What is Martial Arts?

martial arts is a sport“Martial arts” is a western term for a diverse range of physical disciplines meant to train an individual for combat and self defense. Each style reflects the demands and culture from which it emerged. While most cultures have at least one specialized form of the martial arts, many have gone beyond physical and cultural borders to reach an international audience.

Like any art, martial arts demand practice in exchange for advancement. The most skilled students compete in championships around the world, and it is difficult to go to any major city that does not have easily-accessible martial arts classes.

Although many incorporate weapons, particularly at higher levels of training, most begin with hand-to-hand combat; the corresponding gear reflects this.


Popular Forms of Martial Arts

Muay Thai

about muay thaiMuay Thai, also known as Thai kickboxing, is a full body contact sport that teaches students to use not only fists and feet, but also elbows, shins, and knees to strike. Called the discipline of “eight limbs,” fighters learn to make the most of every opportunity.

Boxing

Boxing has long been a popular European and American sport in which opponents trade blows with their fists in carefully monitored matches under a very strict set of rules. Hollywood films frequently spotlight imaginary boxers who enjoy a brief montage on their way to the ring, but boxing is a very serious, time intensive sport that requires discipline and focus.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

One of the newest martial art forms, MMA is infamous for rough and tumble fights where students wield skills borrowed from several street style disciplines. Contrary to popular belief, MMA fights are governed by rules, and fighters spend years training. Lack of established history does not mean a lack of form.

Kickboxing

kickboxingKickboxing is recognized in both martial arts and fitness circles as an energy-intensive style. Like MMA, kickboxing is a relatively new martial art which grew out of several older forms. Although it has much in common with boxing, it uses a wider variety of strikes, including kicks – of course.

Karate

Often used (incorrectly) to talk about martial arts in general, “karate” is a traditional Japanese discipline. Although it, like boxing, has been immortalized in Hollywood cinema, the actual practice of karate has less to do with clever ways to trick students into cleaning your house and more to do with bag and partner work to develop muscle memory.

Jiu Jitsu

There are many kinds of Jiu Jitsu, but Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is by far the most popular. This style incorporates lots of throws and grappling, emphasizing skills a small individual can use against a larger aggressor.

Comparison of the Different Martial Arts Forms

NameStyleTraditional/Modern
Muay ThaiStanding FormTraditional
BoxingStanding FormTraditional
MMAGround FightingModern
KickboxingStanding FormModern
KarateGround FightingTraditional
Jiu JitsuGround FightingModern

Best Gear for Martial Arts

Muay ThaiGloves, Shin Guards, Mouthguard, Handwraps, Shorts, Pads
BoxingGloves (Bag and Sparring), Headgear, Mouthguard, Handwraps, Shoes
MMAGloves, Headgear/Ear Guard, Mouthguard, Handwraps, Rash Guard
KickboxingGloves, Shin Guards, Mouthguard, Handwraps, Ankle Support, Headgear
KarateSparring Shoes, Shin Guards, Gloves
Jiu JitsuMouthguard, Ear Guard, Knee Pads, Rashguard, Gi

Although the needs of each form differ, some elements of good equipment remain the same. It is always better to invest in quality equipment than to frequently replace unreliable knock-off brands that might leave you exposed at the worst possible time. It is better to pay more up front than to let the rapid turnover costs of your gear (and doctor fees) pummel you over time. We go into more detail about the specific requirements of each form and its component gear below.


Best Muay Thai Equipment

Gloves are an obvious part of any martial arts kit, but different styles put different demands on gloves, and it’s important to look for gloves that are tailored for Muay Thai. Less obvious are hand wraps and shin guards. If you’ve ever smacked your shin on a table, you understand why it’s so important to have good padding. Two shins meeting each other in combat with inadequate protection is a recipe for pain – and possibly a trip to the hospital. Hand wraps provide extra padding you will need and help maintain form. Gumshields make sure you keep your teeth, in victory or defeat.

rdx maya hide leather muay thai glovesMauy Thai Glove – Twins Special Thai Style Training Gloves

This glove features genuine leather, however the satin interior is artificial to assist with heat and moisture control. The gloves come in 8-16 oz. with a plethora of colors available. The size you choose will depend not only on the size of your hand, but also the purpose of the gloves. If you plan to use these for sparring, for example, you will need a different size than if you plan to use them against a bag.

