Martial arts have been practiced by civilizations all over the world for thousands of years, the majority of which can be traced back to India, Japan, China, and Southeast Asia. As cultures clashed militarily and also engaged with each other in more civil ways, the influence of their respective fighting systems began spreading and splintering into many different forms of martial arts, some of which are still practiced today. 

In today’s world, the most popular types of martial arts are ones that practice unarmed combat styles such as boxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, and jiu jitsu. Modern society is now more civilized than ever before, phasing out the need to carry cumbersome weaponry such as swords and bo staffs. 

The introduction and evolution of firearms have also played a major role in phasing out many martial arts that were popular and effective several centuries ago. Military training used to incorporate various types of weapons into their curriculum but they have all virtually disappeared and replaced with more modern forms of advanced weaponry. 

However, many of those ancient art forms still exist in niche communities around the world. Some have been revitalized and preserved by martial arts enthusiasts and traditionalists who have taken a special interest in certain forms of martial arts and their weaponry. There are also a few martial arts that utilize weapons that are relatively new in existence. 

Below is a comprehensive list of martial arts that use weapons.


Shintaido is a relatively new martial art that was established in Yokohama, Japan in 1965 by artist, actor, and master practitioner of Shotokai karate named Hiroyuki Aoki. Roughly translated as “new attitude” or “new body way,” Shintaido was created as a means of using a bo staff in conjunction with techniques and body movements seen in traditional karate, kenjutsu, and bojutsu as a means of expression and communication. It also incorporates spiritual elements that are found in Buddhist meditation so that a person can reach a higher level of self discovery and undergo positive transformation phases.  

Aoki called the 1965 Yokohama meeting a “Meeting of Optimists.” The group comprised several of the country’s top karate practitioners, people with disabilities, and other practitioners such as artists, musicians, actors, and other enthusiasts who felt that traditional karate was too rough and aggressive. The purpose of the meeting was to utilize karate’s self-defense practices by moving the body in a more natural and effective way using their own methods, ideals, and optimistic attitudes.

The group focused heavily on wide stances and open-body techniques with a philosophy of proportionate counter attacks instead of the aggressive linear strikes of traditional karate. They incorporated the use of a bo staff for lateral and distance attacks and a wooden sword for linear attacks along with karate’s traditional open-hand techniques. 

The new techniques were used in a spiritual manner as part of performative art routines, with no contact between the two practitioners. The first one is called Tenshhingoso, or the “Five Expressions of Cosmic Truth,” and is used to represent the circle of life using expansive movements and audible expressions such as “um” and “ah.” The various movements are wide ranging and are performed while sitting, standing, stationary, or moving, and with or without a partner. 

The second technique is called Eiko, or “Glory.” According to Aoki, Eiko’s central theme is based on “God, hope, truth, ideal, and prayer,” and is performed as a running movement that symbolizes cutting the blue sky with an intense feeling.  

The third technique is known as Hikari, or “Playing with Light” and is performed with a partner. The moves vary from slow, methodical movements to more aggressive and improvisational dancing with the objective of “freeing” the other person so they are able to experience the full benefits of personal expression.   

The fourth and final technique is one of the most significant in Shintaido, called Wakame, or “Seaweed Movement.” Wakame acts as a sensitivity training exercise and is guided by a leader who plays a deep ocean current while the other person mimics the wavy flow of seaweed growing on the ocean floor. 

There are no official competitions or representative organizations in Shintaido. The martial art is purely performance based.  


Kobudō is considered by some as a precursor to karate since the styles are quite similar and kicks and bare-handed techniques are also utilized. It is widely believed, yet unproven, that Okinawan farmers began utilizing their farming tools as weapons due to the severe arms restrictions placed upon them by the Satsuma samurai clan after the island became part of Japan. 

There is no consensus among scholars over the veracity of those claims because evidence indicates that many of the weapon-based fighting systems they secretly practiced, along with the same or similar types of weapons, were also known to have been practiced in China, Thailand, and Indonesia before the Okinawan peasants. 

The practice almost went out of existence in the early quarter of the twentieth century, but a few proponents traveled around the Ryūkū Islands seeking out extant forms of weapons and techniques and managed to keep the art alive.

Kobutō makes use of multiple forms of weaponry. It is unique in the sense that many of the weapons also double as farming and hunting tools. Some of the weapons primarily used are:

Bo (Staff)

Generally six feet long, the bo staff is considered to be the earliest and most common weapon. Throughout human history. It is thought that Okinawan farmers would practice wielding a type of bo staff that was placed across the back of the shoulders that holds baskets of sacks on both ends, as well as from rake and shovel handles. 


A sai was primarily used for digging so crops could be planted. It also doubled as a melee weapon similar to a short sword or dagger but without blades and two shorter prongs on the sides.


The tonfa is a melee weapon that is used for blocking weapon strikes and delivering powerful strikes in close-quarter situations. It is made with a stick ranging up to twenty inches long, with another attached perpendicularly about a third of the way down. The handle is held with the stick protecting the outside of forearms while the extended part is used to disarm and deliver strikes to an attacker.


The kama is a farming sickle and is considered one of the most difficult weapons to master due to the inherent danger associated with it. The model that was adopted as a weapon had a nook where the blade and handle met in which a bo staff could be trapped, but it proved to be an ineffective design.


Colloquially known as nunchucks, the weapon comprises two wooden sticks that are connected by a short chain or cord but were originally attached with horse hair. Users are able to deliver powerful blows to an opponent at a short range as well as block strikes and potentially disarm attackers.   


The eku is a boating oar that has been converted into a weapon. Distinctions are a slight point at the tip, a curve on one side, and a sharp edge on the other side. The idea was for fishermen would be able to fling sand at an attacker in case of a fight at the beach while also having the option to slice or stab.


The term refers to a combination of arms and armor in the form of a shield and a short spear. A tinbe is a shield that is made from vine, cane, sometimes metal, and even from turtle shells. It is a small shield, usually standing about a foot long and its width is about a foot and a half.

