15 Rare Martial Arts You Have Never Heard of


Kuk Sul Won (Martial Art)
Photo by Stu Younger

When we hear the word “martial art”, most of us think about just a few fighting styles like Judo, Karate, or Wrestling. But let’s be honest, most fans of the fighting sports will have a hard time naming more than ten martial arts. This is normal as, over time, some arts have become more popular than others due to various reasons. 

But throughout history, humans have created hundreds of different martial arts. There are plenty of arts out there you have likely never heard of. In fact, we dare to go even further saying you didn’t know most of the ones we have included in our list below.

Keep reading this article if you want to find out the rarest martial arts you have likely never heard of and what is so special about them.

15. Suikendo

Suikendo is a Japanese martial art founded by the famous karate sensei Tadashi Yamashita. The word “Suikendo” comes from the words Sui (water), ken (fist), and do (way). So in translation, it means “the way of the fist that flows like a water” which describes the entire concept of this style.

In some way, Suikendo looks a lot like karate. This is not a surprise because Yamashita is a 10th-degree black belt in Shorin-Ryu karate. So most Suikendo punches, kicks, and other strikes have origins in various forms of karate. But the only difference is that it puts more focus on mixing martial arts techniques with dancing, dynamic movement and flexibility. 

14. Rough and Tumble

Rough and Tumble was a very popular martial art in the US during the 18th century, and it will go down in history as one of the most brutal ones as well. It is also known as “gouging” which gives you a good insight into how brutal it was. During these wild times, lower-class used it to settle disputes or fight in various gatherings.

People who took part in Rough and Tumble have fought without any rules in the early days. They could bite the opponent, gouge eyes, throws strikes to the groin area, and use many other dirty and brutal moves. Just about every match ended with serious eye injuries, deep cuts, severe bleedings, and there were more than few deaths.

The entire concept of this fighting style was about using these dirty tactics. But in 1752, the state of Virginia banned these types of matches and many other states would follow in the next years.  

13. Okichitaw 

Okichitaw is a modern martial art founded by George J. Lepine in 2002 in Canada. Lepine was a master in many styles like Taekwondo, Judo, and Hapkido. He later used his skills to develop his own fighting system that focuses on aggressive hand to hand fighting.

The concept of this art is based on weapons and hand to hand combat techniques. It consists of a lot of basic techniques like throws, pulls, and trips and here are the most important weapons:

• Gunstock war club

• Tomahawk

• Long knife

In Okichitaw, students must learn how to use these weapons or defend against them. Training also deals with the mental aspect of fighting and all the fears and emotions that come with it. Though various exercises, students learn how to overcome these fears and how to stay calm in the heat of the moment.

12. Kino Mutai

Kino Mutai is a Filipino self-defense art. This art teaches grappling, pinching, biting to defeat a stronger and bigger attacker in a street fight. At first, this concept of beating a bigger opponent sounds like the one in BJJ. But Kino Mutai is far more brutal as it is made up of various dirty tactics that can do huge damage.

In fact, students must spend a lot of time learning the anatomy of human body. They must get familiar with all sensitive parts and learn how to strike them to disable the enemy in a fight.

Like that’s not brutal enough, they also learn brutal eye-gouging moves. Although it sounds very brutal, these brutal techniques were designed to save your own life in street fighting where there are no rules.

These Kino Mutai techniques could be also seen in the other Filipino arts like Eskrima.

11. Systema

Systema is a martial art that emerges from Russia where it has been used by various Special Forces like KGB and modern Spetznaz. The earliest records of systema date back to the end of the

Soviet Union in the early 90s. It is a rare art that teaches you all about how to:

• Defend against weapons like knives, and even firearm

• Fight against multiple opponents

• How to use blocks and various strikes in close range combat

In some way, it reminds us of modern Krav Maga where even the training looks very similar. The main goal of Systema is to train you for any type of fighting scenario you may face on the streets or in combat. 

This means students learn tactics to fight in a small or open space, with or without weapons. Training is intense, includes a lot of sparring, and instructors will constantly play with your feelings like fear. Even though this sounds scary, it is the only way you can learn how to stay calm during the fight. 

On paper, it doesn’t include any dirty tactics, but we doubt that the military does not teach them.

10. Canne de Combat

Canne is a martial art that focuses on self-defense and it is also a part of French history to some extent. It emerged in the 19th century when the upper French class used it for self-defense in big cities such as Paris. At the time, Paris was not all about coffee, croissants, and romantic nights. No, it was a wild town full of thieves, and you needed to know how to defend against them.

The word “Canne” means a “walking stick”, and the art teaches you how to use it to defend and keep the enemy at distance. Some other famous French martial arts like “Savate” have actually emerged from Canne de Combat. 

With a couple of changes to improve its safety, Canne became a sport in 1970 with rules in place and techniques. Matches look a lot like fencing as all fighters must wear full-body gear and a fencing mask.

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9. Bataireacht

Bataireacht means “Stick Fighting” and it is a part of Irish martial arts. The name speaks a lot about how old it is as the word “Bataireacht” can be traced all the way back to Old Irish language, which is one of the oldest in Europe. This martial art was very popular in the 18th century among Irish gangs called “factions”. These gangs used it to fight in various gatherings like weddings or even funerals.

During this time, the Irish people were under English rule and they were not allowed to carry any weapons. The only thing they could have was a walking stick, which they learned how to use as a weapon in a fight. You see, people fighting each other using sticks has been around since the birth of mankind but this form is really special and effective. The Irish really mastered it over time and there are still schools all over Ireland and even in the US where you can learn it.

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8. Bokator

Bokator is one of the oldest fighting systems. It comes from Cambodia where the ancient armies of Angkor used it to fight against their enemies 1700 years ago. The name “bokator” means “pounding a lion” which refers to a legend telling that bokator student once killed a lion with a single strike. He stood face to face with a giant lion and used a single, well placed knee to kill the beast and save his life.

