Most well-known martial arts don’t have weapons and they disallow their usage in fights, but there are some martial arts – especially from the Far East – that are based on weapons and their usage.
I am going to give you a complete list of weapon based martial arts, some details and interesting facts about them, and the list of weapons used in those martial arts.
Arnis, also known as Kali or Eskrima/Escrima, is the national martial art of the Philippines.
Filipino martial arts are very specific, as they – unlike a large number of other Oriental martial arts – emphasize the use of weapon-based fighting with sticks, knives, bladed weapons, and various improvised weapons, as well as “open hand” techniques without weapons.
Some of them are of Filipino origin, while others stem from early colonial influences (mostly Spanish, since the Philippines were, for a large part of their history, part of the Spanish Empire).
Weapons used: stick, knife, other bladed weapons.
Bōjutsu (棒術) is a Japanese martial art based on using a staff weapon called bō.
All of the thrusting, swinging, and striking techniques often resemble empty-hand movements, following the philosophy that the bō is merely an “extension of one’s limbs”.
Consequently, bōjutsu is often incorporated into other styles of empty-hand fighting, like traditional Jiu-jitsu, and karate.
Weapons used: bō.
3. Canne de combat
Canne de combat is a French martial art that started off as a 19th-century self-defence technique. Its main weapon is a canne, a special cane (or walking-stick) designed for fighting.
Canne de combat was standardized during the 1970s.
The canne itself is very light, made of chestnut wood and slightly tapered.
A padded suit and a fencing mask are worn for protection.
Although technically not a martial art, modern fencing is definitively a combat sport and is probably the best-known example on this list.
The three disciplines of modern fencing are the foil, the épée, and the sabre; winning points are made through the weapon’s contact with an opponent.
A fourth discipline, singlestick, appeared in the 1904 Olympics but was dropped after that, and is today not a part of modern fencing.
Based on the traditional skills of swordsmanship, the modern sport arose at the end of the 19th century, with the Italian school having modified the historical European martial art of classical fencing, and the French school later refining the Italian system.
Each of the three forms uses a different kind of weapon and has different rules, thus, the sport itself is divided into three competitive scenes: foil, épée, and sabre. Most competitive fencers choose to specialize in one weapon only.
Gatka (Punjabi: ਗਤਕਾ Urdu: گٹکا gatkā) is the name of Indian martial art, a style of stick-fighting, with wooden sticks intended to simulate real-life swords.
The Punjabi name gatka properly refers to the wooden stick used.
It originated in Punjab in the 15th century; there has been a revival during the later 20th century and gatka is now popular as a sport or sword dance performance art and is often shown during Sikh festivals.
Weapons used: stick.
Gungsul (Korean: 궁술) is a Korean art based on archery, one of the more specific examples on our list.
This is not a martial like the others on our list, as it is based on the use of the special Korean horn bow (Korean: 각궁 Gak-gung).
The Korean bow utilizes a thumb draw and therefore employing the use of a thumb ring is quite common.
Weapons used: Korean horn bow.
7. Geom sul
Geom sul (Korean: 검술) is an umbrella term for a variety of martial arts based on the use of the so-called Korean sword.
Korean swordsmanship, as Geom sul is often called, is actually a modern, revived version of a lot of traditional techniques that utilize the aforementioned weapon.
It is today practiced around the globe and one of the most famous styles of Geom sul is the Haidong Gumdo, which developed during the 1980s and 1990s to become the most prominent example of Geom sul today.
Weapons used: Korean sword.
Hanbōjutsu (lit. the art of wielding the hanbō) is the main element in several martial arts including the Kukishin-ryū koryū classical school of martial arts, and Kukishinden-ryū, one of the nine schools of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu.
Part of the importance of using this length is that it is approximately that of a walking cane.
Although techniques with a cane in this ryū-ha utilize pulling or hooking and possess one rounded end, they invariably function the same as a hanbō in all other respects.
The hanbō can be held toward one end, and be swung like a katana or kendo sword.
Additionally, it can be held in the middle like a staff and strike and block from either end. The hanbō can be used as a means of striking, restraining, or even throwing someone.
It is useful to know because sticks are abundant and can be picked up if attacked.
Weapons used: hanbō.
9. Iaidō and iaijutsu
Iaidō (居合道), often abbreviated as iai (居合), is a Japanese martial art that emphasizes being aware and capable of quickly drawing the sword and responding to a sudden attack.
Iaido is associated with the smooth, controlled movements of drawing the sword, and then striking or cutting the opponent, removing blood from the blade, and then putting the sword back into its scabbard.
Beginners usually start off with a wooden sword (bokken) to decrease the risk of injuries, later moving onto a blunt edged sword, called iaitō.
Few, more experienced, iaido practitioners use a sharp edged sword (shinken). Iaijutsu is simply the combat version of iaido, i.e., it applies the teachings of iaido in actual combat.
Weapons used: sword.
