Japanese Martial Arts: List and Explanations

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The number ofJapanese martial arts practitioners continues to grow.

These combat sports do not only improve the physical condition of its followers. They also teach:

  • the art of living
  • self-confidence
  • humility
  • respect for others

Between Japanese martial arts with sword, judo or karate, there are many styles of martial arts. Each of them is practiced according to a distinct philosophy and principles.

What are the Japanese martial arts?

Martial arts are a part of Japanese culture. Originally, they were a way for Buddhists to preserve their physical abilities. But today, they are part of everyday life for people all over the world.

Among the most popular are:

  • Judo Judo: A popular Olympic sport, judo uses many holds to take down the opponent and keep him on the ground. Beyond the technical performance, the mental aspect is highly sought after in this combat sport.
  • Karate Karate is a very old self-defense sport. He uses striking and protection techniques with his bare hands. In this branch of martial arts, strength and skill are essential to fight, but the mind remains predominant.
  • Kendo Introduced to Japan in the 7th century, kendo is one of the most widely taught disciplines in Japanese public schools. This sport is practiced with bamboo swords, called shinai, and protective armor called b┼Źgu. It can be defined as the art of handling the sword.
  • Aikido This is a complete system of throwing techniques, sword and staff handling, striking, etc. Aikido thus combines several techniques to fight the opponent. It is a very effective self-defense sport. It is also considered a way of personal development and mental strength.

  • The ugly : derived from the training techniques of the samuraiIn order to create the most beautiful and beautiful pieces, the laido requires a great mastery and a flawless precision. During the Bushi period, it was considered the art of drawing the sword and cutting. Later on, this martial art took on a more spiritual dimension, linked to self-control.
  • Kyudo This martial art consists in handling particularly long bows with an asymmetrical shape. He teaches the techniques and principles of traditional archery.
  • The sumo Sumo is probably the oldest martial art in Japan. Moreover, it is intimately linked to the culture of the country. This wrestling match pits big men, wearing a huge thong, against each other. The fighters confront each other in a clay circle, and they must not leave the circle or touch the ground with anything other than their feet.

Judo: the Japanese martial art of flexibility

Modern and very technical martial art, judo is a sport oriented towards defense. It is played according to moral rules and precise techniques.

The moral code in judo

Judo is above all intended to forge the body and mind of the fighters. Judokas learn strong moral values that they commit to respect.

  • Politeness is respect for others
  • Courage is doing what is right
  • Sincerity is expressing yourself without disguising your thoughts
  • Honor is being true to your word
  • Modesty is talking about oneself without pride
  • Respect, without respect no trust can be born
  • Self-control is knowing how to keep your mouth shut when your anger rises
  • Friendship is the purest and strongest of human feelings

The respect of the opponent is therefore essential in judo.

Judo Illustration

The belt and the ranks in judo

In judo, the belt reflects the experience, maturity and combat efficiency of the judoka. In order of evolution, there are white, yellow, orange, green, blue, and brown belts. As far as two-colored belts are concerned, we find the white-yellow, yellow-orange, orange-green, and green-blue belts.

Then comes the prestigious black belt, followed by two higher belts, the red and white belt from 6th to 8th dan and the red belt from 9th to 10th dan.

To reach the next level, you must:

  • or compete
  • or take a kata exam before an official regional or national jury

Judo equipment

Judo is practiced on a tatami: a rigid mat designed to absorb shocks. Judokas are dressed in judogis, also known as kimono. Made of cotton or cotton/polyester composite, they traditionally come in a white color, but are now available in other colors. This allows to differentiate the fighters during a competition. The judogi consists of a jacket and pants.

Fighting techniques in judo

In judo, the fighting techniques are numerous. These include:

  • Throwing techniques: they consist of throwing the opponent off balance by making him fall forward, backward, or to the side.
  • The techniques of domination: they aim at immobilizing the opponent in order to dominate him.
  • Sacrifice techniques: this involves sacrificing one’s balance to make one’s opponent fall.

Karate: a popular Japanese martial art

As one of the oldest martial arts, karate builds character through discipline and training. More and more popular, this combat sport has made its appearance at the Olympic Games in 2020, in Tokyo.

The codes of honor of karate

Much more than a simple combat sport, karate can be considered as a true art of living. It teaches mastery of the body and mind, and is based on many principles:

  • Respect
  • Sincerity
  • The honor
  • The courage
  • Loyalty
  • Self-control
  • Goodness and kindness
  • Modesty and humility
  • The rightness

Belts and ranks in karate

Karate illustration


As in judo, the belt allows to evaluate the level and the evolution of the karate practitioners. From beginner to senior, there are different colors of belts, starting with the white belt for novices. Then come the yellow, orange, green, blue, brown and black belts. But depending on the school and the style of karate, there may be other colors, and the order of the belt colors may vary.

