Deadliest Martial Arts Styles Practiced Around the World (Part 1)
Martial arts are traditions of combat styles and sports that are practiced for numerous reasons- self-defense, military training, mental and spiritual development, entertainment as well as a hobby. There are diverse types of martial arts that originated in different parts of the world. Most martial arts styles and practices originated in Asian countries such as China, Japan, Korea, India and other South-east Asian countries from as early as 4000 years ago. Although the term “martial arts” is often associated with the arts and styles developed in these countries, it was originally used to refer to combat systems of Europe from the 1550s. The term “martial arts” is derived from Latin and means ‘art of Mars’, the Roman God of War. Today, a diverse range of styles have developed in all parts of the world that differ in techniques taught (armed vs unarmed), type of combat (grappling vs striking; stand-up vs ground fighting) and application (self-defense, meditation, physical fitness, choreography or combat sport).
“I see martial arts as moving forms of meditation. When you’re sparring or drilling techniques, you can’t think of anything else.”
In this article, we will look at some of the deadliest martial arts styles from around the world with the prime focus being on combat and self-defense. While you may not necessarily require them in your daily life, it’s always a good idea to learn them and be prepared. Plus, martial arts have various physical and mental benefits- stronger & healthier bodies, improved balance, enhanced endurance, better self-confidence & self-discipline and mental toughness.
Types of Martial Arts Styles
Shaolin Kung Fu (China)
Origin: Shaolin Kung Fu is among the oldest styles of Chinese martial arts, which originated in the Buddhist Shaolin Temple in Henan province, China. The Shaolin Temple was built in 495 AD and the first monk to preach Buddhism there was an Indian monk named Buddhabhadra. Bodhidharma, another Indian monk and founder of Dhyana Buddhism, came to Shaolin in 527 AD and although, there are popular stories that consider him to be the founder of Kung Fu, these claims remain unconfirmed.
Features & characteristics: Practiced by monks in the Shaolin Temple, the basic skills of Shaolin Kung Fu are primarily focused on stamina, flexibility, endurance and balance. It embodies the ancient Chinese belief of “the unity of human and nature” and features moves that fit the natural human body structure. Founded on punches and kicks, the Shaolin style is characterized by striking with lightning speed and immense power.
Muay Thai (Thailand)
Origin: Muay Thai is a combat martial art style that originated in Thailand around the 16th century. As the story goes, during the battle between Burma and Siam (now Thailand), a fighter named Nai Khanomtom was captured by the Burmese. He was famous for his expertise in hand-to-hand combat and the Burmese gave him a chance to fight for his freedom. As you’d expect, he won the match and returned to Siam, where he was hailed as a hero. His fighting style came to be known as Muay Thai and was soon recognized as a national sport.
Features & characteristics: Called the “Art of Eight Limbs” or “Science of Eight Limbs”, Muay Thai makes use of punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes. The standout characteristic of Muay Thai is its combination of stand-up striking and clinching (holding your opponent) techniques to cause a take-down or throw. The “Throwing Buffalo Punch” is so effective that it can take down a buffalo in a single blow! In addition to being used as a means of attack and self-defense, Muay Thai is also used as a form of physical exercise and recreation.
Origin: Kalaripayattu, one of the oldest martial art styles in the world, originated in India- primarily in Kerala and southern parts of Tamil Nadu. There’s no clear knowledge of who created it although local myths attribute its creator to Lord Shiva, Sage Agastya or Parashurama, sixth avatar of Lord Vishnu. It had developed into its current form by 6th century during the years of war between Chera and Chola dynasties. The extended warfare helped fighters refine the art into a potent martial art form.
Features & characteristics: Kalaripayattu means ‘Practice in the arts of the battlefield’. It features kicks, strikes, grappling, weaponry and healing methods. The techniques used are a combination of footwork patterns and postures inspired by animals. There are primarily 2 regional variants- Northern Kalaripayattu is based on flexible movements, jumps, evasions and weapon training while Southern Kalaripayattu is based on empty-hand fighting and pressure point strikes.
Krav Maga (Israel)
Origin: Krav Maga (meaning ‘contact-combat’) is a self-defense system developed for the Israeli Defense forces. Its origin lies in the street-fighting skills developed by its creator- a martial artist named Imi Lichtenfeld. He used his training in boxing and wrestling to develop these skills and used them to defend Jews against fascist groups in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. In late 1940s, he migrated to Israel and started giving lessons in combat training, which developed into Krav Maga.
Features & characteristics: Although not a traditional martial art style, Krav Maga has a wide combination of techniques sourced from judo, aikido, boxing and wrestling. Its prime focus is on real-world situations and its philosophy is based on simultaneous defensive and offensive aggression as well as threat neutralization. Although Krav Maga encourages avoiding confrontation, if that’s not possible, it focuses on finishing a fight as quickly as possible. It is known for its efficient and brutal counter-attacks that can severely injure or kill an opponent.
Origin: Ninjutsu is a system of martial arts and tactics developed primarily for espionage, guerrilla and unconventional warfare. It was created and practiced by the shinobi (more commonly known as ninja). The first usage of Ninjutsu is during a military campaign in the Genpei War (1180-1185), but rose to prominence during the Segoku period (1467-1603), also known as the ‘Warring States period’. It is believed that Ninjutsu was developed in Koka and the Iga province in Japan.
Features & characteristics: Ninjutsu was primarily developed as a collection of survival techniques and involves training in free running, disguise, escape, concealment, archery and medicine. Ninjutsu techniques encompass kicking, grappling, striking and empty-hand combat. It also emphasizes use of tools and weapons such as swords, spears, daggers, darts and weighted chains.