If there’s one thing that everyone knows, regardless of whether they’ve studied martial arts or not, is that there’s a HUGE family tree spanning several thousand years when it comes to the martial arts. Different styles, different schools and different families can sometimes make it difficult to know and understand if one style is better than the other or which one you should pursue, if you’re looking to do so. The reality is that there isn’t so much one style that’s better than the other; it’s about how it’s taught and how it works for you. I’ve written about this on a few occasions.
It can be difficult two schools of opposing view come face-to-face, especially if they happen to be training in the same complex or their respective dojos are on the same city block or something. It’s reminiscent of those old, corny kung fu movies where you’d always get one clan or style that would be feuding with another. “Our kung fu is stronger than yours!” I used to love those movies. No stunt doubles or CGI, just clean, semi-realistic fighting fun. It was a guilty pleasure of mine as a kid. But I digress…
If we were to use generalized terms to describe TYPES of martial arts, we can easily classify them under four categories: Traditional, Modern, Weapons-based and Hybrid. I’m sure that some fellow martial artists would divide these categories differently, so I should likely point out that this is a personal perspective and not necessarily something official and/or recognized. But when I hear of any given style, I usually find myself able to place them in any one of these four categories. Still with me? Good. Moving on…
Traditional martial arts describes “pure” styles that were developed at the start of of a specific martial art’s existence and usually involves a lot of protocol, ceremony and tradition. Further, they rely on training methods that many mainstream fighters consider ineffective, such as forms. It can cover a variety of methods including striking, grappling, pressure points and joint manipulation. In my experience, I’ve found that teachers of a traditional art tend to be the most difficult and inflexible, claiming their style to be the best one and everyone else’s is junk. They’ll usually discourage their students from exploring other styles and learning or adapting techniques from elsewhere as it would “cloud” their own techniques.
Modern styles are ones that are pretty recent in their development and often include the combining and amalgamation of one and/or several traditional styles. Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with modern styles, they often boast a slew of benefits when compared to traditional styles, even when this is not always the case. It also won’t necessarily be a combination of a pre-existing style but can be something created by someone else, using previous martial arts training as a starting point. Jeet Kune Do is a very good example, with his foundational use of Wing Chun Kung Fu as the starting point, although JKD is seen by many as more of a philosophy than and specific style. But an applied philosophy, if nothing else.
Hybrids are a different type of creature. These are the ones that usually a mixture of something that’s pre-existing. What differentiates them from the modern category? Mostly the fact that a given school will provide certifications for any of those combined styles. Although Kyojushinkai (a modern style) is a style of karate developed by combining various other deeper-rooted karate styles, one would only train to achieve belts IN Kyokushinkai. But hybrids will allow you to achieve belts in various styles. For example, if you work out in a dojo that trains in karate and judo and the instructors can/will issue belts in either of those disciplines. Although some options can be nice and it can be useful to add some variety and incorporate techniques from other styles, trying to achieve belts in two styles simultaneously can be confusing and difficult. And many new age styles of “academies” actually follow this practice.
Weapons-based is pretty straight forward. We’re talking your Kobudo, Kendo, Iaido, Kyudo, Escrima… Anything style of martial art that primarily teaches the use of some sort of hand-held weapons. Are any of these four inherently better than the other three? Not necessarily. I would say it depends on what you genuinely hope to get out of your martial arts experience. Each one has their benefits and disadvantages. Traditional styles can be very rewarding. I study and train in a traditional style, myself. But it can also be pretty restrictive if you’re training under someone who doesn’t allow the flexibility of exploring techniques outside of the existing curriculum. Modern styles can be more accommodating but may lack some of the traditions and history of a traditional style.
Hybrid styles or schools, I would say, carry the most disadvantage. This is a personal opinion of course, but hybrid schools can “muddy the waters” for a beginner trying to properly train in the martial arts. Although variety is the spice of life, it can be very difficult to properly master one style when studying many in tandem. If you happen to join a martial arts academy that carries this hybrid philosophy, my recommendation would be to choose ONE discipline and stay with it (unless you hate it or it doesn’t work for you) with some cursory or occasional visitation to the other styles in order to gain some variety.
Take all these descriptions with grain of salt. As I’ve often written before, the choice of style and training method has to work for you. It can be frustrating, but it can take trying and training with a few different schools before you find one that suits your purpose and goals. And be wary of instructors who bad-mouth or speak negatively of other schools or dojos. Respect and positivity should be ever-present values in ANY dojo. If those don’t exist in a given school, you likely won’t have a good experience, regardless of what your training goals may be. Train hard, my friends. ☯