Martial arts have a rich and diverse history that makes them popular all over the world. With so many different fighting forms available, it makes you wonder what are the most popular martial arts in the world today? That’s what I’m here to find out.
All these martial arts have a massive following, whether that’s with those who participate or those who just like to watch. This list has a combination of martial arts that have a long history, along with others that are much more recent. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
- 10 Most Popular Martial Arts
- Most Popular Martial Arts – FAQs
10 Most Popular Martial Arts
Here is my list of the 10 most popular martial arts. Here, I’ve tried to take a worldwide view and I’ve looked at participation, viewership, Google search hits, and more to come up with the final list. Without further delay, let’s check out the list.
Coming in at number 10 on my list of the most famous martial arts is judo. This is a Japanese martial art that was founded by Jigoro Kano in the late 19th century. It holds the honor of being the longest continuous martial art in the Olympic Games, having first been introduced in 1964.
There are many reasons why judo became so popular, with one of them being its focus on having maximum efficiency for the most minimal amount of effort. This makes it accessible to people of all areas of ability or age.
This philosophy, known as “ju” or “gentleness,” means that you can use someone’s energy against them, making it excellent for self-defense. Added to this, its focus on controlled throws and holds means that there is a minimal risk of injury, making it one of the safest martial arts to practice.
There are many other reasons why people love judo too. Its grading system gives you a clear path for skill progression, which can be highly rewarding. It’s a martial art that instills respect and discipline into its practitioners, all while giving you a sense of community.
9. Krav Maga
While judo is a relatively peaceful martial art, Krav Maga couldn’t be much different. This is a self-defense system that was developed in Israel and has gained worldwide popularity for its violent techniques that are effective in real-world situations.
It’s for these reasons that Krav Maga is seen as the deadliest martial art. If you had to fight for your life, then knowing these skills would be incredibly valuable. Much of its popularity comes from this aspect of practitioners wanting real-life skills rather than learning a combat sport.
One of the reasons Krav Maga is so effective is that it focuses on simplicity and practicality. That means it won’t take too long for you to quickly learn some valuable skills. It also makes it accessible to anyone, regardless of your fitness or background.
There is a reason that Krav Maga is used by various law enforcement and military agencies worldwide. It’s a great martial art to learn for those looking to protect themselves, but a Krav Maga gym is also a great place to meet like-minded people and develop some close relationships.
8. Muay Thai
Muay Thai is often referred to as the “Art of Eight Limbs” due to the use of any body part to make a strike. It has gained huge popularity over the last few decades as an entertaining combat sport and one of the best martial arts for self-defense.
There is no doubt that Muay Thai is an exciting martial art as it uses a wide range of striking techniques, including the use of fists, elbows, knees, and shins. Its focus on dynamic attacks makes it easily transferrable to real-world scenarios.
The power and precision of these strikes make it a thrilling sport to learn but also quite challenging at the same time. If you are looking for an all-action martial art that includes full-contact sparring, then Muay Thai is for you.
As you may have guessed from its name, this combat sport originated in Thailand, where it’s incredibly popular. That has spread to the rest of the world, and most major cities now will have several Muay Thai gyms where you can practice this amazing martial art.
7. Kung Fu
The collective name for Chinese martial arts, Kung Fu martial arts are often bundled into one, which is what I’ve done here. This form of fighting has developed a reputation in popular culture and has a rich history with a diverse number of styles.
One of the reasons for Kung Fu’s popularity is its tradition and history, which stretch back thousands of years. The discipline and respect inherent to Kung Fu has wide appeal. Whether you’re practicing Shaolin Kung or Wing Chun, it requires the same level of mental focus.
There is something for everyone in the world of Kung Fu, and it will help to teach you practical self-defense techniques that can be used in the real world. Whatever your ability, a Kung Fu school can offer you a wide range of development.
