The Japanese archipelago is a fascinating place, which is why so many people want to visit it. From manga to samurai via geishas, the Land of the Rising Sun has a rich history, culture, and folklore that’s the envy of many other countries.

Japanese martial arts are some of the most popular in the world. Whether they’re barehanded martial arts or include weapons such as a sword, many people are interested in learning about them.

In this article, Superprof is looking at some of the most popular Japanese martial arts. With so many different combat techniques and martial arts, the Japanese don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to other countries’ combat sports.

Kendo and Jukendo

The samurai follow bushido, the samurai codes of honour, and generally fight using Japanese blades such as a katana, tachi, or wakizashi. Kendo is a martial art that focuses on using swords. It’s both an art form and a sport with world championships.

What is kendo?
Kendo is a martial art that makes use of sword techniques but without an actual blade. (Source: WikiImages)

To practise this martial art, you’ll need a sword, which is generally made from bamboo (shinai) or wood (bokken). In addition to sword techniques, mental focus and strength of character are also taught.

Jukendo is a martial art that focuses on the use of a bayonet. It’s partway between kendo and sojutsu, the art of combat using a lance, but surprisingly, also teaches bayonet techniques that were taught by the French army in Japan.

This sport has existed for over 70 years and can be practised by almost anyone. It inspires warriors on the battlefield and carries on the traditional use of these traditional Japanese weapons.


Aikido is a martial art founded by Morihei Ueshiba in the 20th century and focuses on using your enemy’s strength against them. You don’t focus on beating them but rather removing their chances to attack. It’s legitimately designed for self-defence and is related to Shinto teachings, which focus on peace:

“The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit.” - Morihei Ueshiba

The goal of Aikido is to improve your spirit by practising in a good mood! Not all martial arts are as angry as they look.

Shorinji Kempo

In 1947, Doshin So founded Shorinji Kempo, a martial art related to Shaolin kung fu and focuses on three main points relating to the body and mind:

  • Self-defence
  • Mental training
  • Physical training

Shorinji Kempo is a martial art but it’s also an activity that focuses on balance, coordination and getting in shape. Working in pairs is often focused on to show the importance of cooperation.


Jujutsu (also know as jujitsu) is a martial art whose techniques were created by the samurai during the Edo period. In this sport, your focus is on flexibility, blows, and neutralising your opponent through takedowns.

This martial art focuses on self-defence as well as self-confidence and healthy living. Jujutsu is the precursor to judo and aikido as well as Brazilian jujutsu.

Judo and Karate

There are karate clubs all over the world and there are tonnes of them in the UK. Similarly, judo is very popular and one of the most popular martial arts in the UK.

What is judo?
Judo makes use of many different grapples and throws. (Source: markuzsm)

While we’ve put them in the section here, they are very different sports. Judo, or “gentle way” is an Olympic martial art whose goal is to immobilise your adversary through technical grappling or throwing techniques. It’s practised in a dojo and the colour of your belt indicates your grade (kyu or dan) in this order:

  • White belt
  • White-yellow belt
  • Yellow belt
  • Yellow-orange belt
  • Orange belt
  • Orange-green belt
  • Green belt
  • Blue belt
  • Brown belt
  • Black belt (several grades)
  • Panelled white-red belt (several grades)
  • Red belt (last two grades)

Karate is another martial art that originated in Japan. In karate, you use techniques to defend and respond to attacks with different parts of your body. There are different schools of karate:

  • Shotokan Ryu: the most common type, founded by Funakoshi Gichin, the father of modern karate.
  • Goju Ryu: the “hard-soft style”, founded by Chojun Miyagi.
  • Wado Ryu: a style that focuses on dodging, founded by Hironori Otsuka.
  • Shito Ryu: the style with the most kata, focusing on punches and kicks, founded by Kenwa Mabuni.

These two martial art disciplines have been hugely popular in both Japan and around the world.


Few sports represent the Japanese culture as well as sumo, where two large combatants fight in a sacred ring. Sumo wrestlers are called either sumotoris or rikishi.

The history of sumo wrestling is as long as the history of Japan and it’s still hugely popular in Japan. The goal of sumo is to down your opponent or throw them out of the ring (dohyo). It’s something to behold.


Naginata is a Japanese lance with a curved blade at the end. It’s been used since the 10th century by horse-mounted warriors. It became a martial art across Japan and was mainly practised by women.

The martial art is known as naginatajutsu and the students learn directly from the Grand Master (Soke) how to handle this Japanese halberd either through katas or combat.

What is naginata?
As a martial art, naginata uses a Japanese halberd-style weapon. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


Iaido is a martial art that makes use of a sword and focuses on defeating an opponent in a single strike. The goal is to strike the opponent before they strike you. Every move must be perfect but iaido also has a spiritual side.

It’s usually practised through katas (a sequence of movements) which are as follows:

  • Nukitsuke: drawing and cutting
  • Kiri tsuke: the main cut
  • Chiburi: cleaning the blade
  • Noto: sheathing the blade

Iaido looks more like an art than a martial art but now there’s the taijutsu, combat-focused iaido.

Nippon Kempo

Nippon Kempo was founded in 1932 by Masaru Muneumi and is a martial art that uses kendo armour. Having been trained in judo and karate, the sensei focused on throws and blows inspired by Chinese martial arts.

In Nippon Kempo, you wear armour known as the bogu which includes a mask, a cuirass, and gloves. Thus, you can strike your opponent without worrying about hurting them. There are several clubs around the UK where you can practise Nippon Kempo.


“A good technique will improve the shot, but a good spirit will improve the man.”

Kyudo is the Japanese art of archery.

Kyudo is different from western archery in the way that it includes a spiritual aspect inspired by Taoism, Confucianism, Zen, and Shintoism. The archer needs to execute a perfect set of moves to pierce the paper target by using the least physical exertion possible and the maximum amount of spiritual energy (ki).

Kyudo is, therefore, very aesthetically focused. This is a sport practised by as many men as women and there are 140,000 participants in Japan alone.

Now you know a bit about martial arts in Japan. Before you put your uniform on and start acting like a samurai, you should find out more about Japanese culture through our other articles on Japan or learn some Japanese from a private tutor on Superprof!

There are three distinct types of private tutorial on offer for Japanese students: face-to-face tutorials, online tutorials, and group tutorials. Each type is different in terms of learning styles and cost, so what may be right for one student may not be right for another.

Face-to-face tutorials involve just a single student and tutor and will include a bespoke programme or course that's being taught to the student. Since the tutor will often travel to the student, spend a lot of time outside of class preparing the tutorials, and put in extra hours to help the student, the sessions can be quite costly. However, you will be getting a tailored service which is very cost-effective!

Online tutorials also involve one student with a tutor but the two aren't physically in the same place. Thanks to the internet, you can be taught Japanese online via webcam. With fewer travel costs and the ability to schedule more tutorials each week, the tutor doesn't need to charge as much for their tutorials.

Group tutorials are more like the classes you would've had in school with one teacher and multiple students. With each student footing the bill, the cost per student per hour tends to be less than the other two types of tutorial. However, this also means that you'll get less one-on-one time with your private tutor.

Don't forget that a lot of tutors on Superprof offer the first hour of tuition for free, too!

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