Like the other "wandering stars" Mars has its own particular patterns and cycles. Since the earliest recorded traditions of astrology, Mars' cycles have been studied carefully, because its omens were usually presages of difficulties that befell the land or its rulers.
Mars is one of the easiest to recognize planets, because when it is visible in the night sky, it shines with a red color.
Mars's orbit is far enough from the Sun that it has an apparent cycle of a just under two years. Like all other planets (other than the luminaries) it experiences the retrograde phenomenon, and does so every two years and about a month.
It spends about 40 days in a sign when it's traveling at its' regular speed, but when it is in its' retrograde pattern, it stays in pretty much the same place for almost 8 months.
The Mars cycle can be extremely useful in making career changes, finding a new job or beginning a business or relationship; a lot can be told about many aspects of life once you know the sign Mars occupied on the day of your birth.
All planets other than the Luminaries (and the outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) have two houses, or signs they rule. They are called the "Night House" and the "Day House." Mars' Day House is Scorpio, and its' Night House is Aries. These are the places where Mars feels most at home, and people born under these signs express the qualities of Mars most easily.
Taurus and Libra are the signs in which Mars is in its detriment; the qualities of these signs are contrary to the nature of Mars. Taurus takes its' time and plans for the long-term, while Mars is more tactical than strategic, while Libra uses plenty of deliberation when making a decision, while Mars likes to strike while the iron is hot.
Capricorn is the sign in which Mars is exalted; Capricorn people look up to the drive and energy of Mars, and Mars likes the decisiveness and ambition of Capricorn.
Mars is fallen in Cancer, where Mars' aggressiveness and boldness does not sit well with the Cancerian personality, and usually causes problems for them when they throw caution to the wind.
Among the planets, Mars is considered to be the most hot and dry, and certainly evidences this in the astrological study of the weather. In human beings, Mars represents our most basic drives; the competitive instinct, the will to survive and the physical drives. Whenever you find yourself in a situation wondering how you got there, it was probably a hyperactive Mars that pushed you into it.
Mars is our courage, opportunism, strength and forthrightness. It also represents anger, intolerance, impulsiveness and the ability to overpower obstacles. Mars gives us our ability to overcome difficulties, but it also is not concerned with what means it employs to do so. Mars is considered a malefic (troublesome) planet, but without its powers, we would not survive.
Mars is also the planet that represents all dangerous professions, or professions in which the tools are very much like weapons. Butchers, surgeons, ironworkers, chefs, soldiers and especially athletes often have Mars prominent in their birth horoscopes. The Martian quality is often emphasized when one is born near the time that Mars is rising, or when it has reached its highest point in the sky.
The qualities of Mars-like people and circumstances tend to be very popular cinematic themes; from the titles alone you know that a film will basically have a Martian theme. Take titles like "Die Hard", "Bladerunner", "True Grit", "the Fighter", "Star Wars", "Sucker Punch" - the list goes on, and the connection should be obvious. Many movies are made from stories that have a theme more appropriate to other planets, but the Mars element is brought in to satisfy the audience's need for the gratuitous enjoyment of this planets expression; we often enjoy watching on screen what would be impossible for us to experience ourselves.
Mars corresponds to the basic need for significance; it drives us to make a difference in the eyes of others. As mentioned earlier, Mars rules the physical drive, and is extremely important in relationship studies.
In the chart of a man, it has to do with the virility and the boldness to approach a relationship or compete for one. In the chart of a woman, the position and condition of Mars will indicate the type of partner she is attracted to.
In fact, in colloquial language and slang, a lot of the words used as terms to describe the pursuit of a partner are words used to describe Mars in astrological literature. Mars is the part of us that plays to win, whether on the battlefield or in the boardroom, and even in the game of love.