Martial Arts classification
Confusion and the need to sort it out
One of the many fascinating aspects of martial arts is the variety of styles that co-exist under the same name.
Nevertheless, this huge assortment of styles can easily turn the fascination into confusion, and not only to the novice but even to the expert on the matter.
Well, to make order out of the inevitable chaos that this multitude of existing martial arts styles can generate, some sort of classification could come handy and is perhaps necessary.
Usually, when it comes to having to classify martial arts, there are a few common tendencies. One is to do it by geographic: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Indonesian, Western martial arts and so on. Another habit often used is to distinguish martial arts by labels such as “traditional” (or “classical”) martial arts and “modern” martial arts, and yet another one is to separate them into “internal” and “external” martial arts.
As with any other exercise of the kind, the possibilities for defining the criteria of classification are many, if not infinite. So, how to pick up one based on some solid logic and clearness?
Looking in the right direction
Luckily enough, Daniele Bolelli came to the rescue with his book “On The Warrior’s Path“, in which he dedicated a chapter to this particular issue, and suggests a model of classification that to me just feels “right”. The chapter is called “Making Order Out Of Chaos. A Typology Of Martial Arts Styles“, and from the moment I read it I started to adopt it – if I can say so, because it makes perfect sense to me.
As the author explains it, the classification for this model is based on the main purpose and function of each art, and therefor on what particular aspects the practice of a given style focuses on and develops the most.
I felt like wanted to share it in this blog because I find it to be an extremely helpful way to figure out the martial arts classification dilemma. So with this article I outline some key points of this model.
The model for martial arts classification used by Daniele Bolelli is composed by 5 categories:
- Internal Martial Arts
- Performance Martial Arts
- Weapons Martial Arts
- Self-defence Martial Arts
- Combat Sports (Striking, Grappling, Combined)
The categories proposed in this model are not exclusive, meaning that some styles can belong to more than one category, and it goes by itself that, all styles being “martial arts” after all, they obviously all have fighting applications, on different levels, but surely each of them suits a category better than another.
I’ll describe briefly each category with my own words. For a comprehensive, full information on this model, I strongly invite you to read the original work from the author, it’s worth every word.
Internal Martial Arts
These are the martial arts that focus primarily on the development and the exploitation of the inner energy. Examples for this typology are the well known Tai Chi, but also Pa Kua, Hsing-i. Another one that could fit into this particular typology is Aikido, because its principles are mainly based on the relationship of the opponent’s energy and one self’s.
Performance Martial Arts
Performance martial arts are those that focus essentially on the aestethic and choreographic aspect of the art, and in which the beauty and the perfection of the forms or techniques performed are more important than the actual efficiency in real fighting. Within this typology we find styles styles such as Wushu Kung Fu, Shaolin King Fu, Capoeira, Viet Vo Dao.
Weapons Martial Arts
Here the name says it all. Weapons martial arts are those that make use of weaponry. Because in modern times most of the weapons used in martial arts are not of common use (long sticks, swords, nunchaku), the practice of this kind of arts is basically based on the cultural aspect of the art, with an exception for a few, like Filipino Kali for instance, because it deals with weapons that can always be used, like knifes and short sticks (which represents also any kind of objects used as a weapon). In this category we find martial arts like Kendo and Kenjutsu (the art of the sword), Nunchaku, Naginata (Japanese art of long stuff), Kyudo (art of archery with ancient bow). (Of course, there are many styles that even not being primarily weapon-based, they do incorporate different weapons in their art).
Self-defense Martial Arts
Self-defense martial arts and systems are those that dedicate all the efforts toward the goal of defending oneself or another, and therefor focus on the efficiency in fighting for real-life situations. Among them we find Chinese Wing Chun, Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, all the different styles of Indonesian Silat, Filipino Kali, Israelian Krav Maga. In this category I’d include also those martial arts that could be classified as “Military & Law Reinforcement Martial Arts” (the one taught to soldiers in the army, or Police and Special Corps Departments), because still inherent to real-life fighting.
Many are the martial arts that focus on competition, therefor their training is based on a one-to-one fight under certain rules, with given equipment and in different kind of surroundings (ring, tatami, cage). This kind of martial arts are called Combat Sports. Within this category we can identify 3 sub-categories depending on the rules of the competition: Striking, Grappling, Combined.
Examples of Striking Combat Sports are Western Boxing, French Savate, Kickboxing, Taek Won Do, Karate.
Examples of Grappling Combat Sports are Judo, Brasilian JiuJitsu, Sambo, Western Wrestling.
Examples of Combined Combat Sports are Muay Thai (primarily a striking sport, but allows clinching and sweeps), Sanda (limited grappling, but still), and finally the most iconic one of the lot, the Mixed Martial Arts with all their declinations.
So, there you have it, a nice reference model to classify the countless martial arts out there. To end this article in a proper way, I am including a table with some martial arts classified by the typology of this model. Note that not all martial arts are included in it, but the example will hopefully help you to get the basic idea for a possible classification.
I hope you enjoyed the article and found this information useful.
|Internal Martial Arts||Tai Chi Chuan, Pa Kua, Hsing-i, Aikido, …|
|Performance Martial Arts||Wushu, Shaolin, Capoeira, Viet Vo Dao, …|
|Weapons Martial Arts||Kendo, Kali, Krabi Krabong, Kyudo, Nunchaku, …|
|Self-defence Martial Arts||Wing Chun, Jeet Kune Do, Kali, Silat, Krav Maga, …|
Note: not a big deal, but I wanted to point out that in this article I did switch the order of the first two category as originally written in Daniele Bolelli’s book, because for some reason I feel more comfortable having them this way.