Martial Arts Styles

By November 25, 2019 November 27th, 2019 No Comments
martial arts styles

There are over 170 documented martial arts styles. No doubt there are many more, that range from well-known styles such as karate to lesser-known unique arts such as Zulu Stick Fighting, a South African-based weapon-based martial art.  In this blog, however, we review some of the more popular styles taught in the United States to provide a short description and some of the perceived strengths and limitations.  This list is meant to help newcomers understand the differences between particular martial arts in order that they might achieve particular goals. Admittedly, we are biased in favor of American Kenpo Karate, as that is what we practice.  Having said that, because Kenpo is eclectic (it draws from other styles), we definitely see the value of other arts.  As with any such list, skill and ability will typically make up for limitations….and well….sometimes a limitation may end up becoming a strength….as you will read below:


American Kenpo Karate is an eclectic or hybrid art that utilizes explosive offensive and defensive strategies for a variety of attacks: punches, kicks, grabs, chokes, locks, combinations, hugs, and tackles.  It is often called a scientific street fighting or modern-day street fighting art. It is both self-defense and combat focused as American Kenpo Karate anticipates primary, secondary, and tertiary attacks to help practitioners develop and formulate strategies based on real life situations.

Pros: comprehensive system identifies categories of attack and many defensive/offensive techniques, uses different body parts as weapons, weapons training with knives, sticks, and staff, gun disarm techniques, includes grappling, striking, throws, takedowns, practical streetfighting tools, doesn’t require high level of athleticism, inclusive to different body styles, based on concepts and principles that help you formulate new techniques.

Cons: mastery of curriculum requires long term and consistent commitment, complex



Originating in Thailand in medieval times, Muay Thai uses elbows, knees and forceful kicking techniques. MMA fighters often train in this art to be able to take advantage of the powerful striking techniques at close and mid-range. Click here if you would like to learn about the differences between Muay Thai and Kickboxing.

Pros: conditioning, strengthening, effective striking methods, techniques for standing, balance and coordination, clench work, self-offense oriented.

Cons: hard on the joints, difficult for older practitioners at the competitive level, few self-defense techniques, little grappling.


Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling art focused on take-downs and throws.  Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) specializes in ground fighting using submission techniques and escapes.  BJJ became popular in the 1990s.

Pros: thousands of techniques and counters, develops problem-solving, physical exercise, physical restraint techniques, sparring for realism, persistence, resilience, larger body size not required.

Cons: difficult to learn (very cerebral), does not include punches or kicks, requires significant commitment on a weekly and long-term basis.


Karate styles originated 1400 years ago in Daruma, India, and evolved in China and on the islands of Okinawa, Japan. In general, karate styles focus on strikes with punches, hands, elbows, knees, and kicks. Some of the major styles include Goju-Ryu, Kyokushin, Shito-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu, Shotokan and Wado-Ryu.  For the 1st time, Kata will be included as a sport in the 2020 Olympics.

Pros: build muscle mass, strength, flexibility, coordination, reflexes, strong striking, development of footwork.

Cons: point-sparring  does not use all of the karate techniques/weapons and may neglect the self-defense aspect, criteria for evaluation and advancement differ between the styles, has no groundwork or grappling.


Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that uses kicks, punches and strikes.  It is best known for it’s impressive, high, and powerful kicks.  Taekwondo is an Olympic sport.

Pros: forceful kicks, balance, footwork, range control, vigorous, athletic, offensive strategies, power generation
Cons: practicality and realism, don’t focus on self-defense, high stances are generally weaker, needs more boxing, geared toward the fit and flexible


Aikido is a Japanese art where the goal is to redirect an attack away from you. The art uses grabs, strikes, pins, joint locks, throws.

Pros: provides defensive strategies against weapons, control of self and others, restraint techniques, neutralizing techniques, coordination and balance techniques, not physically exhausting, many ages and body times can learn well.

Cons: takes many years to learn, few offensive strategies, reacting to opponent’s move rather than your own strategy.


Kung Fu is a Chinese Martial Art that uses kicking, hand and arm strikes. Some Kung Fu styles also use traditional weapons such as swords, staffs, and spears.

Pros: structured training methods, self-defense strategies, well-developed basics, strike combinations, unorthodox training, weapons training

Cons:  very traditional, little ground-fighting


Similar to Kenpo, Krav Maga is an eclectic art that uses strikes, kicks, grappling, and a variety of self defense techniques. This Israel-developed art focuses on winning in “real life” combat. Developed in the early 1930’s as a defense against anti-Semitic gangs, this system focuses on life-threatening situations.

Pros: focuses on self-protection and self-defense, some basic third-party protection, realism, uses basic offense of stick, knife and gun techniques, mixes strikes with some grappling, you can learn the system relatively quickly

Cons: no kata, little ground fighting, many techniques

  • JUDO

Originating from Japan in the 1880s, Judo focused on grappling, joint locks, chokes and throws and is a modern-day updated version of Jiujutsu. Judo is considered a parent to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Pros: teaches break falls, realism and practicality with resisting opponents, amazing workout, one of few combat sports

Cons: requires flexibility, resistant opponents– injury is inevitable, very close-body practice required, not recommended for older newcomers, not easy to find a training facility, little striking


From Okinawa, Japan, Shotokan is a style of karate that is traditional and has 3 basic components: basics, kata, and sparring.  There is an emphasis on slower, deliberate, flowing motions.

Pros: katas teach important information, balance between kicks, strikes, throws, and blocks, can be offensive and defensive, helps develop power, can be both combative and sport oriented.

Cons: little ground/grappling work, traditional