The history of martial arts can be traced back to the 5th century AD in Kerala, India where kalaripayattu or Kalari (a more simple form of martial arts) which is the science of war, treatment and marma therapy is practiced by Indian martial artists and warriors. The martial arts that incorporate self-defense techniques originated in China, India, and Japan. Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk that lived in the 5th century India is credited by historians as the man responsible for spreading the concepts of Zen Buddhism to Shaolin monks in China. From this interaction, the Shaolin Kung Fu was created in the Buddhist Shaolin temple in the Songshan mountain in China and is still practiced to this day by Shaolin monks even after 1500 years had passed.
But the term martial arts actually derived from Latin back when the Roman Empire was still existing. The Roman Military used the term “arts of Mars” which they believed that the Roman God of War, Mars, handed down the teachings of several forms of fighting styles to the Romans exclusively which contain systematized methods of training for combat that can be applied for both armed and unarmed engagements. There are over 150 unique types of martial arts that were created over centuries in all 6 continents of the world! They are used for various reasons including self-defense, military and law enforcement applications, mental and spiritual development; as well as entertainment and the preservation of a nation’s intangible cultural heritage.
Modern Martial Arts Techniques
Today martial arts are mostly showcased in Hollywood and Asian movies, as well as in sports and especially the Olympic Games. The Shaolin Kung Fu is the most famous of all martial arts techniques and its rise to fame is solely credited to the legendary, Bruce Lee and his lethal Jeet Kune Do which is a philosophy-based martial art. This means that this technique is non-patterned compared to traditional styles even Wing Chun and T’ai chi ch’uan and the fighter that uses Jeet Kune Do is guaranteed the upper-hand in combat as he can adjust his fighting style in order to outmaneuver the enemy and defeat him.
The top 7 trending martial arts in the world are Krav Maga, Aikido, Karate, Brazilian Jui-Jitsu, Arnis/Eskrima/Kali, Taekwondo and Muay Thai. However, for this article, we will only discuss the top 3 martial arts in this list which are Aikido, Krav Maga, and Karate and we will also explore the differences between them.
Note: we’ve selected to discuss Krav Maga, Aikido and Karate because the martial arts schools that teach them are widespread compared to the others.
Krav Maga was developed by Hungarian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld. It’s a technique he created based on his street-fighting experience and was originally taught only for the IDF (Israel Defense Force), Israel’s police force and their intelligence agency operatives, the Mossad. Krav Maga has a philosophy emphasizing aggression (not to be confused with emotional aggression or anger), and simultaneous defensive and offensive maneuvers. The emphasis of Krav Maga martial arts are a) to maintain a safe distance between you and your opponent, b) to preemptively strike or counter your opponent’s attacks to avoid physical confrontation, c) to avoid getting injured in a fight by putting your opponent down as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
Krav Maga techniques revolve around these ideas:
• Quick reaction defense (from any attack) and counter-attack are simultaneously employed.
• Progressive physically aggressive maneuvers to subdue the opponent with all aggressive attacks are not based on or led by emotions of anger. One Krav Maga instructor said that anger prevents the fighter from executing aggressive maneuvers efficiently and may be the cause of his demise should he succumb to it during combat.
• Striking the opponent continuously until physically incapacitated or dead.
• Launching preemptive attacks to not allow the opponent to engage you first, or counterattacking the moment he makes his first strike.
• Checking your surroundings for objects hard enough or sharp enough to hit your opponent and incapacitate him or kill him.
• Making all your attacks as lethal as possible to deter or incapacitate the opponent by targetting his body’s most vulnerable areas like the eyes, neck or throat, face, solar plexus, groin, ribs, knee, foot, fingers, liver, kidneys, etc.
• Using simple and easily repeatable strikes.
• Being aware of your surroundings while currently engaged to the opponent to check if there are more assailants closing in, escape routes, or objects that could be used as weapons to end the fight quickly.
• Emphasizing instinctive response under stress and making it second nature to always gain the upper hand in combat situations.
Krav Maga is a martial arts technique that was borrowed from a combination of techniques including boxing, wrestling, aikido, judo and karate that’s applied mostly for street-fighting and not merely practicing it in the dojo. That’s because Krav Maga instructors want their students to deal with real-world threats like muggers, gangsters, ordinary street criminals whom you could encounter in your life one day, especially if your job requires you to be in the office or elsewhere outside of your home. You could even be attacked while inside your home by intruders! So it’s best to learn Krav Maga to be able to defend yourself effectively against any threat.