Jōjutsu (Japanese: 杖術) is very similar to the afore mentioned bōjutsu, but it uses the jō instead of the bō, i.e., a different type of staff.
The art itself is also called jōdō (Japanese: 杖道, lit. “way of the jō”).
Modern jōjutsu has two distinct branches – a more traditional one, that emphasizes older teachings, and a modern version called seitei jōdō.
Weapons used: jō.
11. Kendo (and jūkendō)
Kendo (剣道, kendō, lit. ‘sword way’, ‘sword path’ or ‘way of the sword’)is a traditional Japanese martial art, which descended from traditional Japanese swordsmanship (kenjutsu) and uses bamboo swords (shinai) and protective armor (bōgu) instead of real swords, like some other Japanese martial arts.
Today, it is widely practiced within Japan and many other nations across the world.
Kendo is an activity that combines martial arts practices and values with strenuous sport-like physical activity.
Jūkendō is very similar to kendo but uses a bayonet instead of a shinai. There is also a very similar Korean martial art called kumdo.
Weapons used: shinai, bayonet.
Kobudō (古武道, Old martial arts) is a collective term for Japanese traditional techniques for the use of armor, blades, firearms, and techniques related to combat and horse riding.
It is a very special martial art and practically unique in this category.
Namely, kobudō is not a single, unique martial art but a term used to describe a variety of weapons-based martial arts, be they from the main Japanese islands (traditionally) or the island of Okinawa (modern interpretation).
Weapons used: blades, firearms.
Krabi-Krabong (Thai: กระบี่กระบอง) is a weapon-based martial art from Thailand.
The system’s name refers to its main weapons, namely the Thai sword (krabi) and staff (krabong). Typically, two swords (daab song mue) are wielded as a pair.
Some other weapons used in this martial art are clubs, different types of sticks, staffs, and swords, and even a shield.
Weapons used: sword, staff, club, stick.
Similar to the Korean gungsul, Kyūdō (弓道) is a Japanese martial art based on archery. Experts in kyūdō are referred to as kyūdōka (弓道家).
Kyūdō is based on kyūjutsu (“art of archery”), which originated with the samurai class of feudal Japan.
Although basically a very traditional martial art, Kyūdō has been revived after the Meiji restoration and is today practiced by thousands of people worldwide.
Yabusame is also a type of Japanese martial arts that focuses on archery.
Weapons used: bow.
15. Mau rākau
Mau rākau (Maori term that means “to bear a weapon”), is a traditional martial art based on traditional Māori weapons and practiced in New Zealand.
The term itself refers to the art of using any weapon, which is why there are specific styles designed for precise weapons.
Weapons used: staffs, canes, blades, clubs.
Naginatajutsu (長刀術 or 薙刀術) is the Japanese martial art of wielding the naginata (長刀), a special pole or weapon resembling the medieval European glaive.
Most naginatajutsu practiced today is in a modernized form, a gendai budō, in which competitions also are held.
It is most common in Japan for Naginata to be practiced by women; in other countries, the gender balance is more even.
Outside Japan, Naginata is practiced in Europe, Australia, North and South America.
Weapons used: naginata.
This Japanese martial art is actually based on utilising the nunchaku, a traditional Okinawan martial arts weapon consisting of two sticks connected at one end by a short chain or rope.
The two sections of the weapon are commonly made out of wood, while the link is a cord or a metal chain.
The person who practices this weapon is referred to as nunchakuka.
There are several styles of using nunchaku, but the nunchaku-do is the most famous one.
Weapons used: nunchaku.
Shintaido (新体道, a Japanese word translated as ‘New Body Way’) is a hybrid system of movements that aims to use the body as a means of expression and communication.
Incorporating both physical and artistic elements, it was created in Japan in the 1960s.
Its roots lay in the traditional Japanese martial arts, Chinese medicine, and Buddhist meditation techniques, while its creator Hiroyuki Aoki was also influenced by modern Western art and Christianity.
As well as being a practical martial art Shintaido aims to be a form of artistic expression, a healthy exercise, and a path of self-discovery and transformation.
Shintaido is practiced with bare hands, but the curriculum also includes bojutsu (棒術), involving the use of the long staff (or bō, 棒), and kenjutsu (剣術), using a wooden sword (or bokuto, 木刀).
Weapons used: bō.
Silambam is a weapon-based Indian martial art originating in modern-day Tamil Nadu in the Indian subcontinent and is estimated to have originated in approximately 1000 BCE.
This ancient fighting style is mentioned in Tamil Sangam literature 400 BCE. Silambam’s main focus is on the bamboo staff.
Other weapons used are swords, blades, other types of staffs and canes, etc. As far as the number of weapons used goes, silambam is one of the most prolific martial arts on this list.
Weapons used: staffs, blades, swords, sickles, canes, knifes, etc.
20. Siljun Dobup
Siljun Dobup is a sword-based martial art; it is a hybrid system influenced by Japanese and Korean traditions.
