The History and Evolution of Martial Arts

In the modern world, there are a number of forms and adaptations of martial arts. Many of the original arts evolved from Asia, but in some instances it’s difficult to track the evolution of their origins due to lack of historical records.

If you want to learn more about the most popular new and old martial arts, take a look at our interactive Infographic, which contains plenty of facts, stats and information.


Grappling, full-contact, throws, takedowns, submit by choke or lock or subdue by pin.

Founded: 1882 by Jigoro Kano

Origin: Japan

Parent Arts: Brazilian JiuJitsu, Kosen Judo, Sambo

Famous Judo Fighters:

  • Anton Geesink (Dutch)
  • Karen Briggs (English)
  • Kosei Inoue (Japanese)

Interesting Judo Facts:

  1. Judo is the most widely practiced martial art in the world.
  2. In 1964 it was made an official Olympic sport.
  3. Judeo translates to “gentle way” because it relies on technique and not strength.

Ju Jitsu

Grappling, close combat, use of either a short weapon or no weapon at all, joint locks, throws, pins, immobilising.

Founded: 1600

Origin: Japan

Parent Arts: Sambo, Aikido, Bartisu, Hapkido

Famous Jiu Jitsu Fighters:

  • Seishiro Okazaki (Japanese)
  • Wally Jay (Hawaiian)
  • Takeda Sokaku (Japanese)

Interesting Ju Jitsu Facts:

  1. Ju Jitsu translates to “the gentle art” or “the gentle technique”.
  2. Themartial art focuses on turning an opponent’s strength and energy against them.
  3. Ju Jitsu used to be a secret, only revealed to the soldier class of Japan.


Striking art which focuses on punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes and open-hand techniques.

Founded: 1938 by Gichin Funakoshi

Origin: Ryukyu Kingdom

Parent Arts: Indigenous marital arts of Ryukyu Islands, Chinese Martial Arts.

Famous Fighters:

  • Shigeru Egami (Japanese)
  • Shoshin Nagamine (Japanese)
  • Arakaki Seisho (Japanese)

Interesting Karate Facts:

  1. Karate means “empty hand” due to its rapid, close-combat fighting style.
  2. There are currently around 23 million people involved in karate around the world.
  3. THe shortest profesional fighter, Naoko Omuro, is only 4’9″ tall.


Descended from swordsmanship and uses bamboo swords (Shinai) and body protection, known as bogu.

Founded: 1711

Origin: Japan

Parent Arts: Kenjutsu

Famous Fighters:

  • Takasugi Shinsaku (Japanese)
  • Nagamuna Shirozaemon Kunisato (Japanese)
  • Yamada Heizaemon Mitsunori (Japanese)

Interesting Facts:

  1. Bamboo swords (shinai) were introduced into the art at the end of the 18th century.
  2. World Kendo championships take place once every three years.
  3. Kendo translates to the “way of the sword” and the art is similar to fencing.

Krav Maga

Self-defence system that combines techniques from a host of other martial arts, including striking, grappling and wrestling.

Founded: 1930 by Imi Lichenfeld.

Origin: Israel

Parent Arts: Western Boxing, Hapkido, Judo & Kapap

Famous Fighters:

  • Yaron Lichtenfeld (Israeli)
  • Eli Avikzar (Moroccan)
  • Roy Elghanayan (Israeli)

Interesting Facts:

  1. Krav Maga is used by the Israeli Defense Forces and special units.
  2. The term translate directly as “contact combat”.
  3. It has been learnt by celebrities including Jason Statham and Tom Cruise for films.

MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)

Full-contact combat sport which includes strikes and grappling techniques when standing and on the ground.

Founded: 1900

Origin: Greece

Parent Arts: N/A

Famous Fighters:

  • Georges St Pierre (Canadian)
  • Anderson Da Silva (Brazilian)
  • Fedor Emelianenko (Ukrainian)

Interesting Facts:

  1. Rounds are five minutes long and there are three to five rounds in total.
  2. There are 25 listed fouls in MMA, including head butting and join manipulation.
  3. The martial art has eight weight class divisions.

Muay Thai

Combat and full-contact sport, using stand-up striking, clinching, fists, kicks, elbows, knees and shins.

Founded: 1500

Origin: Thailand

Parent Arts: Muay Boran, Krabi Krabong

Famous Fighters:

  • Ramon Dekkers (Dutch)
  • Tony Jaa (Thai)
  • Gino Carano (American)

Interesting Facts:

  1. The professional Muay Thai league is governed by the World Muay Thai Council.
  2. Muay Thai is known as the “Art of Eight Limbs” as it involves all parts of the body.
  3. A practitioner of Muay Thai is referred to a Nak Muay.


Full and medium-contact martial art with heavy emphasis on kicks and striking, which can include sweeps and throws.

Founded: 1940

Origin: Korea

Parent Arts: Taekkyeon, Subak

Famous Fighters:

  • Choi Hong Hi (Korean)
  • Nam Tae Hi (Korean)
  • Jhoon Goo Rhee (Korean)

Interesting Facts:

  1. In 2000 Taekwondo became an Olympic Sport.
  2. Taekwondo is used by the South Korean military for training purposes.
  3. There are six belts in Taekwondo – White, Yellow, Green, Blue, Red & Black.


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