With the World being on a lock-down, most of us have no opportunity to practice martial arts. At the same time, this also offers us a unique opportunity to spend some time on our own and reflect about the martial arts that we are either practicing or would like to try out and to decide, whether it is the most suitable martial art for us.
Hi, my name is Rokas. I’ve been practicing and teaching martial arts for more than 15 years. During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to experience some of the best, and worst of martial arts. The myths and the reality. Meanwhile, doing my best to figure out what is what.
In this video, I will lay out everything that I think one needs to know when considering whether you’ve already chosen martial art, or a martial art that you are planning to practice is the right fit for you. In other words, in this Martial Arts Explored episode, we will take a look at how to choose a martial art.
In the past, our access to martial arts or information about it, was much more scarce than it is today. So to a degree, it made sense to choose a martial arts school which was around your area. Sometimes, you simply didn’t have an alternative. These days, there are usually a lot of martial arts schools and styles to choose from.
On one level, it can make it confusing. On another, some people are still choosing the martial art which is closest to home, despite that, instead of asking what martial art is actually most suitable for them. Yet that naturally poses a question; how do you decide which martial art is most suitable for you?
Most people would probably choose a martial art, which looks coolest, or one which they heard good things about, or saw a cool movie, which had that martial art in. Yet, that is a dangerous way to choose it, since people can say a lot of good things about practices which are not necessarily good in reality, simply because of their unconscious bias. Meanwhile, the question that I suggest to ask first, is one which is more personal to you and that is; why do you want to learn martial art to begin with?
Too many times, we don’t even have a defined idea why we want to practice a martial art. Is it primarily for self defense? Is it primarily for the fitness aspect of it? Leisure? Confidence? Or is it for the community? Of course, it can be a mix of things, but one of the aspects will usually stand out for you.
It is very important to decide prior to choosing a martial art, which one it is. Because otherwise, you may easily choose the wrong martial art, which will not offer you what you are looking for, even without you knowing.
When you decide what your main reason is, and all of them are usually quite good reasons, it doesn’t necessarily mean one is worse than the other. When you know which one it is, then you can start doing some investigating, by figuring out which martial art is the best for your chosen reason.
Unfortunately, it may sound more easy than it is. And that is because some martial art schools and styles are not really clear themselves on what they are offering. While also sometimes, they can be even unaware that what they claim to be offering, they do not really deliver. This is where things become tricky. But that’s also why I made this video, to clarify some things and make the process easier for you. So let’s break it down.
One of the main reasons people start martial arts is due to wanting to learn self defense. And that aspect, unfortunately, is I dare say, the most confusing part of martial arts. It is my opinion, which to be fair is usually also shared by various self defense experts, that martial arts and self defense, unlike what most people and sometimes even martial artists think are related, yet different things.
I’ve made a lot of videos on this subject, which you can feel free to check out for more details, but the basis of it is, that most of what self defense is really about is prevention.
How to know where it’s safe to go and where it’s not? How to keep safe distance? How to notice a potential threat early? How to deescalate a growing conflict? These and many other answers are rarely offered in martial arts schools. Some of them do and that’s a great sign if they do, but most martial arts will only teach you what to do when you are attacked.
Ex. if somebody grabs you – you do this!
But what about the long lasting moments before the grab even happens? If you are capable of knowing how to avoid those, you are 90% self defense proof. And it is important to know how to deal with a grab, or a punch, but that’s per se, is just about 10% of what self defense is really about. So, do learn to defend yourself against a punch or grab, or etc. But, don’t fool yourself or let a martial arts school fool you, that the whole deal is just about that. Also, some martial arts schools are better at teaching you how to really defend against a physical threat.
Now you ask; so how do you know which one it is? And actually, the answer is fairly simple here. These are martial arts which include pressure testing. In other words, the attacker is not “helping out” the defender. As coach Matt Thornton says: “Watch the feeder, not the demonstrator”. That means, look at how the defender is being attacked, not at how he defends.
Martial arts which are not really good at actually teaching you how to defend against a physical attack are ones where the attacker for example, punches into the air and then stops and waits for the defender to do the move on him. It may look cool but that won’t teach you how to deal with someone who really wants to hurt you (even if the teacher will tell you it will).
