I've been looking for a semantic ontology defining the structure and varieties of attacks and defenses. Initially I'm looking for a very simple tree, something like:

    Lateral Evasion

etc. etc.

Does anyone know of any attempt to systematize information about a Martial art or generically about combat in this way?


  • I wonder if other language-related Stack Exchange sites (maybe Linguistics or English) would be a better place to answer this.
    – user15
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 22:06
  • Why is taekwondo tagged in this question?
    – rjstreet
    Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 3:51
  • Because I know a little TKD, so most of the techniques I listed will be familiar to TKD practicioners (though I suspect most Martial Arts have their own versions of the named techniques). Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 18:51
  • I was looking for something similar a while back, but haven't found any. Good question!
    – rcheuk
    Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 20:52

5 Answers 5


Mind Maps

The BJJ community is big on mind maps, which are close but not an exact match in your search for ontologies. For instance, Aesopian has this one:

enter image description here

This is not surprising, since the entire concept that set BJJ apart from judo was the idea of an inexorable flowchart:

  1. Takedown
  2. Pass guard
  3. Mount (using a broad definition of the term--not necessarily top mount, but also encompassing back mount, knee-on-belly, side control and so on)
  4. Choke, armbar, or strike without danger of counterstrikes


  1. Pull guard because we can't stop our opponent from taking us down
  2. Sweep to top
  3. Pass guard
  4. Mount
  5. Choke, armbar, or strike without danger of counterstrikes

The original vision now has many new spin-offs, but the underlying philosophy of having a gameplan has had a tremendous impact on jiu-jitsu mentality, as well as mixed martial arts strategies. Very few dispute the truth of the positional hierarchy, which when boiled down simply says it's better to be on top than on bottom.

Rickson was arguably the best in known history at implementing this plan. Here are his flowcharts:

enter image description here enter image description here

Mapping my BJJ journey has more (including Rickson's), but most are not very "complete", preferring instead to just explain the contents of a particular DVD. For example:

enter image description here

Other arts

In my opinion, striking arts do not lend themselves particularly to mind maps or ontologies. There are way too many options--essentially it would just be a catalogue of techniques repeated several times over. The style of judo I'm familiar with doesn't use that kind of approach either, though I've heard that Russian and other Eastern bloc judo and wrestling coaches emphasize "chained" strategies that are similar. For instance, they'll attack with a particular technique, knowing that the opponent can only reasonably counter with A, B, or C, and for each of those they will have a fully fleshed out response, all the way down the chain to victory.

  • 2
    I was totally unaware of this (not a BJJ practitioner) - this is simply brilliant.
    – rjstreet
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 23:30
  • I don't know if this answers the question, but it's certainly valuable information.
    – Anon
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 23:34
  • @Trevoke Since I don't think there are ontologies in the sense that the OP is looking for, I decided that the closest relative would be a fine answer. But no, it definitely doesn't answer the question as stated. Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 23:48
  • @DaveLiepmann do you think we could start one here as a community wiki?
    – Anon
    Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 19:06
  • @DaveLiepmann I am very impressed by your blog and all the mind maps you have created. A definite treasure. Thanks for sharing.
    – Akos Cz
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 7:39

I don't know of an existing ontology, but we can create one. Everyone should feel free to edit this to make it more complete. I have organized it with the headings (big and small) as well as lists as end nodes. I expect it will become cumbersome very quickly. Feel free to rearrange. (Perhaps the lists would be better off paragraphed instead of bulleted, for instance.)

I've used the OP's ontology as a starting point, and have added judo's throwing syllabus (in English) as a basis for additional techniques.



  • Jab
  • Cross
  • Hook
  • Uppercut
  • Hammerfist
  • Backfist

Open Handed Strikes

  • Side ridge hand
  • Forward ridge hand
  • Vertical Spearhand
  • Horizontal Spearhand
  • Knife Hand
  • Palm Strike
  • 1 finger (eye poke)
  • 2 finger (double eye poke)
  • 3 finger (chicken beak)
  • Fore-knuckle (bear claw)
  • Single knuckle (index or middle)
  • Thumb knuckle
  • Slap
  • Backslap
  • Arc-hand (tiger mouth)


  • Downward
  • Forward and upward
  • Updard to the rear
  • Sideways to the rear
  • Across the body (out to in)
  • Across the body (in to out)


