Best Martial Arts in the World List

Unarmed combat is as old as mankind itself and much of human civilization has been born out of conflict and war.  It’s therefore unsurprising that a variety of fighting styles have emerged in different parts of the world over the centuries.   In this article we’ve put together a best martial arts in the world list so that you can see the full range of styles that exist.


The Best Martial Arts in the World List


The name consists of three parts: “Tae” meaning “to stomp, trample”; “kwon” which translates as “fist” and “do” which means “way”.

After the Second World War, the foundations of Taekwondo were established by Korean martial artists who had studied under  Japanese rule.  It incorporates a combination of Karate, Chinese martial arts and fighting styles indigenous to Korea.

In 2000, Taekwondo became an official medal event at the Olympic games in Sydney.

The style emphasizes a variety of kicks and incorporates narrow stances to facilitate improved agility.

Most schools focus on the following areas:

Forms  These are set movements patterns consisting of blocks, kicks and stance training.

Sparring – individuals spar against each other scoring points for each successful strike

Breaking – to demonstrate correct technique, Taekwondo practitioners breaks bricks, tiles and wooden squares.



Muay Thai

This is the combat sport of Thailand and comprises of kicks, knees, elbows and various clinching techniques.

It originates from the mid-16th century and was popularised by Nai Khanomtom who was captured in 1767 in one of the battles between the Burmese of the Konbaung Dynasty and Siam.  The Burmese provided Nai with the opportunity to fight for his freedom.  He subsequently won and returned home a hero.  His fighting style was known as Siamese-Style boxing which was later known as Muay Thai.

Related Article: Why is Muay Thai so dangerous?

The style consists of the following components:

Kicks – like Taekwondo, this style uses a lot of kicks but instead of the foot, contact is usually made with the shin which is strengthened from the repeated striking of heavy bags and pads.

Punches – the style has now been cross-fertilized with the full range of Western boxing techniques plus back fists and hammer strikes

Elbows – considered one of the most dangerous forms of attack, it can be used in a variety of ways including downwards, upwards, as well as diagonally.  Backward spinning and flying elbows are particularly devastating.

Knees – the style also incorporates a range of knee strikes which can be deployed either at close range in a clinch or from a distance in the form of a flying knee strike.

The four different attacking methods have led to Muay Thai being referred to as the “Art of the Eight Limbs”.



Karate originates from the Japanese island of Okinawa and is a blend of the indigenous fight styles of the Ryukyu Islands, called “te” meaning “hand, and Chinese martial arts, especially Fujian White Crane.

It’s growth is attributed to Gichin Funakoshi who, in 1922, was invited by the Japanese Ministry of Education to demonstrate the techniques of the style.  By 1932, most major universities in Japan had karate clubs.  At around this time, the name karate, or “empty hand” was formally adopted to signify a desire by the Japanese to mark a step change away from its Chinese roots.  Okinawa became a US military base after the Second World War and karate became popular with the service personnel based there.

The style consists of punches, kicks, elbow strikes and various open handed techniques, such as palm-heel strikes, knife-hands and spear-hands.

Training consists of:

Kihon –  this consists of prearranged drills between pairs or groups of karateka.

Kata – these are sequences of pre-arranged movements consisting of defensive and offences techniques and stances

Kumite – this literally means “the meeting of hands” and entails free style sparring between two karateka.


Kung Fu

Kung Fu is the umbrella term used in the West to describe a multitude of Chinese fighting styles that have developed over the centuries.  The earliest references to Chinese martial arts are found in manuscripts dating the 5th century BC.  Over time it has become entwined with philosophical influences most noticeably Daoism.

The Shaolin style, taught and practiced at the Shaolin Monastery, is widely seen as one of the first systematized martial art.  It’s oldest reference is from 728 AD which recounts the defense of the Shaolin Monastery from bandits in approximately 610 AD.

There are a large number of distinctive styles: some mimic animal movements, come focus on competition whilst others are concerned with the harnessing of qi.  They can also be categorized by their location:  Northern styles focus on acrobatic kicks and speed;  Southern styles focus on rooted stances and powerful arm techniques.  Wing Chun is an example of a Southern Style.

The focus of training for most styles is on:

Stances – these are very important in the Chinese martial arts and practitioners will spend time building up endurance and strength in static stances.

Qi / Ch’i – many styles focus on harnessing this internal energy or “life force”.  Many of the breaking techniques of the Shaolin monks is attributed to the use and focus of this energy.

Weapons Training – once the basics have been learned, many styles incorporate  training in a variety of weapons.

Forms – these are predetermined sequences of movements and are used to drill correct technique, develop co-ordination and endurance.


Silat is the generic term for indigenous fighting styles originating in Indonesia. Folklore states that it was created by a woman called Rama Sukana who saw a tiger attacking a large bird.  By imitating the animals movements, it is said she was able to fend of an attacking group of drunken men.

Today there exist over 150 styles of Silat but all incorporate kicks, strikes and grappling techniques, albeit with a different emphasis on each element.

Training involves mastering the following aspects:

Stances – one of the most basic stances is the horse stance, which is especially good for developing the leg muscles.

Jurus – these are predetermined sequences of techniques designed to condition the body as well as drill the correct movement patterns.

Weapons – the style also incorporates weapons training usually involving various forms types knives.



Hopefully the Best Martial Arts in the World List has provided you with a useful insight into some of the amazing martial arts out there.


Happy training!


Related Article:

Explore Martial Arts Styles: Your Guide