Meanwhile, there are martial arts, where you will be confronted with someone who is really trying to defeat you and you will have to learn to deal with such an attack. But that doesn’t mean you will get hurt. For example in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, there are usually no strikes to the head and injuries are not that common, but at the same time, you get two people who are really trying to “get the tap”, or in other words, get you into a position where you give up. And then you go again. With that being said, you may still ask; what about the self defense prevention aspect? What martial art teaches that?
The truth is, you don’t really even need martial arts to learn the prevention side of things. Either a good dedicated instructor of the subject is enough (but those unfortunately are rare), but also, there are great books which offer the right information about it. A couple that I would suggest are “Meditations on violence” by Rory Miller and “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin De Becker. And while it’s a rabbit whole that you could go down to forever, having read a couple of good self defense books, you will most likely be 90% already safer. And then, you can learn a martial art as an add-on, to learn how to physically defend yourself, or just enjoy it because martial arts can be awesome. But at least you won’t be in a mindset of thinking: “Shoot! I will have to learn a martial art for 10 years before I will know how self defense works!” And actually one more hint, if you won’t be able to defend yourself against an untrained attacker after 6 months of training a specific martial art, it usually means that that martial art is not a good one for it. And before we finish up this video, I would also like to address the rest of the reasons for training martial arts, those being fitness, community, leisure, etc. Most martial arts will offer that. But something to look out for. While almost all martial arts will offer these aspects, some martial arts will also pretend to offer more than they actually do, especially at the self defense level.
It’s okay to practice a martial art which is not effective for self defense, as long as that is honestly admitted, like in let’s say, most of Tai Chi schools. Yet, if you will come in to a martial arts school, which will tell you that you’ll need to learn for at least 2 to 4 years until you will be able to use it against an untrained attacker, or there will be no live resistance and pressure testing, aka the attackers will be “helping out”’ the defender and won’t be really offering a challenge – I would not recommend such a place, because it’s culture is based on a lie. And that usually leads to other inherent problems such as cult-like behavior, denial, dishonesty, lack of critical thinking and even more.
And before this video ends, I know what you are thinking. “This guy spoke for such a long time on how to choose a martial art and eventually didn’t even recommend one! What a waste of time”. Well, let’s make sure I didn’t waste your time and talk about it. Note, that this will be only my own personal opinion from the gathered experience, so do take it with a grain of salt and stay open minded. A lot depends on the actual instructor himself, how honest and good he is, not only the style, but various styles do have general tendencies. The martial arts, which generally tend to claim that they teach self defense, but usually fail bad at it, are most commonly known to be Aikido, Wing Chun, various styles of Kung-Fu and Bujinkan, are the first ones that come to my mind. You will also bump into martial arts which claim to be more “reality based”, but those can be deceiving and should be looked at with a critical mind, since they can sometimes claim to be effective, but be really off in reality.
For example, I am personally skeptical about Systema, the Russian martial art and Krav Maga (although I’m told it highly depends on the particular school), but yet I can’t put a final word since I haven’t tried it out myself. So simply, if you bump into those, turn on your critical mind and do your best to decide for yourself.
In the middle of all of this, you can usually find Karate and Taekwondo, which sometimes can be limited due to a heavy rule set, but it also really depends on what style or school it is. If you want to learn striking, usually there’s nothing more polished than Boxing. Muay Thai and kickboxing will do too, since you’ll learn some badass kicking. But be careful about the culture of the gym. If there are heavy blows to the head included in the practice – best avoid such a place for your brain health. A good striking gym will usually have a beginners program which will protect your head, and there will be no full-contact blows to your brain. Grappling-wise, I personally love Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Do not mistake it with Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, which is a different subject and can be all over the place. My personal impression is that Japanese Jiu-Jitsu often lacks live pressure testing, but to be fair, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to it. Meanwhile in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, most schools will teach you very well how to handle a single attacker and choke him out if you’ll need to. Wrestling is good for taking people down too, although I keep hearing that the sports level of it can have a lot of impact on the body, which is not very healthy. But, you’ll have to figure out this one on your own. Learning MMA can be a good way of learning a mixed set of skills too.
There are also other martial arts that I didn’t mention such as Sambo or Judo, but that’s mainly because I either had very little contact with them or did little investigation about them. Yet with all the information that was presented in this video, I have a feeling you will be able to make up your mind much better now, which martial art to choose than before you watched the video.
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