The Most Famous

MARTIAL ARTS from Japan

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This page contains a list of the greatest Japanese Martial Arts. The pantheon dataset contains 117 Martial Arts, 19 of which were born in Japan. This makes Japan the birth place of the 2nd most number of Martial Arts.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Japanese Martial Arts of all time. This list of famous Japanese Martial Arts is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Japanese Martial Arts.

Photo of Kanō Jigorō

1. Kanō Jigorō (1860 - 1938)

With an HPI of 76.69, Kanō Jigorō is the most famous Japanese Martial Arts.  His biography has been translated into 47 different languages on wikipedia.

Kanō Jigorō (嘉納 治五郎, 10 December 1860 – 4 May 1938) was a Japanese educator, athlete, and the founder of Judo. Judo was the first Japanese martial art to gain widespread international recognition, and the first to become an official Olympic sport. Pedagogical innovations attributed to Kanō include the use of black and white belts, and the introduction of dan ranking to show the relative ranking among members of a martial art style. Well-known mottoes attributed to Kanō include "maximum efficiency with minimum effort" (精力善用 seiryoku zen'yō) and "mutual welfare and benefit" (自他共栄 jita kyōei).In his professional life, Kanō was an educator. Important postings included serving as director of primary education for the Ministry of Education (文部省, Monbushō) from 1898 to 1901, and as president of Tokyo Higher Normal School from 1900 until 1920. He played a key role in making judo and kendo part of the Japanese public school programs of the 1910s. Kanō was also a pioneer of international sports. Accomplishments included being the first Asian member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) (he served from 1909 until 1938); officially representing Japan at most Olympic Games held between 1912 and 1936; and serving as a leading spokesman for Japan's bid for the 1940 Olympic Games. His official honors and decorations included the First Order of Merit and Grand Order of the Rising Sun and the Third Imperial Degree. Kanō was inducted as the first member of the International Judo Federation (IJF) Hall of Fame on 14 May 1999.

Photo of Gichin Funakoshi

2. Gichin Funakoshi (1868 - 1957)

With an HPI of 76.61, Gichin Funakoshi is the 2nd most famous Japanese Martial Arts.  His biography has been translated into 43 different languages.

Gichin Funakoshi (船越 義珍, Funakoshi Gichin, November 10, 1868 – April 26, 1957) is the founder of Shotokan karate-do, perhaps the most widely known style of karate, and is known as a "father of modern karate". Following the teachings of Anko Itosu and Anko Asato, he was one of the Okinawan karate masters who introduced karate, but after Ankō Itosu sensei, Funakoshi sensei's teacher, had introduced the art pre-1922, to the Japanese mainland in 1922. He taught karate at various Japanese universities and became honorary head of the Japan Karate Association upon its establishment in 1949.

Photo of Morihei Ueshiba

3. Morihei Ueshiba (1883 - 1969)

With an HPI of 76.27, Morihei Ueshiba is the 3rd most famous Japanese Martial Arts.  His biography has been translated into 50 different languages.

Morihei Ueshiba (植芝 盛平, Ueshiba Morihei, December 14, 1883 – April 26, 1969) was a Japanese martial artist and founder of the martial art of aikido. He is often referred to as "the founder" Kaiso (開祖) or Ōsensei (大先生/翁先生), "Great Teacher". The son of a landowner from Tanabe, Ueshiba studied a number of martial arts in his youth, and served in the Japanese Army during the Russo-Japanese War. After being discharged in 1907, he moved to Hokkaidō as the head of a pioneer settlement; here he met and studied with Takeda Sōkaku, the founder of Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu. On leaving Hokkaido in 1919, Ueshiba joined the Ōmoto-kyō movement, a Shinto sect, in Ayabe, where he served as a martial arts instructor and opened his first dojo. He accompanied the head of the Ōmoto-kyō group, Onisaburo Deguchi, on an expedition to Mongolia in 1924, where they were captured by Chinese troops and returned to Japan. The following year, he had a profound spiritual experience, stating that, "a golden spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled my body, and changed my body into a golden one." After this experience, his martial arts skill appeared to be greatly increased. Ueshiba moved to Tokyo in 1926, where he set up what would become the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. By now he was comparatively famous in martial arts circles, and taught at this dojo and others around Japan, including in several military academies. In the aftermath of World War II the Hombu dojo was temporarily closed, but Ueshiba had by this point left Tokyo and retired to Iwama, and he continued training at the dojo he had set up there. From the end of the war until the 1960s, he worked to promote aikido throughout Japan and abroad. He died from liver cancer in 1969. After Ueshiba's death, aikido continued to be promulgated by his students (many of whom became noted martial artists in their own right). It is now practiced around the world.

Photo of Kenwa Mabuni

4. Kenwa Mabuni (1889 - 1952)

With an HPI of 66.34, Kenwa Mabuni is the 4th most famous Japanese Martial Arts.  His biography has been translated into 19 different languages.

Kenwa Mabuni (摩文仁 賢和, Mabuni Kenwa, 14 November 1889 - 23 May 1952) was one of the first karateka to teach karate in mainland Japan and is credited as developing the style known as Shitō-ryū. Originally, he chose the name Hanko-ryu, literally "half-hard style", to imply that the style used both hard and soft techniques. Finally, Mabuni chose Shito-ryu, the first characters of the names Itosu and Higaonna, his two primary teachers.