This martial arts which have been around for over 100 years now originated in Okinawa, Japan and it either derived from or was heavily influenced by Chinese Kung Fu, particularly Fujian White Crane. The Ryukyu Kingdom was an independent kingdom that ruled most of the Ryukyu Islands from the 15th to the 19th century. It was here during a time of migration from China that the indigenous Ryukyuan martial arts were developed, in fact, the original Ryukyuans were Chinese who immigrated to the islands. Later on, Japan annexed the Ryukyu Islands and the original name for Karate (Tang Te which means Chinese Hand) was then changed to empty hand in Japanese (which has the same meaning as the word Karate) in order to adopt it and make it an official Japanese martial arts technique.
Karate is vastly different from Krav Maga as the former was built with a core philosophy of humility, self-discipline, and kindness to others – even enemies, while the latter gives emphasis on fighting an opponent with the intent to kill. Karate and Aikido are quite similar in principle as each technique has a philosophy whereas Krav Maga is used purely for violence and inflicting the maximum amount of damage to your opponent in order for them to never be able to harm you afterward. Karate, although considered to be a predominantly striking art, it employs multiple forms of attacks, defenses and subjugation moves to put the opponent down. These include:
• joint locks
• knee strikes
• elbow strikes
• palm-heel strikes
• vital-point strikes
While one may think that Krav Maga is the more lethal of the 2 martial arts; however, it may not be the case entirely, that’s because Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan Karate (1924) said that just one blow from a real expert Karateka (a Karate practitioner) could mean death. Fukonashi’s emphasis was a principle of the Heart Sutra which is a teaching of the Shingon Buddhism, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form itself” (Shiki zokuze kū kū zokuze shiki). The World Karate Federation claims that there are 100 million registered practitioners (karateka) around the world and counting and Karate is one of the most famous martial arts techniques being taught in every corner of the world. It had become so famous that in western countries it is used in a generic way to refer to all striking-based Oriental martial arts (i.e. karate movies, karate fighting, etc.).
Karate is also a great self-defense technique, especially if you’ve reached a black belt rank or having a 1-6 dan black belt rank. But the tradeoff is that it may require years of training, mastery of the kata and be excellent in sparring or kumite. Bruce Lee is believed to have a 12-dan black belt rank as a karateka aisde from being a Wing Chun expert, which is why he was able to engage and defeat up to 20 men at the same time in a real life street fight.
Aikido was created by Ōsensei (Great Teacher) Morihei Ueshiba around 1913 – 1923, but the basic skills for Aikido was already existing in Japan since the 14th century AD during the Go-Daigo Era. Aikido is a derivative of the Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu, which Ueshiba studied directly with Takeda Sōkaku. Tenjin Shin’yō-ryū, Gotōha Yagyū Shingan-ryū, and Judo also served as prime inspirations for Ueshiba in developing his unique martial arts style as he has studied these arts under different masters such as Kiyoichi Takagi (Judo), Nakai Masakatsu (Gotōha Yagyū Shingan-ryū) and Tozawa Tokusaburō (Tenjin Shin’yō-ryū). Ueshiba’s Ōmoto-kyō religion became the navel of his spiritual philosophy behind Aikido and, as a matter of fact, Aikido is often seen as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs.
One could argue that Aikido is the exact opposite of Krav Maga because it is the only martial arts of its kind that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury. The word Aikido literally means “the way of unifying with life energy” or “a path to bring people to harmony.” From this, we can deduce that Ueshiba wants to find a way to pacify the agressor and not harm him to the point of death. This is because his religion Ōmoto-kyō teaches peace and harmony to all. According to one proponent of The Secret (book/movie), the principle behind The Secret and Ueshiba’s Aikido are essentially the same and it is when we bring all energies (from the shakra points to the external ones in the universe) to a harmonious relationship with ourselves, then everything works perfectly.
Looking at how an Aikido practitioner puts down his opponent and effectively rendering him incapable to fight back, while not injuring him or beat him to the edge of mortality is more of a reflection of Ueshiba’s beliefs than a martial arts technique in play. Hollywood movies, especially action star, Steven Segal, seems to have portrayed Aikido as a very violent form of martial arts and does not reflect Ueshiba’s teachings in any way. While it is true that an Aikido expert could put an opponent down very quickly they do not enjoy breaking their bones or beating them to a pulp like what the movies portrayed.
Training and the Study of Ki
The Kanji word “Ki” has various meanings and interpretations, but when used specifically for Aikido it means life energy or life force. Without proper understanding and the subjective experience with it, the Aikido student will also have a difficult time understanding the principles of this martial arts and its real-life applications. Training in Aikido involves both the mind and the body as the proper execution of its techniques requires both to operate together in seamless harmony. It goes without saying that the student must be on top physical condition while learning Aikido as a substantial portion of any aikido curriculum consists of throws and this requires certain strength to execute the technique perfectly, even though 70% of it relies on the opponent’s mass and his charging attack.
