Different styles of martial art developed over the centuries; as the various martial arts existed in various geographical locations so each area developed its own style. The contrast between styles is so striking that they could be seen as different sports rather than variations on each other.
Kung Fu: This is actually a broad term used for several martial arts, the word itself meaning ‘achieved work’ or ‘merit’. The origin of these skills dates back 4000 years to the Xia dynasty in China where it had military connections. This period in history is hard to separate from mythology, so the details are sketchy at best. By the 5th century BC the techniques had been documented and training manuals produced, with distinctions being made between sport and weaponless fighting.
There is some controversy over the ideology of techniques in Kung Fu. Some believe an emphasis on aesthetically pleasing style for public displays has detracted from an emphasis on a realistic approach to combat preparedness. Aesthetics was always part of the art, but they were mean to serve the primary goal of developing practical fighting skills.
Tai Chi: This is best known these days for its health benefits, being treated like yoga; but it is still practiced in accord with it defensive background where it effectively deal with force in a soft manner.
Tae Kwon Do: The Korean martial art stretches back many centuries, but its modern form developed in the 1940 and 1950s. It puts more emphasis on kicking than other martial arts, and while all martial arts have some ancient military origins, Tae Kwon Do has strong modern military connections, being developed during Korea’s military struggle. It is one of only two martial arts recognized at the Olympics.
Judo: A Japanese martial art focussed on throwing an opponent and immobilizing him. This is one of the most popular competitive martial arts and (along with Tae Kwon Do) is actually an Olympic event.
Muay Thai: A Thailand martial art that uses eight contact points (as opposed to the four contact points of hands and feet) for striking and clinching.
Mixed Martial Arts: This is a full contact sport where a variety of fighting styles may be used, even if they are not strictly martial arts. Over time some traditional styles proved inappropriate for this sport. Competitors now tend to train in a combination of disciplines that form a balanced style.
Talk to Taekwondo World for Mixed martial arts, Sydney.