Photo of Ankō Itosu

5. Ankō Itosu (1831 - 1915)

With an HPI of 65.75, Ankō Itosu is the 5th most famous Japanese Martial Arts.  His biography has been translated into 18 different languages.

Ankō Itosu (糸洲 安恒, Okinawan: Ichiji Ankō, Japanese: Itosu Ankō, 1831 – 11 March 1915) is considered by many the father of modern karate, although this title is also often given to Gichin Funakoshi because of the latter spreading karate throughout Japan but after Ankō sensei had introduced the art of Okinawate to the country.

Photo of Chōjun Miyagi

6. Chōjun Miyagi (1888 - 1953)

With an HPI of 65.42, Chōjun Miyagi is the 6th most famous Japanese Martial Arts.  His biography has been translated into 19 different languages.

Chōjun Miyagi (宮城 長順, Miyagi Chōjun, April 25, 1888 – October 8, 1953) was an Okinawan martial artist who founded the Gōjū-ryū school of karate by blending Okinawan and Chinese influences.

Photo of Masatoshi Nakayama

7. Masatoshi Nakayama (1913 - 1987)

With an HPI of 65.05, Masatoshi Nakayama is the 7th most famous Japanese Martial Arts.  His biography has been translated into 22 different languages.

Masatoshi Nakayama (中山 正敏, Nakayama Masatoshi, April 13, 1913 – April 15, 1987) was an internationally famous Japanese master of Shotokan karate. He helped establish the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in 1949, and wrote many textbooks on karate, which served to popularize his martial art. For almost 40 years, until his death in 1987, Nakayama worked to spread Shotokan karate around the world. He was the first master in Shotokan history to attain the rank of 9th dan while alive, and was posthumously awarded the rank of 10th dan.

Photo of Higaonna Kanryō

8. Higaonna Kanryō (1853 - 1916)

With an HPI of 64.89, Higaonna Kanryō is the 8th most famous Japanese Martial Arts.  His biography has been translated into 17 different languages.

Higashionna Kanryō (東恩納 寛量, Higashionna Kanryō, March 10, 1853 – October 1915), also known as Higashionna West, was a Ryukyuan martial artist who founded a fighting style known at the time as Naha-te. He is recognized as one of the first students of Fujian White Crane Kung Fu masters, namely Ryū Ryū Ko, in the Fuzhou region of China who returned with those skills to Okinawa. His student, Chōjun Miyagi, would later found Gōjū ryū Karate.

Photo of Matsumura Sōkon

9. Matsumura Sōkon (1809 - 1899)

With an HPI of 63.71, Matsumura Sōkon is the 9th most famous Japanese Martial Arts.  His biography has been translated into 15 different languages.

Matsumura Sōkon (松村 宗棍) was one of the original karate masters of Okinawa. The years of his lifespan are reported variously as c.1809-1901 or 1798–1890 or 1809–1896 or 1800–1892. However, the dates on the plaque at Matsumura's tomb, put there by Matsumura's family, clearly state that he was born in 1809 and died in 1899.

Photo of Motobu Chōki

10. Motobu Chōki (1870 - 1944)

With an HPI of 63.33, Motobu Chōki is the 10th most famous Japanese Martial Arts.  His biography has been translated into 17 different languages.

Motobu Chōki (本部 朝基, 1870–1944) was an Okinawan karateka from Akahira Village in Shuri, Okinawa, capital of the Ryūkyū Kingdom when he was born. His older brother Motobu Chōyū was also a noted karateka. His father, Lord Motobu Chōshin (Motobu Aji Chōsin) was a descendant of the sixth son of the Okinawan King, Shō Shitsu (1629–1668), namely Shō Kōshin, also known as Prince Motobu Chōhei (1655–1687). Chōki was the third son of Motobu Udun ("Motobu Palace"), one of the cadet branches of the Ryūkyūan royal family. As the last of three sons, Motobu Chōki was not entitled to an education in his family's style of Te (an earlier name for karate). Despite this Motobu was very interested in the art, spending much of his youth training on his own, hitting the makiwara, pushing and lifting heavy stones to increase his strength. He is reported to have been very agile, which gained him the nickname Motobu no Saru, or "Motobu the Monkey." He began practicing karate under Matsumura Sōkon and continued under Ankō Itosu, Sakuma Pechin and Kōsaku Matsumora.

Pantheon has 19 people classified as martial arts born between 1809 and 1989. Of these 19, 5 (26.32%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living martial arts include Toyokazu Nomura, Takao Kawaguchi, and Kazuhiro Ninomiya. The most famous deceased martial arts include Kanō Jigorō, Gichin Funakoshi, and Morihei Ueshiba. As of October 2020, 8 new martial arts have been added to Pantheon including Matsumura Sōkon, Morihiro Saito, and Shoji Nishio.

Living Martial Arts

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Deceased Martial Arts

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Newly Added Martial Arts (2020)

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Which Martial Arts were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 12 most globally memorable Martial Arts since 1700.