Muay Thai Shin Guards – Top King Shin Guard

In addition to protecting the shins, these guards are specially designed to protect the delicate muscles around the knee. Lightweight but strong, these guards come in sizes ranging from small to extra large. They come in a variety of colors and patterns, which is hardly a necessity, but is always a fun bonus.

Muay Thai Gumshield – Shock Doctor Youth Pro Strapless Mouthguard

In case you are confused, a gumshield and a mouthguard are effectively the same thing. They are, however, pretty tricky to buy due to the many sizes and shapes of mouths. This is a good guard that fits best if boiled and molded to teeth, but will fit without boiling as well. It is compatible with braces, but may not fit all mouths. It only comes in one size.

Muay Thai Handwraps – Sanabul Elastic Professional 180 Inch Handwraps

These wraps are made from flexible material designed to fit well and dry quickly. A thumb loop makes them more secure, and they come in a bright range of colors.


Best Boxing Equipment

Boxing has long been a favored American discipline, and popular Hollywood films have immortalized the sport. The differences between the silver screen and reality, however, are made manifest in not only the ring, but in training. Specific types of gloves are needed for practicing against a bag, and sometimes different gloves are needed for sparring with a partner. The amount of headshots also requires special protective gear.

TITLE Boxing Pro Heavy Bag GlovesBag Gloves – Everlast Pro Style Training Gloves

These gloves include careful shaping to preserve proper technique and safe positioning of the thumb. They are available in several colors and come in sizes ranging from 8 to 16 oz.

Sparring Gloves – Venum Challenger 2.0 Boxing Gloves

Triple density foam gives these gloves superior shock absorption. Their sizes go from 8 to 16 oz., and the 16 oz. are approved for fighting in the ring. These gloves are best for intermediates and beginners.

Handwraps – Everlast Professional Hand Wraps

These sturdy wraps come in several solid colors. The cotton and spandex construction allows the wraps to be breathable while providing maximum safety. A hook and loop fastening ensures they stay secure.

Headgear – Everlast Everfresh Head Gear

There is a reason Everlast is such a popular fighting gear company. It provides sturdy, flexible protection for beginning and intermediate fighters from a range of disciplines. This particular piece of head gear is only available in black, and it comes in a single size. Adjustable straps ensure it fits most adult heads.

shock doctor mouthguardMouthguard – Impact Custom Mouthguard

One of the more expensive mouthguards on the market, this product is designed for optimal fit and shock absorption. It comes in two sizes (small/medium and medium/small) with many colors and even patterns available. Unlike the majority of mouthguards, this one is built to last.


Best MMA Equipment

MMA is probably the most aggressive form of popular martial arts in practice today, and it is especially important to choose good protective gear for your own safety and the safety of your sparring partners. If you can protect any body part – do.

Handwraps – 180″ Elastic Cotton MMA Handwraps

Elastic cotton allows these wraps to fit any hand comfortably. They are designed specifically for MMA, and they feature strong Velcro fastenings and sturdy thumb loops.

fairtext super sparring headgear best mma headgearHead Gear – RDX Maya Hide Leather Boxing MMA Protector Headgear

This headgear provides superior protection. In addition to a removable face grill, three layers of gel and foam protect the wearer during any spar or regular match. Its design doubles as an ear guard, although it is possible to layer alternative ear guards underneath. Made from quality materials, this piece is designed to last. Although the central grill is always black, accents are available in four colors. Sizes range from small to extra large.