The rochin is a short metal spear that is usually the length of the user’s forearm. Common techniques used are upward stabbing motions meant to penetrate underneath protective body armor, as well as downward and angular slashing motions.  


The difference between the nunchucks and the sansetsukon is that the sansetsukon is made up of three connected wooden or metal sticks instead of two. It has the potential to generate a lot of momentum and strike around an attacker’s shield or body armor, but it can also be much more difficult to control. 

Nunte Bo

The nunte bo staff comprises a metal spear at the end of a wooden bo staff that is used for catching fish. There are two prongs on each side similar to the sai, but with one facing forward and the other facing toward the user. The inward prong would be used to pull up fishing nets. The nunte bo staff was beneficial in deterring attacks from swordsmen and the fishermen were able to successfully counterattack by inflicting their own damage from a short distance. 


The kuwa is a farming hoe with an elongated blade and is used in similar fashion as a bo staff. Though, unlike the bo staff, it is also used to attack with the blade using downward or looping strikes to the head or body of an attacker, as well as to scoop and sweep a leg or disarm an attacker.


A tekko was a modified version of steel stirrups and horseshoes that were used as brass knuckles, also known as knuckle dusters, that inflicts more damage than bare fists and also protects the user’s hands from injury and damage. 


Smaller than a sword but bigger than a dagger, the yari ranges from a few inches to three feet or more in length. The tang (handle) often protruded into a reinforced hollow portion, which made it virtually impossible for the blade to break, and was oftentimes longer than the blade itself. 


A surujin comprises a rope that is between 6 and 10 feet long with weights tied to each end, and sometimes with a metal spike on one end. It was thrown at attackers and would wrap around them with the ends inflicting damage. It was also useful in disarming attackers and pulling them off balance.


The tanbō is simply a shortened bo staff about three feet long and was useful in attacking the outer edges of an attacker’s bones with speed and accuracy. The main targets of the user are the attacker’s head, collarbone, hands, elbows, ribs, hips, kneecaps, and calves.


Kendo is a fighting system that is derived from kenjutsu, an ancient Japanese martial art that practices swordsmanship. Kendo is still widely practiced in Japan and roughly translates into “sword path” or “sword sway.” As a sport, it uses bamboo swords called shinai and requires a set of armor that is referred to as bōgu. 

The inherent concept of kendo is developing the human character and maintaining discipline by molding the mind and body while cultivating a “vigorous spirit.” Practitioners are taught to love and respect their country and contribute positively to changing cultural developments by promoting peace and prosperity. 

Japanese swordsmen established kenjutsu schools during the Middle Ages, and kendo originally formed as basic kenjutsu practice for future warriors. A prominent swordsman named Naganuma Shirōzaemon Kunisato introduced bamboo and armor during the Shotoku Era of 1711-1715. Naganuma’s third son, Yamada Heizaemon Mitsunori, developed the art into its more modern form, refining the headgear to include a metal grill and added thicker padding that better protected the torso. 

Kendo gained immense popularity in Japan throughout most of the 19th century after Mitsunori’s safety innovations attracted more people to participate. The sport started taking its modern form in the 1870s after the government declared sword ownership by ordinary citizens to be illegal. Military general Kawaji Toshiyoshi recruited swordsmen from various schools to help standardize sword styles used by the police, but not all techniques were easy to integrate into the vision of the new system, so ten practice moves were adopted and integrated, which led to the development of contemporary kendo. 

The techniques include an initiation of a strike called shikake-waza, and a response to attempted strikes called ōji-waza. Shikake-waza utilizes six different types of techniques that are used to create vulnerabilities in the opponent, and ōji-waza utilizes four different counter strikes to take advantage of vulnerabilities left open from an attacking opponent. 

Kendo and the practice of other martial arts were banned after World War Two by the occupying Allied powers as a way to de-nationalize and de-militarize martial arts training in schools. The ban was lifted in 1952 and was taught and practiced strictly as an educational sport. 

The International Kendo Federation (FIK) was independently established in 1970 and is the world governing body for the sport, overseeing many other existing organizations. The World Kendo Championships are held every three years in Japan and are organized by the FIK. European championships take place every year except the years when the world championships are held. Every bout is overseen by three referees. 


Arnis, also referred to as kali or eskrima, was developed by indigenous Filipino tribes who were often at war with each other. They used various weapons such as rattan canes, swords, spears, and daggers for combat. Sources are scarce, but a single Spaniard gave an account of Ferdinand Magellan and Spanish explorers fighting the native tribes in 1521 and met his demise as he was killed by a barrage of blades and bamboo spears. 

The Spanish later returned for revenge, eventually conquering parts of the Philippines and subsequently outlawing the practice of arnis and the possession of swords. The affected tribes were able to preserve their fighting techniques by incorporating them into their ritualistic dances, where swords were replaced with rattan sticks and knives.

After gaining independence in 1898, subsequent contact with the United States and Japan led to the adaptation of its modern form. Arnis officially became the national martial art and sport in 2009. Today, arnis competitions are mostly performance based, although full-contact competitions do exist but are rare. Performance art competitions demonstrate using rattan sticks and are divided into two categories called anyo and leban. 

Anyo competitions are choreographed performances where judges score participants based on gracefulness, strength, and amount of force employed in their striking techniques.

Leban competitions require headgear and padded body armor, and are judged based solely on agility and reaction times. 

In full-contact bouts, the objective is to disarm the opponent within five seconds of executing a move using twelve different types of angle attacks. The referee restarts their positions if neither competitor is disarmed after several seconds, or if both of them fall to the ground. Punches, kicks, and takedowns are prohibited. Points are deducted each time a competitor is disarmed, and the first to lose their weapon three times loses. Bouts are usually 3 one-minute rounds with thirty seconds to rest in between. Competitors forgo the third round if one person wins the first two. 

