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India and Martial Arts: Systems, Traditions and Standings

A look at the various styles of martial arts across the globe and India's stature in them.

Martial Arts, Asian Games, Olympics, Asian Martial Arts

Martial Arts (Source: The Kashmir Walla)


Gayathri Venkatraman

Updated: 5 Dec 2022 12:29 PM GMT

Martial arts are forms of combat that vary in intent — such as self-defense, military or law enforcement, competitions, health or spirituality-oriented, entertainment, and are deeply rooted in a nation's intangible cultural heritage.

Let us take a look at the various globally significant martial art forms and India's relationship with them:


On a global scale, Judo, a Japanese martial art, is the most well-known form of "jacket wrestling," which involves two contestants wearing jackets and belts attempting to take each other down in an attempt to pin their opponent.

It became an Olympic sport in 1964. The first written record of judo in India refers to the coaching of Japanese judoka Shinzo Takagaki in Shantiniketan in 1929.

The Judo Federation of India was formed in 1965. Thoudam Kalpana Devi of Manipur became the first Indian to win a top-3 finish at the Judo World Cup in 2010 at Tashkent. Other notable Indian Judokas include Narendra Singh, Cawas Billimoria, Poonam Chopra, Akram Shah, Angom Anita Chanu, Khumujam Tombi Devi, Avtar Singh, and Garima Chaudhary.

Major Indian Judo players have won medals at the Asian Games (5 bronze), Commonwealth Games (5 silver, 6 bronze), and Asian Championships (4 silver, 11 bronze).



The Korean form of martial arts, Taekwondo or Tae Kwon Do, the literal translation of which is "kicking," "punching," and the "art or way of," involves punching and kicking techniques. This combat sport was developed around the 1940s and 1950s, is currently South Korea's national martial art, and has been an Olympic sport since 2000.
Master Puran Andrew Gurung introduced taekwondo to India upon returning from Hong Kong in 1974. The Taekwondo Federation of India (TFI) was formed in 1976. Taekwondo practitioners representing India include Latika Bhandari, Surendra Bhandari, Rodali Barua, Kashish Malik, Atul Raghav, Aman Kumar, etc. So far, India has secured a bronze medal at the Asian Games.


Karate, a martial art developed in the Ryukyu Kingdom, is predominantly a striking art, and includes punches, blocks, kicks, and open-handed strikes. Karate made its debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. It remains one of the most popularly practiced martial arts in India, owing to its simplicity and fast application time.
Karate India Organization (KIO) is the recognized body for Karate in India. However, India has not participated in the sport at the Olympics and is expected to take part in the event at the 2024 Olympics.

Action at the 6th Asian Pencak Silat Championship in October22
Pencak Silat is an umbrella class of related Indonesian martial arts. It is a full body fighting form incorporating strikes, grappling, throwing and weaponry. The form is included in the Southeast Asian Games, and Asian Games and is an UNESCO recognized "Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" from Indonesia.

Indian Pencak Silak Federation (IPSF) is the recognized federation for the sport in India. India finished with a resounding 46 medals at the 6th Asian Pencak Silat championship held recently at Srinagar. The sport is the highest medal winning sport in Martial Arts for India at the International Arena.


Jiu-Jitsu is a self defense martial art and combat sport involving grappling, ground fighting and submission holds. This system of close combat that can be used in a defensive or offensive manner to kill or subdue one or more opponents. Developed in 17th century Japan, the art inspired many subsets of combat sports and martial arts such as judo, mixed martial arts (MMA), etc.

Although it originated in Japan, the most famous form is the Brazilian Ju-Jitsu (BJJ). The Ju-Jitsu association of India (JAI) is a non-profit amateur national sports organization dedicated to the development and propagation of the Asian Olympic Sport.


India finish with 5 medals at the Kurash Championship 2022
Kurash refers to a set of folk wrestling styles practiced in Central Asia. Kurash wrestlers use towels to hold their opponents, and their goal is to throw their opponents off their feet. World Kurash Championships and World Junior Kurash Championships (U20) are the most prominent events of this sport.

Kurash was a medal sport at the 2018 Asian Games held in Indonesia. India recently ended the 13th edition of the World championships on November 29 with 5 Medals (1S,4B). Prominent medal winners and Kurash wrestlers include Pincky Balhara, Malaprabha Jadhav, Mohit, Kunal, Jyoti, Annu and Snesha.


Wushu, more commonly known as Kung Fu is a hard and soft complete martial art, as well as a full-contact combat sport. Wushu, the Chinese term for "martial arts" is an official event at the Asian Games, East Asian Youth Games, Southeast Asian Games, World Combat Games and in other multi-sport events across the globe.

Established in 1989 by Anand Kacker, Wushu Association of India is the governing body of Wushu in India. It is a member of the International Wushu Federation, Indian Olympic Association, Wushu Federation of Asia, and the South Asian Wushu Federation. India has secured 9 Medals (1S,8B) in the event at the Asian Games so far.


Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing is a combat sport using stand-up striking and clinching techniques. Known as the "art of eight limbs", it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees and shins. It became widespread internationally in the late 20th-early 21st century, and a practitioner of the sport is known as nak muay.

India's medal tally at International events are as follows: Senior World Championships (1 silver, 2 bronze), World Youth Championships (3 gold, 6 silver, 3 bronze), Asian Championship (2 gold, 3 silver, 13 bronze) and Virtual World Championship (7 bronze).


Kickboxing, as the name suggests is a combat sport focuses on kicking and pushing. It is practiced for self-defense, general fitness and competition. It is considered to be a hybrid martial art formed from the combination of various traditional styles. Some styles of it include the above mentioned Karate, Muay Thai, Savate, and Sanda. The term originated in Japan around 1960s, and grew in popularity over the years.

The Kickboxing Federation of India, however came into existence only in 2008. Numerous medals at various national events (Senior Nationals, Junior Nationals, Sub-Junior Nationals) and 27 Medals (6 gold, 13 silver, 8 bronze) at international events ( Events by World Kickboxing Federation) have been secured. Notable sportspersons in Kickboxing include - Tajamul Islam, Daleet Kaur, etc.


Sambo is a Russian martial art and an internationally recognized combat sport, as well as a recognized style of amateur wrestling alongside Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling in the UWW. World Sambo Championships, and FIAS World Cup are certain global competitions. Although Sambo came to India almost 25 years ago, the number of international participants is low.


The Vietnamese martial art of Vovinam was founded in 1938. It involves the utilization of hands, elbows, legs, knees, and weapons (swords, knives, chisels, claws, and fans). Since 2002, Vovinam World Championships have been held. Interestingly, Vovinam already has a presence in India.

The Vovinam Association of India was founded in 2009, has been included in school games, and has organized 5 national championships. Because of its grappling techniques and weapon use, it is thought to be best suited for female self-defense training.

Other notable mentions include Sanda and Kungfu (Originated in China), Sumo Wrestling and Aikido (From Japan) and Hapkido (From Korea). The article has steered clear of Boxing, Wrestling and Fencing as the above 3 fall under the category of mainstream martial arts.

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