  • Forehead
  • Occiput
  • Head thrust

Standard Kick - back leg

  • Front
  • Roundhouse
  • Side
  • Stomp
  • Axe (in-out)
  • Axe (out-in)
  • Axe (forward)
  • Axe (upside down)
  • Straight knee
  • Side knee
  • Front knee
  • Oblique
  • Reverse Side/Back kick
  • Reverse Hook/Spin hook Kick
  • Spin
  • Hook
  • Crescent (in-out)
  • Crescent (out-in)
  • Push
  • Inverted roundhouse

Standard Kick - Front leg

  • Front
  • Roundhouse
  • Side
  • Stomp
  • Axe (in-out)
  • Axe (out-in)
  • Axe (forward)
  • Axe (upside down)
  • Hook
  • Crescent (in-out)
  • Crescent (out-in)
  • Oblique
  • Push
  • Inverted roundhouse

Hopping Kick - Rear leg

  • Front
  • Roundhouse
  • Side
  • Stomp
  • Axe (in-out)
  • Axe (out-in)
  • Axe (forward)
  • Hook
  • Crescent (in-out)
  • Crescent (out-in)
  • Oblique
  • Push

Skipping Kick

  • Front
  • Roundhouse
  • Side
  • Stomp
  • Axe (in-out)
  • Axe (out-in)
  • Axe (forward)
  • Hook
  • Crescent (in-out)
  • Crescent (out-in)
  • Oblique
  • Push

Tornado Kick - Backward spin

  • Front
  • Roundhouse
  • Axe (out-in)
  • Crescent (out-in)
  • Push

Tornado Kick - Forward spin

  • Side
  • Stomp
  • Axe (out-in)
  • Spin
  • Hook
  • Crescent (out-in)
  • Push

Specialty Kicks

  • Feint front
  • Feint roundhouse
  • Feint side
  • Feint inverted roundhouse
  • Feint push
  • Double jumping front (oblique)
  • Double jumping front (front)
  • Scissor
  • Triple front snap kick
  • Quadruple front snap kick

Defend strikes


  • Lead hand parry
  • Rear hand parry
  • Force-on-force block
  • Roll the shoulder
  • Cover up / shell
  • Bow wrist
  • Rising block
  • Low block
  • Side block
  • Double forearm block
  • High X-Block
  • Low X-Block
  • Single knifehand
  • Double knifehand
  • 9 block
  • Mountain block
  • Half mountain block
  • Large hinge block
  • Small hinge block


  • Retreat
  • Step laterally
  • Step in and crowd
  • Duck
  • Weave


Hip throws

  • Big hip throw
  • Shifting hip throw
  • Sweeping hip throw
  • Hugging high lift
  • Spring hip throw
  • Sweeping hip throw
  • Hip wheel
  • Full hip throw
  • Sleeve lifting and pulling hip throw
  • Lifting hip throw
  • Lifting and pulling hip throw
  • Floating half-hip throw
  • Rear throw
  • Hip shift
  • Flying/surfing hip throw
  • Rear wheel


  • Double leg
  • Single leg
  • High crotch

Leg throws

  • Big outside trip
  • Little outside trip
  • Big inside trip
  • Little inside trip
  • Turning inner-thigh reap (also a hip throw)
  • Leg wheel
  • Advanced foot sweep
  • Hip spring counter
  • Hip sweep counter
  • Lift-pull foot sweep
  • Knee wheel
  • Small outer hook
  • Small outer reap
  • Small inner reap
  • Large wheel
  • Sliding foot sweep
  • Big outer reap counter
  • Big outer reap
  • Big outer wheel
  • Big outer drop
  • Big inner reap counter
  • Big inner reap
  • Propping and drawing ankle throw
  • Swallow counter
  • Inner-thigh
  • Inner-thigh counter

Hand throws

  • Shoulder throw
  • Drop shoulder throw
  • Body drop
  • Single-handed back throw
  • Shoulder wheel
  • One-hand reversal
  • Two-hand reap
  • Belt drop
  • Back throw
  • Back drop
  • Scoop throw
  • Corner drop
  • Body drop
  • Inner thigh void throw
  • Floating drop
  • Mountain storm
  • Small inner reap reversal
  • Single leg takedown
  • Hand wheel

Sacrifice throws

  • Captain Kirk
  • Lateral drop
  • Suplesse (belly-to-belly, belly-to-back)
  • Pulling in reversal
  • Corner reversal
  • Rice bag reversal throw
  • Circle throw
  • Rear throw
  • High separation
  • Springing wraparound
  • Hip sweep wraparound
  • Crab or scissors throw
  • One-leg entanglement
  • Big outer wraparound
  • Outer wraparound
  • Valley drop
  • Inner wraparound
  • Inner thigh wraparound
  • Floating technique
  • Side prop
  • Side wheel
  • Side drop
  • Side separation
  • Jade wheel
  • Arm reversal
  • Side circle throw


