Japanese Martial Arts

japanese martial arts

A new school year soon starts and you are looking for a new sport to unwind after a hard day at work? How about getting inspired by Japan and its famous martial arts? 

For centuries, Japanese martial arts have been highly respected in Japan and throughout the world. Somewhere between tradition, combat and spirituality, these martial arts are above all an excellent means of defense for those who practice them.

As both a physical and mental exercise, these sports practices are an integral part of Japanese art and history. Discover judo, karate, aikido, sumo, kendo, kyudo or iaido through this article and find out which discipline is right for you!

Judo, the way of flexibility

judo fight

No need to introduce this Japanese martial art that is very well known abroad.

Derived from Jiu-Jitsu, this sport consists in using different holds to make its opponent fall or to immobilize him/her on the ground. The fighters or judokas wear a white kimono held by a belt whose color varies from white to black in order to indicate the grade. The grades of progression are expressed in DAN, as in most martial arts. In addition to technical performance, the spirit is strongly solicited in this combat sport.

This martial art, invented by Jigoro Kano, appeared in 1882 in order to modernize and transmit the traditional practice of ju-jitsu used by the samurai.

Judo stands for "the way of suppleness" and is reminiscent of the reed that bends to let the snow pass through, while the branches of the cherry trees break under the weight.

Since 1964 this sport is part of the Olympic disciplines.

Karate, a martial art full of surprises

Karate fight

Photo credits: Thao Le Hoang (www.hthaostudio.com)

Originating from the island Okinawa, karate is a rather impressive combat sport. It is also not uncommon to see this martial art in some action movies in the image of the famous Jean-Claude Van Damme. However, far from the stereotypes conveyed by movies, karate is above all a spiritual art.

Karate is an ancient self-defense practice that uses hitting and throwing techniques. In practice, the strikes are stopped before injuring the opponent. Fights are done with bare hands using only the body and mind.

Karatekas learn codified sequences of techniques called KATA as well as basic positions and movements. Although this sport uses strength and dexterity to fight, the mental aspect is predominant.

In Kanji, Kara means " empty " and " Te " means " hands ". Thus, Karate can be translated as "emptiness" (or "the state of what is empty") in a Buddhist sense. This practice originated in Okinawa, an island located between Japan and China.

Created in 1938 by Gichin Funakoshi, Shōtōkan Ryu is the most practiced style of karate with the best representative being the famous master Hirokazu Kanazawa. However, there exist many variations of this martial art. Moreover, karate was once again included in the 2021 Olympic Games.

Aikido, an art of living

aikido fight

Photo credits: @novoselov

As a modern representation of samurai values, aikido is a martial art inspired by Shinto, Zen and Tao philosophy.

This harmless practice mixes several disciplines such as hand-to-hand combat, sword or stick handling, breathing control while developing the faculties of concentration. The ultimate goal is to control your opponent while using your own impulse against him or her. The defense being equal to the attack. In this sport, which combines the use of the arms and immobilization techniques, it is possible to spiritually elevate oneself.

Invented by Morhei Ueshiba around 1925, aikido is inspired by ancient martial arts. Based on principles of peace and harmony, this Japanese art is a non-violent practice where any competition is excluded.

Sumo, a sacred sport in Japan

sumo wrestling

Photo credits: Bob Fisher

Inseparable from Japanese culture, the art of sumo wrestling no longer needs to be presented. This wrestling event that pits two big men wearing short pants against each other is the emblem of the national sport in Japan.

The combatants, also known as sumotoris, compete on a clay ring, using wrestling techniques. The fighters must not leave the ring or touch the ground with anything but their feet. As a general rule, the fatter you are, the better...

Associated to the Shinto religion, sumo is said to originate from ancient rituals that served to honor the gods. Just like jujitsu, sumo was born out of the fight between two kamis (Japanese deities). To this day, wrestlers are still considered gods by the Japanese population.

Kendo, the art of swordplay

Kendo fight

Photo credits:  @basaya

Originating from Kenjustu, Kendo probably is the most ancient among modern Japanese martial arts. This sport, which is based on fencing techniques used by the samurai, is a very popular one in Japan. Kendo is practiced in competition and allows the development of mental strength and determination.

The fighters carry a bamboo sword (the shinay) which they hold with both hands. They are equipped with an armor and protected by a helmet. Also, they use different striking techniques while yelling to symbolize their determination in confrontation.

Kyudo, or the way of the bow


A martial art dating back to the samurai era, Kyudo consists in learning the traditional techniques of archery as well as the spiritual values that surround it.

The one-piece bamboo bow is large and elegant and the material is used with respect and devotion. This very refined discipline is part of the quest for perfection, whether it be in technique or in personal life.

Posture, bow holding, gestures, concentration and precision are practiced while adopting a Zen philosophy. Japan counts many Kyudo competitions each year. This sport, which combines aesthetics with technique and spirituality, is one of the most authentic Japanese martial arts.

Derived from Kyujutsu, or archery practiced by warriors, this discipline has developed particularly much during the Edo era, with the rise of Japanese culture and traditional arts.

Iaido, the quest for unity and self-control


Inspired by the training techniques of the samurai, this martial art, which requires control and total precision, is in full expansion nowadays.

Known as iai-jutsu during the Bushi period, iaido used to be the art of sword drawing and slashing. Later, the discipline took on a more spiritual direction, involving self-control. Iaido is essentially practiced in the form of Kata or codified movements.

This sport is not open to competition and is practiced solo. The blades are either sharp or not depending on the practice and the level of the student. There exist numerous schools of iaido in Japan.

Find your way by selecting a Japanese martial art!

As you may have understood, the notions of respect and humility occupy an important place in Japanese martial arts. The objective of these sports is not only to teach you fighting or defense techniques, but also deep moral values

Today's martial arts are all derived from the fighting practices used by the Samurai many years ago as a way of disciplining their minds.

So, between the flexibility of Judo, the mental strength of Karate, the self-control of Aikido and the perfection of Kyudo, which Japanese martial art is made for you?

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