Fighting styles

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Which martial art is best?

This is a common question that people ask. The answer is simple. It depends on what you are looking for. Each martial art has its own emphasis. The system/teacher trains what they think is important.

Grappling or striking?

If you want an art that focuses on ground fighting, then choose an appropriate grappling style
. If you want to punch, kick, knee or elbow, then pick a striking art.
If you want to grapple and strike, then choose accordingly.


Some fighting arts were designed for self defence, others for military combat. Some are sports. It is important to discover what each system emphasises before commencing lessons.


'Better' or 'worse' depends on what you want to train, how you choose to train it and whether or not you personally are any good at the art.

There are many fighting arts. Although they use different forms, for the most part they don't go beyond the strong dominating the weak, and the slow resigning to the swift.

(Wang Tsung-yueh)

Effort to reward ratio

Ideally, in a fighting art you want to achieve the greatest results whilst expending the absolute least amount of energy. Combat is tiring. The longer it lasts, the weaker you become.
A speedy result is the goal. If a fighting style wears you out, how good is it? How good are you?

Age appropriate

Some martial arts feature skills that can easily be executed by a young person but not somebody in their 50's. Do you want to 'retire' from martial arts practice at 50? Or continue?

How fit do you need to be?

If you watch an exponent fighting on-line or in person, you'll notice that most martial artists are very fit. Many are in fact quite athletic; with great muscles, suppleness and considerable stamina.
The average member of the public is no athlete. They often have poor motor skills, limited coordination, not much focus, and little or no fighting spirit.

Size, strength and gender

Martial arts should ideally enable to individual to use their existing body to the greatest advantage. Yes, you need to be fit. But there is more to it.
A small person should be able to use the art against a larger, stronger, more aggressive person. If they cannot, what use is the art? How can the small person possibly defend themselves? Or win?
In some styles, women only fight women of similar weight and size. Is this in any way preparing the student for real life combat?


Without formal training, the larger and stronger naturally defeat the smaller and weaker. Therefore, a basic premise of training must be that the methods employed should make it possible for the smaller and weaker to defeat the larger and stronger.

(Tim Cartmell)

Real life or sport?

How many people want to fight in the ring? Not many. But most people would like to be capable of avoiding harm, protecting themselves and their loved ones. As such, martial arts need to address this.
Fighting people within your own school is fine, but is this what you will encounter in real life? Do other people fight like this? What happens if the attacker is armed or has friends?


Quite a few fighting arts have bouts and competitions akin to boxing. They train seasoned, capable fighters. This is good in terms of competence. But is there a downside? Yes. Injuries.
Sparring and fighting competitions can be quite brutal; often resulting in injuries. You may potentially suffer more injury in competition fighting than you would in the street.


Many martial artists humiliate themselves on-line by goading other people into fights. Desperate to prove something, naive exponents challenge better fighters and get a sound thrashing.
This is sad but not surprising. It is a question of competence and (once again) emphasis. People who regularly fight other fighters tend to be experienced and skilled. You may be playing. They are not.
The answer here is not to go looking for a fight. If somebody assaults you, then fight. Otherwise, use your head?

What can you do with the body?

Every person on the planet has essentially the same human body. The limbs have a certain range of motion. The steps can be a certain length.
Different arts use the body in different ways. Some arts pitch force against force, some specialise in concussive impact accomplished by throwing people. Others in
impact from blows or blocks.
There are small stances and large. Horse stance or high stance. Muscles can be tense or relaxed. Each fighting system has its own spin on what you can do with the human body.

What should you do with the body?

Not everything you can do with the body is healthy or safe. Consider the 70% rule. Beyond a certain range the body innately becomes weaker; more vulnerable to injury. Joints suffer.
Certain fighting moves may work in combat, but are they using the body in an optimal way? Are they innately injurous? Is it something you be doing? What are the long-term side-effects?
Are you training your body purely for fighting or for everyday life? A good example is Newton's 3rd law, which most martial arts simply ignore: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Jutsu or do?

Japanese fighting arts used to be classified as 'jutsu' or 'do'. Jutsu was pure combat, whereas 'do' (Tao) is combat plus character development. An individual can choose which approach they prefer.

Modern or traditional?

So-called traditional martial arts are often only about 100 or so years old. Their roots may be older, but their modern manifestations are quite recent.
At one time every martial art will have been developed to meet the needs of the time. The question to ask is whether or not traditional arts still accomplish this.

Trends and fashions

Has the human body changed? Are we now fighting in The Matrix? Of course not. What is different? Are people bigger, stronger, heavier, faster?
All m
artial arts were designed to work in combat. Yet, some become obsolete. Is this because they are badly taught? Unhealthy? Not pragmatic enough?
Some arts become trendy and more people seek these out. But how much are fighting arts subject to fashion? To novelty?

Modern arts

Modern martial arts tend to be geared towards functionality, pragmatism and results. This is sensible. It saves on wasting time on ritual and ceremony. 
Often, people feel to have limited time and want quick results. They are taught direct, effective skills that work.


Yang Cheng Fu wrote a book during the early 20th Century. He mentioned that it was hard to find committed students who were willing to practice and study.
Given our modern era, things are perhaps worse. Sophisticated skills take time to develop. Practice. Dedication. Extensive research.
How many people want to do this? How many will follow through?

Your personality

If you want to get the best out of a martial art, choose something that suits your personality. If the school you join doesn't fulfil the promise of the art, then go elsewhere.
You need to allow for: 1) The art, 2) The teacher, 3) Yourself. Typically, the student is the weakest link. Make sure that you are honest about your fitness level, expectations and commitment.
It is perfectly okay to just have fun, get fit or have a laugh. Everyone is different. And, if you are seeking mystery and depth, ensure that your teacher is capable of pointing the way. Be wary of talkers...

The energy of an object in motion increases with the square of its velocity. Or in even simpler English: when you’re hitting something, speed is more important than mass. If you double your mass, you’ll hit with twice the force. But if you double your speed, you’ll hit with four times the force, and so on. Quite handy to know when you only weigh 140 pounds.

(Anna Spysz)

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Page created 18 April 1999
Last updated 21 October 2019