What is the best martial art to study?? This just has to be the most common question coming from anyone who is even thinking about training in a martial art.But one needs to be a bit more specific when asking such a question. The best martial art to study for what purpose? That should be specified by the one asking the question.So then maybe to study for self defense? Or to study for fitness and conditioning? Or to study a particular cultures’ historical background and what part martial arts played in it? Or maybe to study a martial art with a spiritual purpose in mind? And the ever popular goal for parents wanting to sign their kids up, based on the advertising they have been fed for years, is the question of discipline that may be taught.For this article we will assume that the question is concerning using a martial art to defend oneself.It is my opinion that this question can be better answered if one has some information to work with. So what follows is my attempt to put forth some very abbreviated information because we could discuss this subject for days.For the purpose of providing you with some information, I suggest you think of this as a decathlon with ten events. So, in other words, look to study a style that focuses on more than one “event”. (Below are listed more than ten styles in an effort to educate about some of the more commonly found styles and systems.)There are several styles that make an attempt to do this. One such style is Krav Maga/ Haganah. This is an Israeli style which is a compilation of techniques from many different combative styles. Its focus is on defending against various street attacks.
Jeet Kune Do is another style which has somewhat the same goal. This style was created by Bruce Lee and is based off of Wing Chun, which he first learned from his Chinese master Ip Man, but also draws from 25 other systems as well.Wing Chun is a very close range system. It has short, quick strikes and low kicks and is not based on power or strength, but rather on quickness, leverage, and reflex training. As such it is ideal for women. The focus is on occupying the centerline both offensively and defensively. It employs triangular footwork and is intended to overwhelm an opponent with a flurry of strikes at close range. It is designed so it can defend and attack in one motion. With Wing Chun, you can punch and kick simultaneously at close range, which almost no other martial arts seem to do.Another family of systems not based on power or strength are the Filipino knife and stick systems. These are known as Kali, Arnis, and Escrima, depending on the geographic region in the Philippines. These arts practice with empty hands and also with many other weapons.The Indonesian Silat systems are another group of systems that do not rely on brute power or strength. They also include foot trapping and unique takedown skills, and share some hand movements and technique with their neighbors from the Philippines.Muay Thai from Thailand, or Thai boxing, has great punching and elbow strikes, and probably the strongest kick on the planet, which is designed to derive its power from centrifugal force. This is a brutal art that is big on conditioning.Another art in the boxing family is Western boxing. This is a very good foundation for any martial artist and will educate the practitioner on developing quickness and power in hand strikes and mobility with the feet.Standing grappling from the “clinch” should be mandatory training for any aspiring martial artist, as well as a foundation in ground fighting. A lot of brawls in the street end up grappling and then going to the ground.Having said that, the ground is the last place you want to be on the street or the battlefield. Too many ways to get hurt down there.Aikido and Judo are both Japanese throwing arts and are both purely defensive by design. Aikido was taken from Aikijutsu, the Samurai hand to hand system, and Judo was taken from Jujitsu. They can be considered grappling arts that take their opponents to the ground and then control them but have no strikes per se.Hapkido is Korean and is another throwing art but also includes striking in its system.MMA is a combination of Muay Thai, grappling and ground fighting.Sambo is Russian wrestling.Shuai Jiao is Chinese wrestling and Mongolia has their own form of Mogolian wrestling.Systema is a Russian system of relaxed, smooth, flowing defensive movements or counters followed by strikes, takedowns, or controlling movements.Karate (Japanese), Tae Kwon Do (Korean), and Savate (French) are all primarily striking arts consisting of punching, kicking, elbows, knees, open hand strikes and more. These are all “hard” styles as are some Chinese kung fu styles like Hung Gar and Choy Li Fut.
“Soft” internal styles would include Chinese Tai Chi, Chinese Ba Gua/Pa Kua and Chinese Xing I/ Shing Yi.Some styles are a blend of hard and soft such as Wing Chun Kung Fu.This is a short list. There are many more as China alone has maybe 600 styles of Kung Fu and India, Africa, Myanmar, Brazil and other countries have their own arts as well.But even though a short list, most all styles will fit somewhere in those ten categories or “events” as we mentioned.My suggestion is that for a self defense focus it is better to go wide and then go deep. Train for a wide foundation using all ten categories as examples (not easy to find) and then go deeper into any area you develop a special interest in.It’s no good to master only one technique against only one type of attack, when you could encounter any number of different types of attacks. The late, great Larry Hartsell and the legend Dan Inosanto would tell you. “Don’t box with a boxer, don’t kick with a kicker, don’t grapple with a grappler~~they will beat you.” So don’t fight their fight.In order to do that, you have to have at least a bit of training in each one.I suggest start with an art like Jeet Kune Do/ Wing Chun or Krav Maga/Haganah, or at least search for a system that teaches a mix of striking, grappling and ground fighting as well as defense against common knife, stick, and handgun encounters.Then later pursue some other specialty art if you choose to do so.