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The different martial arts. Which is best for you?

Thinking about learning some martial arts? Great! Depending on where you live, you may have some really good instruction to choose from. Here are some general knowledge and considerations of the different martial arts or fighting systems.

There might be more types of martial arts than you think. 

Most cultures have developed some kind of martial art at some point to help their survival. The term “martial arts” is a broad-based definition describing primarily the military practices of a culture. But it can also define individual disciplines of self-defense and health practices, along with the preservation of cultural traditions. For most American men though, martial arts mean learning how to defend yourself.

IS ONE MARTIAL ART BETTER THAN THE OTHER?

The most accurate answer to this question is no. Martial arts are just like anything else in this world; “You’re only as good as what you put into it.” An art in which you devote two thousand focused hours of training will give you more than one that you only work at for a hundred hours. Duh. Also, certain martial arts are better suited for specific outcomes so it depends on what it is you want from your martial art.

BUT WHICH MARTIAL ART IS BEST FOR KICKING ASS?

I practiced and taught karate for many years and this was the real question most guys wanted to ask. They would come into the dojo trying to appreciate all the other benefits of karate, but their main motivation for wanting to learn was to be able to fight. Learning to kick ass is just a by-product of the art of self-defense, so most guys would drop out long before ever really learning how to beat the shit out of someone. The commitment and effort required to become a real martial artist were always much too great for some guy who just wanted to learn to fight. Our dojo always had a lot of law enforcement officers quickly come and go for that reason.

If you just want to kick ass, then I’d say to take boxing or go find a good MMA studio close to you. These places tend to train more practically so if your goal is to be able to punch someone hard in the face or get them on the ground and brake something, then this will get you there sooner. This attitude won’t take you very deep into your character but hey, maybe you’ll stick with it and in time develop from a broader spectrum. There is soooo much more to all of this than fighting though.

THE NINE MOST POPULAR MARTIAL ARTS IN AMERICA

According to blackbeltwiki.com, there are 170 different martial arts, but there are many more than that. What narrows things down is what schools or dojos are close to and available to you. Practice makes perfect so you’ll want something accessible. There’s only so much you can learn by reading and watching videos. Finding a good school close to you is best so you can make a lot of classes. Here are the more popular ones:

Karate  – This may be the most widespread type of martial art. Karate is a Japanese art and means “empty hand”. It teaches you to defend yourself without a weapon. There are many different styles of karate like Shotokan, Gojo-Ryu, and Shorin-Ryu. Each style of karate is a little different but have definite similarities. Karate is good for straight-line fighting on your feet with strikes, kicks, and throws. The Japanese value discipline and perfection and their martial art requires both. 

Remember “The Karate Kid”? Mr. Miyagi was a cool little guy from Okinawa who liked old cars and got wasted once a year. Okinawa is an island nation off the coast of Japan and is responsible for a lot of the karate that we know of. This is because the US has had a military base in Okinawa since WWII and some of the US soldiers learned karate while stationed there. BTW, as an older guy who learned karate back in the day, I loved watching “Cobra Kai” on Youtube.

Kung-Fu – China is a huge country rich in very old martial arts tradition so you can imagine how many different martial arts they must have. Kung-Fu is the main term for martial arts from China. Many disciplines of Kung-Fu place a higher focus on a healthy body along with self-defense so that’s a good thing. In general, this art will move you in more circular motions which is good for 360-degree fighting. For an old school treat, check out “Kung Fu“.

Jiu-Jitsu – In the eighties, Jiu-Jitsu was relatively unknown but the dominance of Joyce Gracie during the early years of the Ultimate Fighting Championship made this art popular all over the world and there are now Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu dojos all over the place. If you want to learn to fight on the ground, then this art is for you.

When I practiced karate a lot with Chito-Ryu, we had a couple of Jiu-Jitsu affiliate dojos that were part of our training during some of our clinics. During these clinics, I learned to have a good amount of respect for Jiu-Jitsu. I have noticed though, a bit of an ego with many in this art. Many who practice this art feel that it is superior to the others. While it’s good to feel confident and have pride in what you know and do, thinking that the art you train in is better than the other ones is a bad idea.

I believe that the feeling of superiority with Jiu-Jitsu comes from its success on the octagon AND the typical demeanor of pride and ego with the Brazilian people. While I agree that this art may be superior in cage-style tournament fighting inundated with safety rules, it is NOT superior in the real world. Jiu-Jitsu, like all other martial arts, has pros and cons. One con being that it’s not ideal for defending from multiple attackers. Jus sayin’

Boxing – Boxing doesn’t have the deep cultural history that these other Asian cultured arts have but make no mistake, boxing is legit. It may not teach you to kick or go to the ground, but it will teach you how to punch someone hard and accurately, perhaps better than any other fighting style. And it will teach you how to take a punch too. Why? Because you can train very practically which really helps in the real world.

Boxing is also great for the real world because it teaches you distance well. It’s good to know just how close you have to be to someone in order to get off a nice solid fully extended punch. And because you are used to getting hit, you can confidently stay that “strike zone” long enough to get the job done.

Boxers are quite susceptible to kicks though, as they don’t train with kicks. A person who can kick well can do so from a farther distance than what the boxer may be used to. So, he may think he’s not in a strike zone but actually is. Not good.

Wrestling – Just like boxing, wrestling should not be taken lightly. This art has an old and rich history of being a competitive sport and its early dominance of mixed martial arts exposed that.

Taekwondo – This martial art got pretty severely watered down in the eighties as its popularity swept across the country. Although it’s a thoroughly legit martial art, good instruction may be hard to find. Taekwondo is known for its high flying kicks.