Canne de combat

Canne de combat is a French combat sport that utilizes walking canes. It is a derivative of savate and was developed in the early 19th century as a means of self defense by the upper classes when they were in unsafe areas of cities such as Paris. The martial art utilizes a walking cane as a way to maintain and attack from a distance.

The practice became so popular and effective that the techniques were later adopted by French military and police leading up to the First World War, but declined significantly because many of its top practitioners were killed fighting in the war. Canne de combat experienced a revitalization in the late 1950s. After slowly gaining popularity again over the years, many of the techniques were modified so that it would be more palatable to the public and viewed as more of a competitive sport. It reached peak popularity in the 1970s but has experienced a steady decline since.  

As a sport, bouts are held inside a ring. The weaponized walking canes are usually three feet long and made of slightly tapered chestnut wood. Participants are only allowed to hold it with one hand but are allowed to switch hands throughout the match. Only lateral and downward strikes are allowed, thrusting and stabbing are illegal. Leg strikes are permitted and performed with lateral lunging movements. Points are scored with clean strikes to the head, body, and legs, but not the arms. Although head strikes are permitted, the canes themselves are so light that there is no risk of a knockout or head injury. Points are awarded based on style and correct body positioning. 


Known as the “art of the staff,” bōjutsu is a Japanese martial art that utilizes stick fighting by wielding a bo staff that is usually six feet in length, but can be smaller depending on the size of the person wielding it. 

The use of a bo staff as a weapon has appeared since the earliest days of recorded history. In Japan, bo staffs were originally made of stone and called an ishibo, but it possessed unreliable integrity as a weapon, was too difficult to manufacture, and was also too heavy and cumbersome for practical purposes. Konsaibo was the next iteration of the bo staff. It was made out of wood with iron studs but also deemed impractical for combat. Wooden staffs were corollary and the art of kobudo began forming in Okinawa in the early 1600s. 

While the Emperor banned feudalism, he also banned swords and other weaponry. It is widely believed that the bo staff was used as a tool in agrarian societies for transporting buckets and baskets that would be placed across the shoulders, allowing them to secretly continue their training. 

In practice, bōjutsu schools teach upward and downward slashing, lateral strikes, thrusting, and stabbing techniques. The grip is placed with each hand on a third portion of the bo staff. The back hand generates power by controlling the bo staff and the front hand is used for accuracy. This type of grip allows the back hand to twist while thrusting, which generates more power using the same principles as rotating a punch. Practitioners also learn how to execute many types of defense moves, counter strikes, and sweeps. 

The practice of bōjutsu is rare outside of the few traditional schools that are sill in existence. There are no official competitions nor does it have any official representative organization. 


The oldest document outlining the concept of swordsmanship dates back to the year 1270, called the Royal Armouries Ms. I.33, and has its roots in central Germany. The contents of the treatise dealt with combat situations for military personnel. In 1763, Italian instructor Domenico Angelo moved to London and began teaching the English aristocracy a sport version of fencing. Angelo established basic rules of posturing and footwork that are still the basis of modern fencing, but his methods of attack and parrying have since evolved into more effective forms. He also introduced the health benefits that came with the nascent sport and used that as an effective marketing strategy.

The first regulated competitive fencing tournament took place in 1880. Conducted by the British Armed Forces, the bouts were fought between soldiers and military officers. Soon after the event, official sport fencing organizations began forming in the last couple of decades of the 19th century, mostly in Europe and the United States. Fencing was featured as an event at the first modern Olympic Games that took place in Athens, Greece, in 1896 and have been part of the Games ever since. 

The three main disciplines in fencing are based on different types of swords used, which are called foil, épée, and saber. Each weapon carries its own rules and strategies and protective equipment covers the entire body. Points are scored whenever someone successfully stabs their opponent and are recorded using fresh paint or ink that is on the end of the sword. Other, more modern, versions of protective equipment are equipped with electronic sensors that register when a successful hit has been administered.

Fencing tournaments are held all year long, with serious competitors participating in one or two tournaments per month. Championship events are held by several major organizations across the world.

The sport of fencing is very beneficial for a person’s overall health. Fencers need to have the reflexes of a cat and the speed of a mongoose in order to dodge and deflect an opponent’s attacks. In order to be able to remain elusive in a consistent manner, high endurance is a necessary development.


Jōjutsu, also known as “Art of the Stick,” is a Japanese fighting system that was developed to disarm and defeat attacking swordsmen. 

Legend has it that jōjutsu originated with a prominent Samurai in the late 16th century named Muso Gonnosuke who was an expert at using a bo staff. He traveled the country challenging other weapons masters and defeated all of the except for one. His only defeat came at the hands of a master swordsman named Miyamoto Musashi, who spared his life at the point of defeat. Muso was deeply affected by the loss but was determined to develop techniques that would be more effective against the style he encountered.  

He secluded himself on a mountaintop for several months fasting and meditating. He claimed to have had a revelation through “divine guidance” and began training with a shorter stick around four feet long that was made from hard White Oak, later called a Jo, which allowed him to execute techniques with much more speed and accuracy. He eventually made his way down the mountain and challenged Musashi again. The tables turned with Muso handing Musashi his only defeat. In return for Musashi sparing his life, Muso decided to do the same.

Jōjutsu survived and gained popularity during the time of “enforced peace” in Japan, when swords and other bladed weapons were banned. The Jo was later used by the police from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century after arrest and restraining standards were modified. 

Jōjutsu uses twelve basic techniques that include lateral, upward and downward strikes, thrusts and stabs, and spin attacks. The defender uses the Jo staff and the attacker uses a sword. Students learn to use both but the attacker is always an experienced person because students must first learn to have total control over the weapon. 

Still practiced in Japan and some in the West but there are no official competitions or representative organizations. 