Of course, another reason for its popularity is its use in popular culture, with it being seen in countless movies and TV shows. Iconic films like “Enter the Dragon” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” have captivated audiences and inspired many to explore Kung Fu as a martial art.
While the likes of Kung Fu have received huge popularity partly due to its history and traditions, kickboxing is well-loved for different reasons. While it is a great combat sport, kickboxing is seen by many as a brilliant way to gain fitness and have fun at the same time.
Of course, even though it’s used by lots of people for fitness, many others love kickboxing as a great combat sport, or they just want to learn valuable self-defense skills. It’s this combination of reasons that add up to a hugely popular martial art.
Regarding it being a form of fitness, the combination of different strikes means it promotes cardiovascular health along with strength and muscle tone. It’s a great way to stay in shape for those looking for something more challenging than going to a regular gym.
Of course, while fitness can be a benefit, you’ll also learn some real-world skills you can use in dangerous situations. Added to that, there are many kickboxing tournaments for those looking to prove their ability and make their way to the top of the sport.
5. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is another martial art that has increased in popularity over recent years. As the name suggests, this form of fighting was developed in Brazil, but it has now spread to having BJJ schools all around the world.
One of BJJ’s most appealing features is its practicality and effectiveness in real-life situations. If ever a fight goes to the floor, then the techniques you’ll learn will make you an expert in ground fighting and submissions. That not only helps you to defend yourself but also neutralizes threats in any situation.
While I think that’s great, there’s more. The focus on BJJ is technical proficiency, which means a smaller fighter can use their skills to overwhelm a more powerful foe. It’s this aspect that makes BJJ appealing to anyone, but especially women and smaller men who may fear being overpowered.
BJJ isn’t just about fighting, as there is a huge tactical aspect of it, which is another feature people love. This means it’s mentally engaging and not just a physical workout. For many people, this makes it more exciting than just learning pre-determined moves.
Of course, the competitiveness adds to its appeal too. Not only is there a wide range of BJJ tournaments you can take part in, but the skills you learn in BJJ can be transferred to MMA. It’s a common journey for elite MMA fighters to start their career in a BJJ school.
The way the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) is trending, this could well be number one in the future. Powered by the UFC, this sport has become a global phenomenon that seems to be getting bigger all the time.
Even if you don’t envisage yourself having a competitive fight, it’s easy to see MMA as the perfect self-defense system. Here, you’ll not only learn how to strike opponents but also grapple them, meaning there is no situation where you wouldn’t be able to use your skills.
Learning MMA is a surefire way to make yourself a well-rounded fighter. Its teaching takes parts of many of the martial arts that we’ve already looked at, including the likes of Muay Thai and kickboxing for striking, and BJJ and judo for grappling.
While participation has increased in recent times, viewing figures have gone through the roof as well. It’s now the second most watched combat sport, and many of the fighters in the UFC have become household names.
Whether you want to participate or simply watch, there is no doubt that MMA is now one of the most popular martial arts in the world. That being said, it wasn’t quite able to make its way into my top three.
If I was just focusing on the Western world here, then MMA would probably be number two, but we can’t ignore the popularity of martial arts in Asia. After all, that’s where the majority of these fighting forms were invented, including taekwondo.
Taekwondo is one of the most practiced and recognized martial arts worldwide and has been a permanent feature of the Olympic games since 2000. Its high-flying kick techniques make it a fun sport to not only participate in but also watch.
The impressive kicks of taekwondo also show how effective it can be in different combat scenarios. Taekwondo’s accessibility is a key factor in its popularity as anyone can participate, and there are thousands of schools across the world.
While the kicks can be great to watch, the focus is on technical skill and not hurting your opponent. When you add in the protective gear, it adds up to a combat sport that is relatively safe. A structured belt system also gives you clear goals for your skill advancement and personal growth.
When you add all of these factors together, it’s clear to see why taekwondo is well-loved. As with many of the Asian martial arts, they also place a strong emphasis on discipline, respect, and ethical principles, making it a great choice for any parent looking to instill positive values in their children.