  • Arm Lock
  • Wrist Lock
  • Upper four quarter hold down
  • Shoulder hold
  • Scarf hold
  • Broken upper four quarter hold down
  • Broken scarf hold
  • Vertical four quarter hold
  • Side four quarter hold
  • Ura-gatame
  • Floating hold
  • Ura-kesa-gatame
  • Reverse Scarf Hold
  • Triangular Hold
  • Leg entanglement
  • Arm entanglement or "figure-four" key lock
  • Side-lying arm bar
  • Side-extended arm bar, lower stomach against opponent's elbow
  • Knee arm bar
  • Back-lying perpendicular arm bar
  • Triangular arm bar
  • Ude-hishigi-te-gatame
  • Ude-hishigi-ude-gatame
  • Ude-hishigi-waki-gatame
  • Entangled leg dislocation
  • Knee crush
  • Straight ankle lock
  • Triangular entanglement

Chokes or strangles

  • Trunk strangle
  • Reverse cross strangle
  • Naked strangle
  • Single wing strangle
  • Half cross strangle
  • One-hand strangle
  • Normal cross strangle
  • Sliding lapel strangle
  • Two-hand strangle
  • Triangular strangle, triangle choke
  • Eziquiel/Ezekiel choke
  • Thrust choke
  • Hell strangle
  • Ura-juji-jime

Attack patterns

  • Near knee guard pass
  • Simple guard pass
  • Stacking guard pass
  • Elevator Sweep
  • Push Sweep
  • Side reversal
  • Swissor sweep
  • Shoulder pin rollover
  • Ude-kakae
  • Daki Wakare
  • Turtle Flip Over
  • Turnover from Koshi-jime
  • Suso-sukui-nage
  • Yoko-obi-tori-gaeshi
  • Obi-tori-sumi-gaeshi
  • Obi-tori-yoko-mawashi
  • Ura-gatame
  • Back Mount Escape
  • Foot lock counter to rear-mounted position
  • Switch back
  • Hikouki or Hikoki-Nage: Aeroplane
  • Extracting your leg
  • Double entanglement
  • Immobilisation of arm


  • Front
  • Back
  • Tiger/cat
  • Horse
  • Parallel
  • Closed
  • Attention
  • Cross


  • Backward breakfall
  • Sideways breakfall
  • Forward breakfall
  • Forward roll
  • Back roll

Resuscitation methods

  • Inductive resuscitation method
  • Lapel resuscitation method
  • Composite resuscitation method
  • Testicle resuscitation method
  • Don't forget: stances; breathing; hand techniques (1-finger, 2-finger, 3-finger, foreknuckle punch (bear claw), single-knuckle punch, single-knuckle ridgehand, bow-wrist, arc-hand, slap, backslap); foot techniques (toe kick), and about 2-dozen taekwondo kicks); throws (about 50 from judo, and about 10 from aikido); locks (thumb, toe, shoulder, knee, elbow, head) - and for some like wrist, there are several defined a la Aikido (nikkyo, sankyo, reverse nikkyo, reverse sankyo, etc).
    – Andrew Jay
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 16:38
  • @Wigwam please edit the post directly to add those categories Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 17:59
  • Done. Maybe I got a few more I can dig up if I missed. But as you pointed out, it'll get cumbersome, and I think it's starting to show. For value, maybe we can have a "view technique" link which can link to a photo, video, or spot within a video showing the technique. I fear there will be some duplicates, as names can easily vary from style to style. I left the Japanese in there, because, I don't know the English. Full disclosure: I don't know judo, so, I did a screen scrape from Wikipedia. I hope that doesn't violate rules? Next up for me is Aikido, unless someone beats me to it.
    – Andrew Jay
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 1:05

Regarding the BJJ Ontology. I started putting one together a few months back. You can check it out through the WebProtoge project named BJJ - Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at http://webprotege.stanford.edu/

It's very similar to what Dave Liepmann has put together in his mindmap. The BJJ Ontology I started is described in the OWL (Web Ontology Language). I pulled most of the terms off the web by google searches. I am hoping to expand the ontology in the coming months.