With an English translation meaning “half staff,” the Japanese martial art of hanbōjutsu has a few stories about its origin. The most plausible tale is that a Japanese warrior in the 14th century had most of his spear cut off by a sword in a fight. The swordsman tried to kill him but the warrior quickly adapted to the situation and successfully dodged the attack by countering with his own jab to the head with the blunt end of the truncated spear, knocking off his attacker’s helmet. The soldier swiftly followed up with a quick strike to the head, cracking his skull and killing him. 

More techniques evolved from that fight and were later used during the Edo era (1603 – 1868). A truncated bo staff about three feet long, called a hanbō, was established as the weapon of choice for practice. It is held on one end and swung using the same movements as wielding a one-handed sword. Common defensive techniques are performed by holding the hanbō in the middle with both hands like a bo staff in order to block and counter strike using both ends. Hanbōs are also useful for administering chokes, joint locks, and fracturing bones. 

Hanbōjutsu was never turned into a sport and was eventually replaced by more modern and updated forms of combat. There are currently a few schools in existence, mostly in Japan. 


Gatka is a fighting system that originated in northern India dating back to the Middle Ages as a way to combine spiritual, mental, and physical skills equally. It was successfully used by Sikhs as a means of defense against the Mughal Empire during the later parts of the 17th century and remained an effective fighting system until they were defeated in the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849. Gatka proved to be so effective that multiple opposing forces documented how skilled the often outnumbered Sikhs were at combat. 

The practice was subsequently banned by British administrators but was later relaxed after the Sikhs assisted the British during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Although the primary weapon used in gatka is a sword, multiple other weapons such as kirpins (curved daggers), axes, sticks, nunchuks, and more are often used, as well as many bare-handed techniques. 

The foundation of gatka is called the Panthra, which focuses on proper balance, coordination, and how to use both hands simultaneously. Students begin learning how to incorporate fluid, natural, and non-stop movements with a bamboo stick called a Marati that is around three feet long. They then work their way up to using other weapons along with shields that are typically less than a foot wide and long and are usually made from leather. Since gatka is purely defensive in nature, there is no actual fight stance from which to start, just movements and reactions based on the situation at hand. 

Gatka is nationally recognized in India as a sport. It is popular as both a sport and dance performances that are usually seen at Sikh festivals. The International Gatka Federation was founded in 1982. Competitions are held within India and feature two or more competitors at the same time. 

Competitions take place in over thirty countries. Several organizations but there is no governing body that oversees all of them.


Gungsul is a traditional Korean martial art that uses a bow and is thought to have originated around 300 years ago. Legend has it that a prominent Korean general of the Joseon Dynasty spread his knowledge of combat archery with the locals in villages across the Yecheon region. 

Prince Henry of Prussia visited Korea in 1899 to seek out demonstrations of traditional Korean martial arts and was thoroughly impressed by the archery demonstrations. He liked it much better than Turkish and Hungarian archery and urged Emperor Gojong to recognize it as a national sport. The Emperor soon standardized the bow and target range and established an archery club so that people could “enjoy archery to develop their physical strength.”

The standardized bow is a composite bow that is made of bamboo, sinew, oak, and water buffalo horn with bamboo arrows and a thumb draw.

Mau rākau

Mau rākau is a martial art that originated in New Zealand by an indigenous Polynesian ethnic group that means “to bear a weapon.” The weapon of choice was called a taiaha, a staff weapon that is made from wood or sharpened whalebone. The taiaha usually stood between five and six feet long and was effectively used for fighting up close. Techniques mostly include angular and lateral strikes along with thrusts and stabs.

The Māori people originated from East Polynesia after bravely completing multiple canoe voyages in the first half of the 14th century. They soon developed their own culture and fighting systems once they established settlements on the islands. Knowledge of their fighting system was shared with European settlers who arrived in the 18th century. 

The groups peacefully coexisted until the late 1860s when the British began confiscating land for their own use and were forced to assimilate to Western culture. During that time many of the weapons and fighing systems were replaced by guns and most of the traditional training schools disappeared. Mau rākau saw a resurgence in the 1980s by enthusiasts and is preserved to this day. Classes are mostly only held in schools around Mokoia Island.

Iaidō and iaijutsu

Iaijutsu was developed by samurai warriors in feudal Japan to maintain a heightened sense of awareness so as not to be left vulnerable to surprise attacks. The main objective is to slay an attacker with a single sword strike. 

Iaidō and iaijutsu both pertain to the art of unsheathing and drawing the sword with a small difference between them. Iado is a self-taught way of properly unsheathing and drawing of a katana, while iaijutsu involves learning the proper techniques from a martial arts school. The term “jutsu” means “the study of.”

The practice is still continued today by enthusiasts. Competitions are performative and involve a small niche community. Participants perform several kata, or forms. They begin by kneeling on both knees and bowing to their swords with the left hand placed down on the floor first. The right hand then follows. The right hand is lifted first in case the swordsman is attacked while bowing. Participants then draw their swords and perform traditional fighting techniques as if an opponent were in front of them.  

Proper techniques involve single strikes, including quick jabs, downward strikes, and lateral strikes. No footwork is involved as the participants remain in place. Judges listen for the air to break and points are awarded accordingly.

Krabi krabong

Krabi krabong is a Thai fighting system that dates back to the 16th century when the Burmese were at war with Thailand. Meaning “sword and staff” or “a saber and a mace,” it started gaining popularity as a sport during Thailand’s Rattanakosin era (1782 – 1851). The fighting system uses a plethora of weapons, including swords, sticks, shields, bo staffs, bladed staffs, and tonfas.

Krabi krabong was promoted by Thailand’s kings until the early 20th century which galvanized many schools to open during those times. However, King Rama VI favored other martial arts such as Muay Thai and the sport started losing immense popularity. In response, a zealous martial artist named Nak Thephasadin Na Ayudhya dedicated his time to preserving and promoting krabi-krabong and opened a school in 1935. 

Today, krabi krabong is a niche sport in Thailand and is officially recognized as a sport.

In some cases, competitions take place between two people in a circle with no time limits as they use two weapons simultaneously, while others are simply choreographed and ceremonial. 


