As a husband and father, one of your primary duties is the protection of your wife and kids. Taking care of your body is a good start, but ultimately you should consider learning some form of self-defense. If you’re with me so far, the next question invariably becomes “Which martial art should I train in?” If you have ever been on a forum discussing martial arts, you know by now this is not an easy question to answer as everyone has a passionate opinion on the subject.
In this post, I’ll give you a little bit about my martial arts background, some pro’s and con’s on the different styles I’ve studied, and give you a few suggestions to help you determine where you should begin your journey into the arts.
My MA Background
I’m going to keep this section short and sweet just so you have an idea of where I’m coming from as I give my advice. A lot of the in’s and out’s will be discussed in greater detail in later sections.
By far, I have the most experience in Taekwondo (TKD), having trained in it for just under 18 years and reaching the rank of 5th Dan Black Belt. In those 18 years I spent about a decade competing in Olympic style sparring and competed on the national level for 8 of those years.
For the past 3 years, I have also trained in Aikido, Filipino Kali, and Jeet Kune Do.
Taekwondo (TKD), founded in Korea, is a martial arts renowned for its dazzling kicks and dizzying footwork. Taekwondo is what is referred to as a “hard art” as most of the techniques focus on blocking attacking and strikes. There are very few parries, redirections, locks, and throws employed in this martial art. The main goals are to keep your distance, stay mobile, and take out your opponent before they can get into the clinch.
In more recent years, TKD has suffered from commercialization, resulting in the art specializing too much on the kicking aspect while neglecting other areas of training. The original form of TKD was a much more complete martial art, employing throws and locks in addition to its powerful kicks. This specialization has drawn the criticism of students from other styles claiming that TKD is too soft to work on the streets.
- Some of the best kicks around.
- Superior footwork and mobility.
- Intimate knowledge of moving to expose the vulnerable spots of your opponent.
- Over-specialization has limited its usefulness on the streets.
- Many schools focus on the “arts” side without paying much attention to the “martial” aspect (aka – McDojo’s).
Next on the list, we have Aikido. Aikido is what is known as a “soft art” as there are very few actual strikes or blocks used. Rather, this art focusing more on force manipulation (physical force, not the Jedi kind), throws, locks, submissions, and redirections. My instructor likes to compare Aikido to a conversation. Within this conversation against another person, you can respond to them in a variety of ways:
- “No.” – A hard block
- “Okay, but….” – A redirection of their intended strike
- “Ima let you finish but…” – Interrupting their attack with a technique of your own, typically to throw their momentum and balance off.
Coming from a hard art, I often find myself frustrated trying to make the techniques work as they go about accomplishing them a different way. Whereas in a hard art like TKD, the answer is typically to do a techniques harder/faster if you’re unsuccessful, Aikido stresses slowing down the motions, working on making the movements flow, and minimizing the effort to successfully perform a technique on a partner. The reasoning for minimizing the effort is actually quite simple:
If you can successfully perform the technique with the least amount of effort in training, then you will be able to successfully employ that same technique in a real fight against an uncooperative attacker.
- Develops a strong understanding of body mechanics (movement and locking of joints, manipulating centers of gravity, etc).
- If you can get a hold of an opponent, chances are they’re going down.
- Very little sparring to really get a feel for how these techniques work in a more realistic scenario.
- The many subtle nuances to making the techniques work can be a bit overwhelming to a new student, especially one without prior martial art experience.
- Your joints, primarily the wrists are going to be sore…a LOT.
Filipino Kali (FPM) focuses primarily on two weapons: the Kali stick (duh) and knives. Rather than going directly in for the kill, FPM’s first objective is to “Defang the Snake” which essentially means to disarm your opponent so they cannot harm you before moving in to finish the fight. This is generally taken in the context of two people fighting each other with either sticks or knives. As one person comes in to strike, the defender is seeking to strike the hand, wrist, or forearm of the attacker in order to cause them to drop the weapon or be unable to wield it anymore (can’t use your fingers if someone slices through the muscle of your forearm).
FPM is a great for learning how to wield common items you would have around you in case of an attack. A broom handle broken in half makes for some great improvised escrimas or grab a knife from the kitchen.
- Great training to maximize the lethality of common household items.
- Many lessons that can be taken over to other martial art styles.
- Greatly improves hand-eye coordination as well as reflexes.
- Mostly drill work and very little sparring. Reasons why are obvious, but is still a hindrance for learning how to effectively apply the lessons on an aggressive opponent.
- You’re going to receive the occasional hit to your knuckles by an errant stick.
Jeet Kune Do
The famous martial art created by Bruce Lee, Jeet Kune Do (JKD) focuses on adaptability and flow. Bruce Lee, in his wisdom, understood that while everyone had the same tools at their disposal -two arms and two legs- not everyone had the same capabilities. Some people were short, others tall. Some people were older while others were very young. The power of JKD lies in it’s adaptability to the individual student.
One technique that might work great for one person may be completely useless to another person who might have less strength or reduced range of motion in their limbs. The students and instructor work together to find techniques that each person can successfully implement despite any limitations they might have.
Flow means the smooth, not necessarily fast, transition between each technique. If you cannot smoothly move from one technique to another, it matters little how fast you are.
One excellent example of this principle in action is a demonstration we use in class to give students a clear idea of what exactly we’re talking about. How it goes is the instructor will find the fastest student in the class and challenge him to a race with the following rules:
- The student can run as fast as he can BUT must come to a complete stop (both feet down at the same time) on each line of the mat, approximately ever 3-4 feet.
- The instructor will walk the entire time, but does not have to stop on any of the lines.
To this day, I have never seen a student win this little game. Regardless of whatever style you choose, master making smooth transitions between each technique before trying to go as fast as you can. You’ll find that you’re able to keep up and surpass others who take the opposite approach.
- Seeks to take the best from every style.
- Can be tailored to you and your goals.
- The original MMA tailored solely towards self-defense.
- Hard to find quality, authentic schools (relatively few certified instructors).
- A pretty steep learning curve.
It’s a bit tricky prioritizing the criteria for choosing a martial art so I am simply going to make a general list of things to keep in mind when deciding on a school/style to train in.
- You have the physical capacity to engage fully in the martial art.
- You actually enjoy the classes.
- The instructor is knowledgeable and geared towards self-defense application instead of competition.
- The instructor is more interested in his student’s grasping a deep understanding of the principles being taught instead of just rushing his student’s to the next belt.
- The school is conveniently accessibly (not an hour drive away from you).
- The instructor is actually able to demonstrate the moves himself (barring any injury or condition).
Do not fret too much over trying to find a specific style to train in. All styles offer something of value and training in even the “worst” martial art is better than receiving no training at all. Just get in there and give it your all at each session and be sure to supplement with plenty of strength training.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I’ll be happy to offer what guidance I can.