If you want to systematize things, I suggest taking a look at a technique's 'tactical' value. Is it an attacking or defending technique or maybe a bit of both? For example, the concept of the Tactical Wheel from Western Fencing (and I think this is what Dave Liepmann was referring to with his comments about Russian and Eastern European coaches) has proved to be a useful tool in characterizing actions for sword arts. IMO, it's a good basic primer to tactics in general and, if you don't mind equating a kick with a punch or a sword thrust, it's can come in pretty handy. The Szabo tactical wheel (created by Lazlo Szabo) has basically four points, each successive point being a counter to the previous one:

Simple Attack (a single offensive action, such as a punch or a thrust)

Parry/Riposte (or Block/Counter, which is a defensive-offensive set of movements)

Compound Attack (an attack made evade the expected block, or nullify it, e.g., fake high, go low)

Counter Attack (a simple attack while the opponent is preparing)

There are also additional actions that can be inferred from this simple set of tactics. For instance, maybe you want to invoke your opponent's Parry/Riposte, so that you can counter riposte? Or maybe we can use their Compound Attack to set up a Parry/Riposte of our own? And so we go spiraling off down the halls of possibility.

I admit that it's simplistic, but since every martial artist needs some framework for setting up a strategy, it allows one to do so with very little information from your opponent. It also allows novices to start working with tactical concepts, even though they only possess a few techniques. Additionally, I would note that, as with all systems, things start to break down when you can no longer determine what is happening. As with anything, it only works when one can see clearly.


I have to admit I was stymied by the concept of "ontology", so, I had to look it up. And when I did, I realized it was a philosophical concept. After reading about it for a bit, I decided my answer was that yes, there has been an attempt to systemitize a martial art, but no, not a way for combat. Not exactly, anyway: In some styles, notably taekwondo, tangsoodo, karate, kungfu, etc, there exists the concept of forms (kata, poomsae, hyung, taolu). It is in forms that define the style. Of course, some styles have many forms, others changed their forms, others have only a single form, others have forms but seem to have no idea why...

That's your philosophical answer: the forms are the key to the style. The ancients knew this; it was the only means to record their style and pass it on. Some played games, like hiding techniques into representations of something else. For example, many techniques in Capoeira are hidden in dance. Many techniques in Karate and Taekwondo are defined by hitting yourself. Always, these techniques are representative of something else (who in their right mind hits themselves in self-defense??) While this will form a tangent into politics which has nothing to do with your question, the basic answer is yes, it has been done before.

However, others here seem to have concluded a different meaning to ontology, and so, I did more research and decided they're also quite right. It sort of follows that there is a canonical list of techniques within the style. I can say with assurance that two of the styles I practice - Kukkiwon Taekwondo, and ITF Taekwondo - the former has a textbook containing all of the techniques, while the latter has the famed Encyclopedia. The textbook and encyclopedia are rather incomplete, and form the basis for many who complain bitterly about the styles: both tomes contain techniques not seen in forms and yet not allowed in competition. Or they're missing techniques which are commonly employed in competition (eg, tornado roundhouse).

So I would say that, yes - there has been an ontology created for Kukkiwon and ITF Taekwondo, but it differs from your example in two distinct ways: first, the textbook and encyclopedia are complete as written, although not complete as practiced. Your example is, of course, not intended to be complete - you're asking for details to be filled in. The second way is that the techniques are categorized into a mind map or chart.

However, despite the books' shortcomings, I also see limitations and limited use of an ontology. What use could it have? Listing a technique that is never used, as it the case with the mentioned books; or naming or qualifying a technique, as you and others here have done. This method of categorizing techniques is what limits - not expands - our knowledge. Giving something a name makes that thing useful only for what its name implies. Some Chinese styles had it right, in my opinion: things get names from concepts having little or nothing to do with its purpose. Otherwise, we have things like "rising block", and suddenly, this thing is categorized as a defensive maneuver which can only be used for blocking. Never mind that it has striking, grappling, and parrying purposes: this thing MUST be a block, and ONLY a block, and NOTHING else. I don't agree with that mantra, which is why I'm careful not to categorize techniques, and refer to them by name only when I have to.

If you prefer to have an ontology, perhaps making the techniques more generically categorized: hand techniques, foot techniques, body position, etc would be more helpful. It would reduce the repetition of a technique appearing in more than one place.

Also, styles have techniques with no name at all. Aikido, for example, has henka-waza which are derivatives of named techniques, but executed in odd ways. Throws are a good example here: sometimes, a throw is achieved simply because the opponent has grabbed onto you, and you need not grab back at him to throw (this is accomplished via the open knifehand "blocks"); or, your opponent is in position for an easy throw but has not grabbed you, so you must (this is accomplished via the closed-fist "fighting" or "on guard" position or posture (the closed fist is the hint we are grabbing)). And yet the knifehand and closed fist have several distinct other uses as well: will you reflect this in the ontology? Will an ontology be allowed to have duplicates - two purposes for a single named technique?

