How to Find the Best Martial Art

Resident martial arts guru Jonathan teaches us how to find the best martial art.

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Finding the best martial art for you can be difficult, especially since it’s not unusual to find more martial arts schools than gyms in most major cities. For example, a simple Google search for “martial arts” near Sydney yields approximately 1.8 million results, while a search for gyms near Sydney only returns about 750 thousand.

Over the past five years, I’ve had a number of experiences with martial arts schools in my home town of Sydney, Australia, so I’ve put together this guide to help you find the best martial art for you.

Why Do You Want to Learn a Martial Art?

When figuring out which martial art to learn, the first thing you need to ask yourself is why you want to learn a martial art in the first place. In my experience, the main reasons people decide to take up a martial art are:

  • Fitness
  • Self defence
  • Interest in foreign culture
  • To meet new people

Chances are you’ll fit into one of the four categories above.

Martial Arts for Fitness

In my experience, many of the first traditional martial arts schools that I attended featured instruction from – dare I say – overweight old Caucasian men. That’s not to say that they weren’t skilled at their respective arts; they just weren’t in the best of shape for people who you’d expect to be in peak physical condition. I remember attending my first martial arts class at a dojo near my house after being impressed by an image of a ripped, musclebound man breaking through a stack of tiles with a single chop of the hand. I arrived at the venue to find a somewhat older and less conditioned version of that man teaching the class. In his sales pitch, he touted a strong fitness benefit to his art, but during the actual physical training, he paced around the class yelling out “ichi, ni, san!” while the students sweated through the exercises on their own. He was a tough old guy – in the six months that I trained there, I witnessed students vomit and faint from the gruelling routines he put us through. Part of me wanted to see him join in, if only for one session. I dared not ask.

Pro-tip: Your trainer might not be in the best of shape, but it doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t capable of helping you reach your maximum potential. Look at many famous boxing coaches like Freddie Roach for instance..

Martial Arts for Self Defence

I’ve always been a skinny guy and part of my motivation for learning a martial art was to be able to defend myself in a fight. While I became fitter and stronger as a result of my first martial art, I could not see myself being able to use it against a hot-headed roid monkey in the city on a Saturday night. At my old dojo, my sensei typically divided the class up according to physical size, leaving me to train with the other scrawny students in the group. During the few times that I was allowed to train with the larger students, I felt completely inadequate and restrained by my physical size (or lack thereof). I therefore wondered just how effective the martial art I was learning would be against a larger person in a fight out on the street.

After deciding to leave the dojo in search of something more practical, I took a course in an Israeli system of self defence after reading about it being used in a few blockbuster movies. Many of the moves were no doubt combat-effective (you can’t go wrong with an eye-gouge or throat strike), but there seemed to be something missing from my training. Everything seemed somewhat disjointed; like a set of specific solutions to specific problems rather than a coherent system. Most of the movements required a specific set of parameters in order to work – your opponent had to be standing a certain way, or they had to be holding the knife exactly like this. I felt like I needed something somewhere in the middle of my first two martial arts.

Pro-tip: If you’re looking for self defence, make sure your martial art is effective against larger people as most people you come up against in a fight will be larger than you.

Interest in Foreign Culture

Almost all of the students that I met while studying my first martial art had shown interest in Japanese culture and tradition. Many of them were studying the language and were studying the martial art as a way of further immersing themselves in Japanese culture. Although the master of the dojo was not Japanese, he was knowledgeable and respectful of Japanese tradition and took the time to share his stories of living in and around Osaka with us.

Pro-tip: If you’re looking to further your knowledge of foreign culture through martial arts, I would recommend taking up a traditional martial art as opposed to a newly invented self defence or combat system (note that new doesn’t always mean better).

To Meet New People

There was a strong community of students at the dojo of my first martial art and it was clear that many students came for the people and not just the art. I think it’s important to have a group of relatable and supportive peers around you when learning something like martial arts, as long as things don’t lean too much toward the social aspect.

Wing Chun, My Current Martial Art

The third martial art that I studied and continue to study to this day was Wing Chun Kung Fu, a contemporary form of kung fu that was studied by Bruce Lee. I was introduced to this martial art by a friend at my workplace who recommended that I accompany him to the school’s annual open day. I expected a small gathering of maybe twenty or thirty students, but was surprised to find their facility bursting at the seams with students and onlookers. The demonstrations that I saw were impressive – and these were just junior students. I was happy to see that most of the students performing were of smaller stature.

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