I'm wanting to get some good, broad resources to study up on, for my comic art / graphic novel purposes. Also, for my homebrew table RPG.

I'm looking for something that shows me something like, "X martial art focuses on Y principles, is fast / straightforward / etc., and prefers Z types of techniques like high kicks." Or "Fighting with A type of weapon is found in B medieval period/culture, and used with C style and techniques, because of D." and hopefully some visual examples of such.

I can look up youtube videos and what-not, but what I'm most interested in is the comparison between combat styles, so I can kind of synthesize for myself what it 'comes down to', or what the main principles or strategies are that they play on. If that makes sense.

Can you recommend any good books, video series, or the like that give good general, practical, or summarized information on one or more martial arts / combat in general? If possible, a comparison between them? If nothing else, if I can get good resources to compare, then that's a good start. I'm interested in anything from physical to ranged combat tactics, but mostly physical/medieval weaponry/martial arts.

I could go study and curate and 'translate' all that information myself from various sources, but I'm honestly not as interested in actually learning all these fighting styles (though eventually that'd be cool) as much as learning how they basically mechanically work, how they vary in broad terms, and how to convincingly depict them. And I'm hoping someone has already done some of that work.

If that is too broad of a question, can you refer me to a good resource that you think might be a good, simple start for what I'm looking for? I don't want to spend a whole lot of time, I'm more interested in the application, but I'm more than willing to do some deep studying.

I can fudge my fighting scenes a little, basically make it up or envision it, but it's so much cooler if it's based on how fighting actually works. And it'd be so much more awesome if I can vary peoples' fighting styles realistically.

Edit:: Here's the closest I've found to what I'm looking for on my own.

  • I've already included in my game a few distinctions:
    • Combat, Tactics, and Support are how I divide combat skills. Combat tries to deal damage/effect, Tactics tries to lock down or gain an advantage, and Support deals with positioning and terrain, flanking, etc. (Also area effects)
    • I involve a bit of a 'rock-paper-scissors' type strategy using Aggressive > Defensive > Finessed. But It's not exactly based on realism as much as it's just to add some strategic choice.
    • Similarly, I make a distinction between Melee, Armor/Mobility, and Ranged; whose technological advantages are based in Power > Defense > and Range, respectively. (So modern firearm combat is power+range, thus melee/heavy armors are mostly obsolete.)
  • Fighting Distances - Grapple, Lock, Strike, and Kick/Reach. So this helps me because it helps me envision what is a fundamental aspect - the distance at which you fight. So Tai Kwon Do tries to stay at reach, while Wing Chun tries to stay in locking range.
  • Stances and Strike Types - So one source divided things into 3 stances (High, Middle, and Low Guard) and then into 8 cardinal/compass movement and strike/block directions. I might add a ninth for center strikes. And then he adds Strike vs Counterstrike, Avoidance, Deflection, and Disarms/Grabs.
  • Soft versus Hard - Basically how brutal it is, or the amount of force used/idealized. It seems like the closer the range, the softer, but this isn't always the case, so I think it's a separate principle.
  • To clarify, I've done a TON of research on medieval weaponry, and a bit on their roles in grand-scale combat, etc. so I have some good, accurate lists I can use there, at least. It's more fighting styles I'm lacking. Feb 8, 2016 at 18:10
  • I am guessing your table top RPG is historical/real world rather than anime/manga level? If the later, you really don't need to worry about accuracy and can come up with all sort of crazy things. Still, better asked on rpg. Feb 9, 2016 at 9:43
  • They basically just said to go research martial arts. Feb 9, 2016 at 10:36

3 Answers 3


Asian Fighting Arts by Donn F. Draeger and Robert W. Smith is a good survey of martial arts from Asia. The original, published in 1969, is a little dated, but should give you an idea of the history, content, and weapons used by Asian martial arts systems. This was republished as Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts in 1980. I don't know how the content of the newer version differs, if at all.


This is a vast undertaking...