Another example is the double-face punch, seen in more than a few TKD forms. Of course, these are not really face punch, yes? This would be highly inefficient (given some of us have established that a chamber is needed to add power). Hint: you are grabbing the opponent's ears. Or hair. So your ontology must reflect this: one technique for two distinct purposes. Do you list "double face punch" (which is not a punch at all), or do you list these two: "hair pull" and "ear pull"?

Next, what about context? The answers listed so far don't mention "stances", which I guess is good. But the ontologies I listed (the textbook and encyclopedia) DO mention stances, and here, this is a very useless item.

If you were going to mention stances, you might as well go ahead and list other techniques, like "head facing left", "head facing right", "turn the torso clockwise", etc.

While these are simply positions of the body, or transitions from one place to another, they arguably are not techniques any more so than a stance is also a body position or a transition from one place to another.

On the other hand, stances are one of those things we have which don't really clue us as to what the thing is doing by name alone. You know, like "cross stance". Is it offensive? Defensive? Both? What's its true purpose? Where does it go in your ontology? Some stances - like a crane stance - absolutely have offensive and defensive movements. For example, the crane stance (where the foot is not wrapped behind the knee) is representative of the person lying on his back with the opponent on top of him. The bent knee keeps the opponent from completely taking over, and affords the possibility that we can push off and roll the opponent off us. All that in a "crane stance", which isn't a stance; and if you're lucky, the outward knee goes to the opponent's groin or solar plexus. But it isn't a kick, because that would imply a transference of energy from defender to offender, whereas here, the offender is transferring his mass and energy onto the fixed and unmoving knee.

Oh, speaking of knees... So the other crane stance has us wrapping our foot behind the knee. Subtle difference - except that with the former, we're on the ground on our back, while the latter is used whilst standing. Not very subtle at all, yes? In this case, we're wrapping our front leg behind the opponent's, to effect a trip. This is one of those "hidden" strategies I mentioned before. How are you going to relate all this in an ontology? And that cross stance? That's usually a strike (using the knee) to a pressure point in the opponent's area of SP10, ST36, SP09, SP08 (or if you prefer, ou-li/kee-moon, shitsu-kwansetsu/dohk-bee, kokotsu/um-nung-chun; etc) This is something else that ought to be in an ontology, if you're striving for completeness and information.

What about chambers? Here's where we get into these philosophical arguments. Are they preparatory movements for a strike, or are they a technique in of themselves? How do you put it into the ontology? Should you? Where does it go?

What about breathing? And kihap/kiai? These are used for many purposes some say for power, pain absorption, harmonizing, aim, and maintaining stamina. It's a technique. Gotta put it in there. But where?

You see? Your list is 1-dimensional - a top-down list. If you categorize the techniques, it becomes 2 dimensional, but immediately becomes complicated because a single technique can traverse more than one category. Do you remember the movie Contact, with Jodi Foster? Do you remember how the aliens conveyed instructions to Earth for the knowledge to building the machine? They could have used a set of instructions listed top down. After all, that's how the machine got built to begin with. Instead, they made the instructions more efficient by using math, and by compressing it into a third dimension. It's the same here: your forms (poomsae, kata, taolu) are the most efficient means for representing your ontology.

With forms, you can have a 5-dimensional ontology: not just a top-down list of techniques (and no categorization) (and no names, except the part where you're being taught the form's movements), but movement, timing, and alternative interpretation are also included. All neatly represented - in context - which could never be represented in a top-down approach, whether it is a top-down list or a mind map or a chart of some sort.

Your written ontology might have 50 techniques in it. Your form may be defined as having 20 movements, but will be hundreds of techniques. And will include the "esoteric" stuff I mentioned: breathing, chambers, stances, etc. And the more you study your forms, the more techniques you will derive out of them. In this way, your written ontology is static and can be memorized - but no learning occurs. With forms, the movements are static (that is, they don't change), but the techniques drawn from them are nearly endless - and that's where much of the learning takes place.

Sources: Encyclopedia of Taekwondo; author: Choi, Hong Hi ISBN13: 978-1897307762 ISBN10: 1890307764

Kukkiwon Taekwondo Textbook (Korean-English); published: Osung ISBN13: 978-8973367504 ISBN10: 8973367501

If your style has forms, there's your ontology.

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