Karate equipment

Karate uses various protective and fighting equipment. The uniform worn is called the karategi: made of cotton or polyester, its style can vary according to the karate practiced.

It consists of a jacket and pants, and can have loose or tight sleeves. During competitions, in contact karate, wearing a helmet is mandatory. In this same type of karate, the mouth guard and the shell are also essential: they allow to protect the sensitive parts of the body.

Karate fighting techniques

There is an incredible variety of fighting techniques in karate. These vary according to the school and the style of karate being discussed. In any case, blocking is essential in karate: there are several blocking techniques, used to unbalance the opponent, and then attack him.

In karate, the whole body can be used as a weapon: fists, elbows, feet, knees. Karatekas can also use several positions.

Kendo: a Japanese martial art for swordsmanship

Taught in the Japanese school curriculum, kendo can also be referred to as the art of swordplay. This martial art is based on a simple concept: building character through the application of sword principles.

The basic principles of Kendo

Similar to fencing, kendo is a Japanese Japanese martial art , whose principle is based on a perfect association between :

  • The will
  • The determination
  • The correct placement of the sword during the attack
  • A flawless body posture

During a competition, the hits are only valid if they are

  • If they are worn with determination
  • The shinai is correctly oriented
  • The posture is correct.

This philosophy allows practitioners to cultivate a vigorous spirit, to maintain the values of courtesy and honor, and to always strive for self-improvement.

Grades in Kendo

The grading system in Kendo is expressed through the Kyu grades. The Kyu range from the 6th to the 1st Kyu, which is the equivalent of the white belt to the brown belt in other Japanese martial arts. Also, unlike other disciples, the belts (the big Kyu) are not physically worn.

The attribution of a Kyu grade is done during a grading session which takes place at the club level. Candidates must then show their skills in front of a jury, through the execution of various exercises that are asked of them.

Kendo illustration

Kendo Equipment

In Kendo, the uniform consists of two specific parts: the Keikogi (a jacket) and the Hakama (underneath the trouser skirt). During a kendo training or competition, the participants wear:

  • a jacket
  • wide pants
  • a breastplate
  • gloves
  • a mask
  • protection of the stomach and hips
  • a shinai

Kendo sessions are usually held in a dojo.

Kendo fighting techniques

Kendo uses different techniques to fight opponents. We find:

  • Techniques initiated by the fighter
  • Techniques used to defend against the opponent’s attacks

Among the techniques initiated by the fighter, we find the consecutive attacks, and the technique Debana Waza . This consists of striking at the moment the opponent intends to execute an attack.

Aikido: a Japanese martial art of self defense and stress control

Created in the 1920s, aikido can be considered as the art of energy harmony. In this martial art of JapanIt is indeed essential to channel one’s energy, strength and the movement of the partner.

Moral codes in aikido

Aikido aims above all to achieve perfect self-control, ensuring the balanced development of the body. The self-control in all circumstances is of paramount importance in aikido. In addition to this self-control, different moral codes are also practiced:

  • The honor
  • Loyalty
  • The courage
  • Loyalty
  • The rightness
  • Respect and politeness
  • Modesty and humility
  • Goodness and kindness

Every aikidoka has therefore the duty to imbibe these principles in order to be a good example.

The ranks and belts in aikido

Like other forms of martial arts, aikido has grades to evaluate the performance and combat level of its practitioners. However, there are only two colors of belts in this sport: the white belt and the black belt.

In reality, the progression of aikidoka is evaluated by the Kyu grades. Beginners have the 6th Kyu, and as they progress, they move to the 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st Kyu. When they are Kyu graders, they wear the white belt.

But once they have passed the first Kyu, they are then evaluated through the dan grade. In this case, they move on to the black belt. They first have the 1st dan, then the 2nd, and so on.

Aikido illustration

Aikido equipment

In aikido, the training garment used is made of heavy cotton with rice grain pattern. It is designed to allow for a tear-free grip. Knee pads are also important protective equipment.

As far as combat equipment is concerned, we can mention:

  • the jo
  • a large stick
  • the bokken

The hakama is also mandatory for practitioners from the first Kyu. It is a wide pant originally worn by the samurai.

Techniques used in aikido

All the techniques used in aikido are designed to control the opponent, and to throw or immobilize him. These are numerous, but the basic techniques include empty-handed attacks and front-to-back falls. Each level uses specific techniques. The higher the level of the practitioner, the more complex the techniques taught are.