10 Amazing Martial Artists from History

In no particular order, some inspiring martial arts pioneers from recent history. <3

01. Kayla Harrison, Olympic Gold Medalist Judoka

harrisonJudoka Kayla Harrison (b. 1990) was the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in Judo at the London 2012 games. This year at Rio 2016, she won gold again. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse by her judo coach, Harrison now uses her fame and voice to fight for an end to abuse and to help other survivors.

02. Bow Sim Mark, Wushu Innovator

markBow Sim Mark was born in Guangzhou, China and started out as a young, extremely talented dancer. She was taken on as a student by legendary tai chi master Fu Wing Fay. In 1976, she founded the Chinese Wushu Research Institute in Boston becoming the first teacher of wushu in the West. Her lifetime of contributions to Chinese martial arts has made her one of the most influential martial artists of the 20th century.

03. Takako Kunigoshi, Herald of Aikido

kunigoshiOne of the first women Aikidoka and the illustrator of Budo Renshu, a comprehensive Aikido manual written by Ueshiba Morihei, the founder of Aikido, in 1933. She became a well-respected instructor of Aikido and served her community by teaching self-defense to women. She retired after World War II.

04. Emma Chambers Maitland, Boxing Star

maitlandEmma Maitland Chambers was born in Virginia in 1893. First known as a sensational dancer and performer in Paris, she trained as a boxer under Jack Taylor and returned to the U.S. to eventually claim the title as the female lightweight boxing champion of the world. She was inducted into the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard, her last home.

05. Susan Ribner, Karate Activist

ribnerWomen’s rights activist and founder of the Women’s Center Karate Club, Susan Ribner began studying martial arts in 1969 after attending a women’s consciousness-raising group.  The story goes she was thrown out of dojo for doing knuckle push-ups, an exercise deemed off-limits to women. An excellent martial artist, activist, writer and teacher, Ribner dedicated her life to the cause.

06. Sophia Delza, American Pioneer of T’ai Chi Ch’uan

delzaIn her dance studio in Carnegie Hall in NYC, dancer and diplomat Sophia Delza (b. 1903) became one of the first teachers of T’ai Chi Ch’uan to teach publicly in the United States. In those days, Chinese martial arts were kept very close, but in 1948, Delza went to Shanghai and began her training. She was the first person to demonstrate T’ai Chi Ch’uan on television and wrote the first English language book on Chinese martial arts.

07. Edith Garrud, Jujutsuffragette

garrudEdith Garrud (b. 1872) is perhaps the most famous of the English suffragettes, activists for women’s voting rights in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Having learned jiu jitsu from Edward Barton-Wright in 1899, Edith in turn trained a band of women to act as bodyguards for other activists against police and other violent opposition.

08. Miyako Tanaka Price, Naginata Ambassador

priceMiyako Tanaka was born in Osaka, Japan in 1942, and began learning naginata (a short blade on the end of a long pole) in physical education class. In 1973, the Japanese Ministry of Education sent her to the U.S. to teach naginata. After decades of innovation, teaching, and research, she attained the highest rank possible, hanshi, one of less than 200 people to do so.

09. Fallon Fox, MMA Barrier-Breaker

foxIn 2013, after two professional MMA matches, mixed martial arts fighter Fallon Fox (b. 1975) revealed she was transgender, becoming the first openly transgender athlete in MMA history. Since then, Fox has become a strong voice for transgender athletes everywhere, dispelling myths and pushing back against harassment and discrimination.

10. Sylvia Forrest, Finest in Australian Fencing

forrestPossibly one of the best fencers in the world in the 1940s was Sylvia Forrest,  Australian-born holder of the title Maitre de L’Academie d’Armes de Paris. She was one of the instructors at The Swords Club in New South Wales. Women have been fencing as early as 1650, and Forrest’s influence was key to the rise in fencing’s popularity in Australia.


This is nothing close to even a sliver of an exhaustive list of all the sung and unsung martial artists who moved and are moving the wheels of history. Hopefully, there’s a new name in this list to spark your inspiration or curiosity.


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