Five years in the making, "The Martial Arts Sourcebook," written by renowned author John Corcoran, was published by HarperCollins in 1994 as a 434-page trade paperback with 175 photos. This unique reference book was distinguished by its impressive size (over 1-million facts), scope (global), and rare nonpartisan substance (the contents appeal to readers of virtually all martial arts, styles, political affiliations, and rank status from beginners to black belts).
The book was originally released in late 1994 during the Christmas-shopping season, perennially the biggest book-buying time of year. It sold some 12,500 copies in just six weeks through mainstream bookstores alone, a remarkable short-term sell-through for a genre book. It drove the book into an instant second printing. After HarperCollins terminated "The Martial Arts Sourcebook" and returned all publishing and licensing rights to Corcoran, he began updating the book's contents for a revised CD-Rom version. This project was still a work-in-progress when in 2002 Corcoran granted martialinfo the rights to publish the following chapter, "Martial Arts and Styles of the World."

The following is the most comprehensive list of global martial arts and styles ever published in one book, a total of 1037 styles in 29 countries. No attempt was made to provide literal translations, definitions or other types of support information since this is to some extent available in other published sources. The arts and styles appearing here can serve as a checklist for correct spellings and countries of origin. It's also a quick reference source for historians and researchers. If you have current and up to date information about any of these styles, please let us know ...
This list includes traditional, nontraditional and contemporary eclectic systems. The author makes no claims, even by mere inclusion, of an art or style's legitimacy. What appears here is simply a list of what once existed and what exists today.


Given its 2,000-year martial heritage, there is understandably a mind-boggling number of Chinese kung-fu styles. According to eminent martial scholars Donn F. Draeger and Robert W. Smith, there were over 400 types of Chinese boxing extent in China's history. However, by 1969, when their masterwork, Asian Fighting Arts, was published, the authors pointed out that: 1) Some of those systems "had died out due to obsessive secrecy; 2) some were derivative; and 3) some contemporary styles had duplicated the names of earlier ones."
Further, since 1969 untold masters have created their own styles while other systems have faded into obscurity. Even current experts are unsure of the exact number. In a 1992 magazine article, Sifu Adam Hsu wrote, "The number of kung-fu styles we have in China can go as high as four hundred or as low as two hundred. Thus it may be safe to place the total at about three hundred."
All of which makes it impossible to know at any given time precisely how many kung-fu styles exist in the world. The same, in fact, could be said about all the other martial arts as well. What appears in this chapter is a large sampling of past and present systems, the most, to my knowledge, ever published in one book. Several other factors add to the difficulty of tracing all the old and new systems. For one, Chinese martial arts were practiced in secrecy for many centuries and, to some extent, still are today. Only recently, particularly in the excellent publication Inside Kung Fu, has a vast amount of information been made public. As an result, more and better data is coming to the forefront of martial arts literature. We're also learning that the names of Chinese arts and styles have often been misspelled in the past.
Then there's the serious problem of the Chinese language and its numerous methods of translation. Many styles carry two names, one in Cantonese and another in Mandarin. There are also different systems of what's called "romanization" (Wade-Giles, Yale, Meyer-Wempe) for translating both, each of which allows the Western reader to convert Chinese language to something familiar.
However, by the 1980s, China had developed its own system of romanization known as Hanyu pinyan. This is the system that, for example, changed "Peking" into "Beijing." This new method also combines words that earlier would have appeared separately, i.e., t'ai-chi ch'uan becomes taijiquan. To simplify an extremely complex situation, I have included any and all versions of art and style names. This assures that nothing is omitted. In a further simplification, I have omitted all use of apostrophies, which tended to complicate spellings and translations. Thus, t'ai-chi ch'uan becomes simply tai-chi chuan.
Below are listed some of the common arts in pinyin and other forms for those wanting to cross-reference: Pinyin Other
Gongfu Kung-Fu
Taijiquan Tai-Chi Chuan
Baguazhang Pa-Kua Chang
Xingyiquan Hsing-Yi Chuan
Qinna Chin-Na
Shuaijiao Shuai-Chiao
Sanshou San Shou, San-Shou
Literal translations appear for only the most popular systems, usually when the style is better known in the Western world by its English translation. This will allow neophytes to identify the style about which they might have read or heard and immediately draw the relationship to its authentic Chinese name.


