Famous Japanese Martial Artists

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 1 
Miyamoto Musashi
(Swordsman & Philosopher)
Miyamoto Musashi
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Birthdate: March 1, 1584
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Harima Province, Japan
Died: May 19, 1645

Miyamoto Musashi was a Japanese swordsman, writer, strategist, and philosopher. Widely regarded as a Kensei, Musashi became famous through his stories of bravery, which involves his undefeated streak of 61 duels. He is also credited with founding the Niten Ichi-ryū school of swordsmanship. His life has inspired several films, TV series, stage plays, and video games.

 2 
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
(Actor, Martial artist)
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
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Birthdate: September 27, 1950
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Tokyo, Japan

Currently a Russian citizen, Japanese actor and martial artist Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa began his training in martial art while in junior school and acting while studying in Duarte High School, California, making his breakthrough as the Eunuch Chang in The Last Emperor. Thereafter he continued to appear in numerous productions, concurrently developing a new form of martial arts called Chun Shin

 3 
Antonio Inoki
(Japanese Retired Professional Wrestler and Founder of 'New Japan Pro-Wrestling')
Antonio Inoki
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Birthdate: November 20, 1943
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Yokohama, Japan

Once a reputed Japanese martial artist and wrestler, Antonio Inoki grew up in Brazil, where he won several contests of shot put, discus, and javelin. At 17, he went to the Japanese Wrestling Association and was mentored by Rikidōzan. He later established the New Japan Pro Wrestling.

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 4 
Sasaki Kojirō
(Swordsman)
Sasaki Kojirō
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Birthdate: 1575 AD
Birthplace: Fukui, Japan
Died: April 13, 1612

Sixteenth-century Japanese swordsman Sasaki Kojirō was known as the Demon of the Western Provinces because of his skill with the nodachi, a sword that demons used. Known for his signature move, Tsubame Gaeshi, he died fighting Miyamoto Musashi, his arch rival, at what is now known as Ganryu island.

 5 
Kota Ibushi
(Japanese Professional Wrestler and Martial Artist)
Kota Ibushi
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Birthdate: May 21, 1982
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Aira, Kagoshima, Japan

Japanese martial artist and wrestler Kota Ibushi stunned his fans when he rejected an offer from All Elite Wrestling, choosing to remain with New Japan Pro-Wrestling instead, as he did not wish to move to the U.S. for good. The IWGP World Heavyweight Champion had initially ditched karate for wrestling.

 6 
Mas Oyama
(Founder of ‘Kyokushin Karate')
Mas Oyama
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Birthdate: June 4, 1923
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Gimje, Zenra-hoku Prefecture, Korea
Died: April 26, 1994

Legendary Japanese karate master Mas Oyama, who founded Kyokushin Karate, was known by his fans as The God Hand. Known as someone who had fought bears and bulls with his bare hands, he was also an actor and author. Following his death, he was declared a God by a Japanese religion.

 7 
Morihei Ueshiba
(Martial Artist)
Morihei Ueshiba
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Birthdate: December 14, 1883
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Tanabe, Wakayama, Japan
Died: April 26, 1969

Morihei Ueshiba was a Japanese martial artist. Referred to as the Great Teacher, Ueshiba is credited with founding aikido, a martial art which is now practiced around the world. During the course of his career, Ueshiba set up many dojos, including the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, and taught several students, many of whom are celebrated martial artists in their own right.

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 8 
Jigoro Kano
(International sports pioneer who founded the martial art of judo and was the first Asian member of the International Olympic Committee.)
Jigoro Kano
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Birthdate: December 10, 1860
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Hyogo, Japan
Died: May 4, 1938

Legendary Japanese athlete Jigoro Kano is remembered as the founder of judo. A fine educator, he had also had a 23-year stint as the principal of 2 schools, which later became the University of Tsukuba. He was also the first Asian to be part of the International Olympic Committee.

