So I watch a lot of fight film. Really more than the average person and probably in line with someone who fights or coaches as a profession. The intrigue and the curiosity for me is how many different fight styles there are and how those styles are utilized by different individuals based on their height, weight, reach and training. I examine stances, feints, combinations, set-ups. It's all a big human chessboard from one fight to the next. As a martial artist, I also continue to be humbled by the fact that you can never reach an endpoint in your study. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. As you can tell by this site and the associated DMV Combat Fanatics Facebook page, I watch just about everything. From the more common Boxing, Judo, Wrestling, Taekwondo, Jiu-Jitsu and Karate to Muay Thai, Savate, Kali, Escrima, Wing Chun, Jeet Kune Do and the list goes on. If two people are facing off on the mat, the ring or in the street, I want to watch it.
It's an age old question, what is the best martial art or the most effective martial art to learn? If you think of all the sacrifice you make and the time you devote to practicing, training and studying your chosen art, it's only natural to wonder is it all worth it? What has surprised me over the years is to learn how many practitioners and in many cases instructors speak against other arts. Especially because so many of the martials arts have a historical link to one another.
If you've read this far, you probably already have some closely held beliefs about this topic. But for me, I've never considered that one art form provided everything necessary to deal with every circumstance that one might encounter. So the idea of the best martial art, always seemed like a silly proposition. Self-defense is the primary reason that most martial arts were created and have evolved. Over the years as we've developed into our version of a modern society, many of the basic tenants of a lot of the arts have been set aside for safety concerns of the participants or modified based on rules of the associated sport. Combine this with the fact that there are a number of schools today that give out belts as participation trophies and you can understand the skepticism that exists for various claims of validity. The sad part is that the schools are putting their students in harms way if they should ever really encounter a self-defense situation. This is why you will hear some instructors bad mouth any number of techniques or styles because they are not based on real life encounters. I think this is a fair point. There is no referee on the street, no one is playing by the rules and there is no one there to restart the match after someone has an advantage.
But, I believe this is the situation with any possible encounter. I've heard or read all of the arguments, what if you're fighting a grappler or a boxer or someone who short, tall, fat or knows this or that. First of all, the odds of me being attacked by another martial artists are slim to none. Most martial artists look to avoid encounters and look to use their skills as a last resort. The person I'm most likely to face on the street will be untrained with bad intentions not a 3rd degree Judoka. I think where these views go wrong is the belief that one style is absolute. When the fact is, all styles have their limitations and it is up to the practitioner to confront those realities. If you consider the UFC as a proxy for style match-ups, a lot of the kick-boxing, karate and muay thai fighters ran into big problems in the early days of MMA when they had to face the wrestlers or Brazilian jiu-jitsu guys who could easily take them down. Suddenly arts that relied on distance control were exposed to close range grappling tactics. But, you can also spin it the other way. I'm a huge fan of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Smaller, weaker guy can beat the big guy. It's the real deal and it's been proven. But what if you can't get the guy to the ground? Then what happens? What if the guy has a friend nearby? Do you really want to be grappling on the ground in danger of being stomped? UFC fans will begin reminding me of what Royce Gracie did to the martial arts field in UFC 1, UFC 2 and UFC 4 where he dominated all styles, sizes and shapes.
My counter to this popular reference is how the same Royce Gracie fared against Matt Hughes in UFC 60, a guy with an elite wrestling background who had a strong familiarity with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Phil Davis, another wrestler who defeated 3-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion, Vinny Magalhaes in UFC 159 or even Rolles Gracie who was at the time, a 4th Degree BJJ Black Belt and was destroyed by a decorated strong man competitor, Mariusz Pudzianowski in KSW31. No style makes anyone immune from danger or from losing an encounter.
If you examine special forces combat squads around the world, like the Israeli Defense Forces who uses Krav Maga, British Commando, Russian Systema or the US Navy SEALS Close Quarters Combat training you will see that they are all made up of some combination of techniques found in a variety of different styles, preparing themselves for wherever a fight might go. Distance, mid-range, close-quarters and with or without weapons. Notable martial artists like Bruce Lee, Gene LeBell, Chuck Norris, Rickson Gracie, and many other highly regarded fighters in history all had their specialties but they all cross-trained in other styles.
But, there is a lot more to traditional martial arts instruction than fighting. It's discipline, it's mental training in perseverance, it's fitness, it's humility and many other aspects that try to center on creating a good person, a good citizen, as well as a good fighter. I think the folks that just show up at a gym and put on gloves and pads miss out on that.
If you leave your mind open, every style has something to teach. Rather than focusing on the things that you don't believe in, concentrate on what you can use and add to your arsenal. This is what makes good fighters great and also what keeps the true martial artist on his path. Carrying him through his journey, a continued pursuit of learning.
About the Author:
Darryl Keeton is an avid striking, grappling and wrestling fan living in Upper Marlboro, MD. He holds a black belt in Taekwondo and is also a practitioner of Combat Jujutsu, Boxing and Muay Thai.