There is no doubt that karate remains immensely popular, and there are a few key reasons for that. One of them is, of course, how much karate has been shown in countless TV and movies over the years, giving it worldwide appeal.
A little ironically, that in no small part was due to the explosion of kung fu movies that peaked in the 70s. With karate being more accessible, those who wanted to train in a martial art often found themselves gravitating towards karate schools.
Of course, since the 70s, karate has continued to be showcased in many great movies such as “The Karate Kid” in 1984, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in 2000, and the “Kill Bill” movies in 2003 and 2004.
While movies may have helped its popularity, the core reason why so many people love karate is that it’s a fantastic martial art. It has a focus on striking techniques, which often have the beauty of being simple but highly effective, making it perfect for self-defense.
Karate’s structured belt system also rewards those who are committed to constant improvement, and along the way, karate will instill strong ethics and a sense of discipline. Whether you want a sense of community, self-defense skills, physical fitness, or to enjoy combat competition, there are many reasons for people to practice karate.
Boxing’s popularity is unmatched in the world of martial arts. It has a long history going back thousands of years and continues to have global appeal. There are many reasons for its popularity, with one of them being its simplicity.
Even though it would look terrible without any training, anyone can have a boxing fight. With its focus solely on striking via punches, it’s very easy to learn, and you won’t have to spend countless hours working on theory before you can enjoy yourself.
This simplicity most likely helps with its appeal as a spectator sport too. Many people love watching boxing as it’s easy to follow, and you often get to enjoy spectacular knockouts. It’s helped to develop a history of legendary fighters, and iconic matches have captured the imaginations of sports enthusiasts.
Another reason for its popularity is its emphasis on physical conditioning and fitness. Boxers require an elite level of fitness, and it’s a wonderful sport for cardiovascular health. Along with being good for your heart, boxing also improves your strength, speed, agility, and mental toughness.
This popularity has led to a huge influence on pop culture. While there are plenty of karate, kung fu, and MMA movies in Hollywood, they are dwarfed by the number of boxing films. Added to that, there are countless books, documentaries, and video games about boxing.
Boxing is the most popular combat sport in the world, and it doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon. There is beauty in its simplicity, and it continues to attract fans worldwide.
Most Popular Martial Arts – FAQs
What are the top six martial arts?
The top six martial arts will change depending on what parameters you use and whether you look at it through a Western lens or not. The top six martial arts on my list were kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, MMA, taekwondo, karate, and boxing.
What is the biggest combat sport?
It can be debated whether or not boxing is the most popular martial art. However, there is little debate about it being top of the best fighting sports. Its biggest fights get hundreds of thousands of viewers, and its top fighters get paid tens of millions of dollars.
No other sport can compete with those numbers, and despite its recent rise in popularity, MMA doesn’t come close. While other martial arts, such as karate, can compete with boxing in terms of participation, they can’t when it comes to viewership when it comes to the most popular combat sports.
What is the least violent combat sport?
This is a tough one, but I’d go for taekwondo, and there’s a few reasons for that. The first is that the biggest scoring shots come from the lead leg, which doesn’t generate as much power as the back leg. Secondly, there is a lot of protective equipment.
In the Olympics, punches are allowed but only to the chest, which is covered in a chest protector. You can get kicked in the head, but as mentioned, this will be from the lead leg, and you’ll be wearing a head guard.
The final reason is that you’re not allowed to use excessive force, and you’ll be penalized if you hit your opponent harder than you need to. Cuts, broken noses, and split lips are still common in taekwondo, but due to all the reasons above, it’s quite a safe sport.
What is the hardest combat sport to learn?
Another difficult question. I praised boxing for its simplicity, but even in this sport, you’ll need to train for many years to become an elite fighter. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is often seen as the hardest specific martial art to learn, but you’ll most likely need to learn BJJ if you want to try MMA. Due to this, I rank MMA as the hardest combat sport to learn.