The Best Martial Artists in History

Over 20.8K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Best Martial Artists in History
Voting Rules
Vote up the top martial arts stars - including MMA - but no boxers nor fictional characters.

The best martial artists in history are some of the most successful, most famous and toughest fighters to ever compete. These tough guys are UFC champions, movie stars and icons in the fighting world. Whether you're a fan of the Chinese greats like Bruce Lee, the MMA front-runners like Chuck Liddell or anywhere in between, it's hard to argue that all of these men are highly skilled in their various disciplines.

Martial arts is one of the widest classifications for combat sports out there. Typically, martial arts describes fighting styles originating in Asia but can describe everything from activities containing strike attacks like tae kwon do, karate, kung fu ad capoeira to grappling activities like judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and even sumo wrestling. It is perhaps the wide range of disciplines that makes mastering martial arts so difficult.

Action movie fans may enjoy seeing stars like Jackie Chan and Jet Li compete on the silver screen but some may not know that before these talented men were Hollywood favorites, they were leaders in the Chinese martial arts world. Bruce Lee is arguably one of the best martial artists ever and helped the sport gain popularity. In part, Lee opened the door for tough guys, such as Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris, to become some on-screen martial arts legends.

But there's much more to martial arts than what you see in movies. In modern times, the UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship, is the largest mixed martial arts (MMA) company in the world and is home to some of the best MMA fighters to ever compete. UFC Hall of Fame members such as Randy Couture, Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrocks have inspired younger fighters like Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre and Fedor Emelianenko to become some of the toughest professional fighters ever.

Is it fair to compare some of the greatest fighters like Bruce Lee to Anderson Silva without having the two men compete head to head? Maybe not but that's where you come in, folks. Tell us which fighters you think are the best in history by voting for your favorite, adding those not listed and re-ranking this list your way below!
Most divisive: Steven Seagal
Ranked by
  • Bruce Lee
    11,660 votes
    Dec. at 32 (1940-1973)
  • Yip Man
    6,789 votes
    Dec. at 79 (1893-1972)

    Grandmaster Yip Man, renowned for his role in popularizing Wing Chun, left an indelible impact on the world of martial arts by nurturing a generation of exceptional students, including the legendary Bruce Lee. Holding steadfast to the principle of teaching martial arts as a means of personal growth and self-improvement, Yip Man refined and passed down the once secretive art of Wing Chun Kung Fu to future generations. Today, his remarkable mastery and humble dedication to the development of both himself and his students continue to inspire countless martial artists across the globe.

  • Donnie Yen
    5,627 votes

    Arguably one of the most successful martial artists in the entertainment industry today, Donnie Yen has demonstrated his versatile skill set in both contemporary and historical martial arts films. Known for his proficiency in multiple martial arts disciplines, including Wing Chun, Wushu, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Yen's unique blend of striking and grappling techniques has captivated audiences around the world. By consistently pushing boundaries and showcasing the beauty and power of martial arts in his roles, Yen has solidified his status as a modern-day martial arts icon.

  • Jet Li
    7,322 votes
    Age: 60

    Heralded as one of the greatest Wushu champions in history, Jet Li has left an indelible mark on the world of martial arts both on and off the screen. His extraordinary talent and dedication to the art of Wushu, combined with his charisma and acting prowess, propelled him to international superstardom and made him a cultural ambassador for Chinese martial arts. In addition to his successful film career, Li continues to support the growth and development of martial arts through his charity work and philanthropic endeavors.

  • Morihei Ueshiba
    2,004 votes
    Dec. at 85 (1883-1969)

    As the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba transformed traditional Japanese martial arts by emphasizing the spiritual aspects of personal development and harmonious interaction with others. Drawing upon principles of harmony and efficiency, Ueshiba's distinct and innovative martial art blends dynamic joint locks and throws with the cultivation of inner peace and self-improvement. His commitment to spreading Aikido's core values of harmony, peace, and non-aggression has since inspired countless martial artists worldwide to pursue a path of personal growth through martial arts practice.

  • Jackie Chan
    7,757 votes

    Synonymous with comedic action films, Jackie Chan's signature blend of slapstick humor and intricate martial arts choreography has granted him legendary status in both the world of cinema and martial arts. Skilled in various styles of Kung Fu, Chan has consistently entertained audiences by showcasing his acrobatic feats and thrilling fight scenes - often performing his own stunts. Despite his larger-than-life persona on screen, Chan's dedication to the promotion of martial arts education and charitable initiatives ensures his lasting impact on future generations of martial artists.