This martial arts style focuses on developing the skills to use a katana as well as “ki, breathing, flexibility, control of strength and focus”.
Unlike Kendo, Siljun Dobup does not involve any sparring. Siljun Dobup is more like Iaido where the student is focused on the drawing, sheathing, and cutting of a katana.
Weapons used: sword.
Singlestick, also known as cudgels, refers to both a martial art that uses a wooden stick as well as the weapon used in the art. It began as a way of training sailors in the use of swords such as the sabre or the cutlass.
Canne de combat, a French form of stick fighting which I have already talked about before, is similar to singlestick play, which also includes a self-defense variant with a walking stick.
The singlestick itself is a slender, round wooden rod, traditionally of ash, with a basket hilt.
Singlesticks are typically around 36 inches (91 cm) in length and 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter and thicker at one end than the other.
It bears approximately the same relationship to the backsword as the foil to the small sword in being a sporting version of the weapon for safe practice.
Weapons used: singlestick.
Sōjutsu (槍術), literally meaning “art of the spear”, is as a Japanese martial art focused on fighting with a Japanese spear (槍, yari).
The yari was a very popular weapon in feudal Japan and has kept its reputation in modern times.
Sōjutsu is typically only a single component of the curriculum in comprehensive traditional (koryū) schools.
Weapons used: yari.
Tahtib (Egyptian Arabic: تحطيب taḥṭīb) is a traditional stick-fighting martial art from Egypt, originally named fan a’nazaha wa-tahtib (“the art of being straight and honest through the use of stick”).
The original martial version of tahtib later evolved into an Egyptian folk dance with a wooden stick.
Today, it is usually described as a dance, ritual, game, or ritual mock combat accompanied by music. Nowadays, the word tahtib encompasses both martial practice and performance art.
It is mainly practiced today in Upper Egypt. The stick used in modern-day tahtib is about four feet in length and is called an asa, asaya, assaya, or nabboot, depending on the part of Egypt you’re in.
It is often flailed in large figure-eight patterns across the body with such speed that the displacement of air is loudly discernible.
Weapons used: stick.
24. Taiho jutsu
Taiho-jutsu (arresting art) (逮捕術) is a term for martial arts developed by Japan’s feudal police to arrest dangerous criminals, who were usually armed and frequently desperate.
While many taiho-jutsu methods originated from the classical Japanese schools of kenjutsu (swordsmanship) and jūjutsu (unarmed fighting arts), the goal of the feudal police officers was to capture lawbreakers alive and without injury.
Thus, they often used specialized implements and unarmed techniques intended to pacify or disable suspects rather than employing more lethal means.
A similar martial art, focused on using police batons, is called keijojutsu.
Weapons used: sword, staff.
Tessenjutsu (Japanese: 鉄扇術, lit. ‘iron fan technique’) is a Japanese martial art that focuses on the utilization of the Japanese war fan (tessen).
It is based on the use of the solid iron fan or the folding iron fan, which usually had eight or ten wood or iron ribs.
The practitioners of tessenjutsu could acquire a high level of skill. Some became so skilled, in fact, that they were able to defend themselves against an attacker wielding a sword, and even kill an opponent with a single blow.
Like so many other Japanese arts of combat during this era, tessenjutsu reached a high level of sophistication.
Weapons used: tessen.
26. Zulu stick-fighting
Zulu stick-fighting (also known as donga, or dlala ‘nduku, which literally translates as ‘playing sticks’, but also as Nguni stick-fighting, based on the people it stems from) is a martial art traditionally practiced by teenage boys from the Nguni people in South Africa.
Each combatant is armed with two long sticks, one of which is used for defense and the other for offense. Little, if any armor is present in such fights.
Although Nguni/Xhosa styles of fighting may use only two sticks, variations of Bantu/Nguni stick-fighting throughout Southern Africa incorporate shields as part of the stick-fighting weaponry.
Zulu stick-fighting uses an isikhwili or attacking stick, an ubhoko or defending stick and an ihawu or defending shield.
The object is for two opposing warriors to fight each other to establish which of them is the strongest or the “Bull” (Inkunzi).
In modern times this usually occurs as part of the wedding ceremony where warriors from the bridegroom’s household and area welcome warriors from the bride’s household and area to meet to “get to know each other”, other groups of warriors may also be welcome to join in.
Warriors do this by engaging in combat with one another; this means that its traditional role in combat has been mostly forgotten as the years passed.
An “induna” or War Captain / Referee from each group of warriors keeps his crew in check and keeps order between fighters.
Weapons used: stick.
Other Forms of Weapon-Based Combat
The list above is not final in the sense that it contains all the sports and arts that use weapons, but all the other forms of weapon-based combat don’t actually satisfy the criteria to be called martial arts or combat sports, which is why I am not going to talk about them in detail.
Some prominent examples are the Irish bataireacht, an example of a stick-fighting discipline, and the old English discipline of quarterstaff fighting.