 9 
Yushin Okami
(Mixed martial artist in middleweight, welterweight, light Heavyweight division)
Yushin Okami
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Birthdate: July 21, 1981
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Kanagawa, Japan

Japanese MMA fighter Yushin Okami, known by his fans as Thunder, came under the limelight by defeating UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. He is equipped with a black belt in judo and, apart from UFC, has been part of many championships, such as ONE Championship, PRIDE, and Pancrase.

 10 
Katsuyori Shibata
(Professional wrestler, Mixed martial artist, Kickboxer)
Katsuyori Shibata
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Birthdate: November 17, 1979
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Kuwana

A 3-time NEVER Openweight Champion, Japanese wrestler and MMA fighter Katsuyori Shibata has also been a coach for NJPW. In December 2021, he announced his first match in 5 years, at the Tokyo Dome. He had practically retired after suffering a subdural hematoma in a 2017 match.

 11 
Sho Kosugi
(Japanese Martial Artist and Actor Known for His 'Ninja' Roles in 1980s Film 'Revenge of the Ninja)
Sho Kosugi
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Birthdate: June 17, 1948
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Minato, Tokyo, Japan

Apart from being a martial artist, Sho Kosugi was also one of the best actors of the Japanese ninja craze of the 1980s. The son of a fisherman, he had begun learning martial arts at age 5. Nicknamed The Visible Ninja, he later impressed audiences in films such as the Cannon ninja trilogy.

 12 
Masakatsu Funaki
(Professional wrestler, Mixed martial artist, Actor)
Masakatsu Funaki
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Birthdate: March 13, 1969
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Hirosaki

Masaharu Funaki, better known by his stage name, Masakatsu Funaki, is not just a skilled mixed martial artist and wrestler but also a fine actor. He also co-established the MMA promotion company Pancrase. Nicknamed the Modern-Day Samurai, he has performed in movies such as Shadow Fury and Godzilla: Final Wars.

 13 
Norifumi Yamamoto
(Former mixed martial artist and kickboxer who competed in the bantamweight division of the UFC)
Norifumi Yamamoto
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Birthdate: March 15, 1977
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Kawasaki, Japan
Died: September 18, 2018

One of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time, MMA fighter and kickboxer Norifumi Yamamoto, nicknamed Kid, had successful stints at Shooto and K-1 Hero's. After revealing his cancer diagnosis on Instagram in August 2018, he succumbed to the disease, at age 41, in September the same year.

 14 
Masaaki Hatsumi
(Founder of the Bujinkan Organization and is the former Togakure-ryū Soke (Grandmaster))
Masaaki Hatsumi
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Birthdate: December 2, 1931
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Noda, Chiba, Japan

While he initially specialized in judo, Hatsumi Masaaki, the 34th sōke head of the Togakure school of ninpō, later taught students his own brand of ninjutsu. Apart from heading the Bujinkan Organization, he has also advised the martial arts teams of films such as You Only Live Twice.

 15 
Yasuaki Kurata
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Birthdate: March 20, 1946
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan

Proficient in karate, judo, and aikido, Yasuaki Kurata is not just a skilled martial artist but also an actor, with memorable performances in Hong Kong movies such as Fist of Legend and So Close. He debuted in acting with the Japanese series Marude Dameo. He also teaches and runs the agency Kurata Promotion.

 16 
Chōjun Miyagi
(Martial Artist Who Founded the 'GōJū-Ryū' School of Karate)
Chōjun Miyagi
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Birthdate: April 25, 1888
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Naha, Okinawa, Japan
Died: October 8, 1953

Legendary Okinawan martial artist Chōjun Miyagi is best known as the founder of the Gōjū-ryū school of karate. He inspired the iconic character of Mr. Miyagi, played by Pat Morita, in the Hollywood film franchise The Karate Kid. On his death-bed, he named his student Gogen Yamaguchi his successor.

 17 
Keiko Fukuda
(Martial Artist)
Keiko Fukuda
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Birthdate: April 12, 1913
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Tokyo, Japan
Died: February 9, 2013

The highest-ranked female judoka in the history of the sport, Keiko Fukuda was also the last-surviving student of the founder of the art, Kanō Jigorō. Apart from breaking the male bastion of the judo circuit, she also penned books, launched a kata championship, and taught judo around the world.