Aikido – Truthfully, most of us wouldn’t know about this if Steven Segal didn’t do movies. My brother trained in Aikido and it’s pretty cool. This art was originally taught by samurai and other Japanese sword fighters and is designed for fighting someone who has a sword and you don’t. So, when a samurai would somehow lose his sword, he would enact his aikido art to try to survive now fighting a guy with a sword while he no longer has one. Yikes.

Like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, many aikido practitioners suffer from the ego of thinking that their art is superior. And just like Jiu-Jitsu, I’m here to say that it is not.

My older brother practiced aikido and we used to train on the beach often. It was a great opportunity for both of us to see how our discipline stacked up to a different martial art. We both had some eye-openers to some of the potential flaws in each of our arts. My brother and I would go at it pretty hard at times as brothers do. He was a decorated wrestler in high school, so he knew how to get down and dirty. 

We practiced hard together but never broke any bones or disconnected anything on the beach. We both did learn to respect other martial arts though, which toned down our egos nicely.

Judo – Judo is cool and legit. It’s known for throws and works well. I trained a few times in Judo and it wore my ass out. You better hit a judo guy pretty good cause if he gets his hands on you, you’re going down hard.

This is another art that is often taught and trained with tournament rules considered. Without those rules though, judo can be downright nasty.

Krav Maga – This made the list due to its brief popularity. It’s a great example of the growing real-life techniques in martial arts. This type of MA focuses mainly on practical technique training which is ok if you are wanting to fight all the time. 

MMA – This could be the most popular option for martial arts right now. Standing for “mixed martial arts”, this is a morphed training system for ultimate fighting matches. It has elements of all forms of martial arts but is mainly focused on what wins in the ring or octagon which is mostly grappling and submissions. MMA has been an everchanging art as what is effective during the competition changes as the ring rules change.

WHICH MARTIAL ART IS BEST FOR ME? ASK YOURSELF THESE SIX QUESTIONS

Not all of the martial arts are a good fit for every guy. Asking these questions to yourself may help you narrow down your decision. 

1 Do you want to learn to fight or learn to avoid fighting? – This is almost a trick question as every guy wants to learn to fight better. In thinking about it though, ask yourself what the real goal is here. Do you want to be able to have a few and go out and start shit to let off steam? Or when you go out, you don’t want to have to worry about any assholes fucking with you of anyone you’re with? There’s a difference here.

2 Are you interested in tournaments – Contests and tournaments can be fun to train for and participate in. Some arts join in on tournaments and some don’t.

3 Would you rather fight on the ground or on your feet? – Most martial arts are fairly well-rounded, but they will concentrate more on one aspect or another.

4 Do you want to learn a “way” or just be who you are now and know how to fight? – They call this martial “arts” instead of martial “fighting” for a reason. Some disciplines can be very grounded, spiritual, religious, and disciplinary. Others just have you show up and they teach you fighting techniques. It’s important to know whether you think bushido is bullshit or not.

5 Do you want to learn how to fight or defend yourself? – If, for one reason or another, you find yourself having to fight someone, would you rather teach them a lesson by breaking some bones and leaving a bloody mess for an ambulance because that’s what the guy had coming? Or would you ideally want to get away respectfully and unscathed with having done the least amount of damage that you could?

6 Are you a long term person or a short term person? – Learning bushido and the art of self-defense takes decades to master. You could learn to fight well in a year or so.

As I mentioned earlier, the dojo I learned and taught karate in used to get a ton of students coming to it because it was semi-famous for the area and it was mostly free of charge.

I was fortunate to experience all walks of life coming to learn karate and you mostly couldn’t tell who was going to stick it out and who wasn’t. We would get a decent amount of law enforcement officials to come in and train and almost all of them wouldn’t last more than a month or two.

My observation was that police officers were only interested in learning to fight as quickly as possible. They were short term people. And short term people have no patience for learning an art, even if that “art” is self-defense.

MARTIAL ARTS BOOKS AND VIDEOS ARE COOL AND ALL, BUT TO LEARN, YOU’LL NEED TO GO TRAIN WITH ACTUAL PEOPLE

My brother started aikido a couple of years after I started karate training. He did immediately join an awsome dojo, but at first, he did a shit ton of reading about aikido. We would talk for hours about martial arts and in those early days, I would tell him, “You can only read so much about theory and technique. To learn, you have to do.”

My brother was a smart guy who learned a lot from reading. After about a year though, he confessed to me that I was right. He agreed that most of the initial reading he did was kind of a waste of time. He then knew that the only way to really learn his aikido was to do it. A lot!

TIME TO CHOOSE A MARTIAL ART FOR YOU

If you asked yourself the above questions honestly, then you should have a reasonable idea as to which art will fit your personality and needs.

This is a big question and if you had close access to all the different martial arts and the schools/dojos were all run by legitimate organizations, then your choice could really be narrowed down based on who you are and what you want out of training.

Since most of us don’t have the luxury of a lot of choices, I’d say to first see what martial arts are available close to you and then visit them one at a time. Don’t be nervous about going. You are just there to observe. Go in and watch a class and talk to some teachers. Get a feel for each place to see if it’s a good match for you. If you find a place you like, see if they are part of an organization and do some research on it. Unless you find some Mr. Miyagi (which is rare), it is better to be a part of an organization instead of some Johnny Whoknowswho just proclaimed himself a martial arts teacher.

One of the first things I was told when I started Karate was, “Martial arts can change your life”. That was a pretty bold statement, but I have to say that in looking back I believe it did change me. The right fit for you can do wonders.

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