American Martial Arts – [made in America!]

The following martial arts have developed in America.  Typically, the Master or creator of the style, has a traditional root martial art which he then develops and adapts to establish a unique American Martial Art. 

American Kenpo

American Kenpo (pronounced Kempo) was founded by Ed Parker (1931 – 1990).  Already a black belt in Judo and a proficient boxer, Ed went on to study under William Chow in Hawaii.

William had studied multiple martial arts, including Kung Fu, and blended them all into his own style focussing on practical fighting techniques.  

Ed earned a black belt from William before moving to California.  In 1956, he started teaching Kenpo Karate, later hosting the Long Beach International – a large martial arts tournament which still runs today.

Ed continually developed his American Kenpo system, restructuring it several times.  He removed many of the Asian words for the techniques and forms and replaced them with English.  He also amended many of the forms he had learned, making more explicit connections with self defense applications.

Because of the continued evolution, there are now many different versions of American Kenpo, depending on when people trained with Ed and what he was teaching at the time.  Ed did not name a successor and he encouraged his students to adopt those techniques that worked for them.

American Kempo contains many of the techniques familiar in other styles: kicks, punches, elbow and knee strikes, joint locks and throws.  

One of the principles is personalization – everyone should develop their own fighting style that is suitable for them.

American Martial Arts
Ed Parker demonstrating a technique


American Tang Soo Do

The origins of this martial art were established in Korea.

Shortly after the Japanese left Korea in 1945,  nine martial arts schools or kwans were established in Korea.  Each kwan was practicing its own particular fighting style.  This included Master Hwang Kee’s school – Moo Duk Kwan.

As well as exposure to Korea’s own traditional martial arts, Master Hwang Kee had spent time outside of Korea in China where he had worked on the railway and whilst there had practiced kung fu. When he returned to Korea in 1937, he also studied books on Okinawan karate at his local library.  

In 1960, Master Hwang Kee registered the Korean Soo Bahk Do (Tang Soo Do)  Association. 

From 1958 to 1961, Chuck Norris was stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea and whilst there studied Tang Soo Do, and was awarded a black belt.   On his return to America, he also studied traditional Shotokan Karate, American Kenpo and Hapkido. 

 This melting pot of martial arts would become American Tang Soo Do and in 1973, Chuck created its governing body – the National Tang Soo Do Congress (NTC) and officially broke ties with its Korean counterpart.

The style includes the practice of forms – set sequences of attacking and blocking movements – mainly based on the Korean Tang Soo Do syllabus.

Offensive moves mainly consist of striking and kicking techniques, although many schools have since incorporated grappling into their training.

Chuck’s many students include Priscilla Presley and Steve McQueen.


Chuck Norris System

Having founded  the American Tang Soo Do organisation, in 1990, Chuck went on to establish another style – the Chuck Norris System – formerly known as Chun Kuk Do.

Chuck continued to expand his martial arts knowledge and looked at other styles that would work well with his Tang Soo Do roots.  He incorporated other techniques until it became a unique and separate fighting style.  

Whilst it has techniques from Krav Maga and BJJ, its main focus is on striking and striking from a standing position.

It incorporates Korean style kicking, hand karate techniques, boxing, kickboxing and Machado Jiu Jitsu.

Defenses in the Chuck Norris System


Collegiate wrestling is typically practiced by men at either high school, college or University.  It’s distinct from other styles of wrestling such as Olympic and Greco-Roman wrestling.

One of the distinctions is the difference in scoring: collegiate wrestling rewards control of the opponent on the mat, whereas other styles encourage explosive movements and more risk taking.  Consequently there is less emphasis on throwing techniques.

Rather than relying on dramatic throws, the collegiate wrestler will focus on getting the opponent down on the mat and onto their stomach or side, before moving into a pinning position.  This might be using the shoot technique which can be seen below.

Jordan Burroughs’ Takedowns

In all styles, a match can be won by pinning both shoulders or shoulder blades to the mat.

American wrestling has its origins from multiple roots.  The native Americans practiced various wrestling styles.  The colonists who later settled, also brought with them their own wrestling styles: the Irish and British were particularly fond of wrestling.

The first intercollegiate competition took place in 1903 between Yale and Columbia Universities.


Combat Hapkido

Hapkido descends from the Japanese martial art Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu, the same root martial art as Aikido.  

A Korean by the name of Choi Yong-Sool learned this style whilst living in Japan for 30 years prior to end of WW2.  Following the war, he returned to Korea and set up a dojang (dojo) where he taught his fighting system.

Over time, Hapkido evolved to incorporate strikes, kicks, standing joint locks, throws and pinning techniques.  Choi’s students were responsible for spreading Hapkido around the world. 

Combat Hapkido was established by John Pellegrini in 1990.  John distilled the vast array of Hapkido techniques down into only those that had a self defense application.  The more acrobatic kicks and forms (set patterns of blocking and striking techniques which, traditionally, Hapkido practitioners would have to learn) were removed. 

Gone to was the use of weapons that were unlikely to be carried in modern society such as the sword.

In addition to refining the traditional Hapkido syllabus, Combat Hapkido also incorporate self defense techniques from various styles including Silat and Western boxing.  It also features grappling techniques from various styles.

John Pellegrini demonstrating a wrist lock



Yoshiaki Fujiwara and Masami Soranaka were instrumental in the development of this style of fighting in Japan.

Both trained in Thai Kickboxing and Wrestling, under Karl Gotch.

When the two were training at a kickboxing gym, they chose to grapple with their opponents.  Fujiwara was able to shoot in and take them to the ground with relative ease.   

They then went to the wrestling gym and used strikes and kicks against the wrestlers.  Essentially they had exposed the weaknesses of these two styles – strikers didn’t know how to deal with grapplers and vice versa.

Combining kickboxing and wrestling became a recognised combat sport in Japan and is now the third most popular spectator sport after baseball and sumo.  

This style of fighting was formally established in the US by Bart Vale, a champion of Japanese professional wrestling, who returned to the US to teach his own hybrid martial arts style.  He coined the term Shootfighting to describe it.  

It incorporates the Muay Thai and wrestling he had learned in Japan, together with karate and kickboxing.

Bart went on to found the Shootfighting Association to promote the style. 

Perhaps its most famous proponent is Ken Shamrock who entered the first UFC contest using this style.

Shootfighting matches are held inside a standard boxing.  Competitors can punch to the body, but not the head, although open hand shots are allowed.  Headbutts and any type of throw or takedown is permitted. It’s also legal to hit an opponent on the floor.

Bart Vale vs Ken Shamrock

Small Circle JuJitsu

This martial art was established by Wally Jay who had originally studied Danzan-ryū jujutsu in Hawaii under Professor Henry “Seishiro” Okazaki – the first person to teach Judo and Jujitsu to any American regardless of race, gender or age.  

Danzan-ryū jujutsu very much focuses on throwing techniques but is much more geared to self defense than judo. 

Wally had also studied judo under the Hawaiian Judo Champion, Ken Kawachi.  

Wally developed many of the techniques he had learned to develop his own system – Small Circle JuJitsuBruce Lee himself, was also a student of this system.

Many of the restraining techniques are focussed on the hands and employs hand and finger locks.  With these locks the opponent can be controlled and subdued.

One of the defining features of this art is the way that different locks can be sequenced to create a series of flowing techniques. 

The idea is using the minimum amount of pain to being able to control an aggressive opponent.  Many of the techniques have been adopted by air marshall and law enforcement officers.


Other honorable mentions:


The following styles have also been established in America: