In its broadest sense, the martial arts refer to any type of combat technique, often stressing hand and foot combat. In many cases, the term is used to refer to self-defense techniques born in Asian countries, although practices from all over the world can be counted in the definition. Mental discipline and the search for enlightenment are also part and parcel of many martial arts. While some focus on using one's feet to attack or disarm an opponent, other martial arts concentrate on the use of one's hands or making throws to render an opponent useless.
Some of the more popular martial arts are Tae Kwan Do, Kenpo, Judo, Hapkido, Kung Fu, Akido, and Karate. Each of these stresses the art form of the discipline itself. Through repeated practice of moves, steps, punches, and kicks, students of these martial arts develop, grace, strength, and mental discipline.
The words Tae Kwan Do, translate to: "the way of foot and fist." Though primarily an art where strikes with the foot are the focus, Tae Kwon Do also teaches the use of one's hands to strike an opponent or to block an opponent's kicks or punches. This Korean-born art stresses flexibility and mental discipline.
Jujitsu is a Japanese martial art originally developed to complement the weaponry fighting of the Samurais. Over time its focus has been shifted to hand to hand combat, though weapon usage in various Jujitsu teachings is still an important part of the discipline.
Developed by instructor Morihei Ueshiba, Akido, as a martial art, stresses throws and joint locks. Akido's focus is not on using punches or kicks to defeat an opponent; rather, Akido teaches the concept of using an opponent's own energy to gain control of the opponent or to toss the opponent aside.
The roots of Kenpo and Karate can both be traced to the 5th century BC, and as such it carries a great deal of mystery with it. Kenpo's teachings began in the Shaolin temple and was considered a necessary art form to lead one along the "path of enlightenment." Karate developed primarily as a form of fist combat, and the teaching of Karate instructors still focus on using the hand as a weapon. Today, Karate and Kenpo are still taught at martial arts academies through the world.
Judo and Kung Fu are two other time-honored and popular martial arts. The teachings of Kung Fu are based on the movements of five animals: the dragon, the tiger, the snake, the leopard, and the crane. Grace, strength, and mental discipline are the goal of any student of Kung Fu.
Combining finesse and flexibility, Judo's origins can be found in the hand to hand combat teachings of Jujitsu. In the 1950s, the International Federation of Judo was founded and many teachers immigrated to other counties to teach this art. With the spread of Judo's popularity, it became an Olympic sport in 1964. It has continued to increase in popularity as a competitive sport, though some claim it has done so at the expense of the intellectual and spiritual elements of the art itself.