The Big Secret About Choosing a Martial Arts Style
"Which martial arts style is the best?"
"Which style is better - Style A or Style B?"
"Which style should I study for my age/height/weight/gender/fitness level?"
"Which style is best for kids?"
Every martial artist reading this has either been asked these questions personally, or they've run across it in martial arts online forums and discussion groups. This might be THE most common question asked by people considering martial arts training for themselves or someone they love.
Every martial artist has their own opinions about how to answer this question. Sometimes it even gets a little heated.
Once we eliminate the silly stuff like Yellow Bamboo and super secret ninjer societies skulking around in public parks and whatnot, the choices beginners have are from styles we'd all consider relatively "legit".
Y'know, basically different versions of Taekwondo, Karate, Judo, Muay Thay, Jiu-Jitsu, Aikido and Aikijitsu, weapons-based styles like Historical European Martial Arts and Arnis/Kali/Escrima and Japanese swordsmanship and fencing and such, Chinese martial arts like Tai Chi and Kung Fu, Kenpo or Kempo, and so on.
Most of us have some very strong opinions about style. Whether it's traditional or modern, whether it's ground-heavy or not, whether it's combative or sport, weapons or no... some of us believe that there are absolutely "right" styles, and "wrong" styles, and will advise newbies accordingly.
But here's the thing. Style isn't the most important consideration for beginners, especially kids. In fact, style choice doesn't matter one little bit. What matters is that a students starts training in the first place.
I'mma say it again, loud and clear:
Stepping on a mat for the first time, no matter what they're studying, is the biggest hurdle they have. After you get a little experience under your belt, then style choice can become important.
It isn't like there aren't important considerations for the newbie to think about before they get started, though. Here's some them:
Location and convenience of training schedule. If it's difficult to get there they'll end up quitting really quickly, so finding a time/place that is EASY to attend is the best choice.
The school/teacher's teaching method. Is it comfortable? Do they enjoy how they teach? Is it something that works for them? Do they like the "vibe" in the room? There ARE different approaches and each person enjoys some styles over others.For example, some of us really enjoy a regimented, formal training structure, and others prefer a laid-back, go-with-the-flow kind of training structure. If you like informality and egalitarianism and a lack of hierarchy, you probably won't enjoy a very traditional Japanese dojo.
What's available near you. I do not recommend that newbies try distance learning for styles that just aren't available in their area (as someone who's move around a LOT I know this is a very real problem - I've struggled with it myself). Sometimes you have to settle for something else when what you want to study isn't in your area and that's fine.
The cost. Can they afford this? Cheap isn't always the best option, but sometimes there's some really good schools/teachers you can find teaching inexpensively or even free. Expense is not irrelevant, but I would also add that they're paying an expert to instruct them in something, so it's unreasonable to expect that expert to do it for free.
Why are you training? Is it for health, self defense, personal growth, personal challenge, etc.? A newbie should be clear on this and choose the school that is delivering what they're seeking in the first place. For example, if they are not a competitive person, they might want to avoid that gym that has a bunch of tournament trophies and plaques in the window.
NONE of this is dependent upon which style they end up studying to begin with.
I am of the firm opinion that ANY martial arts training, for a beginner, is not a waste of time. It's hard for beginners to know what they really want out of the martial arts, so the biggest question is just TRAIN/NO TRAIN.
And we want them to choose TRAIN, even if it's at Joe Blow's Taekwondo and Pizza Party Palace to start.
Because here's that big secret:
You can change styles once you learn more and get a better feel for what you really want.
I, myself, did that exact thing.
I started in a variant of Taekwondo and shortly after I began training I was introduced to Modern Arnis. After a couple of moves cross-country, I settled down with my teacher in Presas Arnis.
I did this after I picked up a blue belt in two different variants of Taekwondo.
Once I found Presas Arnis, I realized that I didn't want to do Taekwondo any more, so I dropped it. In fact, my primary interest in training ended up being in weapons in general, with Presas Arnis as my base. I had NO IDEA when I first started that would be the case.
I don't think that Taekwondo is a bad style. Older Daughter has a black belt in it, and I have many, many friends studying that style, and heck, my teacher in Presas Arnis teaches it.
It just isn't for me, personally.
That time I spent in Taekwondo was actually quite useful as I transitioned to full-time Presas Arnis. TKD still influences me to this day, years and years after I took my last formal class in the style. It trained my mind, it gave me a foundation to understand other stuff I've studied since, and it showed me some principles that are absolutely applicable in Arnis.
So if you start off at Joe Blow's, but then learn that hey, maybe you'd like to learn this aggressive hugging thing they're doing over at the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu place across town, that time at Joe's is still useful. You trained your brain to start thinking like a martial artist at Joe's and that's a good thing.
If you're a beginner, don't let the dizzying array of martial arts styles in the world bog you down. If you follow my advice above, you'll get started, and THAT'S more important by a mile.
Then later, you can make other choices in which style(s) you're interested in if you like, and you'll be coming from your own educated viewpoint, rather than depending on the opinions of a bunch of strangers or people who aren't you to guide you.
Don't sweat it. Just get on a mat and start training, and don't let style choice hold you back.
Martial artists, what advice do you have regarding style for newbies? Did you start in one style and transition to another? Let us know what you think!