This is a question that people and parents ask all the time. Learning a martial art takes time, money, and dedication, therefore choosing an art can be confusing and difficult. We will take a look at the top 5 martial arts and discuss their pros and cons and to help make choosing a martial art for yourself or your children easier to understand.
Everybody knows Karate. In some cases, they only know about Karate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out in town wearing a judo gi (uniform) and somebody yells out “Hey… Karate!”. Not every martial art in the world is Karate. What is true Karate descended from farmers in Japan who developed “open hand” fighting techniques to defend themselves against threats with their bare hands or farm tools. Karate is a discipline just as much as it is an art, and perfecting techniques under the schooling of a capable Karate Master can take many years. Unfortunately, in recent years, many Karate schools, facing constant pressure from parents, have turned into “belt mills”, where students are tested and promoted, even if they haven’t fully mastered or perfected their technique.
Fighting techniques in Karate consist of punches, kicks, hand strikes, elbow strikes, footsweeps, and defensive blocking using hands, forearms, knees & shins. Karate’s popularity spiked in the ’70s and ’80s due to a hit song or two, and the unforgettable “Karate Kid” movie franchise. Karate remains competitive collectively in the world of martial arts, but has waned in popularity over the years. Being that Karate is not a “complete” martial art, in that there is no training on how to fight if your opponent takes you to the ground, it has become less sought after. As long as fighters are standing, Karate has a chance, but on the ground, it’s essentially useless.
Tae Kwon Do
Tae Kwon Do, taekwondo, or TKD for short, are all Korean derivatives of Karate. Historically, Korea fell under Japanese rule from the years 1910 – 1945. During this period of military occupation, Koreans were treated harshly by their Japanese rulers, but they managed to glean a key component of Japanese lifestyle – Karate. Koreans adapted their fighting style to be quite similar to Karate, and named the art Tae Kwon Do – which translates to “the way of kicking and punching”, although nowadays, it’s more like just “the way of kicking”. Punching is still taught, but has almost been completely eliminated in competition.
Taekwondo is one of the fastest growing martial arts for children. The pros are that it’s fairly easy to pick up, it is a legitimate self-defense, doesn’t require a tremendous amount of focus and concentration to grasp, there is not a deep repertoire of techniques, and a diligent student can earn a black belt in an average of 4 years. The cons are that Taekwondo (being predominantly a kicking art) generally favors taller students. It’s kinda hard to land a head-kick if you can’t even reach the head in the first place. Also, and unfortunately, most Taekwondo studios are highly monetized and will systematically promote you (or your child) many times based on a pre-determined & monetized schedule. As such, Taekwondo has become one of the most expensive martial arts today. A student usually has to purchase their own full-body sparring gear, as well as “club” uniforms. Belt tests can average around $100 each or more, and tournament fees are higher in Taekwondo than in any other martial art in the US. Most Taekwondo facilities are nothing more than belt mills, having succumbed to parental belt testing pressure years ago. As one Taekwondo master once told me, “If the parent wants me to promote their child, all they have to do is pay for it.” As such, in recent years Taekwondo has been losing ground in terms of legitimacy and public respect.
Kung Fu is the ancient fighting style of the Chinese that involves a wide array of techniques and styles, both with and without weapons. Kung Fu, like Taekwondo and Karate, is also a striking art, although many Kung Fu masters say that the true kung fu master is the one who never has to use it. It was made famous in the late ’60s and early ’70s by Bruce Lee and continues to be a popular fighting style in movies and TV even to this day. In some cases, Kung Fu can even seem a little flamboyant due to a few moves adapted from animals. Remember “Crane Technique” from Karate Kid? “If do right, no can defend.” Remember that? (Yes, Karate Kid was “Karate”, but the Crane Technique was Kung Fu.) The beauty and grace of Kung Fu’s seemingly artistic movements make it perfect for the big screen, but not so much for the streets.
Originally there were no belts in Kung Fu, as one student learned from one master, with the students’ progress being maintained in a ledger. Unlike other martial arts who wear colored belts, Kung Fu masters originally wore sashes tied around their waist instead. Today, sashes are the King Fu equivalent to other martial art belts, except that they’re, well, a sash. Kung Fu has waned in popularity in recent years due to the increasing popularity of other arts, and the general decline of Kung Fu schools nationwide.