Tomiki's On Modern Jujutsu paper is not a bad place to start for how Aikido and Judo evolved from the myriad of old Japanese ryu. It breaks down ancient jujutsu into four categories:

  1. Nage-waza (throwing techniques)
  2. Katame-waza (locking techniques)
  3. Atemi-waza (striking techniques)
  4. Kansetsu-waza (joint techniques)

I would add a few more for a full picture:

  1. Ranged armed techniques (no idea what it would be in Japanese). This would be bows, cross bows, javelins, and so on.
  2. Mêlée armed techniques (no idea what it would be in Japanese). This would be swords (katana, broadswords, rapier, etc...), axes, spears, shields, knives, and so on.
  3. Firearms techniques (tepo-waza?). Everything including guns but falling short of artillery.

I struggle to think of any martial art that would not neatly fit into one or more of those oh so broad categories.

This may or may not be helpful ☺.

Does it even matter in fictional settings? Blade Of The Immortals has many fantastic weapons, some of them utterly infeasible and impractical, but that does not stop it from being a good read.

  • Hm. This is pretty close to what I've seen as far as my other research goes; breaking it down into the types of techniques/weapons you use. Feb 9, 2016 at 10:10
  • I've edited the question with some more relevant info. Feb 9, 2016 at 10:37
  • Well that's what I mean, I've seen a similar description to what you gave me - throws, locks, strikes, grapples, and weapons. Feb 9, 2016 at 10:55

Actually, when you look into it, you find that martial arts are remarkably similar the world over.

For example, there are diagrams on the Beni Hasan tombs in Egypt which are 4500 year old representations of grappling martial arts. Many of the diagrams are clearly identifiable as "modern" Judo or Ju-Jutsu techniques.


You also find exactly the same techniques being used by Medieval European men-at-arms (knights) in the Holy Roman Empire (modern day Germany). The unarmed techniques they used (Abbrazare and Ringen) look very much like Ju-Jutsu and Karate.

e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvkPLvoH1vI

More European stuff on Wiktenauer: Meyer Fiore

Be very wary of comparing modern sports like TKD against methods that were used for self defence during eras that required the arts. Almost all of the modern representations you see of martial arts differ drastically from how they were originally used. Some are pure sport, some are pure entertainment. This goes for all Chinese derived arts like Karate, Kung-fu and TKD, as well as western martial arts like wrestling and boxing.

  • So aikido, tae kwon do, Brazilian jiujitsu, Okinawan karate, and boxing are all remarkably similar? This is like saying that yoga, Olympic lifting, and basketball are remarkably similar and contain the same techniques because they all involve raising the arms overhead. You're just excluding contradictory information with a No True Scotsman fallacy. Mar 2, 2016 at 13:23
  • You're mistaking modern combat sports and "do" martial arts which have little to to nothing to do with defending yourself with those historical martial arts which were used on a daily basis. Mar 2, 2016 at 13:38
  • TKD, BJJ and boxing are combat sports rather than martial arts. They look the way they do because they have to conform to competition rule sets. Aikido bears little resemblance to the original ju-jutsu it descended from, having lost most "martial" aspects. When you apply aikido techniques realistically, it looks just like the original art. Of the list mentioned, only karate largely retains it's martial art, and even there the competitive, combat sport karate bears little to no resemblance to how it was originally used. Mar 2, 2016 at 13:51
  • 2
    That would be a No True Scotsman fallacy, and not a particularly convincing one to boot. A) while BJJ has a competitive outlet, it also has extensive noncompetitive self-defense curricula oriented towards an opponent using strikes in street clothes; the same goes for Jack Dempsey's boxing B) Your "historical" karate ryu of choice—or Aikido, or whatever you're not No True Scotsmanning out of contention—doesn't have more than a few minor overlaps with Beni Hasan. BJJ, in fact, probably has more in common! Mar 2, 2016 at 13:54
  • Taking karate as an example. It has over the last 80 years or so developed from a martial art suitable for self defence into a combat sport of no appreciable martial value. Both aspects use the word "karate" to describe them. Examples of competitive karate: youtube.com/watch?v=w9kxtJpRmw4 . More historically accurate karate techniques youtube.com/watch?v=Jdx5EWuxUs0 It's very clear that they are very... entirely different despite the name. One is a sport, the other is a martial art. Anyone who believes otherwise is simply delusional. Mar 2, 2016 at 14:12

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