The Basics of Martial Arts

By Nicholas Chen , last updated December 25, 2011

So what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the words martial arts or black belt? Is it a scene from a Jackie Chan movie or a vision of an old bearded Chinese master of martial arts flying through the air in a magical trance? The long jumps and 360 degrees kicks are just an illusion created by several movies on this topic. Reality based combat is very different from this. There are numerous martial arts moves and techniques, but most of them can only be understood by pros. This article will take you through the basics of martial arts, which can be easily grasped by a beginner.

The following general martial arts techniques make this form of systemized combat quite special.


This is the act of stopping, employed during combat against an opponent’s attempt at striking. Blocking usually incorporates the use of arms. However, other limbs may also be used for this purpose. Mastering blocking comes with time but having a command over the two basics styles of blocking increases your ability to defend yourself. These two types of blocking are inside and outside styles. In an inside block, the strike by the opponent is deflected away from the defender. For instance, while blocking against a straight punch to the face, an inside forearm of the defender will meet the forearm of the attacker, deflecting the punch outward. This also helps in counter attacking. An outside block on the other hand deflects the strike away from the defender and across the attacker. This particular style of blocking the outside forearm is used against the outside forearm of the attacker. This pushes the punch outwards and leaves the defender slightly to the side of the strike.

Footwork and Stances

Mastering footwork is often an underrated skill the martial artist possesses. Professional fighters work on this skill to gain an edge over their opponents who might have a weak stance or footwork skill. Traditional Martial arts like Kung Fu and Karate utilize stances during fighting more often than modern martial arts do. An example of a traditional stance is the horse stance. It’s called this due to its similarity of body posture to that of a horse rider. The practitioner spreads his legs wider than the width of the shoulders, bends his knees while keeping his back straight and pushes his chest out making sure that his hips are forward. There can be slight variations in the stance depending on the unique styles of the artist but the basics remain the same.


Striking in martial arts is generally referred to as stand up fighting, which allows you to defend yourself in an upright position by attacking the opponent with kicks, punches, knees and blocks. The different styles of striking vary and are not created equal in any way. Each striking style has its own strength and magnitude of harm caused to the opponent. Some forms of martial arts exist in almost every culture. Thus striking styles vary from region to region due to the cultural influences. Some of the more popular striking styles in this discipline are Boxing, Capoeira, Goju Ryu Karate, Kenpo, Krav Maga and Kickboxing. Mohammad Ali, Bruce Lee and Joe Lewis are some of the greatest names synonymous with striking in martial arts.


Submission is the term used in martial arts to indicate that a fighter is giving up or tapping out. A submission hold means that the opponents have sunk in to a joint lock or choke hold, which ultimately leads to an opponent giving up or getting injured if they don’t. Submission is usually done on the ground. However, that’s not always the case. Certain submissions can also be done while standing up. A technical submission is when the referee ends the fight in case the opponent is unable to give a verbal or physical indication due to an injury or losing consciousness. Submission, basically cutting off the opponents air supply or choke holding are important characteristics of certain styles of fighting like the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Russian Sambo, shoot fighting and catch wrestling.


Takedowns are the act of taking an opponent down, as evident from its name. This is usually achieved by wrestling moves which involve single and double leg takedowns or it can be done though "throws." A throw is a more aggressive and defensive style of takedown. A practitioner locks himself up with the opponent and using his body strength, he takes the opponent down. Takedowns usually describe martial arts styles incorporated in wrestling; however, throws are usually administered in Aikido, Judo and Hapkido.

A common question novices ask regards the superiority in martial arts. Enthusiasts often wonder which belts signify superiority or proficiency in this organized combat sport. Is it a black belt? The answer to this question is a little ambiguous. Although the black belt does signify having expertise in martial arts, it varies from culture to culture. In some countries a practitioner will receive a black belt only 3 years after training whereas in others it takes 10 years of hard work to reach that level. The belt grading system is adopted in different ways throughout the world. This style of combat has been employed by cultures for hundreds of years. Every ancient civilization subscribed to its own version of martial arts. It’s popularly believed that this system of fighting originated from Asia, hundreds of years ago and along with trade, ideas got transferred to other countries and cultures.

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