How to find the best martial art for you?

When I was a kid, I wanted to learn martial arts. As many others. Being a Hungarian kid during the communist dictatorship in Romania wasn’t always a Disney dream, we had let’s say some difficulties there… That was one of the reasons why I wanted to learn martial arts in the first place, to defend myself. The other reason was because it was cool, and mystical. I wanted to become a Ninja 😀

It was hell of a dream of mine, and not easy to make it real. Since there were no ninjas around to learn from. As we say in Hungarian :

“If there is no horse a donkey will also do”

No disrespect here, but in this case the donkey was Judo. At that time only 2 Asian martial arts were available: Judo and Karate. Why did I choose Judo over Karate, which was much closer to what the Ninjas do? Simply, I did not like Karate for some reason. So, I chose Judo.  

It quickly turned out it was not my donkey. I struggled roughly 2 years with it, just not to give it up so quickly, but finally it was inevitable to quit. 

Next time I started to practice martial arts again it was 13 years later, and I never became a ninja 😀 But today I am here being one of the direct disciples of Grandmaster Ip Chee Keung, gatekeeper of Tung Kong Chow Gar Tong Long Kung Fu. Long name, I know. As long as my road was to get here. I wish I knew what I know now.

I want to help you to find your way easier. In my time there was not enough information, today is the opposite. There is too much information, you can easily get lost, spend time at the wrong place, waste your time, money, energy. No good!

So, how to choose?

Before starting to practice anything, you have to ask yourself a few important questions. And answer them honestly:

Question no. 1: Do you really think it seriously? 

Do you really want to practice martial arts or just want to have some fun?

If you just want to have some fun then visit a few places (does not matter what martial art) and where you feel yourself the best, just stay there. That’s all.

But if you really want to train seriously, you need to dig a bit deeper, and other questions are coming.

Question no. 2: Combat sports or traditional approach?

To turn this into a more mundane question, let’s translate it: do you want quick results in fighting skills/experience, or you go for long term development?

In the first case you have to find a place where they train you for fight. That’s the focus, to be “able” as quick as possible to do some demage. Even here there are many options for you:

  • If you prefer using your hands: boxing, MMA (this one is a jolly joker)
  • If you prefer ground fighting, grappling, submission: Brazilian jiu-jitsu (one of my favorites) they have great teachers all over the world, very experienced in fighting, MMA, grapling
  • If you prefer using your legs: thai boxing, any sports karate, MMA, tae kwon do
  • If you want everything together: Krav Maga, MMA which is very popular nowadays.

However, if you want a more traditional approach, you think long term, then this is a bit more complicated. In a simplified breakdown these are your options:

  • Chinese martial arts (e.g. Tai Chi, Baguazhang, Shaolin Wushu, Hakka Kung Fu, endless list)
  • Japanese martial arts (e.g. Aikido, Goju Ryu Karate, Jiu Jitsu, Budokan, Iai do, etc…)
  • Philippino martial arts (e.g. kali, escrima, stb…)
  • Indian martial arts (e.g. kalarippayatu, silambam etc..)
  • Southeast Asian martial arts (e.g. Muai Thai, Krabi Krabong, Pencak Silat, etc…)

The list is far from complete, I just listed the biggest branches with some examples. Here it is really a big question, how to decide.This is a deep rabbit hole I do not want to go down into, so let’s talk on a bit higher level. The best is to approach it from your goals point of view, what is important:

  • Health benefits: Tai Chi, Chi Kung
  • Fighting skills: Southeast Asian martial arts, Hakka Kung Fu (Chow Gar), Karate
  • Learning weapons: almost any of these offer weapons, but Philippino martial arts and Pencak Silat have probably the most practical approach
  • Getting acrobatic skills: Shaolin Wushu 
  • Do you prefer fancy stuff? Shaolin Wushu or Northern Kung Fu styles
  • You want to dive into the philosophical aspects: Chinese Martial Arts or Indian martial arts in general

As a general filter you can bring in your physical abilities, which is also important, not just in this case but in the previous case as well (quick fighting results), like:

  • How flexible are you? – you can improve it if you want, with almost any of these systems, but if you do not want to super flexible, do not go for Shaolin Wushu or Northern Kung Fu Styles, or anything where the use high kicks and jumps.
  • Do you have any physical disabilities? – here of course it strongly depends on your issues, the best is to shorten your list of possible styles and after some analysis consult with your doctor and ask what the recommendation is.

By now you have a quite clear picture in which direction you want to go, and a shortlist of systems. There are still things and questions left. Obviously, there will be one strong determining factor, namely are any of these systems available in your area. Let’s assume they are.

Question no. 3: How is the community, teachers/masters?

This aspect is also very important, it determines your development and how you feel there. Take your list and your computer or phone and google up the schools around you. Get in contact with them, via email, or chat, phone, whatever. Ask about their background first:

  • Who is the master, and the master of the master?
  • Do they have connection to the main school, headmaster?
  • How many times they meet the headmaster and train?

This will give you a picture about how isolated they are. If they have no direct connection, or they do not participate on events where they can learn from the headmaster or his closest top students, that is not a good sign. I make video soon about this in more details, how to identify a real traditional martial arts school.

In such case, I would remove them from the shortlist. In case you are serious about learning real martial art.

Usually, every school gives the possibility for a free training. Grab that opportunity, go, and join a free class!

What you should look for when you are there:

  • How the teaching goes? What is the structure of the training? 
  • Is there kind of a concept in the training which goes along?
  • Is the instructor supportive?
  • Do you feel that the instructor is knowledgeable?
  • Do you feel mutual respect between instructor/master and students?
  • Is the mood constructive, friendly, supportive?
  • Do you feel kind of a comradeship?

Trust your feelings. If you see any sign of bullying, which is overseen or worse, supported by the instructors, leave, and never go back. Challenging people during a training in a community and bullying is very different. Such places, people do not deserve your attention, time, money, commitment.

There will be things which will become obvious only after a while, but as first step you will have a picture as a basis about the school and the style.

Question no. 4: What is the best for me?

Here you are at the final decision. What to choose? More options remained.

Actually, this is really up to you now! 😀

What I can say is, there is no 100% perfect place, which is ok, this is the general imperfection of life. It is very hard to find a good master, with a good background, who is able and willing to teach. If you find one and you feel ok in the school, then do not hesitate. Join the school, put your energy in the training, follow the teachings with open mind, and practice. After a while you will feel if you go somewhere or not.

I hope it helps you.

Keep in shape!

Zoltán 

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