Martial arts come from around the world and draw from a rich and ancient history.
While many of its disciplines originated in East Asia, the forms are now practiced all around the world.
Competitions and showcases can be found in just about every major city and beyond, while many TV shows and films feature its distinctive techniques.
Martial arts traditions emerged as fighting sports, but are now also used frequently for performative and storytelling motifs. Famous stars like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Ray Park played a big role in introducing acrobatic martial arts to the mainstream world.
Disciplines and Moves in Acrobatic Martial Arts
Wushu or Chinese Kung Fu is a martial art originally practiced in China, and it’s extremely popular in cinema owing to the impressive and dramatic acrobatic feats that it displays. Wushu’s vocabulary of tricks and moves have been cultivated for thousands of years.
- The Butterfly Twist (watch how it’s done) is a horizontal aerial flip that can only be achieved after many years of practice. As an actual kick to an opponent, this move can be deadly but it is usually just used for show in our contemporary times.
- The Aerial is basically a cartwheel with no hands. The acrobat must generate a lot of momentum to be able to pull off this trick. The aerial is a showy move that demonstrates great skill and would likely intimidate an opponent.
- Backflips also feature prominently in wushu, as a practice in agility, strength, and skill. As a cross-discipline technique, the backflip is a coveted skill from martial arts to dance and circus.
Capoeira is an Afro-Brazillian martial art invented by African slaves who had been taken to Brazil against their will.
Escaping slaves needed to create a way to defend themselves against those seeking to recapture them. From this intense history was born an art form that is now celebrated by people virtually everywhere as an approach to exercise, performance, and community.
- The Au is a type of cartwheel that uses the momentum that’s gathered by starting very low to the ground and reaching as far out to the side with the extended hands as possible. Te Au can begin as an extension of the Ginga move.
- Bananeira (also called Handstands) figure prominently into the acrobatic dance of Capoeira. Practitioners roll, tumble, and then seem to magically arrive upside down in the air.
Various leg positions are used, such as a tuck with the knees bent or a backbend. The Bananeira can be a challenge to the opposing player or it can be a means to escape a bad situation.
- The Ponte is a backbend or bridge pose, shared with a multitude of other movement disciplines. What sets the Ponte apart in Capoeira is the focus on the transitions in and out of the position.
Instead of starting lying face up on the ground, the ponte is often approached from the side. The rolling motion can create a mesmerizing optical illusion.
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art with an emphasis on elaborate punching and kicking techniques. Taekwondo students learn the way to strike. Taekwondo also carries the distinction of being an Olympic sport, attracting recognition and fans worldwide.
- The Tornado Kick generates incredible momentum with a full 360-degree turn. The energy is unleashed in mid-air, with the potential to send a powerful blow.
- The Reverse Hook Kick (aka Spinning Hook Kick or Spinning Whip Kick) also works with powerful spinning momentum, ultimately making use of a snapping or hooking motion to finish off the movement. This difficult maneuver is extremely effective.
- The Front Kick requires considerable flexibility, like many acrobatic movements. As the name suggests, it’s a simple kick to the front, but the body must be prepared for the stretch that the kick requires.
Can Acrobatics Really be Used in a Fight?
Acrobatic moves can be used in a real fight, but are they really useful?
In an actual confrontation, you may not have the space or the time to respond to your opponent with your technique training. Real fights are gritty and happen fast, and may not allow for presenting all the special skills.
Another problem with attempting acrobatic skills in a real fight is that it may very likely take place on the street, and outdoor surfaces may not be conducive to moves like flips and handstands.
Even in the best conditions, you can easily injure yourself trying to perform these moves without the use of a smooth surface or a safety mat. If you have never tried a backflip on concrete in the past, a fight may not be the best time to start.
However, acrobatic martial arts disciplines like Capoeria were used for many generations to fight off captors and other ill-willed people. Some say that these moves have a more useful approach to them.