The specific techniques for attack include both strikes and grabs; the techniques for defense consist of throws and pins. There are 2 forms of initial attacks in Aikido and they are the “Uchi” which resembles attacks from sword cuts or strikes; and the other is “Tsuki” which to the untrained eye initially appears like punches, but at closer inspection are really thrusts with a knife or sword if the practitioner was holding one in his hand.
• Front-of-the-head strike
• Side-of-the-head strike
• Chest thrust
• Face thrust
• Single-hand grab
• Both-hands grab
• Shoulder Grab
• Chest grab
The techniques listed here are the most widely practiced in Aikido dojos. The techniques mentioned in order here may not be practiced in the same fashion by different Aikido organizations in the world. We’ve only created them in such order to help the reader understand what those techniques are and how they are performed. Below are the basic techniques that you will see being practiced in most Aikido dojos if you’ve ever visited one.
• First technique (ikkyo)
• The second technique (nikyo)
• Third technique (sankyo)
• Fourth technique (yonkyo)
• Fifth technique (gokyo)
• Four-direction throw (shihōnage)
• Forearm return (kotegaeshi)
• Breath throw (kokyūnage)
• Entering throw (iriminage)
• Heaven and Earth throw (tenchinage)
• Hip throw (koshinage)
• The figure of ten throws (jūjinage)
• Rotary throw (kaitennage)
See the full list here blackbeltwiki.com.
Aikido emphasizes on the student to utilize these techniques in tandem or in successive attacks to effectively put down the opponent or when one is facing multiple opponents, which actually has a term in the practice called, “randori” – we will discuss this later. So from less than 20 techniques, an Aikido master could employ one or more techniques in a freestyle fighting action to defeat his opponent. Basically, there are thousands of possible implementations plus the Aikido practitioner could get creative with his moves and invent new techniques that have never been taught before.
In Aikido the students are advised not to use kicks (especially high kicks) because in close combat situations they are more dangerous to perform and the opponent could find a weakness in one’s stance to put him down instead. But practitioners do learn kicks in this martial arts technique; however, it is reserved for students who ascend to the higher ranks.
Randori is training to defend against multiple attackers and it exercises a person’s ability to intuitively perform techniques in an unstructured environment. Once the Aikido student has reached a certain level he is then tested by allowing him to execute the randori (mostly his opponents are his own classmates). He takes on the role of the tori, shite or nage – the one who neutralizes the attack with an aikido technique and his classmates become his uke – the aggressors or initiators of the attack. Once he is able to intuitively implement all the known Aikido techniques with a high success rate, meaning he executed them flawlessly that he did not get hit by any of his attackers or was incapacitated as a result of such hit(s), then he is considered a graduate of the Aikido school and is ready to become a master or sensei.
Comparing the Differences Between the 3 Martial Arts Styles
It would be difficult to compare the differences between these martial arts techniques as Krav Maga the latest style among the 3 heavily borrowed more than half of its fighting techniques from Karate, Aikido and other martial arts. The only difference between them is their core principles because without it these fighting styles would only be used for violence and nothing more. So, breaking it down we see that the principles of Krav Maga are purely self-defense and self-preservation. It has no spiritual teachings behind it whatsoever and it does not care for the well-being of the opponent. It is only meant to incapacitate the opponent in order to keep one’s self-safe from harm.
Karate on the other hand, although having a core belief of humility and kindness to all, is still an effective self-defense technique too! Some of the basic moves of Krav Maga derived from or are exactly performed as a karateka would do it, while the other strikes, grabs, and throws of it were copied from judo and aikido. Therefore in a way, the 3 martial arts techniques are interchangeable, but it is recommended that you study the martial arts technique that suits your needs. Krav Maga is practical and easy to learn and in about 6 months time you can become a lethal weapon, which can help you if you think your life is in danger and you need to learn self-defense fast.
Karate is more spiritual in principle and, in fact, it is recommended that you learn this fighting style if you’re emotionally unstable or want to become a kinder person as it teaches you compassion. Knowing that you possess a greater strength than those around you does help you understand why you need to be kind and gentle to them rather than the opposite. But make no mistake this fighting style also makes you dangerous should bad people ever dared to attack you for no reason. Now if you have no immediate threats in your life, but just want to learn self-defense, then Aikido is the path for you. Given enough time and training, you should become an accomplished Aikido master and be able to defend yourself and probably others who may need your help in any situation.