So often you see articles along the lines of “the 5 most effective/best ever martial arts”! Of course you can read a dozen such articles and they’ll all disagree over which martial art they think it is best and their reason’s why. It all comes down to individual prejudice and matter of opinion. I’ve seen some say styles like Krav Maga are best as they are reality based whilst many of the others do sport; whilst other deride Krav Maga as they don’t do sparring and pressure test that way. I’ve seen MMA criticise traditional martial arts as they don’t tend to do too well in cage fights; whilst traditional martial artists argue that cage fighting is a sport with lots of rules, which is obviously not how it happens in the street. And so the opinions (rather than facts) carry on and on! I will admit, I sometimes read them for amusement but the reality is, there is no such thing as one overall best martial art. There is only, what’s the best martial art for a given individual.
So first of all, being “BEST” can mean different things to different people. Best sport! Best for physical fitness and prowess! Most powerful! Best for self development! So as I usually like to do, I’m going to define the parameters for this post. By “best”, I’m going to take it as meaning the best in real world self protection and unarmed combat. Also, there will be some exceptions to what I say below, so this is more of a generalisation and not an exact science.
So . . . . . here is my 5 reason why there is no single overall best martial art:-
1. Different Body Types
Sometimes different body types are suited to different martial arts. For example, if somebody is tall and thin, they’re unlikely to be good at grappling arts like Judo or Sumo Wrestling. Somebody who is short and stocky with very little flexibility is unlikely to be good at arts that require a lot of high kicking like Tae Kwon Do. That’s not so say that a tall thin person can’t be good at grappling or a short stocky person can’t be good at Tae Kwon Do, but their body types will make it more difficult for them then it will be for others.
And what if the person is older, lets say in their 70’s for example. Unless they have been training for many years beforehand, they unlikely to be able to kick high or take hard throws onto the mat, so that excludes both grappling and Tae Kwon Do!
2. Different Mentalities
Being primarily a Karateka myself, I personally enjoy studying the body mechanics and structures. Many traditional martial artists do. However, many people don’t relate to “air punching”! It seems artificial to them. I’ve had friends who have gone in for grappling styles because it’s something they can better relate to; actually grabbing somebody, moving them and throwing/pinning them is a lot more “real” to those people. Other people gravitate to things like kickboxing or boxing as there is a lot of bag and pad work, which again is easier for some to relate to.
Don’t get me wrong, what I’m saying here is not intended as a criticism of these people, but it’s only right to take into account that different people think in different ways and that will effect which martial arts they relate to best. Now it could be argued that if you just make them do it anyway they’ll still learn and eventually they’ll become good at it; but it’s human nature that if you don’t relate to it or believe in it, you’re not going to put the same effort into it.
3. Level Of Instruction
Assuming that you find a martial art that suits you physically and mentally, you need a good instructor too. Not all instructors are equal. So you might be better off with a style that is not completely ideal for your physical and mental profile, but offers better instruction; rather than an ideal style with a rubbish instructor.
4. Direction Of Instruction
I personally think that Karate is an excellent choice for self protection. But I would wouldn’t I, it’s my main style!
That said, I know some Karate clubs that I wouldn’t recommend to anybody looking for real world self protection as they focus primarily on sport. Whilst competition has some good self defence attributes (timing, speed, accuracy) it is a very artificial way of fighting compared to the real thing. The distancing is wrong, high kicks are high risk, little to no account is taken of somebody grabbing you and there is no emphasis on looking at the pre-fight situation when somebody starts the verbal escalation! What makes things worse is that very often those teaching it don’t even realise that what they are teaching is sport based and actually very artificial. It’s how they’ve been taught and it’s all they know.
In fairness, top sport fighters can usually handle themselves very well in real situations as they’ve had years and years of intense training. But for the average Joe training once or twice a week, this type of training is going to have serious limitations.
And even if a club does focus more on self defence, most traditional martial arts have been seriously dumbed down for various social and political reasons. Many instructors who think that they are teaching real Budo (martial way) are often teaching things that won’t work under pressure. They teach applications that only work when you have a compliant attacker attacking in a prearranged manner. This will not work on the street when the adrenaline kicks in and with a non compliant attacker who is actually trying to hurt you.
The way traditional styles like Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Tang Soo Do, Kung Fu are supposed to work is that they start of by putting a lot of emphasis on learning body mechanics, structural alignments of the bones, coordination and self awareness. After these skills are learnt, then the student should learn to apply them in a functional manner. However, many people learn the first part (mechanics, structures, self awareness, etc) but don’t always get to learn the second part of applying them in a functional manner! The trouble is that many of our Japanese masters (and probably Korean too) are obsessed with form and not that bothered with it’s real function. And when you’ve have a master in front of you who has trained for many hours each day, 7 days a week over a period of years, with some of the best teachers in the world; he/she is going to be so very good at everything they do that they will look really convincing and believable; even when demonstrating something that is actually very impractical! This is why some other styles criticise the more traditional styles as being impractical and unrealistic. And without the functional part being taught properly, they are!
Fortunately we do have a number of teachers today who do teach how to apply these traditional martial arts properly. So again, it’s not just the style, but how it’s taught.
If you want real world self protection, you need a club that is not too sport orientated and one that actually knows how to apply it’s movements in a street-wise manner as well as learning tactics for pre-fight situations (the build up). You’ll find many instructors of all styles who can teach such things and even more from every style that don’t have a clue about it (despite being very good at basics, kata/patterns/forms and sparring)!
5. What Is Your Immediate Requirement?
This might seem like an odd question, but you’re in a situation where you’re being bullied now, or living in a dangerous area where crime is rife or have a job that requires you to go into violent situations (police officer, bouncer) rather than run away; then your requirements are for something that will prepare you for violence as fast as possible.
If you’re not under any immediate threat and are happy to take your time to learn, then you might make different choices.
As mentioned above, traditional styles (when done properly) focus on body mechanics and structures first, then the practical side later. This means that such styles can take longer to become proficient at then some other styles. I personally believe that in the long term this is the best way as once you have learnt the body mechanics and structures, you can do a lot with it and it is easier to add to skill sets and applications to a body that is well coordinated and self aware. But if you need self defence now, then this can be a bit slow!
Now this next part is going to slightly contradict the sections above, in that I am going to actually compare styles rather than look at factors that can apply to all of them (as above).
So first of all, we’re going to assume that all other things are equal such as physical and mental suitability, quality of instruction and that the direction of training focuses on practical application! So with all things equal and assuming that you need to learn something quickly, then you might be better off with something like Krav Maga, Jeet Kune Do or Ju Jutsu as these styles tend to go more quickly into the functional side of things with less emphasis on body mechanics and structures. Also Kickboxing, Muay Thai or MMA; although they’re primarily a sports they do a lot of bag work and hitting pads so you can become effective at hitting things quickly. You’ll become effective more quickly with those styles, but you’re skills will start to plateau earlier.
Tradition styles like Karate, Taekwondo, Tang Soo Do and Kung Fu tend to take longer to learn so you won’t as effective so quickly, but eventually you pass the plateau of the other styles and attain a higher level. So you need to consider how pressing your need is.
So there you have it, my 5 reasons why there is no best style, just a best style for a given individual. These are just my personal opinions and I know many people will disagree with me. So please leave your thoughts and opinions below; but as usual, just be respectful to other peoples opinions that you don’t necessarily agree with.