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In the world of martial arts, the discussion of which art is better is a highly debated and polarizing topic. From Taekwondo to Aikido, Karate to Kung fu, and even MMA, the question of which is the best can be difficult to answer. The challenge here is that we’re looking at a subjective topic with an objective lens.
Martial arts connect with people on a personal level, making it hard to provide a straightforward answer, or at least one that everyone agrees with. (I mean, clearly Kenpo is the best, but I suppose I can find it in my heart to analyze the rest).
To even attempt to answer this question, we need to consider two key criteria:
1. Your reason for training
2. The school teaching the art
REASON FOR TRAINING
The first and most crucial factor in determining the best martial art for you is your reason for training. Why do you want to learn martial arts? Are you looking to improve your physical fitness, rehab an injury, compete in tournaments, learn self-defense, or perhaps it just seems like a fun hobby?
If you're looking to get in shape, then various martial arts can provide you with a great physical workout. For example, traditional karate arts focus on building strength, power, and core muscles, while arts that require constant motion like Taekwondo, MMA, Capoeira, and Muay Thai will provide a top cardio workout (even though MMA in and of itself isn’t an art, you can find schools that fall under this banner). On the other hand, if you're interested in competition, Taekwondo is a popular choice for point-based tournaments, while Muay Thai, Kickboxing, and Boxing are excellent options for full-contact competitions. If you’re interested in grappling, it’s hard to go wrong with BJJ, Judo, or some form of Jujutsu.
When it comes to self-defense, the answer is not as straightforward. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and the effectiveness of a martial art in self-defense can depend on various factors, including the situation and the person's proficiency in the art. While the signature kicking of Taekwondo is not ideal for street fighting, traditional Karate and Kung Fu disciplines that focus on self-defense can take a long time to become effective.
Meanwhile, MMA-based arts like Muay Thai, boxing, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, as well as Krav Maga, can be highly effective in self-defense as they focus heavily on application and conditioning. But then we have to take another element into consideration; sports training vs self defense training. While martial arts athletes can be very effective at fighting, concepts such as weapons, multiple attackers, and environmental awareness may not be considered as they are not part of competitive training.
So first ask yourself what your goals are, and then that starts to narrow down which arts may serve you toward those goals.
THE SCHOOL TEACHING THE ART
The next big factor in choosing the right martial art for you is the specific school you choose. Not all martial arts schools are the same. Some may focus on competition and sport, while others might focus more on self-defense. Some may focus more on tradition, while others focus more on fitness and physical training. You could have two schools that teach Karate, but still have completely different curriculum and application.
One thing to consider is the head instructor. Do they have experience and credentials? Are they passionate and knowledgeable about the art they are teaching? You want to make sure that you’re learning from someone who is qualified and can help you reach your goals. Even better if they are passionate about their art and seem to have a good connection to their students (versus someone who just barks orders and the class follows).
Another thing to consider is the environment. Does the school have a positive and supportive environment? Do the students encourage and motivate each other, or is there a competitive and hostile atmosphere? You want to make sure you’re training in an environment that’s comfortable and welcoming, and where you feel like you can grow and improve.
Finally, consider the curriculum. What will you learn in each class? Does the school have a structured curriculum, or is it more open-ended? Do they offer belt promotions, or are they more focused on technique and skill development? Do they spar? Is there a lot of Kata? Do they make contact with their drills? These are all variables that can affect the experience of training at the school.
So to give a seemingly cop-out answer, any art can be the best art. The best choice depends on your individual goals and preferences. Consider your reason for training, whether it’s for exercise, competition, or self-defense, and choose an art that aligns with your goals. Then, find a school that has a qualified instructor, a supportive environment, and a curriculum that meets your needs. By doing this, you’ll be on your way to finding the best martial art for you.
(*cough cough* Kenpo).