Martial Arts do - the long way of the fighting styles


In fights, several techniques are employed using punches, kicks, locks, grappling and throws. In ground fighting, the body weight also allows control the opponent.

These techniques used in martial arts are based on various concepts (leverage, balance, vital points) with the goal of helping to defeat a stronger opponent.

It is worth mentioning that several of the leading masters (Jigoro Kano, Morihei Ueshiba, Gichin Funakoshi, Hélio and Carlos Gracie) were rather weak, short, sickly teenagers. What led them to create their styles to compensate for the lack of a strong physical constitution.


Prior to the application of any technique (either attack or defense), it is necessary to build up force through the application of stances. Force is in the balance and in the movement as someone doesn´t fight in a static position. Proper stances allow the fighter for strong, effortless movements and prepare him for the next movement to make.

Some stances categories:

  • High or low
    This varies according to the bend in the knees. Low stances allow greater delivery of power through the body to both arms and legs, while high stances permit more mobility and quicker repositions.
  • Long or short
    This varies according to the distance from the lead foot to the rear foot. Most stances are approximately as wide as the shoulders. Short stances allow greater agility while long stances enable greater stability.
  • Open or closed
    This varies according to the lateral distance between the lead and rear foot. Open stances are more stable than closed stances, but can leave one vulnerable to groin attacks and expose a larger portion of the body to an opponent.
  • Weighted or unweighted
    In an unweighted stance, half of one's bodyweight is on each foot, unlike unweighted stances which place most of body weight on either the rear or the lead foot. Forward-weighted stances allow stronger punches and kicks while backward-weighted stances are defensive moves.

The bent knee should not extend beyond the toes in order to avoid injury.

Many Japanese or Korean martial arts use the "front stance", where the forward leg is bent at the knee, and the rear leg straight, while the hips and shoulders remain squarely facing forward.

The "horse stance", commonly used in Chinese martial arts, is a wide low stance, legs to the side, used to build up the back.


The practitioner holds the opponent with his hands or his arms (clinch) at a very short distance in order to control his movements. Wrestling is a form of fighting style that uses a lot of clinch holds. Vulnerable points, like the wrist and arm joints, allow to master someone.

Greco-Roman Wrestling
Greco-Roman Wrestling.

Throws and takedowns

Takedowns occur when the opponent is off-balance and taken to the ground. During throws, he is off-balance and thrown to the ground.

Throws and take downs can be performed by intensifying the imbalance until the adversary falls, or applying leverage using legs, feet, hips or shoulders against an off-balance opponent.

These techniques favor short people with low weight because their center of gravity lies below that of their opponents (In a upright position, the body's center of gravity may be located near the navel, slightly below or above, depending on the person´s stature).

They should be done using the opponent's own impetus. If resisting, the practitioner seeks first to unbalance his opponent by pushing or pulling him. When the adversary tries to change the direction of force, he will lose his balance. Applying a blow also helps trigger an imbalance.

Osotogari: one of the original throws of Judo.
Osotogari: one of the original throws of Judo.

Joint locks

Usually applied to fights on the ground, these techniques require a long learning period to be used efficiently.

Locks techniques manipulate joints (on elbows, knees, fingers) beyond their normal range of motion in order to cause pain to the opponent and may even cause injuries if forced beyond a certain point.

They are usually used to immobilize or submit a person. As in throws and takedowns, blows can also be used to confuse the opponent before the use of a lock. In ground fighting, the body position can be used as a lever, which allows minimize the force required to force a joint.

Application of nikyo omote in Aikido.
Application of nikyo omote in Aikido.
Photo: Christelle Fillonneau/Wikimedia Commons


Grappling holds applying a pressure on the neck, in order to to leave the opponent unconscious. Pressure can be done on the trachea, on the carotid arteries located on both sides of the neck, or on a ganglion nerve.


It is the use of any part of the body (leg, foot, fist, elbow, knee) to hit the opponent. Striking techniques are executed at longer distances and favor high and far-reaching people.

Different parts of the arms, legs, hands and feet are used as natural weapons. The fist blows can be circular or linear, done with a closed or open hand.

