Martial arts requires a lot of things: focus, concentration, dedication and commitment, to name a few. To a true martial artist, practicing any given style usually requires a life-long dedication and is a way of life as opposed to a hobby or a sport. This is why it’s typically referred to as “the way of karate.” Depending on one’s reason for joining martial arts, the sports and fitness aspect can be a good reason; provided you’re willing to include all the aspects I’ve listed above.
One of the unfortunate side-effects of having multiple styles of martial arts, is that everyone thinks that THEIR style is the best. Every person is likely to have a preference. After all, there are nearly 200 different styles of martial arts in existence around the world, including the popular ones that people are familiar with, such as karate and judo. But there are many that are a bit less familiar. No matter the style, the result should be the same: train to fight so that hopefully you never have to.
The truth is that it isn’t so much the style that matters, as much as the effort put in by the practitioner. When I first started out in martial arts, I studied Tae Kwon Do for a number of years before I recognized that it wasn’t for me. This is something that most of my friends and family don’t know. The high-flying kicks and flashy movements did not encompass what I felt MY martial arts needed to be about.
But this doesn’t mean that Tae Kwon Do isn’t an extremely effective form of martial arts. It simply wasn’t effective for me. Trust me, when I say that I’d think twice about exchanging blows with a properly trained Tae Kwon Do practitioner. During basic training, I was thrown into the ring with a Tae Kwon Do black belt. I consider myself to be an adequate fighter, but I got my bell rung several times. A tip of my hat to you, Jesse! I had a headache for days, after that fight.
The same can be said of just about any style of martial arts. Most people would think that Tai Chi is nothing but a style for the elderly, something to get older folks together for something to pass the time with the added benefit of increasing circulation and mobility. But the reality is that Tai Chi (and all its sub-styles) is an incredibly old and effective form of Kung Fu. The question is whether the practitioner chooses to train and study it as an effective form of martial arts or as a passing thing.
The big screen has done a fair bit to create this effect. Old school Kung Fu movies often showed the wise, old master holding back a special or “secret” technique that would allow him to maintain the upper hand in a fight with anyone he came across, including his students. And most martial arts movies will usually depict a student from one style pitted against a student from another, with only one being the victor. But this is hardly the reality of how things are actually done. My Sensei never held back any “secret” techniques and always shared everything he learned. This is genuinely the only way that a style would ever be successfully passed on.
Martial arts only gives out as much as a student puts in. If you don’t show up and don’t put the time and effort in, you won’t get much back as a result. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I can confirm that there have been times that I judged other styles of karate against my own. That’s simply human nature. One will always believe that their way is best. But it isn’t so much the way you choose as it is the path you take while studying the way. ☯