Kyūdō, loosely translated to “art of archery” or “way of the bow,” was developed by the samurai class in feudal Japan. The practitioners use an asymmetrical longbow called a yumi that is about six and a half feet long and is held steadily just below the center.

The earliest images of longbow usage are traced back to the Yayoi period as early as 500 BC. The samurai class took power after the Genpei civil war at the end of the 12th century and mandated archery classes. The techniques and equipment evolved throughout the next few centuries until the Portuguese arrived in 1543 and introduced matchlock firearms. The Japanese began manufacturing their own versions and the yumi declined in popularity. 

However, the yumi never completely vanished because the matchlock guns took a long time to load and were too loud to use clandestinely. Once isolated from other civilizations, Japan began opening up to the outside world in the second half of the 19th century and the art form again witnessed a decline in popularity. Enthusiasts soon took notice and started opening their own schools so the art form would remain extant. 

The name was officially changed from kyūjutsu to kyūdō in 1919 after ceremonial shooting styles began integrating into the art. A ranking system was later established in 1923. 

In sport competitions, each archer shoots two sets of four arrows. They each get a turn during the first set, kneeling in between sets. The objective is to strike the target with all four arrows. 

During ceremonial competitions, up to five archers enter the dojo, bow to the judges, step to a line called a kiza, and kneel. They then bow again, stand, take three steps forward to the shooting line called a shai, and kneel again. Each archer then takes turns standing and shooting once at their own targets. They then kneel again and wait for the other to finish.  

Today, kyūdõ is mostly practiced in Japan and also in niche corners throughout Europe and the United States, where it was introduced on the west coast in the early 1900s. Some groups formed over the next few decades but were essentially all disbanded during World War Two due to the internment of Japanese citizens. 


Naginatajutsu means the “art of wielding a naginata,” which is a wooden (sometimes metal) pole that has a curved, single-edged blade at the end that ranges from a foot to two feet in length. It is said to have originated in the later centuries of the first millennium and is believed to have been developed as a modified farming tool. Some sources suggest that samurai invented it as a medium-range distance weapon by attaching a sword to a pole. Others claim that it is simply a corollary to the natural development of polearms. 

The blade is attached with a long tang and wooden pegs that are reinforced with metal rings or sleeves that can easily be disassembled. The shaft ranges from four feet to eight feet in length and the blade is protected by a wooden sheath when not in use. 

Battle paintings from as early as 980 CE depict the use of naginatas by women warriors who were known as Onna-musha. The weapon was used by some samurai but it was primarily wielded by women defending the homestead while their husbands were away at war. 

Today, naginatajutsu is taught as part of the curriculum of several styles of Kobudô. It is practiced as a sport by approximately 80,000 people in Japan, mostly women, called “New Naginata.” Many naginatajutsu organizations exist across the world but all competitions are overseen by the International Federation of Naginata (INF). 

Competitors wear protective equipment and use wooden or bamboo sticks as substitutes for the bladed weapon. Lateral strikes, overhead strikes, angular strikes, thrusts, and stabs are all allowed. Points are awarded based on accurate strikes to the helmet, neck, torso, and legs. Bouts are monitored by three referees. The first person to score two points within the time limit in one-on-one matches is declared the winner. Group bouts comprising three to five members at a time also take place. 


The origin of nunchaku-do is unclear, but tradition says that nunchucks were originally used by Okinawan farmers for threshing rice, but many scholars disagree. Some of them believe that it originated by weaponizing an Okinawan horse bit. Others believe that a hyoshiki, a wooden clapper set attached with a cord that was used by night watchmen to warn people about fires and other threats to the village, was modified as a weapon.  

Nunchucks eventually evolved into two cylindrical sticks that were connected by horse hair and later by a short chain or cord. They are now primarily used by beginners who take kobudō, hapkido, eskrima, and karate classes. New students learn to use nunchucks before any other weapon in order to teach self restraint and proper posture because the weapon is the one more likely to hit them than an opponent. It is known as a useful training weapon because it increases grip strength and hand speed. Both hands are used if a pair of nunchucks are held in each one, but a single pair is most commonly used by beginners. 

Competitions with nunchucks are done as performance art with multiple organizations holding events in Asia, Europe, and North America. 


Silambam is one of the oldest martial arts still practiced today, with evidence of it existing as early as the 4th century BCE. It originated in the city of Maduri, located in the Tamil Nadu region of southern India. The word “silam” translates to “hill” in the Tamil language. Silambambu is a sturdy type of bamboo that was used as a bo staff, which is how silambam got its name.  

It was first developed as a defense system against wild animals from the jungle that would come and attack villagers. Silambambu sticks proved to be an effective means of defense and later evolved into a military fighting system. Word soon spread about its effectiveness and the practice quickly spread to other nation states throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, but the British banned the practice in the early 19th century during colonization efforts. 

The length of the bamboo staff is contingent on the height of the person using it, but the ideal length is supposed to reach the forehead of the user. Other weapons are used as well, such as whips, swords, spiked knuckle duster, knives, daggers, cudgels, and maru, which is a thrusting weapon made from deer antlers. 

Silambam is officially recognized as a sport in India, but competitions are held by multiple organizations in countries such as India, Malaysia, and the United States. The competitions are purely ceremonial in nature, either as performance art by a single person or with multiple “attackers” against one person. 

Siljun Dobup

Siljun dobup is a relatively new martial art that was developed by Korean kendo Grand Master Jin K. Seong in the late 1970s. Its central focus is properly wielding a katana through the use of breathing skills, flexibility, control, strength, and focus. It is similar to iaijutsu with techniques such as properly drawing, sheathing, and wielding a katana, except the starting position is from a neutral standing one instead of beginning on the knees. Unlike traditional iaijutsu, students learn how to integrate lateral footwork movements and level changes with single-strike counter attacks to create different angles of attack. 

There is no sparring or competitions in siljun dobup. Students first begin learning techniques with wooden swords before moving up to using blunted steel swords. They then practice their cutting techniques with sharpened steel swords once a certain level of proficiency is established. 