Bokator was one of the first fighting styles to focus on all elements of fighting. Students learn how to use all limbs as weapons to fight in the standup, clinch, or on the ground. It is a very complex fighting system with 8000-10000 different techniques.

It includes some really useful techniques like elbow and knee strikes, kicks, submissions, and various other ground fighting techniques. But at the same time, the art puts a lot of focus on using and defending against weapons like:

• Baboo staff

• Short Sticks

• Swords

7. Lerdrit

Lerdrit is a modern martial art used by the Royal Thai Army’s Palace Guard and other military and police forces. The art has its origins in Muay Thai, but it puts more focus on self-defense tactics. It will teach you the same techniques you learn in Thai boxing like kicks, elbow and knee strikes. But since this is a military version, it also teaches you how to eliminate the threat using very brutal moves.

First, fighters must learn all the pressure points and train how to both attack and defend them. The focus of the art is on close range fighting where the goal is to do damage with strikes and then take the opponent down and subdue using pins.

6. Kalaripayattu aka Kalari

Kalaripayattu is one of if not the oldest Indian martial art that was a precursor to many other modern fighting styles. It has a really long history with its origins dating all the way back to over 3,000 years ago. Over the years, this martial art has seen a lot of changes, and it has many forms out of which two are the most important ones:

  • Northern style – the emphasis of this form is on movement and weapon training. It centers on training stances, using wooden and metal weapons, and hand to hand combat.
  • Southern style –puts more focus on hard sparring as one of the best ways to prepare for actual combat. It teaches techniques very similar to the ones we can find in Muay Thai and Judo which makes it very versatile.

But, there is a third form called “Marma Art” which focuses on the human body and its pressure points. Students must learn around 108 nerve points and how to disable or even kill the enemy by striking these areas.

5. Silat

Founded by the countries in Southern Asia, Silat on its own is not a single martial art. The word “Silat” refers to a group of hundreds of different fighting styles. The earliest records of this art date back to the countries like Vietnam, Laos, and India around the 3rd century BCE. In modern times, it is still present and used by various military groups and it is practiced in countries like Malaysia.

Silat consists of techniques from various striking and grappling arts which makes it an all-around fighting system. It has over 100 forms and most of them focus on:

• Footwork

• hand movement

• striking the pressure points.

All students wear a black uniform or “bandana”, which they believe has magical powers. The art also puts a lot of emphasis on weapon that are usually farming tools like:

• Keris

• Parang

• Lembing (spear)

• Sarong

4. Bakom

Bakom is a hybrid martial art put together by the former Marine Roberto Puch Bezada in the 1980s in Lima, Peru. It is a fighting system that trains you to disable or eliminate the enemy using various brutal tactics.

Bakom includes a lot of techniques from Jujutsu like chokes and joint locks and mixes them with various street fighting moves. The key techniques are the ones that can break the opponent’s bones like arm or leg locks. But this is just a start as students also learn how to execute some really brutal moves like:

• Break the opponent’s neck

• Strike vital organs

• Apply hidden weapons

• Use dirty tactics

The focus of the art is on blitz attacks and catching the opponent off guard. Or in other words, if you feel your life is in danger, be the first one to attack, do a lot of damage and run away. And in Bakom, ending the attacker’s life in the process is a part of survival tactics and that’s what makes it so brutal.

3. Kuk Sool Won

Kuk Sool Won is a modern Korean martial art founded by Suh In-Hyuk in 1958. After the Korean War, Suh set on a journey to travel all across the Far East to explore different fighting styles. He met various martial arts masters from whom he learned many new techniques. Suh did all of this with an intent to develop his own fighting style.

He even sent his younger brother Seo In-Sun to take the classes from the founder of Hapkido. This would all end in them creating a fighting style that is a mix of techniques from the following arts:

• Tribal Martial Arts

• Buddhist Temple martial arts

• Royal Court martial arts

Or in other words, Kuk Sool Won is a mix of techniques from Hapkido, Kung Fu, and Korean martial arts like Taekkyeon. Students learn how to throw/block punches and kicks, use body throws and trips to advance to the ground where they can apply various joint locks. Training also includes weapons, meditation practice, and even martial arts healing methods.

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2. Abir

Abir is a martial art that is the rarest of the rare. It is, perhaps, the oldest martial art in Israel with the earliest records dating back to the 18th century BC. This is a really rare art since it is practiced only by the Jews in specific areas of Israel. 

The word “Abir” means “Gentleman” which explains why this fighting system is often seen as too soft. It differs a lot from other arts most of us know. The system doesn’t focus on creating violence or hurting the opponent, which forces many people to believe it is not that good for real fighting. 

Each technique in Abir is named after a letter from the Jewish alphabet. The focus is on natural movement and learning various moves like trips and throws. Students must learn to perform in a flow and how to disable the enemy relying on technic rather than using sheer power. And since the art embraces the Biblical Hebrew culture, classes include a lot of praying and all students must wear turbans, skirts, and gowns.

1. Bando

Bando is a martial art that comes from Burma. Some people think it is a part of Burmese martial arts, which is not true as bando is a system on its own. Like in most Asian arts, bando moves are based on the movements of various animals. This is why many techniques carry the names of some famous animals like:

  • Eagle – striking and blocking with both hands
  • Python – chokes and locks
  • Monkey – dynamic movement
  • Scorpion – pinching and hitting the nerve centers

Bando focuses on both defense and offense with an emphasis on fast counter attacks. It teaches you how to use all limbs to strike, even how to do damage using shoulder strikes and head-butts. Some of the most famous techniques you have likely heard of are the “Scorpion Kick” and “Bull Attack”.

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