The hundreds of Japanese martial arts and styles fall into two categories, the ancient Bujutsu and its 20th-century counterpart, the Budo. Styles deriving from these two classifications are distinguished, in literary terms, by the suffixes jutsu and do, respectively.
A virtual explosion of arts and styles occurred during Japan's feudal era, when warriorship and militarism was at an all-time zenith. More emphasis was placed on the sword at that time than any other means of combat. Consequently, kenjutsu developed far more ryu (schools) than any other art.
Notably, some feudal martial systems, like the Katori Shinto-ryu, for one example, were of a composite nature and taught the techniques of more than one armed and/or unarmed method. Consequently, as you pour over the Japanese systems in this chapter you will occasionally find a single style listed under several arts. It is possible, too, that kenjutsu and iaijutsu grew simultaneously and perhaps enhanced each other's development, which explains why some kenjutsu ryu share the same name as iaijutsu ryu.
According to martial scholars Draeger and Smith, "During the height of the Japanese feudal era some 725 jujutsu systems were officially documented in Japan, as were 1,700 schools of kenjutsu, 412 iaijutsu schools, and 460 yarijutsu ryu." Most have not survived the march of time and have fallen into oblivion. By 1867, in fact, kenjutsu decreased to just over 200 active styles, with only a few of them extant today; and iaijutsu presently has but a handful of sects.
But according to two other martial scholars, Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook, there were far more. In their comprehensive Secrets of the Samurai, the authors claim "at least 10,000 ryu existed when Emperor Meiji came to power." They, too, emphasize that that number dwindled magnificently to the present day.
By 1960, according to Draeger and Smith, there were an estimated "75 karate-do and 30 karate-jutsu styles, 14 sects of aikido, and pure yarijutsu was virtually nonexistent." In a February 1987 Black Belt magazine article, one aikido expert claimed there were over 40 styles of aikido alone; if accurate, this means more than 26 new styles of aikido were created between 1960 and 1986! This example, in itself, demonstrates the enormous difficulty the author encountered in compiling this chapter alone.


Almost all of the major Okinawan karate styles were founded between 1915-1940, although many were actually only given their names in post-World War II. This includes many of the earliest Japanese karate-do systems founded in Japan by transplanted Okinawan masters and their Japanese disciples. The relatively small number of the Okinawan karate systems, together with their subsequent thorough documentation by Western karate students and historians, leaves very little question about Okinawan karate's 20th-century origins and development.


As with Japan's samurai and China's kung-fu, Arnis or Escrima was originally used to protect one's family, property and/or barangay (barrio or rural district within a town). According to an article written by Grandmaster Nes Fernandez for Kung Fu magazine, "It appears that many barangays, and there are thousands in the Philippines, have ownership of specific fighting styles. This leads one to hypothesize that, like kung-fu, Arnis has more styles than have currently been identified. Like the Chinese art of kung-fu, many of the differences are subtle, but some are vast and break from the traditional teachings of Arnis."
The author's research has led to a list of 52 such styles that appear here. Remarkably, a whopping 43 of them were identified in Dan Inosanto's excellent book, The Filipino Martial Arts.

United States

Kajukenbo and Kenpo (Kara-ho) were originated in Hawaii before the islands became an official part of the United States. The author has listed these two styles under both headings (United States and Hawaii).
Note, too, the number of awkward and even corny style names composed in American karate and kung-fu. Some mixed-style experts, in naming their own new system, combined parts of the Chinese, Korean, English and/or Japanese languages. Once again, the author makes no representations whatsoever concerning the validity of any martial art or style appearing in this section, or, for that matter, this entire chapter.

want to help?

Do you have any information about the styles that we have listed here?

Please contact us by email and let us know how we can improve in documenting the most complete guide to the martial art styles around the world.


We love the martial arts.

We’re proud to say that so far we have categorized and listed more than 900 martial arts styles divided by the various countries they come from. We’re in the process of listing all styles, from all countries, and we’re inviting you to participate in the process. If you see a style or martial arts system that’s missing from our list, e-mail us a note at