Japanese Martial Arts

What are the Japanese martial arts?

Many people often confuse Japanese, Chinese, and Western martial arts. If one is not familiar with the subject, it is quite normal to mix up the brushes.

Of course, I will not list all Japanese martial arts (because there are many of them), but I will give you a brief description of the main disciplines, the ones that are the most widespread.

Most common disciplines

Ju-jitsu: Today, practiced in many forms (sports oriented self-defense). Ju-jitsu is probably the most complete martial art that exists (it includes forms of striking, throwing, immobilization and submission).

Judo: Martial art very recognized worldwide for its effectiveness and educational sense. Judo mainly groups together techniques of projection, immobilization and submission.

Karate: Originally from the island of Okinawa (a Japanese archipelago), karate includes all forms of strikes taking into account some mowing and joint keys.

Aikido : Practiced without competition, aikido is based on the principle of using the opponent’s strength. One will learn how to neutralize the aggressiveness of an attacker.

Sumo: Considered the national sport in Japan, sumo is a form of wrestling where the fight is won only when the opponent falls to the ground or goes beyond the limitations.

Ninjutsu: A very complete fighting style, where from the original practices one learns spying, climbing and many other disciplines. Ninjutsu is originally a derivative of ju-jitsu.

Kendo: Martial art of sword fighting. Kendo also exists today in the form of competition.

Origin of Asian martial arts

The origin of martial arts outside of Japan would go back 2 or 3 thousand years ago. According to the legend, Asian martial arts would come from an Indian monk: Bodhidharma.

Bodhidharma would have taught a defense system to the shaolin monks, who would have developed a martial art that became more commonly known as kung-fu.

Forms of kung-fu would have been transmitted to Japan by Doctor Akiyama, thus ju-jitsu would have been born.

All these stories are not historically verified, what we can be sure of, however, is that combat systems were developed and taught to the Chinese and Japanese military forces. Combat systems that could already be described as a martial art.

Ju-jitsu: the mother art

Japanese Jujitsu should not be confused with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is an art practiced mainly on the ground. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gave birth to MMA.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is derived from (traditional) Japanese Ju-Jitsu, as are Judo, Karate and Aikido.

Jujitsu is said to have been conceptualized by Dr. Akiyama who, after a trip to China, would have transcribed in Japan the kung-fu techniques he had seen. However, Jujitsu remains historically the martial art taught to Samurai during the 17th century. Wearing armor required specific techniques to bring one’s opponent to the ground and neutralize him when unarmed. This system of combat thus existed well before the episode of Doctor Akiyama.

Jujitsu is therefore the art of the samurai. It is called the mother art because it has allowed all modern and popular disciplines to develop.

A little bit of ethics

There are some notions of morality that are similar or close to all Japanese martial arts. For example the wearing of the kimono, the graduation of belts, the salute (ritsu rei), the dojo, tatamis, etc.

Training is done in a dojo, and the “master” of the discipline is greeted when entering the tatami (mat). At the beginning and end of a lesson, a salute ceremony is necessary to mentally condition oneself to train and leave training. Before any martial action, one salutes one’s opponent.

The notion of respect and modesty is particularly pronounced in Japanese martial arts. A code of life is to be followed when one is on the tatami.

Birth of popular martial arts


A martial art created in 1882 by Jigoro Kano. Judo is a physical, mental and moral pedagogical system. Judo is probably the most popular martial art in the world, it quickly became, beyond the martial art is a competitive sport and an Olympic sport.

Judo means way of suppleness (Ju = suppleness) (Do = way), in relation to ju-jitsu (Ju = suppleness) (Jitsu = technique).

Jigoro Kano is originally a practitioner of ju-jitsu. But he saw in this art a lot of very dangerous techniques not adapted to the present time. He was also inspired by western gymnastic methods to create a more uniform martial art with an emphasis on projections. Of course, one always learns about immobilizations, joint keys and chokes. But the orientation of the art was specified on the ground.


The cradle of Karate is on the island of Okinawa. It is here that the very first forms of Karate would have developed. Historically, one cannot deny a Chinese influence on the development of the percussion techniques that make up Karate, nor those of Jujitsu (the art of samurai).

Karate was therefore developed for defense only using the body’s natural weapons, such as hands, elbows, knees, and feet.

In 1922, Gichin Funakoshi, originally from Okinawa, decided to settle in Japan and teach Karate. He standardized his discipline and created a teaching structure that would allow an exceptional popularization of Karate-Do (empty hand).


The main goal of aikido is to neutralize violence. We will try to neutralize the strength and aggressiveness of the opponent with the help of often circular movements in order to create a centrifugal force that will allow, with the help of an imbalance, to neutralize his opponent.

Aikido was founded by Morihei Ueshiba. He studied sumo, ju-jitsu and, among other things, bayonet fighting during his time in the army. Morihei was basically a weak, but very skilled person. He therefore found ways to use the inertial force of an opponent against him.

Between 1925 and 1969, Morihei Ueshiba was involved in founding and developing aikido in Japan. But it was in 1940 that aikido was officially recognized.


What is important to remember is that Japanese martial arts have their origin in the bare-handed training of samurai. Then several schools appeared as a result of this.

It is at the beginning of the 20th century that Jigoro Kano, Gichin Funakoshi and Morihei Ueshiba allowed the creation and popularization of martial arts such as judo, karate and aikido (essentially from ju-jitsu, the mother art).

Japanese martial arts are therefore a very interesting compendium of ethics, moral values, martial techniques and sports that put the body to hard work.