The Martial Arts Archetypes


I have been training for over 20 years in a plethora of styles ranging from traditional karate to MMA, to Muay Thai, and even Tribal stick fighting in the heart of Africa itself. In all this time training I have discovered several different and interesting types of people that train in the martial arts. Sure, some styles pull more heavily to some archetypes than others, however, I have found that almost every school has at least a few of these archetypes running around. Some tend to be innocent and harmless while others can have a major impact on your culture and school, especially when they get out of control or create a vendetta against you. I have also found in many cases that a martial artist can have several archetypes at the same time.

The Archivist

These are the Librarians of every school or style. They have every form memorized, they remember what you taught in 1999 just as easily as what changed 25 years later. They collect every video or handout you have ever produced. If you want to find some long-forgotten information, just ask them, but be careful, they will get out their index of information and probably show you 3 times as much as you wanted. Be sure to let them know that you are changing something and why – otherwise, they will let you know it’s different.



These martial artists love to tear techniques apart, study them, and oftentimes put them back together better than when you taught them the first time. They want to know the specific details of every technique and how it works. They are the scientist of the martial arts world. Good engineers will teach you more about your technique than you originally knew. Bad ones, however, will question everything you teach and tell you why you are always wrong.


These martial artists understand everything in theory. They have never put anything to the test or competed with it, but act as though they have personally experienced these techniques in battle. They act as though they are very knowledgeable and important and have all the answers to the universe. When you are teaching a class, after you tell everyone to “go work” they will try to re-explain everything to their partner. They tend to be extremely nerdy and hate getting hit, but will quickly correct your techniques and tell you everything you do wrong if given the chance. They are full of lots of knowledge but little wisdom.



On the opposite side of the spectrum from the theorist is the realist. They usually have been burnt by some traditional teacher or system and have thrown away anything resembling traditional martial arts. They don’t listen to anyone unless they have served 10 tours overseas or have been involved in an armed bank robbery hostage situation in which they personally went in Rambo style to apprehend the suspect. Getting shot or stabbed is an added bonus for a realist. In their perspective, if you haven’t trained it at 100%, blindfolded, with your opponent smoking PCP while living in the hood; you don’t know S#!T.



Trying to find a deeper meaning and purpose for their life, they study, meditate, and latch onto anything spiritual from Asia. They are fascinated by Mr. Miyagi’s way of teaching. They will try to talk to everyone backward like master Yoda or in riddles and metaphors. They love to share weird stories about their chakras and how they once were so deep in meditation that they had an out-of-body experience. Usually Introverts tend to be a little on the “outside” of any school too busy in their own personal journey of enlightenment to cause trouble.



This martial artist has never and will never cross-train in any other style. To them, everything they could ever want or need can be found in their style. The knowledge they learn has been passed down from one master to the next for the last 1000 years, having never been muddied by outside influences. If someone tries to explain the vast world of martial arts and all the many great things that can be learned, they will refute it using expressions such as “I would rather be a deep ocean, than a shallow puddle.” Or when shown something different, they will adamantly claim that their style has that, too.

Martial Artist Archetypes


These guys primarily train in order to understand and get closer to their heritage. In general, these martial artists are not as interested in the fighting aspects of training but rather the customs, culture, and identity the style gives them. Most often these guys have had a father, grandfather, or uncle that was very serious and they want to better understand the loss of that relationship. Whether it’s speaking the native language of the art or understanding the purpose of a specific tradition, they often add an aspect that helps other participants understand the style with a better reference point.


The Heir

These martial artists are similar to the culturalists but different because they were given the title due to their parent(s) being the head of a school or system. In many cases (but not all) the Heir doesn’t really care about the martial arts itself, it’s just something they have always done and they didn’t have to interview to get the job. They are usually good martial artists but oftentimes don’t appreciate the level of effort others have gone through to obtain equal amounts of understanding or leadership.


These guys train so they can feel tough and usually fill that internal void left from some lack of love from dad or another male role model earlier in their life. They have a chip on their shoulder and are constantly looking for the opportunity to prove to the world how tough they are and that they definitely aren’t “weak”. Everyone in the school knows that when the instructor says “light sparring” do not partner with these guys, because they will try to kill you. Also be careful to go out and get a drink after class with them, because they will get into a fight with the bouncer and more than likely you are getting thrown out with them.



These martial artists are usually great athletes and are signing up for every tournament. In fact, they go into a mild depression if there isn’t a tournament over the weekend or it gets canceled due to weather. Everything to them is a game to be won: Rock, paper, scissors; light bag work; or even simply doing some shield work up and down the floor is a challenge against everyone else in the school that they must win. They are usually extremely committed students, just be careful when you play a friendly game of Uno.



These martial artists only train in order to see their friends. You will often tell them to be quiet and pay attention because they are too busy talking and distracting all their friends. They are the Golden retrievers of the martial arts world making everyone feel good and belong in the school. They bring a ton of Good energy to the school and make excellent front desk people.  Their technique is usually ok, doing just enough to be a good student but not really that committed to the art to be a high-level competitor. Just be aware to treat them well, because if you piss them off, they will tell the entire world how awful you are.

LARPist – (Live Action Role Player)

These guys seem to truly believe they are training for some medieval battle that is soon to happen. In fact, more than likely they will be having a local “gathering” in the “Swamp of Sorrows” (the neighborhood park) this weekend. They are highly interested in learning every weapon that you are willing to teach and actually probably already know more about the weapon itself than you do. Fortunately, they are usually great students, but to them, weapons training is more akin to a religion than an art form. If you ever have a dispute with a LARPist, feel free to roll a D20 to settle the matter. The roll, after all, is absolute, and if that doesn’t work just remind them who is the Dungeon Master of the school.



I’m sure there are many other archetypes within every school and I would love to hear some of your own characters and enjoy the laugh or sigh of annoyance of the people you have experienced. What archetype do you most associate with? I personally love the world of martial arts, whether it be the tough athletic gyms or the nerdy library dojangs. I wish more people would find their specific niche within the vast world. Whether fighting or for tradition’s sake, I believe the world is better off the more people who develop the skills of discipline, humility, courage, pride, constant improvement, personal responsibility, and many more important life qualities. I know that to train as a warrior makes the world a better place and as the old Chinese proverb goes, “When there is light in the soul, there will be peace in the world”.


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