Sunday, May 15, 2016

Five Criteria for Choosing a Martial Arts Style

When I decided to resume martial arts training six months ago, my first concern was selecting a style. This is not the most important issue when practicing martial arts, but I believe it is important to choose a style that matches one's expectations for the training experience.

Choosing a style is like selecting a field of study in college, known as a "major" in the American system. While it's important to choose a school that fits one's needs, it's probably more important to pick a fulfilling field of study. I would be miserable studying biology at Harvard, even though the school itself is excellent!

I will write a separate post on choosing a school. For now, here are my top five criteria for choosing a martial arts style.

1. Purpose. Are you interested in the "art" aspect of the martial arts, or self defense, or sport combat, or a fighting system? See my post You Call That Art? for details on that subject. Some styles are suited to multiple purposes, while others are not. Tai Chi has combat applications in the hands of an experienced practitioner, but I would not recommend it for someone primarily interested in self defense.

2. Nature. Do you want to spend more time standing up, or on the ground, or a mix of the two? Do you want to be hit, or not be hit, and how frequently, and how hard? Do you want to interact with others, or act in a more solitary manner? There's a big difference between rolling in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu studio versus punching a bag in a cardio kickboxing class.

3. Tradition. Do you prefer a style with hundreds of years of history, or does that not matter to you? Some styles are very rooted in ancient manners and cultures, while others may never mention history or tradition at all. Krav Maga is a newer system compared to Kung Fu, and some people really enjoy tracing their lineage over many generations of masters and students.

4. Physical Demands. How old are you? What can your body handle now, and what can it handle in the future once conditioned from training? Do you have any recurring injuries? How flexible are you, and how flexible could you become? Personally I am reluctant to train in styles that regularly expect me to endure wrist locks, due to a broken wrist sustained doing -- you guessed it -- wrist locks.

5. Community. Do you want to practice a style that is well-recognized? Do you want to engage in tournaments or other competitions? Do you want to be part of a national or international association? If the answer is yes, you may be happier selecting a style from one of the major "brands," rather than a more niche style practiced by a smaller community.

Reading these five criteria doesn't answer the question of which martial art is best for you. I tried several of the online "martial arts wizard/selector tools," but none of them produced outputs which matched my inputs, in my opinion. Perhaps that is a project worth undertaking! When I chose to study Krav Maga, I based the decision on my the knowledge and experience I already had in the arts, limited though they were, plus online study.

What criteria do you use to choose a martial arts style?

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