Quick request - a reader asked me which martial art he should study. If you're a martial artist or researched on the topic, please share your thoughts in the comments.
I got an email from a reader asking me about martial arts. I don't know all that much on the topic - I did some research, I practiced Krav Maga for a few months, and a lot of my friends art martial artists. But after I replied to the email, I realized I don't know exactly what would be best, so let's see if we can get more suggestions here.
Here's the parameters -
Also, a more personal question, and frankly the biggest reason for this e-mail: I've been meaning to learn a little self-defense and I want to know, what martial art do you recommend? I'm looking for something that emphasizes mental discipline, relaxed awareness and control, rather than raw strength, athleticism or physical toughness. Or do you recommend otherwise? I'm in my twenties and in Ok shape, although I don't exercise much (my height is 1.87 and my weight is around 85kg, if that's important).
Here's my original reply -
There's no right answer to what the best martial art is. It depends on your goals.
First point of feedback - the style of martial art you train in is less important than the specific school/dojo/trainers. A solid martial art taught by sloppy trainers is no good. You need a school that has competent instructors that you like and agree with the culture there, and enjoy attending.
Okay. Now, for "pure self defense" I would recommend a martial art that has a fast learning curve, minimal rituals, and a modern scientific basis. That means I'd recommend either Krav Maga (which I studied) or Systema.
They're both military martial arts. Krav is the Israeli military's, Systema is Russian. Both seem very solid.
However, neither of those martial arts are about sport, and they're probably not conducive to a "meditative" state so to speak. For that, something with a traditional basis - like kung fu - might be better, but I can't comment for sure, since I don't have firsthand experience or much research in the area.
There was a discussion of martial arts on Hacker News that might be helpful:
A point, though - do not go by the votes on any comment, which are meaningless in this case. Many of the votes are by people who thinks something "sounds nice" instead of actually works. For instance, Capoeira and Aikido seem to me that they have much longer learning curves than a scientifically developed martial art that emphasizes striking (Krav, Systema, or even boxing).
Don't go by upvotes, but you can read the comments and perspectives. My take is that any well-trained martial artist will become eventually very capable of defending himself, the question is just how long it'll take and what the process is like there. I know I didn't have so long to train before I was going to be traveling, so I trained in Krav Maga. I now feel confident to defend myself against most untrained people, though I'd like to take more lessons because I'm not so good yet.
Eventually I'd like to train in a variety of disciplines - for instance, Muay Thai is known for having some of the best kicks and leg defenses in the world, and many martial artists train a little bit in Muay Thai for that. (Also, Thaiboxers are tough as nails, and cool people) It really depends on where you want to start - I'd say Krav, but that's biased towards my goals (fast learning curve self defense; all practical, no formality or ritual). There'd be advantages to doing the exact opposite though - a traditional art with lots of ritual, forms, etc. It would slow down your ability to defend yourself, but you might find additional calmness/lessons/meditative state doing it.
All depends on your goals. Biggest piece of feedback is that liking your instructors and school is more important than the specific art you teach, as long as you pick something halfway decent. Godspeed and thanks for the email, best wishes.
Please weigh in in the comments if you have experience. Also, I think pissing contests over martial arts are really, really stupid, so let's refrain from that. When I say "might slow down your learning curve," what I mean is that someone who takes 20 lessons in boxing is going to be safer if there's a bar fight than someone that takes 20 lessons in aikido, because akido takes longer to master. That's not a knock on aikido - I have immense respect for people trained in it. It just seems to take longer to learn than basic strikes. All opinions on the matter are welcome, but please no arguing in the comments - I have respect for anyone who trains to defend themselves and protect others, so let's look at it like that instead of arguing. Please comment if you have feedback on the topic.