Mouthguard – Sisu 2.4 Max Guard

This mouthguard features “More protection, less mouth guard.” It allows wearers to speak, drink, and breathe more easily than many other guards. It can be remolded and comes available in several colors

Rash Guard – Sub Sports DUAL Men’s Compression Long Sleeve Shirt

The amount of grappling in MMA necessitates rash guards for training. Compression garments also improve circulation, which means muscles have a ready oxygen supply. This all-season moisture wicking guard comes in many colors and ranges in size from small to extra large. According to reviews, US buyers should order a size larger than they usually wear.

Gloves – RDX Maya Hide Leather Grappling MMA Gloves

Although there are genuine cow leather options available, these gloves trade the minor luxury of cow leather for a reduced cost with the same protection. Three layers of contoured padding offer protection specifically designed for MMA fighting, and moisture wicking lining helps keep hands dry. Four colors are available, and there are sizes available from small to extra large.


Best Kickboxing Equipment

Because it incorporates so many different elements, kickboxing requires a broad range of protective gear, especially if you plan to spar. Special protection for ankles and wrists is a must in your gear inventory, and some areas might require multiple levels of protection.

Gloves – Anthem Athletics Classic Sparring Gloves

With buffalo leather, moisture wicking lining, and various layers of padding, these gloves are durable and adaptable. They come in several layers, and these particular gloves are available in 16 oz.

Mouthguard – Redline Sportswear Mouthguard

This mouthguard protects teeth, gums, and lips during training and sparring. A ventilated case keeps the mouthguard sanitary between uses, and boil and bite technology allows a custom fit for each buyer. It comes in a standard size and color.

Shin Guards – Venum “Kontact” Shin and Instep Guards

These sturdy cotton-sheathed guards are machine washable, so no matter how hard you work, or how much you sweat, you will not build up odor along with your skills. They are designed for light sparring, and come in one size with several available colors.

Ankle Supports – Twins Special Ankle Guard

Made of cotton, polyester, and spandex, these ankle guards reduce the strain of regular kicks and shin strikes. They are available in two sizes and stretch to fit the unique shape of your feet.

Handwraps – RDX Training Boxing Inner Gloves

Unlike traditional handwraps, these special mitts offer extra padding over the most vulnerable part of the hand – your knuckles. They also support the wrist to minimize impact when striking. Whether your hands are small, extra large, or anything in between, these inner gloves come in the right size for you.

Headgear – Piranha Gear Leather Head Guard with Chin and Cheek Padding

Sturdy leather construction ensures that this equipment will last many rounds in the ring and/or many years of training. Sizes go from extra small to extra large. The sellers have a 30 day money back guarantee, which speaks to the quality of the product.


Best Karate Equipment

Karate is a highly organized martial arts form with plenty of specialized gear. Many classes suggest specific gear to purchase in advance of particular lessons, but the most common gear apart from a gi is padding. Karate pads are usually lightweight foam with a protective coating. Although professional athletes will often spend more on gear, beginners and intermediate students are best off with tried and true (and cheap) brands.

Sparring Shoes – ProForce Lightning Kicks Sparring Shoes

Unlike many other disciplines, most karate classes and many competitions do not allow headshots. This means that advanced headgear is often unnecessary. However, kicks are far more common, and in order to protect your feet and your partner, most schools require special padding before you are allowed to spar. Although many shin guards incorporate ankle and some foot protection, it is important to protect your toes, and for that you need full sparring shoes. This particular product is a basic sparring shoe, with sizes ranging from small to XXXL.

Shin Guards – ProForce Lightning Shin Guards

Many modern shin guards come down over part of the foot, and if you use sparring shoes, this can be cumbersome and inflexible. Many regular karate students buy all their sparring equipment from the same brand to ensure the pads fit well together. These guards are relatively inexpensive and designed for beginners and intermediate students. They come in child, small, and large sizes.