Singlestick originated in the United Kingdom during the 16th century as a way of training soldiers to properly wield a backsword, which is a sword with a single-edged blade that is wielded with one hand. 

As a sport, competitors utilize wooden sticks as weapons that were three inches long and one inch in diameter, with a cup-shaped hilt to protect the hand. The entire body became legal targets in the 18th century and the sport reached the height of its popularity. Hits below the belt were considered unfair until that time.

The rules were later amended and singlestick became more restrictive at the beginning of the 19th century, and legal strikes only included the forward leg, upper body, and head. Participants were placed closely together and they had to stand in the same spot for the duration of the bout. Blows were delivered by whipping the wrist with the hand being held above the head. Body blows were delivered to create openings that target the head. The right hand was typically used to wield the sword while the left arm was used to block and parry. 

Bouts were historically decided by whoever drew blood from the head or cheek of their opponent. 

Singlestick was listed as an Olympic sport in the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri, but many researchers claim that the bouts were more similar in style to Canne de Combat instead of Singlestick since it was rarely taught in the US and most practitioners were already familiar with cane fighting. At the time, singlestick was more of an umbrella term to encompass martial arts that used variations of stick weaponry.

The sport is still a popular form of saber training by the British Armed Services but it essentially became obsolete once the Italian fencing saber was introduced to the United Kingdom in the early 20th century.

Competitions died out in the 1950s, but the sport was revived by the British Royal Navy in the 1980s and still has a niche community of practitioners. 


Sōjutsu is a Japanese martial art meaning “art of the spear” that has its origins in mainland China. It makes use of the yari spear, a durable straight blade that ranges anywhere from a few inches to three feet in length. The yari was a popular weapon alternative to traditional bladed weapons in feudal Japan. 

It gained popularity with the samurai during the Mongol invasions of the 13th century after experiencing their proficiency with spears in large numbers. They adopted styles of slashing, thrusting, counter attacks, and throwing that were conducive to fighting on horseback, along with improved proficiency in footwork styles as well.   

Today, sōjutsu is taught as a single component of a larger curriculum in traditional martial arts schools by enthusiasts who seek to preserve the art and tradition. 


Originally named fan a’nazaha wa-tahtib, tahtib means “the art of being straight and honest through the use of a stick.” 

History – the earliest evidence of tahtib are from engravings that were discovered from the Old Kingdom era dating back to 2700 BCE, making it the oldest recorded martial art. The Images and captions depict military training with sticks, archery, and wrestling. Fighters were trained to strike with deadly force using a heavy stick called an asaya that is about four feet long, sometimes with a hook at one end like a cane. The practice later evolved into a folk dance in the New Empire from 1500 – 1000 BCE. 

The ceremonial dances were only performed by men during wedding celebrations, but female versions were later developed into two different forms. One version is when women dress as men and aggressively imitate the males; the other is when females performed flirtatiously and with less aggression towards them. 

A financial executive named Adel Boulad revitalized the martial art and added more structure. He is considered the founder of tahtib in its modern form. Eight different forms currently exist with each one containing between 30 and 60 unique movements. 

Music plays an important role in tahtib. In some instances, participants perform movements in relation to the tempo. The audience applauds with the tempo of drum beats, building momentum as participants anticipate a simulated attack from the opposition.

A competitive form of tahtib also exists. Participants swirl the asaya in figure-8 patterns across the body that audibly cuts the air. The main target is the head but body shots are also allowed. Whoever lands a single clean touch to the head or three clean strikes to the body is declared the winner. The modernized version of competitive tahtib allows women to participate as well.

The first competitive tournament took place in Paris in 2017, then in Egypt. A few clubs now exist in the Czech Republic, United Kingdom, United States, and Canada.  

Taiho jutsu

Taiho jutsu is a Japanese martial art that is a derivative of kenjutsu and jujutsu. It was developed by Japan’s feudal police so they could successfully restrain and arrest armed criminals alive and unharmed using non-lethal techniques. 

The modern iteration of taiho jutsu was created during the Allied occupation of Japan following the Second World War when Japan was being demilitarized. Martial arts were banned from being practiced across the country. The Tokyo police bureau called together several prominent masters of their respective martial art and adapted several techniques from kenjutsu, jujutsu, judo, and jojutsu for police use. The main techniques incorporated wrist control, arm control, posture, and immobilization of a suspect. 

Elements of Western boxing were also incorporated into taiho jutsu. The term was coined in 1947 and soon became an official manual for Japanese policemen. Many techniques were later absorbed into the US military.  


Tessenjutsu originated in Japan and roughly translates to “art of the iron fan.” 

A tessen is a solid iron folding fan comprising eight to ten iron ribs. It is used when folded to defend against attacks and deliver counter strikes. Wielders had the ability to parry with one hand and attack with the other, while also being able to deliver blows with the weapon using downward hammer strikes and jabs. 

The earliest account of the tessen dates back almost 900 years. Ancient Japanese legend says that the great samurai military commander Minamoto no Yoshitsune defeated a tough warrior monk simply known as Benkei by deflecting his spear attacks and delivering his own counter strikes using a tessen. 

It was common for people to carry fans during warm weather, and samurai warriors were able to legally carry one into places where swords were not allowed. Many samurai became highly skilled using a tessen. Stories of experienced wielders defeating attackers wielding swords, knives, spears, poisoned darts, and other weaponry became widespread over the next few centuries. 

Tessenjutsu is still practiced by a few experts in Japan who wish to preserve the practice.

Zulu stick fighting

Zulu stick fighting, also referred to as dlala ‘nduku, meaning “playing sticks,” is a South African martial art that is traditionally practiced by teenage boys of the Nguni people, or Zulu. 

Stick fighting is an indigenous sporting tradition that takes place during wedding ceremonies. Warriors from both the bride and groom’s families do it as a friendly way of introducing themselves to each other. A referee called an induna oversees the matches to maintain order and make sure that the fighting remains civil. 

