Japanese Martial Arts: A Comprehensive Guide

Japanese Martial Arts

Many of the world’s best martial arts were developed and practiced within Japan. Many martial artists often want to know how many Japanese martial arts exist.

That’s why we’ve put together a comprehensive list of the most known Japanese martial arts. Below is a list of the most known martial arts from the land of the Rising Sun in alphabetical order with descriptions for each style.

How Many Japanese Martial Arts Are There?

Around fifteen or more prominent Japanese martial arts have been created over history. Numerous subgenres of styles came from these eighteen styles, which would be quite a feat to list.

You can break down the styles of Japanese martial arts in five different categories.

  • Weapon-Based Martial Art
  • Grappling
  • Striking
  • Horsemanship
  • An Infusion of Two or More of these Styles


Aikido is a non-aggressive martial art that focuses on redirecting an opponent’s energy and using it against them. This martial art uses various counter throws and joint locks against an attacking opponent.

This Japanese martial art was created by Morihei Ueshiba, who synthesized various styles of jujutsu together to make Aikido. It gained international popularity throughout the 20th century. Gradually being introduced and taught in numerous countries worldwide.

It is still practiced today, although many of the techniques have been proven ineffective against more modern fighting styles.



The art of Judo is one of the world’s most practiced Japanese martial arts. It was developed by Grandmaster Jigoro Kano, who studied various styles of jujutsu.

Through his training, Kano developed an effective grappling style that he would call Judo. A self-defense style, where you leverage and timing is used to throw/ sweep an opponent. Taking them to the mat and controlling them from on top.

Judo is considered one of the world’s most effective Japanese martial arts. This martial art is also responsible for the development of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

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Jujutsu (Japanese Jiu-Jitsu)

Jujustu is a blanket term that defines a wide variety of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu styles. There are hundreds of subgenres of JJJ that have been created.

They consist of numerous aspects of grappling, like throws, submissions, and controlling position. Modern Jujutsu (Japanese Jiu-Jitsu) resembles Brazilian Jiu-Jitu, taking elements from all previous JJJ styles.

If you practice BJJ, you do many of the same techniques that are done in modern JJJ. Some of the best Japanese MMA stars in the world are high-level Japanese Jiu-Jitsu practitioners.


Iaido, or “Way of Drawing the Sword,” focuses on the art of quickly and efficiently drawing your sword. Drawing your sword as precisely and fast as possible to execute cutting techniques.

This is an ancient weapon art that was practiced for centuries within Japan. Samurais and soldiers were constantly at war and had to be effective with a blade. They would practice this art for hours every day.

In modern times, we don’t use swords as much, but Iaido is still widely practiced in Japan. Iaido practitioners are keeping this part of Japanese culture alive by continuing to practice this weapon art.


Karate is one of the most known Japanese martial arts. When people think of Japanese martial arts, Karate is always one of the first styles brought up.

The striking art of Karate was developed in the early 20th century by numerous Japanese martial arts masters. It was created based on an Okinawan fighting style with influences from Chinese Kung Fu.

Karate consists of various punches, kicks, knees, and other open-handed techniques. It’s one of the world’s most practiced martial arts, with numerous sub-styles derived from the style.


Kempo or Kenpo, like Karate, is a blanket term that’s used for several types of striking martial arts. This Japanese martial art combines the techniques of traditional Japanese martial arts and Chinese martial arts.

The term Kenpo is translated to “Ken,” meaning fist, and “Po,” meaning way. Put together, they translate to the way of the fist.

Like Karate, a wide variety of styles of Kempo/Kenpo are practiced worldwide. Each style practices various techniques, but all use Kenpo/Kempo in their names.

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One of the most known weapon-based Japanese martial arts is the art of Kendo. A popular weapon-based martial art that means “Way of the Sword.”

Practitioners use bamboo swords called “shinais” and practice sword fighting with full body armor. It is practiced to emphasize the development of your spirit as you learn proper sword-fighting techniques.

Kendo is still widely practiced in Japan, with many practitioners continuing to keep the art alive.



Kenjutsu is another sword-based Japanese martial art that is practiced with a real katana. The art of Kenjutsu consists of practicing numerous techniques and katas alone.

Going through methodical movements for hours a day as they strive to perfect their technique. Many practitioners of Kenjitsu also practiced the sparring art of Kendo. Learning to put their Kenjutsu techniques into action in real sparring matches.


Kyodo is one of the archery styles of Japanese martial arts that was developed centuries ago. The word Kyudo translates to the “way of the bow” and is one of the best archery styles in the world.

The practice of Kyudo emphasizes a meditative and spiritual approach to shooting an area. Learning to stay calm and keep a proper breathing pattern as you focus on hitting your target.

Kyodo archers are among the best archers in the world, with numerous demonstrations with millions of views.


Naginatajutsu is a weapon-based Japanese martial art that practices techniques using a naginata. A long bo-staff that has a curved blade on the end of it.

Practitioners learn thrusting, sweeping, and striking techniques while learning to keep at long range. Historically, women have been the best Naginatajutsu practitioners, as you can see from the video above. They have the perfect body types to perform naginata techniques.


Another one of the most known Japanese martial arts is the art of Ninjutsu. A historical martial art that is associated with the skills and tactics that were said to be used by ninjas.

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Some of the tactics included stealth, espionage, unconventional combat methods, and what some describe as dark techniques. Ninjas were said to have adapted from anti-weapon laws that were implemented by Japanese shogun warlords.

This would lead some rebels to dawn black close and go on secret missions, like assassinations. There are also many fake Ninjutsu artists, as we described in our list of the biggest fake martial artists in history


Sumo is one of the oldest Japanese martial arts in the history of the nation. It’s a style of wrestling, two wrestlers sit in a circular ring with two goals in mind.

Either pushing their opponent out of the ring or taking them off their feet. It’s one of the world’s most respected Japanese martial arts, with a loyal fanbase.

In Japan, a top sumo athlete is treated like a star in the same way Lionel Messi or Jon Jones is treated. Revered and respected by all.


Sojutsu is a weapon-based Japanese martial art of spear fighting. Students of Sojutsu practiced various stances, thrusts, and defenses using a long staff with a metal-bladed end called a “ yari.”

This was one of the weapon-based martial arts that soldiers and samurais practiced. Modern-day Sojutsu practitioners even practice traditional samurai armor, as shown in the video above. Depicting how a samurai would fight with the long-bladed staff.


The unique Japanese martial art known as Taido has its own style. Taido consists of various attacks either hidden within or mixed into flying acrobatic movements.

It also incorporates elements of dance into the teachings, which many consider it Japan’s version of Capoeira. This martial art emphasizes blending fluid and dynamic movements for self-defense and personal development.


Yabusame is another form of Japanese archery that has been practiced for centuries. In this style of archery, students learn to shoot arrows while riding horseback.

Practitioners aim to hit various targets as they zoom past them at high-speed on a horse. If you’ve seen any movie or anime where samurais are shooting arrows while riding a horse, you’ve seen Yabusame.