Gloves – ProForce Thunder Double Layered Karate Sparring Gloves

These gloves are made of the same materials as the foot and shin guards listed above, however we recommend these gloves over the regular variety in favor of extra padding. They will stand up to regular sparring well and are designed for beginner and intermediate students. Many colors and a full range of sizes are available.


Best Jiu Jitsu Equipment

Jiu Jitsu has relatively little padding compared with other forms. Gear is designed to enhance performance and defend particularly vulnerable areas (such as ears). Gloves, however, are not used as often as they are in other forms, and associated gear puts an emphasis on protecting yourself rather than pulling punches.

Rashguard – Hayabusa Metaru 47 Silver Rashguard Long Sleeve Shirt

Made with superior compression fabric, this product not only protects against rashes and chafing, but also contains special anti-microbial technology to ensure minimum odor. The shirt comes in many colors in a full range of sizes – from small to extra large.

Mouthguard – Venum Predator Mouthguard

This product is designed for optimum impact dispersal. It is one of the more expensive mouthguards on the market, however reviews claim this guard is worth the price and can stand up to competitive fighting. Although it only comes in one size, it is designed to be heated and then formed to your teeth.

Ear Guard – Cliff Keen Tornado Headgear

This guard is specially designed with unique features to maximize hearing without compromising protection. Although multiple colors are available, only one size is available. Multiple adjustable straps ensure, however, that this piece of equipment can fit nearly any head.

Knee Pads – Asics Unisex Slider V. Kneepad

Depending on how loose your chosen pants are, these pads can be worn under or over clothing. They are only available in two colors and one flexible size.


Resources for Martial Arts

Your local library is always a good starting point for general research, but if you are interested in martial arts, you can really find everything you need to get started online. A basic Google search with your area and your desired discipline will pull up detailed reviews for gyms and schools near you, but there is plenty to learn before taking that leap, and we have compiled information below to help you get started.

Muay Thai Resources

Muay Thai is popular with sports stations, and Youtube has coverage of many professional fights and videos from trainers to help you figure out if the style suits you. The International Federation of Muay Thai Amatuer has information on current Muay Thai competitions and concerns. There is even an Instructable for anyone interested in this martial art. If you are ready to find a gym, be sure to check out iSport, which allows you to search for specialized gyms near you.

Boxing Resources

BoxingScene.com offers potential boxers a forum with which to interact with established fighters and other beginners. This is a great place to ask questions or to look for advice on everything from stance to nutrition. If you find yourself at the lip of the pool, hoping for a basic swimming lesson before you dive into the deep end, check out ExpertBoxing.com, a website full of information for beginners and seasoned fighters alike. This will help you prepare some basic stances and learn the roots of the style before you subject yourself to the scrutiny of a gym.

MMA Resources

Thanks to its burgeoning popularity, there are websites dedicated entirely to helping you find an MMA gym in your area. The style’s trendy appeal has reached all corners of the internet, including Reddit.

Kickboxing Resources

Plenty of Youtube channels feature regular workouts and technique demonstrations for the avid kickboxing student. Ready to find a gym? Read this article before you go – it will help you prepare for that oh-so-intimidating plunge.

Karate Resources

Karate schools are everywhere. Before you even think about choosing a school or gym, however, you should figure out which karate style you wish to practice. Not all schools or gyms practice the same techniques, so it’s important to know before you go. Of course, you may choose to experiment with the different styles on your own and study at home before joining a school or gym.

Jiu Jitsu Resources

Jiu Jitsu can be an intimidating sport to get started in, so it’s important to learn about the experience before you sign up. There are even special guides for surviving your time as a white belt. Due to Jiu Jitsu’s popularity, there are multiple websites with specialized search options to help you find a good gym or school close to home.


Final Remarks

No matter what you plan to gain from martial arts, there is a form that will help you exceed your own expectations. Fitness, self defense, and discipline are core elements of every style, but only you can decide which form works best with your fitness level, learning style, and goals.