The Most Famous

MARTIAL ARTS from Japan

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This page contains a list of the greatest Martial Arts. The pantheon dataset contains 118 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 Martial Arts of all time. This list of famous 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 Martial Arts.

Photo of Kanō Jigorō

1. Kanō Jigorō (1860 - 1938)

With an HPI of 76.68, Kanō Jigorō is the most famous Martial Arts.  His biography has been translated into 49 different languages on wikipedia.

Jigoro Kano (嘉納 治五郎, 10 December 1860 – 4 May 1938) was a Japanese educator, athlete, and the founder of Judo. Along with Ju-Jitsu, Judo was one of the first Japanese martial arts 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 69.40, Gichin Funakoshi is the 2nd most famous 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) was 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 to the Japanese mainland in 1922, following its earlier introduction by his teacher Itosu. 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 68.74, Morihei Ueshiba is the 3rd most famous 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/Old Teacher (old as opposed to waka (young) sensei)". 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 Ankō Itosu

4. Ankō Itosu (1831 - 1915)

With an HPI of 55.47, Ankō Itosu is the 4th most famous 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. This title is also often given to Gichin Funakoshi because of the latter spreading karate throughout Japan, but only after Ankō sensei had introduced the art of Okinawate to the country.

Photo of Masatoshi Nakayama

5. Masatoshi Nakayama (1913 - 1987)

With an HPI of 55.44, Masatoshi Nakayama is the 5th most famous 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 Kenwa Mabuni

6. Kenwa Mabuni (1889 - 1952)

With an HPI of 55.36, Kenwa Mabuni is the 6th most famous 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 Chōjun Miyagi

7. Chōjun Miyagi (1888 - 1953)

With an HPI of 54.71, Chōjun Miyagi is the 7th most famous 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 Motobu Chōki

8. Motobu Chōki (1870 - 1944)

With an HPI of 54.03, Motobu Chōki is the 8th most famous Martial Arts.  His biography has been translated into 17 different languages.

Motobu Chōki (本部 朝基, April 5 1870 – April 15 1944) was an Okinawan karate master and founder of Motobu-ryū. He was born into a branch of the Ryukyuan royal family, and at the age of 12, he and his older brother Motobu Chōyū invited Ankō Itosu to learn karate. Chōyū was also a noted martial artist. Motobu also studied karate under Sakuma, Matsumura Sōkon, and Kōsaku Matsumora. He excelled especially in kumite and was already known throughout Okinawa in his twenties. As he grew up, he came to be regarded as the best in Okinawa in terms of practical karate techniques. He is reported to have been very agile, which gained him the nickname Motobu no Saru ("Motobu the Monkey"). Motobu later moved to mainland Japan, and at the age of 52, he beat a foreign boxer in Kyoto, Japan, and his name became instantly known throughout the country. He distanced himself from the modernization trend in karate, focusing only on kata Naihanchi and concentrating on kumite practice.

Photo of Higaonna Kanryō

9. Higaonna Kanryō (1853 - 1916)

With an HPI of 53.54, Higaonna Kanryō is the 9th most famous 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

10. Matsumura Sōkon (1809 - 1899)

With an HPI of 53.02, Matsumura Sōkon is the 10th most famous Martial Arts.  His biography has been translated into 16 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.

Pantheon has 22 people classified as martial arts born between 1809 and 1989. Of these 22, 6 (27.27%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living martial arts include Takayuki Kubota, Toyokazu Nomura, and Takao Kawaguchi. The most famous deceased martial arts include Kanō Jigorō, Gichin Funakoshi, and Morihei Ueshiba. As of April 2022, 3 new martial arts have been added to Pantheon including Hironori Ōtsuka, Gozo Shioda, and Takayuki Kubota.

Living Martial Arts

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Deceased Martial Arts

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Newly Added Martial Arts (2022)

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Which Martial Arts were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 13 most globally memorable Martial Arts since 1700.