Based on various beliefs from China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and other countries, the martial arts are about more than physical exercise: they involve intellectual and spiritual components to help develop the individual as a complete person as well. Objectives may include connecting the mind with the body, or the individual with the universe, and physical practice helps to achieve this. Here’s a list of what’s available in Bangkok.

Aikido: Based on a variety of older martial arts such as jujitsu and judo, Aikido (the way of harmony with the chi force") is relatively new. Morihei Ueshiba, who wanted to follow a disciplined, philosophical approach to self-defense, created it in 1942. It is defensive, and is based on using the opponent’s motions against them; disabling rather than harming opponents is the objective. Techniques include punches, kicks, weapons and hands, and there is a focus on motion and dynamics.

Judo (the way of flexibility): Sometimes called a simplified version of Jujutsu, Judo was developed in Japan in 1882 as a modern sport. It focuses on timing, speed, balance, and falling and is based on numerous grappling and throwing techniques.

Jujutsu (the art of giving way): Jujutsu, one of the oldest forms of Japanese hand-to-hand combat, was developed from several combat systems of warfare that each focused on a type of weaponry. Jujutsu as a term was not used until the 1600s, when Japanese martial arts as were moving from weaponed to weaponless styles, and were collectively named Jujutsu.It’s a grappling art, with practitioners using leverage, weight, and momentum to defeat opponents.

Karate-do (the way of the empty hand): Karate-do or karate developed in response to a ban on weapons in the 1700s on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Physically demanding, it’s a mix of Kung Fu and the Okinawan style of boxing, and is recognized by its wide array of hand and foot strikes, concentration on breathing and repetitive practice of blocking, striking, and breaking techniques.

Krabii-krabong: Considered to be a more "pure" tradition than Muay Thai, Krabii Krabong focuses on several hand-held weapons, the krabii (sword), plong (quarter-staff), ngao (halberd), daap sawng meu (a pair of swords held in each hand) and mai sun-sawk (a pair of clubs). The moves involve Thai boxing techniques and judo-like throws along with the use of the weapons. The weapons, however, are not actually used to hit opponents.

Kung Fu (ability, or skill and effort): Kung Fu is an ancient martial art that originated in China when a Tibetan Buddhist monk taught Shaolin monks exercises to improve their health. This became Shaolin Kung Fu style – but there are now some 1,500 different schools. There are two main categories, external/hard and internal/soft. The former features powerful foot and hand strikes, and is physically intensive, while the latter emphasises inner spiritual development.

Muay Thai: One of the most brutal martial arts and most physical sports in the world, Thailand’s national sport is based completely on combat. It’s said to have originated in 1560 when King Naresuen was captured by the Burmese and offered his freedom in return for defeating the Burmese ; however, some believe the art is older and was influenced by Chinese boxing and the Indian arts. Muay Thai concentrates on hand and leg techniques, using all parts of the body for self-defense including punching, kicking, elbowing and kneeing.

Tae Kwon Do (the art of kicking and punching): This Korean art, where kicking is emphasised over punching, dates back to the seventh century AD. With the invasion of the Japanese, it went underground, but when Korea was liberated in 1945 the modern period of the art began, which saw the elimination of Japanese influences and a return to traditional schools (kwans). In 1955 the name Tae Kwon Do was chosen for the styles that were unified into a national sport.

Tai Chi: Popular with older people, but just as suitable for the young, this is a refined, smooth and gentle low-impact or no-impact art based on relaxation, yielding and non-aggression. It opens up the body and helps preserve physical fitness into the older years. It’s not self-defence – you don’t meet force with force as in other arts – but some describe its power as "steel wrapped in silk".

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