of the most popular fighting styles in existence.

Some Japanese Karate Substyles

Budokan: A style of karate that emanated from Malaysia.

Goju-Ryu: Goju-ryu emphasizes inside fighting and simple, rather than flashy, strikes.

Kyokushin: Though founder Mas Oyama was born in Korea, the fact that nearly all of his training took place in Japan makes this a Japanese style. Kyokushin is a full contact type of fighting.

Shotokan: Shotokan emphasizes the use of the hip with strikes and blocks. Lyoto Machida has recently put this style on the map in the competitive world of MMA. More »