Karate translates, as is generally accepted, to Empty Hand in Japanese. Karate is a martial art that uses weaponless techniques such as punching and kicking to overcome the opponent. Typically, fighters wear a white Karate Uniform (Gi) and a belt that indicates their skill level and rank.

The development of Karate began in Okinawa, an island south of Japan. Okinawans travelled to China, where they learnt the Chinese martial arts. On their return to Okinawa they set about blending their own martial arts (initially simply called Te, "Hands") with what they had learnt in China and called it To-De, Chinese Hands.

From this, 4 main styles of Karate developed - Goju Ryu, Shorin Ryu, Uechi Ryu and Shorei Ryu. Gichin Funakoshi, who trained under several Okinawan Karate masters, developed his own style of Karate that he named Shotokan.

Funakoshi introduced Shotokan to Japan in the early 20th century. Other Okinawan masters soon followed him - Chojun Miyagi with Goju Ryu and Kenwa Mabuni with Shito Ryu. From these masters many new styles were soon developed. For example Kyokushinkai by Mas Oyama, Goju Kai by Gogen Yamaguchi, Wado Ryu by Hinonori Ohtsuka.

There are now hundreds of different styles of karate across the world, but all can be traced back to the original four from Okinawa.

Origin of Karate: Okinawa

Karate was founded in the 16th century and formalised into different styles in the early 20th century.

Kung Fu is a broad term that is used to describe all martial arts of Chinese origin. Kung-Fu existing under many different names throught China's history. Initially Kung Fu was called Ch'uan Fa (fist way).

The Shaolin monastery housed many fugitives from justice, and many warriors turned monk, which sets the roots of Kung Fu in the Shaolin Temple in Northern China. In fact there were five different Shaolin temples in five districts, and so five distinct styles of Shaolin Kung Fu developed.

Martial arts historians stress that Kung-Fu did not start at the Shaolin temple, but simply began to flourish under Shaolin's influence. Kung-Fu became eventually categorised into Northern and Southern styles. In the south, Cantonese people pronounce Kung Fu as gung-fu. Southern styles use low stances and kicks and strong hand techniques because they are shorter and stockier than Northern (Mandarin) people. The Northern systems are characterised by stylish and difficult patterns and acrobatic legwork, presumably because it was colder in the North so hand movement was restricted by thick robes and the mountaineous terrain enforced the development of strong legs.

Kung Fu as one of the oldest martial arts has been a great influence to other and younger martial arts styles, such as Okinawan Karate styles and subsequently Japanese Karate styles.

In modern times, Wu-shu emerged as a mixture of circus-like acrobatics and martial arts, and in China, national competitions are held in this sport. Jet-Li is a famous exponent of Wu-Shu, popularising the art in the West by appearing in martial arts movies.

Typical Kung Fu weapons are the broadsword and the butterfly knives.

Origin of Kung Fu: China

Muay Thai existed for centuries as a fighting martial art and is well known for its devastating knee, elbow and shin kicks. Muay Thai developed in Thailand and is popular today the world over as a ring sport for competition fighting. All strikes are allowed in the ring, unlike western boxing, which prohibits all but strikes with gloved fists.

Origin of Muay Thai: Thailand

Pentjak Silat is an Indonesian martial art and began originally as a weapons style of combat. Pentjak Silat has borrowed much from its nearby neighbours of India and China, blending those fighting styles into their own. The result was a style containing kicking and striking techniques mixed with a variety of weapons techniques.

Pentjak Silat Pencak SilatPencak Silat Amongst the thousands of Indonesian islands, there are hundreds of schools of Pentjak Silat, each with their own identity. Some of these also teach the arts of magic, healing and mystic powers.s

Origin of Pentjak Silat: Indonesia

Pentjak Silat founded: Approximately 1,000 years ago

Popularised by Dan Inosanto who founded his own version, Maphilindo Silat, as the synthesis of Dan Inosanto's family's vast experience in the Silat Styles of the Philippines and surrounding areas

Taekwondo (Tae-Kwon-Do, Fist-Foot-Way) is a martial art from Korea (sometimes also spelled Taegwondo). It is a blend of Shotokan Karate with other Chinese and Korean martial arts. Taekwondo places great emphasis on fast, spectacular kicking techniques with very few hand strikes. Competition rules in Taekwondo prohibit the use of throws, holding or grappling. Protective gear is usually worn to allow contact with the body.

Taekwondo tends to place more emphasis on the sport aspect of martial arts. Taekwondo is more of a long range fighting style, due to its use of more kicking than striking. Board breaking is used in belt grading in Taekwondo, to show the power of the techniques being taught (Kyokushin Kai is another martial art that also adheres to this practice).

Taekwondo (tae kwon do) Taekwondo is popular the world over and is probably the most widely practiced of the martial arts. Taekwondo is now recognised as an Olympic sport, which is sure to popularise it even more.

Origin of Taekwondo: Korea

Founder of Taekwondo: General Choi Hong Hi 1950's (Who earned a 2nd dan in Shotokan Karate while a student in Japan)

Traditional Chinese martial arts styles can be described as Internal or External; Northern or Southern; Hard or Soft. Tai Chi Chuan is considered to be a soft southern style with an emphasis on slow soft movements. These movements are carried out while concentrating on breathing technique and balance.

Tai Chi Chuan is practiced worldwide for its health benefits and improved concentration. It is widely practised for the reduction of stress and tension - not as a combat martial art.

Origin of Tai Chi Chuan: Chaina

Kickboxing is not inherently a martial art, although most kickboxers originate from a martial arts background. Rules greatly vary but generally a certain number of kicks must be thrown per round or the fighter will have points deducted. Many boxers make the transition to kickboxing by training in the martial arts and learning how to kick.

Origin of Kickboxing: America and Europe

Popularised by: Bill "Superfoot" Wallace, Chuck Norris, Benny Urquidez, Jean Yves Theriault, Joe Lewis and Mike Stone.

Jeet KuneDo is a relatively new martial art, developed by the martial arts master, Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee began his martial arts career studying Wing Chun Kung Fu under grandmaster Yip Man in Hong Kong, and then taught his art in the U.S. as Jun Fan Kung Fu.

Jeet Kune Do, Bruce LeeLee began by taking the best and most practical aspects of Wing Chun and combining these with elements of western boxing; trapping and grappling; and influences from a variety of other martial arts. This developed into a fighting style that he named Jeet Kune Do, the "Way of the Intercepting Fist".

Jeet Kune Do is not a new style of kung-fu or karate. Bruce Lee did not invent a new or composite style, nor did he modify a style to set it apart from any existing method. His concept was to free his followers from clinging to any style, pattern, or mold.

The effect Jeet Kune Do had was to expose the Chinese martial arts to the world, which subsequently created a worldwide rush by westerners to learn these martial arts. It also stimulated interest in the other martial arts including Japanese, Okinawan and Korean. No other man has had more influence on the spread of martial arts to the world than Bruce Lee.

Origin of Jeet Kune Do: U.S.

Founder of Jeet Kune Do: Bruce Lee - late 1960s