Participants are armed with two long sticks, one for defense and one for offense. The attacking stick is called an isikhwili and the defending stick is called an ubhoko. In some cases, a third, shorter stick called an umsila is paired with a small shield known as a ihawu. Both combatants fight to determine which one is the strongest inkunzi, or “bull.”

There is no written account of when the tradition began, but many oral accounts claim that the tradition developed by cultures that used sticks to herd cattle. Other accounts claim that it originated during Shaka Zulu’s reign during the first quarter of the 19th century as a way of training young soldiers.

Kung Fu 

Kung fu is an ancient Chinese martial art dating back to the Zhou dynasty (1111–255 BC). It carries a spiritual element that is based on concentration and self discipline. There are many variations of kung fu, such as Shaolin, tai chi, and Wing Chung. Some are designed for the use of weaponry but most of them focus on hand-to-hand combat. Each kung fu variant uses its own striking techniques, but they are all rooted in the practice of administering attacks using speed and deception. 

Sport kung fu is also known as Wushu, and was developed in 1959 as a way of standardizing the martial art for competitive purposes. The International Wushu Federation (IWUF) was later developed in 1990 and is responsible for recognizing the results of all Wushu tournaments around the world. The IWUF is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) but is still not an official event in the Olympic games. The World Wushu Championships (WWC) are held every two years and take place in a different country each time. 

The IWUF categorized kung fu into two different styles. The first is Taolu, which is a solo, pre-choreographed movement demonstration in front of judges. There is often music being played as the performers showcase their techniques of speed, power, and flexibility. Taolu is also separated into two different categories that use weapons and no weapons. When no weapons are used, the martial artist uses multiple acrobatic and quick movements to demonstrate self defense against attackers. When weapons are used, they are categorized into long and short weapons using swords, spears, and bo staffs. 

Dual events are also held in Taolu competitions, where two or more people choreograph fight scenarios that are similar to what is seen in traditional kung fu and martial arts films. 

The second categorization is Sanda, which is a form of full-contact, one-on-one, hand-to-hand combat competition. Boxing gloves and mouthpieces are worn. It holds a very similar style to MMA except the opponents do not engage in grappling once they are taken down to the ground. Five judges score the bouts and points are awarded based on successful strikes to an opponent. Each round is two minutes long, and a winner is decided based on who wins two out of three rounds. A fighter loses if they are knocked out once or pushed out of the competition area twice.

Practicing kung fu has many health benefits associated with it. Physical exercise is a great way for a person to strengthen their cardiovascular system and the fast movements associated with kung fu do wonders in improving speed and coordination. It requires a lot of discipline which inevitably leads to a healthier way of living.


Ninjitsu is a Japanese martial art that utilizes strategies and tactics of espionage, deception, stealth, and assassination. It was taught as a separate discipline in Japanese martial art schools that pragmatically integrated techniques from multiple other disciplines, including kenjutsu, sōjutsu, bōjutsu. Horsemanship, field survival, and the ability to blend in using disguises were also taught as one of the eighteen required skills.  

Ninjitsu practitioners were known as a Shinobi and would be assigned a wide array of military missions, including espionage and assassinations. 

The first accounts of ninjutsu was during the Genpei civil war from 1180 – 1185 in Japan when legendary samurai military commander Minamoto no Kuro Yoshitsune selected some of his best warriors to carry out important clandestine missions against the opposition forces. 

The evolution of ninjitsu took place over the next few hundred years. It developed into a combination of highly effective techniques involving stealth, deception, and survival. 

Ninjitsu is no longer practiced today. Professor and researcher Jinichi Kawakami, the last known heir of ninjutsu lineage, claimed that there is no need to keep the practice alive because it has no practical use in modern society. 


Aikido is a Japanese martial art that translates to “the way of unifying life energy,” or “the way of harmonious spirit.” Its guiding philosophy is to unite human beings by overcoming oneself instead of cultivating violence or aggressiveness. 

It was created by Japanese martial artist Morihei Ueshiba in the early half of the 1920s and 1930s. Ueshiba combined several martial arts disciplines and modified the techniques to match his personal philosophy of universal peace, forgiveness, and understanding. The techniques were developed to redirect attacks that leave the attacker immobilized yet unharmed. 

The fundamental movements of Aikido are throws, joint locks, striking, and pinning, which are all meant to redirect the attacker’s momentum. Weapons mostly include, but are not limited to, a bo staff called a jō, along with Japanese wooden swords called the bokken and tantō.

Aikido’s outside influence began in France in 1951 when Japanese martial artist Minoru Mochizuki demonstrated the techniques to judo players. Several prominent Japanese aikido practitioners soon decided to also spread its influence to the Western World by touring the United States, and several European countries over the next decade and a half. 

Aikido has since splintered into many different forms and is practiced all over the world. There are no competitions or centralized representative organizations that encompass them all.

What is Martial Arts?

A martial art is a practice of self defense and military training that uses technical strikes and counter attacks through the use of throws, takedowns, chokes, joint locks, and various strikes using the hands, elbows, knees, and legs. The oldest known martial arts date back at least three thousand years in places like Greece, India, and China. 

Some martial arts make use of weapons such as a staffs and swords, while others strictly practice unarmed techniques. Many disciplines are now considered sports while others are practiced as performance art. Many different kinds of popular and niche martial arts are practiced all over the world.  

What is the Purpose of Martial Arts?

The purpose of practicing martial arts is to improve one’s coordination, balance, vigilance, self control, fitness levels, confidence, and lifestyle. Countless professional and amateur martial artists credit their respective discipline for keeping them out of trouble and instilling a sense of confidence and fortitude that they never would have developed otherwise. 

What are the Examples of Martial Arts Weapons?

There are countless weapons that are used in martial arts. The most popular ones throughout history are bo staffs and swords. Various farming tools have also been converted into weapons.  

