Sunday, 1 April 2012

Which Martial Art Is Best?

Kyokushinkai Karate

People often asked this question: “What’s the best martial art?”

These days, the same question just isn’t asked. Or at least I’m not hearing it. I’m not sure why. Perhaps people have been exposed to a wide variety of martial arts and know enough to keep an open mind as they shop around for a class that suits their interests and lifestyle.

Decades ago, asking about the “best” meant which martial art was “best in a fight”. A favourite question in the 70s was: “What’s best…Karate or Kung Fu?”

Part of the reason was the huge impact of Bruce Lee. I remember running a club in Toronto and having middle aged business owners come in with their day’s receipts (which I stored in the safe). They’d then go to change. Soon enough, you could hear Bruce Lee vocal noises coming up from the change room. They were kids again, just having fun.

When it came to comparing martial arts, all of my teachers followed the same basic rule – never criticize another martial art.

I think I might now understand why they pressed the issue home which such deliberateness. There was no false modesty in their advice. If anything, their credo was based on the “war art” mentality.

Here are a few points –

1.  To start with, the Kung Fu teachers always told me to keep an open mind and respect other  systems – Karate, Jiu Jitsu, other Kung Fu traditions – because you never knew who and what would come in through the door to challenge you.
From Hong Kong to Toronto, challenges were a fact of life. If you knew something about – and had an open toward –the challenger’s martial art you might actually have an edge.

2.  The advice of my Karate teacher, Monty Guest, was: “Never have a swollen head. There are a lot of people better than you. A swollen head turns you into a big target.” The same goes for comparing martial arts such as Kickboxing with Judo, or Kendo with Savate.

3.  Many Kung Fu systems are composites of other systems. Everyone “borrowed” from everyone else. There is one Kung Fu system which claims to have taken the best from 1,000 other systems. The reason? – to maintain an edge.

4.   There are dozens of techniques and combinations of techniques which are shared across the martial arts world. Almost every technique in Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan can also be found in Karate. There are Judo throws in Kung Fu. There are BaGua Kung Fu movements in Kempo Karate, Aikido, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, etc.

5.  Historically speaking, when masters didn’t “borrow” from others, they tended to share. For example, one master in Okinawan Karate would trade a staff routine with a master from another style. That’s how martial arts evolve. And that’s how they manage to stay current.

I just view the martial arts as one big family with a lot of branches. I love the courage and the dedicated training of kickboxers; I’m still fascinated by Oyama Karate’s Kumite 100. What an inspiration to the rest of us; I’ve seen Judo so precise and elegant it would make your jaws drop; I like how smart Gracie Jiu Jitsu is, how relaxed its application can be; I like the ground work of Monkey Kung Fu, both beautiful and lethal.

My small advice if you’re currently training (or if you think you might like to try)…enjoy! Don’t listen to the politics. Investigate. Follow your own interests. The martial arts are a gift. The martial arts can enrich your life!


  1. Very good explanation Robert

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for the comment. If we look at the way martial art styles and systems have developed, most of them have evolved from other systems and masters. I remember training in Toronto where people from different systems gathered. Everyone was trading with everyone else. If you have an open mind, you can learn so much more!


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