Another Japanese derived artform, Japanese Jiu Jitsu was developed as a hand-to-hand fighting style that Samurai could use to kill or disable their opponent, should they find themselves having no weapon except their hands. There is a long history in Japanese Jiu Jitsu. It is a fighting style that involves grappling (wrestling) predominantly, with the intent to kill or submit your opponent through the use of joint locks, submissions, and chokes. Jiu Jitsu is a great martial art, in that it involves a number of techniques that make it easy for a smaller opponent to defeat a larger, stronger one.
When people think of modern-day Jiujitsu, they are usually thinking of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or BJJ for short. BJJ’s origins are in Japanese Jiu Jitsu (the Mother art), and Judo (the Father art). Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has gained immense worldwide popularity, most notably as one of the common arts practiced in the world of MMA and UFC. Jiu Jitsu is a great self defense for children and adults, but belt promotions may come slow. There is an exponentially larger repertoire of skills and techniques to learn in Jiujitsu, and obtaining a black belt can take several more years and countless more hard hours of work than Taekwondo or Karate. However, it’s important to note, that some, but not all Jiu Jitsu Professors do a better job of promoting students based on their skill, and not necessarily on a predetermined schedule.
Judo is a fighting style, also developed in Japan, derived from the Samurai, as a way to fight and defend one’s self against an unarmed opponent. Developed by a diminutive student of jiu jitsu, Jigoro Kano took many of the JJJ fighting techniques and perfected them into an entirely new martial art. In 1882 Jigoro Kano invented Judo and founded the Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo. While encompassing just about everything under the umbrella of Jiu Jitsu, Judo also involves stand-up fighting, including a wide range of spectacular throws, devastating takedowns, and terrifying pins. Interestingly enough, most people don’t realize that the Judo curriculum covers most, if not all, of today’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s techniques. Joint locks, chokes, and submissions are just as much a part of Judo as the throws and takedowns – although these techniques are usually reserved for older children and are not permitted in competition until age 12.
While generally not as expensive and monetized as other martial arts, Judo is not for the faint-hearted. It is quite literally one of the most aggressive combat sports out there. This does not mean that Judo is unsafe – quite to the contrary, Judo has no more occurrences of injury than just about any contact sport – and instructors and judges are quite attentive to the safety of the students. Judo students, known as “Judoka”, are taught proper falling techniques, so that when they practice their throws, the person being thrown knows how to fall safely and without injury. And while there are still occasional bumps and bruises, Judo is a wonderful option for adult and child self-defense, male and female, boys and girls alike. Of the fighting styles mentioned here, Judo is probably the most difficult to master. The techniques themselves aren’t all that difficult to learn individually, but the list of techniques and variations can go on forever. Each throw can be either right or left sided, and there are countless variations to consider as well. Also, like BJJ, Judo does not promote quickly either. Parents should know this going in – promotions are usually based on skill and performance, again, not in accordance with a pre-determined calendar or schedule. You or your child will receive promotions when they are earned and deserved.
So Which One is Best?
Which one is best is a difficult question to answer. Taekwondo and Karate are no lesser forms of self defense than boxing, so they can’t be discounted just because they primarily focus on kicks and punches – although they do get a bad rap from all the belt mills. There is a saying in the world of fighting that everyone has a “striker’s chance” – but in the real world, a stand-up fighter (TKD, Kung Fu, Karate, boxer) usually only gets one or two chances before the fight goes to the ground, thereby nullifying all of these fighting styles. If a fight goes to the ground, both the Judo and BJJ fighter will have the advantage. However, in that one split-second… that split-second just before the fight goes to the floor, if a Judoka has one hand on you, just one, you’re probably about to experience the full power of the earth as the Judoka uses its gravity to slam you into it. Judo builds tremendous core and body strength, agility, focus, confidence, and discipline. It’s the most applicable base-sport for any other sport. Because of the Judo fighter’s ability to fight and/or defend himself/herself in either a standing or ground fighting situation, and because Judo pretty much encompasses everything that is BJJ, Judo is clearly the better martial art. Contact us to enroll in a free trial Judo class today!