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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Shenanigans: Style Wars

Updated: Jun 8, 2021

This meme makes the round in martial arts communities from time to time:

This is one of the most succinct and accurate observations on martial arts culture I've ever seen. 

It's part of the Style Wars that all of us engage in on one level or another.

You know what I mean by "Style Wars".  We argue and argue about who's style is best, whose training methodology is best, whose lineage is best, over and over and over and over.

If you participate in martial arts discussion groups online, you see this on a daily basis.  Really, get three martial artists together, and invariably, discussion will end up talking about why (x) martial art style is bad, wrong, or ineffective versus the ones they practice, which are obviously superior in every way.

Why is this? Why can't we just accept that there a thousand different paths to similar goals (or even that not all of us have the same goal)?

I'll tell you why.

If you study a martial art seriously, you put a lot of time and effort and money into it.

In order to justify all of the time we spend, on some level, we have to believe that the martial arts style we've chosen is the ONE style that's the absolute best (at least, best for our goals).

In order to justify our decision, not only do we need to believe in the virtues, utility, and effectiveness of what we study, but we also have to believe the alternate martial arts styles around us that we chose NOT to study are not as good.  We need to believe that our way is the best way.

Add in ego... and well... you get into the Style Wars.

It is the rare martial arts animal indeed who has not at one time engaged in this debate.  I know many of us try to say, "They're all good, it depends on who you are and what your goals are".  I'm with you, I really am, but those of us who say that (and mean it) are a minority.

Images like this make the rounds:

C'mon, this meme's message is completely silly.  Mixed Martial Arts aren't those things at all, although some people who DO MMA might be.  Not every traditional martial art teaches these things either - heck, it's not inherently integral to my art, which many would consider to be on the "traditional" side of the fence.

You get people making posts and videos about why their favorite martial arts style rules and somebody else's sucks (for example, here and here and here and here). Endless discussions are started about "Why (x) style sucks" or "Why (y) is the only effective martial art".

And then we devolve into nerdy and frankly, kinda dumb discussions over the meaning of the word "martial" (including endless links to various online dictionaries) and why (x) martial art can't call itself a "MARTIAL" art.  Or the difference between "Self Defense" and "Fighting" and why one is better than the other.  Or why ground fighting is better (or worse) than stand-up striking... 


Look - the martial art you are studying right now, if you enjoy it and it meets your goals, is the best one.  Train hard at it, do as well as you can in it, and be happy.

It doesn't make my enjoyment of my art, my martial arts path, my goals and how I train any lesser if it's not the same as yours.

If you don't like Arnis for whatever reason, that's perfectly fine too.  But you don't have to tear it down to justify whatever martial arts style you do. And no, you can't justify slagging a perfectly reasonable martial arts style like aikido or taekwondo under the aegis of "fraud busting" (I wrote about that HERE). Your dislike or disagreement of a style's strategy doesn't count.

One more thought - I think we get into these Style Wars when we insist that everybody's goals has to be the same.

We insist, to be called a martial art, you must be able to win a fight.  Or survive a self defense situation.  Or be useful on a battlefield.  Or be useful on "the street". Or have underlying moral and ethical values that encourage spiritual or mental growth.

This is also untrue.  You can want to be a great fighter, but it doesn't mean that I have to want to be the same thing to be a legit martial artist.  As a middle aged suburban mom with a full-time job, that might be a VERY difficult goal for me to reach.  But there is no reason why I can't learn a martial art for self defense, for fitness, and for emotional confidence, or for spiritual reasons.

Your goals are good, and mine are, too.  Your style is good, and so is mine. It is the very rare martial art "style" (versus organization, school, or teacher - different matter) that doesn't have something worthwhile to offer some people.

Other styles don't have to suck for yours to be good, ok?

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