How to Decide Which Martial Art is Best for You?

Deciding on which martial art is best for you depends on your fitness goals and overall personality. Striking sports like boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai are all great ways to improve your endurance and lose weight. Getting punched in the face is not a requirement for practicing those types of sports, but participating in live sparring sessions will absolutely take your skills and endurance to the next level.

Since not everyone is keen on those types of workouts, an alternative that is growing exponentially in popularity is the grappling art of jiu jitsu. It offers people the same cardiovascular and health benefits that the striking sports do, except there is no striking allowed. Men and women of all ages and backgrounds are drawn to it once they understand the myriad ways there are to defend against a much bigger and aggressive opponent using leverage and proper technique. 

The best way to ultimately figure out which martial art is right for you is by researching which kinds of gyms are in your area and trying them out. Keep an open mind and stay consistent for a few months before deciding if it is one that you would like to continue practicing. 

Why is Training Martial Arts Important?

Training martial arts is important because it provides people with a sense of accomplishment, instills confidence, and incentivizes a healthy lifestyle. There are levels to every new endeavor, and climbing the martial arts ladder is no different. Some disciplines, such as karate and jiu jitsu, have a ranking system so students are able to track their progress. Others, such as boxing, do not, but students who train consistently are able to quickly feel a sense of accomplishment once their coordination and endurance improves.

Training consistently also instills levels of confidence that would not be possible otherwise. Students begin learning how to mitigate the risk of an altercation on the street and how to properly react and protect themselves in the case of any threats. 

People realize that their bodies are like machines that need to be properly maintained in order to continue functioning at levels necessary for growth and improvement. Martial arts incentivizes healthy lifestyles and is filled with like-minded people who take care of themselves. That type of camaraderie perpetuates the incentive to continue living a healthy lifestyle.

Are Martial Arts Weapons Safe to use?

Yes, martial arts weaponry is generally safe to use once the person wielding them becomes adequately trained with how to use them. The risk of someone injuring themselves is much lower for someone who practices using a bo staff than someone who is beginning to learn how to use nunchucks. Someone wielding a sword is more at risk of hurting someone else than themselves, but the risk is greatly reduced if everyone in the immediate area remains vigilant of any wayward movements from new practitioners. 

Are Martial Arts That Utilize Weapons Legal?

Yes, the practice of martial arts that utilize weapons is legal. Depending on the state and country, some of the weapons themselves are illegal to carry or wield in public but are safe and legal to practice in a controlled setting. Carrying around a katana in public may be legal in most places, but the person doing so will likely be asked a few questions by the authorities about why they feel the need to wield such a weapon in public. 

Are There Martial Arts That Use Guns?

Yes, there are a few martial arts that use guns, but they are mostly done for cinematic and choreographic purposes. Gun fu is a style of gunfighting that mixes unarmed combat techniques with gunfighting. The styles vary because there is no established system of gun fu as it is designed for Hollywood and Hong Kong action films. 

There are many gun safety and firearms courses that teach people how to properly handle loaded guns, but they are not generally considered martial arts in the eyes of public perception. 

There are several martial arts that practice weapons disarmament, namely aikido and Krav Maga. 

Are Martial Arts That Utilize Weapons Good for Teens?

Yes, martial arts that utilize weapons are good for teenagers because it teaches them self defense, discipline, and creativity. Students learn how to properly wield certain weapons by developing control over them. They soon understand the potential power that is derived from certain weapons and how to properly disarm or discourage an attacker without causing maximum harm, which could lead to serious injury or death. 

Those who are properly trained with using a bo staff may one day find themselves in a serious disagreement on a construction site where defending themselves with a shovel is their best option, and will do so safely and properly without simply attempting to carelessly bash their opponents over the head with it.   

What are the Possible Effects of Martial Arts?

The best possible effects of training martial arts are a total sense of improvement for both the mind and the body. Your body sheds fat and gains muscle in ways that are conducive to improving in your respective discipline. Your reflexes become sharper. Your endurance improves. Your confidence grows and you become more vigilant on the street. 

Your social life also improves because you are surrounded by people who share similar goals and learn that people from all walks of life have more in common than previously thought. It is a way for people of all backgrounds and religions to get to know one another in ways that are not possible anywhere else. 

What is the Best Age to Learn Martial Arts That Uses Weapons?

The best age for someone to begin learning how to use weapons entirely depends on the person and type of weapon. Small children are able to safely learn how to wield a bo staff but will not be ready for swordsmanship with a real sword until they are older and under strict supervision. However, young children are still able to learn proper swordsmanship with wooden practice swords that are similar in length and weight. 

What Are the Consequences for People Who Use Martial Arts for Negative Purposes?

People who use their martial arts training for negative purposes usually end up in legal trouble, especially if weapons are involved. Even though martial arts often turn aggressive bullies into compassionate and passive people, there are a few who will let their anger or ego get the best of them and use their training to inflict maximum and unnecessary damage against those who upset them.  

The consequences are more severe if a trained martial artist uses a weapon to attack first rather than defend an attack, especially if the attack leads to serious injury or death. 

Aside from the legal troubles they face, they also risk being ostracized from their respective martial arts community and may find it almost impossible to join another gym once word spreads of their disposition for reckless behavior. 

What are the Other Forms of Martial Arts That Utilize Weapons?

There are many martial arts around the world that utilize weapons in some way. Many were covered in this article, but there are many others that were not mentioned. A few other martial arts that make use of certain types of weaponry are toyama ryu, kalaripayattu, angampora, haidong gumdo, and jodo. 

What is the Difference Between MMA and Muay Thai Martial Arts?

The difference between mixed martial arts (MMA) and Muay Thai is that Muay Thai is a specific martial art, whereas MMA encompasses any and all forms of martial arts that do not use weapons. Muay Thai has proven to be one of the most effective striking systems in MMA competitions due to its techniques of delivering blows with elbows and knees, which is what sets it apart from traditional kickboxing.

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