In 2007, as a 2nd degree Black Belt in a mostly Kenpo based style, I discovered the Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors (AWMAI) and the Pacific Association of Women Martial Artists (PAWMA). Through these organization, I was introduced to the benefits of many martial arts styles and my view started to evolve.
The Current BJJ is Best Trend
BJJ is the current hot martial art. 10 years ago it was Kung Fu. Before that it was Kenpo and it's siblings (at least in the west U.S.). And somewhere in there was Krav Maga.
BJJ schools are popping up everywhere, and these instructors need to make money, so yes, they are going to sell their art as the best. Most of these instructors are very skilled in their art, but have not explored many other arts.
So, let me tell you a secret. BJJ steals from other styles! Yes, it is true. BJJ instructors are okay with their martial art continually evolving, so when they see a technique that works in other styles, they steal it and use it. When it works in a tournament, they name it, and it becomes branded as BJJ. BJJ is full of old school Japanese Judo, current Judo, Karate, Aikido, and many other styles. Where do you think all those joint locks and submissions came from?
The simple fact is the body only moves in so many ways and as you climb the pyramid of martial arts to the top, all the styles start to resemble each other. At the bottom of the pyramid, they all look very different, but this is only because they value different primary skills. As you continue up the pyramid, the techniques and moves all start to look similar.
So what is the best Martial Art?
The best martial art is the one you enjoy, brings you peace, friendship, fitness, and makes you happy.
But what is the best Martial Art for Self Defense?
Like I said, eventually all martial arts lead to some self-defense application. But, if you don't want to spend 20 years to finally have skills you can apply to self-defense, then here is my recommendation.
Find a school that is well-rounded in these areas:
- Solid Stand-up skills against punches, kicks, and grabs. You need to know how to throw basic self-defense strikes like kicks to the knees and heal palms to the face. We call these stunning strikes or bonus shots, so that you can stun the person and get away. (Note: Many BJJ schools only teach a few of these skills or none. Look at Roger Gracie. In the past few years, he has really had to go learn "other styles" to approve his stand-up game for MMA. His ground game was, of course, awesome (he is a Gracie), but his stand-up was frankly, horrible. Now, he at least looks like he won't fall over on his feet when he throws a kick. You need to know more than what most BJJ's schools teach you -not just one or two blocks.
- Solid Clinching and Trapping from Standing. Think current JKD trappling, Judo clinching, and set-up takedowns in BJJ. I haven't had these skills for 20 years, and every time I was trapped, I would panic. You need to know how to "Bridge the Gap" with larger opponents when you can't beat their attack with blocks and you need to do the clinch.
- Takedowns - Once you are in the clinch you need to know what to do. You need to know how to get away, how to avoid being taken down, and when and how to do a takedown on the other person.
- Solid defense against weapons - standing and on the ground
- Solid ground game. You need to know how to break an attack from the ground and get back to your feet. You need to know how to block punches from the ground and control an enraged attacker.
- Other - There are a few other areas that a well rounded black belt needs to know, but for beginners, the five above are what I believe to be most important.
Don't be a Blind Follower
Take a look at the list above. If your school or instructor doesn't value all these areas, then don't jump on the "My style is best" band wagon. This doesn't mean your instructor is bad or his style is bad. It just means that if you want to have well-rounded self defense skills, then you need to seek training in a few additional areas.
Embrace your style, but don't be an elitist snot!
I love my standup skills. I am long and tall, and these skills work best for me. This doesn't mean they are the best for everyone though. And ironically, because of a damaged back (from being an airline pilot, and not from martial arts), I can no longer spar in stand-up. But I can roll in BJJ with soft training partners, so the "best art" for me is slowly changing. In years, maybe internal arts like Tai Chi will be the arts for me. And when I was pregnant, it was the best art for me.
In the past 10 years, I have really had to work hard to become a more a well-rounded black belt. I have had to also work hard on my school's curriculum to embrace all areas of self-defense and make sure my beginning to advanced students are all learning well-rounded self-defense. This is a continually evolving process. As my dad says, "if you get old and stinky, you die." In martial arts terms, this means you need to keep you self defense skills current with the times. Most places in the world don't fight with swords anymore. This is cool to learn, but it doesn't make you awesome at current world self-defense.
So when your instructor starts the "My Martial Art is the Best" business. Don't be a snot. Keep your mouth shut, but don't jump on that band wagon.
Here are some recommendation of materials from "well-rounded" martial artists instructors. These contain affiliate links. By clicking on the links and purchasing from these links, I get commission on your purchase. This is one way, I support my family and can provide you with free materials on this blog. Please support me by subscribing to this blog and sharing this blog.
Dave Kovar (aff link)
Fariborz Azhakh (aff link)
Cathy Chapaty (aff link)