ClassPass Glossary: Martial Arts from A to Z

If martial arts are new to you, you’re not only contending with brand new terminology, but possibly also a new language, just to follow along with what’s happening in the room. Tack on centuries of history and the practice of martial arts quickly becomes a bigger learning curve than how to stand and how to move. 

We’ve collected some of the key terms you need to know when embarking on a new martial arts practice so you can select the style that best suits your needs and feel like a pro when you step onto the mat.


Aikido: Aikido is a Japanese martial art used on redirecting an attack away from you. Aikido concentrates on throwing, joint locks, traditional Japanese weapons, etc.


Budokon: Budokon is a hybrid practice that combines martial arts training with yoga. 


Capoeira: You may have seen some impressive videos of experienced Capoeiristas executing complex dance-like fight moves. Practitioners “flow” together, using feints and deception to confuse and overtake their opponents. It looks almost gymnastic in nature and requires a lot of flexibility and power to perform successfully. This form originated in Brazil and combines fighting, dance and music.


Dojo: A space used for training in martial arts.


Epee: A sword used in fencing.


Fencing: Martial arts involving swordplay, often practiced recreationally for fitness and competition. The object of fencing is to score a point or touch by hitting your opponent’s target with your weapon before they strike a scoring touch on you.


Gi: The white uniform worn in karate.


Hapkido: Hapkido is a Korean martial arts style focused on punches, kicks, throws and joint locks.


Iaido: Iaido is a Japanese martial art focused on the drawing of a sword (bokken, iaito or shinken) from its scabbard. This martial art relies heavily on katas (forms) and does not utilize sparring. Iaijutsu is the combat version of Iaido. 


Jujutsu: Jujutsu is a Japanese martial art which uses a short staff, the Jo.


Karate: Karate focuses on punches; hand, elbow and knee strikes; and kicking to subdue an opponent. Karate has a variety of styles, including Goju-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu and Shotokan.


Muay Thai: The national sport of Thailand, Muay Thai is one of the most popular styles used in MMA fighting. It relies on all of the extremities to bring an opponent into submission; because of this, Muay Thai is truly full-body and can provide an excellent strength and conditioning workout as it requires speed, agility, strength and coordination to do well.


Ninjutsu: Ninjutsu is a martial arts style developed from the techniques used by Japanese spies and assassins (ninjas). 


Obi: A karate belt.


Sensei: An instructor of martial arts.


Tai Chi: Tai chi is a mental and physical practice that is meant to strengthen all parts of the body and the mind. You might recognize its flowing movements: they are meant to represent inner strength, like water flowing in a river where a calm surface hides a powerful current below. This current is meant to be the power for healing and wellness. With consistent practice, practitioners develop the internal energy (qi), convert it to internal force (jing) and use it to generate more internal energy. 


Uke: The defender in combat, the person receiving the attack.


Wrestling: Wrestling is an ancient martial arts style of fighting. It focuses on grappling, throws and “pinning” your opponent.


Yoseikan Budo: Yoseikan Budo is a Japanese martial arts system that combines a number of different martial arts including Aikido, Jujutsu, Judo, Karate, Kobudo and Boxing.

Amy Height is a holistic health coach, triathlete and yogi traveling North America full-time to discover the best in nutrition and fitness. She shares healthy living ideas and plant-based, gluten-free recipes at From the Ground Up Wellness. Follow the adventures and find some fit-foodie inspiration on Instagram, amyheight.