Which martial arts style is the best? Isn’t that something every student or prospective student of martial arts wants to know? So, what is the answer? Does the “best martial art” exist? What
constitutes the “best” martial art? In this article, I will be discussing my findings over the course of almost 40 years of martial research. The result may just open your eyes.
Drive a Car to Hawaii
“What is the most efficient means of travel?” Bruce Lee once asked Dan Inosanto; Bruce’s star student. The answer came back, “A Boeing 747.” “What if I wanted to cross the street?” Bruce asked. “Would it still be the most efficient mode of transportation?” This philosophy applies to the martial arts as well. Wing Chun is useless for ground fighting. Aikido has no punches. Tae Kwon Do fails up close. However, every system in the world has something to offer
in terms of protecting yourself in an aggressive situation. The principles – not the techniques – of each system has merit.
Judging a Fish for its Ability to Climb a Tree
There are three (3) ways to look at a martial art. You can watch a novice student practice a highly effective system as an outsider as judge the system as useless. You can watch a master practitioner and say that the system is useless for something that the system was not meant for. For instance: You can watch the greatest cage fighter in the world and say that what the person was doing would be useless to handle someone with a weapon or against multiple attackers. Finally, you can pit two operators who practice the same system together and judge the system as great because one practitioner is very effectively defending him/herself against the attacker. But, is it the system that is great or the practitioner’s understanding of certain aspects of the system that make it appear as great? If two Kempo Karate masters of the same level of experience face off against each other, one is going to win and the other will lose. Do we say, then, that Kempo Karate is a great system? Or, is it the system or the experience of the practitioner and the way he/she trains that is responsible here?
Put an Akidoka (practitioner of Aikido) in a ring with a boxer. As long as the Aikidoka continues to use Aikido and is not restricted by the rules of boxing, the Aikido stands a chance. The moment he/she attempts to use boxing – a system he/she is unfamiliar with – or starts to limit him/herself with the rules of boxing, he/she loses effectiveness and the system will be branded as “useless” because of his/her inability to survive in a boxing arena simply because of the clothing he/she is wearing – hakama (the traditional wear of an Aikido master) and GI – and the fact that he/she is trying to work in an environment he/she has no experience in.
Don’t Hire a Plumber to Repair Your Car
I have heard many times, “Systema is useless in the ring.” “Aikido is not practical for the street”. “MMA can’t defend against a knife or against multiple attackers.” “Tai Chi movements are over-exaggerated.” Where all of these things are true, what if you combined the fluid movements of Systema, the understanding of “entering at the point of least resistance” of Aikido, the combative experience of a seasoned MMA fighter and the balance, structure and effortless movement of Tai Chi?
Don’t the ALL have aspects that are useful? Though fixing cars is not a plumber’s specialty, isn’t there hoses and fluid in a car? Aren’t the principles of plumbing applicable in some aspects of car repair? So, why not learn them? Why restrict yourself to the information only offered by one system?
Think of building a house. An architect designs the plans for the house. A cement construction crew lays the foundation. A framer builds the frame. An electrician wires the house and connects it to a power source. A plumber ensures the house has access to sewage and clean water. A roofer puts on the roof. A painter paints the walls and the exterior. All of these people have specific functions.
What if one person knew how to do all of these things as well as the masters in their respective fields? Couldn’t that person – in theory – design and build his/her own home with the same quality it took all the other people to achieve? Couldn’t that same person learn only a fraction of what the masters know in each field and – as long as the information applies to the project at hand – still be able to achieve the same quality? I wouldn’t ask that person to build a skyscraper or a bridge, but he/she would have enough information to build a small house.
The Hammer is Useless to Drive in a Screw
One could argue that each martial system serves a specific function. “Tae Kwon Do, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jujitsu are for sporting events.” “Krav Maga is for battlefield tactics or the adaptive environment of self defense.” “Traditional systems – Wushu, Tai Chi, Bagua, etc – are for keeping one’s self physically and emotionally in harmony or for demonstrations.”
I submit that a butter knife can tighten/loosen in a screw. A rock can pound in a nail. Isn’t it logical, then, to conclude that the way we use one martial system today was not the way the creators
intended it to be used? Is it possible that every martial system’s intended purpose was to keep the practitioner safe from aggressors in the environment which it was created?
Judo (a sport) is an adaptation of Japanese Jujitsu; an unarmed system used by the Samurai on the battlefield. Brazilian Jujitsu (used in sport and self defense) is an adaptation of the system
taught to the Gracie family by a Judo practitioner from Japan. Hapkido is a combination of Tang Soo Do (the progenitor of Tae Kwon Do) and Chin Na (joint locks and structural manipulation) and is widely used in the Korean Special Forces, but Tae Kwon Do is used as a sport and Chin Na is a traditional system.
Doesn’t it make sense that any system – or aspects of multiple systems – can be used to adapt to the situation at hand? Bruce Lee thought so and that’s why he developed both the physical attributes and the philosophies that form the basis of Jeet Kune Do. Is Jeet Kune Do a system? No, not in the strictest definition of the word. Jeet Kune Do is a combination of philosophies that are translated into physical form through the medium of martial arts. The premise of Jeet Kune Do is to do what needs to be done in the simplest way with the least amount of effort that achieves the greatest and most accurate results for the situation at hand.
Become a Swiss Army Knife
What is the greatest strength of a multi-tool? It’s adaptability. Is it a hammer? It can be. Is it a screwdriver? It can be. Is it a fire starter? It can be. Is it a can opener? It can be. Depending on the needs of the person wielding it and the forethought the person puts into preparing for future events, the multi-tool or Swiss Army Knife can be anything it needs to be for the job at hand. Can you use a Swiss Army Knife to repair a semi-truck? That depends. How big is the Swiss Army knife we are using and what tools come with it?
So, what is the “best” martial art? My answer is ALL of them, but only if you combine the methods and principles needed to fit the situation at hand and train for those situations. My answer is NONE of them, if you expect any singular system to fit every possible situation. A mechanic needs multiple tools to repair or build a car. It requires many fields of knowledge to build a house from nothing. A martial artist needs train for the environment he/she expects to find him/self in. Does it matter which system he/she uses? No, it doesn’t. What matters is the ability to use the knowledge and training gained over years of experience to adapt to the situation at hand.