 18 
Hayato Sakurai
(Welterweight mixed martial)
Hayato Sakurai
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Birthdate: August 24, 1975
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan

Regarded as one of the most talented Japanese MMA fighters ever, Hayato Sakurai is best known for his powerful low kicks and knee strikes. He was the inaugural Pride Lightweight Champion and also won the Shooto Middleweight title. He was nicknamed Mach, after his idol, Mach Hayato.

 19 
David Sakurai
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Birthdate: July 19, 1979
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Copenhagen, Denmark

Born to a Japanese father and a Danish mother, David Sakurai moved from Denmark to Japan at 18, to train in acting. After working in small-time films such as Tokyo G.P., he moved back to Denmark, and worked in films such as Liza, The Fox-Fairy and in series such as Iron Fist.

 20 
Kitanoumi Toshimitsu
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Birthdate: May 16, 1953
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Sōbetsu
Died: November 20, 2015

Toshimitsu Obata, better known in the sumo wrestling circuit as Kitanoumi Toshimitsu, began his sumo career in middle school and created history when, at 21, he became the youngest-ever yokozuna in history. He later chaired the Japan Sumo Association and also set many records. He succumbed to colorectal cancer at 62.

 21 
Koichi Tohei
(Aikidoka)
Koichi Tohei
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Birthdate: January 20, 1920
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Tokyo
Died: May 19, 2011

Remembered as the founder of the Ki Society and Ki-Aikido, Koichi Tohei had developed his own brand of training the mind, while recovering from pleurisy in his younger days. He thus merged the elements of the mind with martial arts and its physicality to form his own signature style of combat.

 22 
Teruyuki Okazaki
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Birthdate: June 22, 1931
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan
Died: April 21, 2020

A master Shotokan karate, Teruyuki Okazaki moved from Japan to the US, initially with the intention of staying for 6 months, to promote the art internationally. He later settled in Philadelphia, where he opened his own dojo. He was associated with the ISKF as its chief instructor

 23 
Yoshio Sugino
(Martial artist)
Yoshio Sugino
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Birthdate: December 12, 1904
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Narutō, Chiba
Died: June 13, 1998

Apart from being a trained martial artist, who studied under judo founder Kanō Jigorō and aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba, Yoshio Sugino was also a film choreographer. After losing his home in World War II bombing raids, he tended to the injured. He later directed sword-fight sequences in Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.

 24 
Yōsuke Nishijima
(Boxer, Kickboxer, Mixed martial artist)
Yōsuke Nishijima
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Birthdate: May 15, 1973
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Saitama

Apart from being a skilled boxer, Yōsuke Nishijima is also a fine kickboxer and mixed martial artist. Also known by his nickname, Yōsukezan, he has many titles in his kitty, such as the WBO NABO Cruiserweight title, the World Boxing Federation Cruiserweight title, and the OPBF Cruiserweight title.

 25 
Taira no Tadamori
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Birthdate: 1096 AD
Birthplace: Japan
Died: February 10, 1153

The head of the Taira clan, Taira no Tadamori was the first samurai to serve an emperor at the court, directly. He fought against pirates and warrior monks. He is also believed to have built the Kyoto temple Rengeō-in. His diplomatic skills later helped his son Kiyomori conquer almost all of Japan.

 26 
Yūji Nashiro
(Kickboxer, Karateka)
Yūji Nashiro
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Birthdate: September 13, 1983
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Nara

Japanese welterweight division kickboxer Yūji Nashiro is the brother of well-known boxer Nobuo Nashiro. Initially, he was more interested in Kyokushin karate, and also became an Asian and Japanese champion in the sport. He is also well-versed in Muay Thai and is an amateur champion in the art.

Find out more about the greatest Japanese Martial Artists, including Yoshihiro Akiyama, Miyamoto Musashi, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Kitanoumi Toshimitsu and Antonio Inoki.