I didn’t understand the term “styles” when I started in the martial arts. “Which style is best?” is a common topic of argument all over the internet. A better question is “Which style is best for ME?” This question is much simpler to answer when the following is understood:

Martial arts were and still are created and developed for specific purposes

Some focus on competitive fighting. Some on fighting with body armor on. Some exist for protecting others. Some focus on personal development of character. Some on physical fitness. Others on personal self-defense. These are all very different goals, and there are just as many differences in how to train for them. To say it bluntly, NO martial art covers all of these areas, though each has it’s strength with some overlap in other areas.

Many people will just go out and try a bunch of different martial arts classes and feel them out, not really understanding these differences, and in fact often get turned off to the martial arts by hitting the wrong class at the wrong time. (and maybe with the wrong teacher.)

To assist the beginning and curious practitioner I find it helpful to segregate the arts into the following areas:

  • Sport
  • Self Defense
  • Personal Development
  • Military/Law Enforcement

Sport martial arts

These are arts used in a controlled environment with rules regarding application (i.e. no eye stabbing, etc) Sport arts are often best for the young, as physical ability is an important aspect of ones’ ability to succeed in the practice. Some common examples are: Tae Kwon Do, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and various newer Karate arts.

Sport martial arts have became popular in the USA since the 1950’s when several now-popular “traditional” arts came in to existence in America. (Aikido, Karate)

More recently MMA began drawing a large audience at the advent of “no-holds-barred” fighting competitions, taking the more effective competition moves from all arts, including wrestling, to win in the ring. Though often touted as “The best martial art” by those with a competitive bent, it should be noted that this proof is coming from the ring, where rules and one-on-one matches are the norm. If you are interested in training for self-defense you must include multiple opponents in your practice, as well as hidden weapons, and irregular ground surfaces.

Self-Defense arts

Generally short term courses focusing on drilling a few high-impact and well tested techniques for the purposes of self-protection. However some self-defense arts strive to teach versatile strategies and tactics that are helpful in dealing with conflict in forms beyond the physical. If I had to choose a category for our art, Budo Taijutsu I would have to put it here, as our main focus is on how to “survive” life’s travails. However personal development would follow a close second.

Personal Development

Arts that focus on discipline, health, development of mind (meditation) and movements that serve that purpose. A common example is Tai Chi with its’ slow, meditative movements. Depending upon the school some self-defense applications are covered, however the primary application of these arts are holistic personal wellness.

Military/Law Enforcement Arts

People in this training are there for learning how to use specific gear (weapons) and circumstances. Professional protection personnel, police, military all have specific strategies, weapons and tactics that they need to train for. Budo Taijutsu is often practiced by professional law enforcement personnel, Marines, FBI, etc., for it’s strength in standing control techniques. (i.e. subduing an attacker without permanently injuring or killing)

Do many martial arts hold aspects of all of the above, of course! All martial arts use fighting techniques as a vehicle to move towards the goal of that art. Remember, you will respond to life’s circumstances dependent upon how and what you train. We are training every day, whether you realize it or not, so choose wisely.

Hope this helps.


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