Striking techniques are trained with the help of a punching bag (particularly a heavy bag), a makiwara (especially in Karate), punch mitts (padded targets attached to a glove), shields and pads (thick targets worn on the partner's forearms or held in both arms).

There is need for protective items such as gloves, mouthpad and bandages wrapped around the hands and wrists.

During a strike, the potential energy of the body is converted into kinetic energy, which is transmitted to the opponent through the impact zone. Kinetic energy is a combination of weight and speed, where speed is more important. If the weight of the punching arm or kicking leg doubles, the striking energy is also doubled, but if their speed is doubled, the power of the blow is multiplied by four (because it was increased to the square).

If the amount of kinetic energy is concentrated in a small area (fingertip, side of the hand), the impact will be much more intense. In a wider contact area (open hand), the force of an attack is dispersed.

The target must be hit without reducing the momentum prior to the impact. People have the natural instinct to decrease the momentum because of fear of hurting the foot or fist. One should continue the trajectory to a point beyond the target.

Vital areas (genitals, knee, neck) can be targeted in case of self-defense. Various styles of martial arts developed techniques of attacks on pressure points, areas on the human body that may produce significant pain or other effects when hit or manipulated in a specific manner.

  1 - Punches

The rotation of the torso works as a lever, allowing a greater efficiency and potency of the punches, as it transfers force from the legs to the arms.

The faster the fist is withdrawn after a strong punch, the deeper its penetrating power will be. A punch thrown fast with the lowest possible contact with the impact area of the target (where the force of impact bounces the fist back immediately) transfers a maximum of energy from the movement of the body weight to the opponent. This is the "snapping punch", where the fist must be tightened with force only during the impact.

A punch can be done with a quick turn of the waist, stretching the leg backward and throwing the body forward.

Another method (used in Chinese martial arts) is to establish a connection to all parts of the body, propelling it like a spring. This elasticity propels the hand forward like an arrow: the fist is thrown forward, while the body goes back (like a bullet leaving a gun).

Uppercut in Boxing.
Uppercut in Boxing.

 2 - Kicks

Blows that involve the legs, knees or feet. Legs are slower and less mobile than arms, and their use temporarily affects the balance. However, they have a longer range and are stronger.

Three kinds of kicks can be distinguished:

  • Waist kick
    The leg and body form a straight line.
  • Whip kick
    The knee joint opens and closes very quickly, following a curvilinear trajectory.
  • Circular kick
    The entire leg rotates from the waist, describing a circular motion.

Kicks can be directed forward, sideways or backward, by targeting any part of the body.

A kick can be performed during a jump, when the body is suspended in the air. Perhaps the most difficult one to execute is the jump back leg round kick.

 3 - Head

The head can also be used to strike within a very short distance.

Use of kicks in Taekwondo
Use of kicks in Taekwondo.


They consist in using the arms or the legs to defend or deflect a blow.

The block can be followed by a counter-attack, preferably on the side of the opponent. This counter-attack can be simultaneously performed with another body part, or with the same arm that defends. The legs are usually used to block kicks, especially if low areas of the body are targeted.

Evading attacks

Evasion techniques are also practiced to avoid any kind of strikes (by crouching down, moving up, down or sideways). Someone never should remain static in order to avoid to become a potential target. The goal is to evade the attack, not the attacker, and to end up in an advantageous position to apply a counter.

Tai sabaki designs a set of circular corporal movement techniques used in Japanese martial arts to step away from the line of attack.

Footwork is extremely useful to apply evasion (and also attack) techniques. Many martial artists or masters have practiced dance to improve their footwork skills. One must learn not linear displacements only, but also circular and triangular moves.


Almost all older martial arts used weapons in their origin, as in a war the knowledge of close combat only is not enough to defeat enemies.

Various martial arts still use classical weapons.

Some specialize in a particular kind of weapon. Kendo and Kenjutsu wield swords (as bokken or katana), Kyudo practices the bow and Kali deals with sticks and knives.

Others like Ninjutsu and Kobudo use a greater variety of weapons: saber, sai, tonfa and bo (long staff). Ninjutsu has a very large range of weapons, as throwing weapons (shuriken category) and weapons of distraction effects.

Many Chinese styles, as some Japanese styles like Aikido, use some weapons for better development in combat.

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