When a parent or potential student comes to check out my school, they usually have some questions for me. They want to meet me, ask about the classes and, of course talk about the price. Although they have a lot of the usual questions one would expect, I am always surprised by how often I have to ask them something: “Don’t you want to know what martial art we teach?”
They usually just cock their head and respond, “Aren’t they all basically the same?”
As a person that has been studying martial arts since 1990, the dialogue above is always surprising, and I have had the conversation more than once. In fact, it happens all the time. You would think that in the age of unprecedented access to so much information that there would be more knowledge about martial arts, but I suppose that you have to know to look for it. In the minds of most people it seems like martial arts have been reduced to six letters: MMA and BJJ. So what about all the rest?
To be clear, this article is no knock on BJJ or MMA. However, since they are so well represented in all forms of media, I wanted to shine some light on other martial arts that I feel are underrepresented and have seemingly fallen under the radar, such as: Kung Fu, Internal arts and more. It is my hope that I can draw some attention to other styles of martial arts that seem to get missed, but are well worth checking out as they all have something to offer.
First things first:
Start with the goals you want to achieve, and then you are more apt to find the appropriate art for you. If you are honest about your goals then you will find the right martial art. If you want to compete, you shouldn’t look into something that is primarily for self-defense. It seems like that conclusion would be pretty obvious, but if you are basing your choice of martial art on things like: location, price, or other criteria, thinking that all martial arts are the same, then you may choose one that doesn’t meet you needs.
Don’t be afraid if a martial art isn’t necessarily well-known. As a connoisseur of the obscure, I enjoy finding things that are off the beaten path, that are unique, or just not popular. Try to adopt a spirit of adventure as you read further, and see if anything piques your interest.
The movie Ip Man made Wing Chun a sought after art because it showed how effective a traditional Kung Fu style can be. Similarly, I recommend people check out Hung Gar, Shou Shu and other styles of Kung Fu. If a student is looking for variety, most of these styles have drills, forms (weapons and empty-hand) and applications that will keep the student learning for a long time. It is always the hope that a student will pursue an art for their whole life rising to the highest level of knowledge and understanding.
Internal martial arts such as Tai Chi Quan, Ba Gua Quan, and Xing Yi Quan are excellent for many purposes. Also, Internal arts tend to focus on a healthy mind and body as well as self-defense applications. Of the three arts mentioned above, Tai Chi is by far the most popular. Most readers have probably seen someone practice a Tai Chi form before with its distinctively slow and deliberate motion. The other internal arts are worth checking out as well.
I fell in love with Xing Yi Quan, because of its simplicity and functionality. If you are curious about internal arts check out Jet Li’s awesome movie The One. He plays two characters: One character uses Xing Yi and the other uses Ba Gua. Once you see the movie, you will likely want to check out a school, get a teacher and start learning.
Judo is a great art to practice for competition, self-defense, and fitness. Judo is more popular internationally then it is in the USA. However, after Ronda Rousey came to prominence in the world of MMA, more people have given it another look. As a practitioner of Judo myself, I can say that I find it challenging and rewarding on many levels. With the popularity it enjoys in the Olympics and elsewhere I am always surprised that more people don’t study it. If you are interested in grappling check out a traditional Judo school as well as BJJ. There is likely one close by.
Why not study a martial art based on a weapon?
Arts that use weapons such as Kendo and Western Fencing are competitive and have the incredibly fun benefit of using a sword (or Shinai in the case of Kendo). Whenever I teach weapons forms in my school, people’s eyes seem to light up. I think that maybe everyone has seen enough Samurai films and Errol Flynn movies to know that practicing with a weapon is going to be a good time.
Weapon arts are not limited to swords, there is also Kyudo, Japanese archery, and most traditional styles of martial arts have weapons forms such as staff and Nunchaku. (See my article “Choose Your Weapon” for more in-depth information about the benefits of learning a weapon).
All arts are not the same. Though some martial arts are similar, they all have some subtle nuance that makes them unique and different. If you want to have an experience that best meets your goals, it is important to expand your horizons beyond the most common and look further at what is available to you in your area. Don’t rule out the unusual, whether the art or circumstance of studying it.
It is entirely possible that the best art for you is get a lone teacher in a park in the early morning hours before you start your day. I met one of the most amazing teachers I ever had that way. There was no building, no uniform, and no pretense. I had been looking for a stripped down learning experience, and I found just what I needed. It was just the student and the teacher. When all is said and done, you really don’t need more than that.