Do You See Yourself In This Picture?
What Martial Art Should I Take?
In my 40 plus years of studying various martial arts, I have had many conversations with people who don’t know what martial art they should take. There are definitely descriptions of the various arts available through a simple Google search, but perhaps what is missing is the explanation of what makes a particular art good for a particular person.
Most of my career in the martial arts has been in the art of Karate, as that is my first love. I also have rank in Jujitsu and Judo. I have some experience with Kendo and Aikido, but no rank in either. I will stick to what I understand and hope that it helps others make a decision. My best advice is, however, whatever you decide to do, take a trial period of the art form, and possibly trial periods in several martial arts. After your trial period, it is best to focus on one martial art form until you become very proficient. The problem for most is the time constraints of life. If you have 6 days per week to devote to martial arts, then by all means, feel free to try two at one time. If on the other hand, you are average, and can give 2-4 days per week to an activity, then stick to one until you are good at it. It is much better to become great at one thing and then add another, than to be a beginner at many things.
After I reached Black Belt in Karate, I did cross train in Judo. When I got to Brown Belt in Judo, I added in Jujitsu and kept up my Karate and Judo training. Now that I am a bit more experienced (this is how I politely say I am older), I have decided that Karate is more comfortable for myself and I spend most of my time in that art.
Karate is a martial art that involves the entire body. It is a blend of upper and lower body activity, in that it has upper body blocking and striking as well as lower body kicking. Karate also often includes pieces of many other martial art forms. It might have Judo and Jujitsu and Aikido in the self-defense portion of the program It is great for pre-school age through Seniors. The most important decision in starting a Karate program, is to find the type of teacher or curriculum that meets your needs. There are many different types of Karate and many different types of teachers. In general, Karate comes from Japan and Okinawa, but there is no particular style of Karate that is better than any other. Taekwondo is the Korean version of a very similar art. It is most often more important to find the right fit than to pick a program by style or country of origin.
- Pre-school children need a program that is specific to their age. They need a teacher who has some early childhood development education. They need to deliver the karate through a curriculum that has been designed for pre-school age children. The teacher should be a blend of talkative, caring and confident enough to teach children about focus and respect. This is not the class for an inexperienced or young teacher.
- Elementary aged children do well in Karate as well. The right program for your child should involve decisions about how you parent. If you are strict and militaristic, then pick that same kind of martial arts instructor. If, on the other hand, you prefer to build your child with character development skills and positive reinforcement, look for that type of instructor. As a parent, you will know what is right. The important thing is have them do a trial program and determine if it is a good fit.
- Teens also need a program that is a blend of structure and socializing in their Karate program. They need a respected, experienced teacher who can be a great role mode. Look for the teacher who inspires them. It will also be obvious. Some parents think they just need someone to teach their teen to behave and respect others. That comes from someone who “commands” their respect, not someone who “demands” their respect.
- Adults love Karate because it is a lifelong activity that is year round. It is a physical activity that gives them stress reduction at the same time as it gives them fitness. They can leave all their troubles at the front door and let their instructor occupy their mind as well as their body. They walk out with a restored spirit. Adults need to look for the type of instructor that makes them want to come back to class, over and over. They need someone who knows how to push them a little but will keep in mind any of their physical discomforts or injuries. Any adult can do Karate as it can be modified by a good instructor to meet the individual needs. It is common for adults to continue on in Karate well into their 70’s as long as they are in the right school.
Judo is a rigorous martial art that involves throwing, pinning and take downs. This art is most closely compared to wrestling.Judo can start from a standing position or a seated/kneeling position. It is more likely to appeal to those who want to be in close body contact with their opponent.
- Pre-school – Although Judo is appropriate for Children, you must find a program where the instructor wants to teach children. There is not much opportunity for Judo in pre-school age children, but it might be found with the right research.If that is what is available in your area, it can be a good selection if the instructor has crafted a program for pre-school age children. In the US Judo Association, 4 years old is the minimum age to earn rank in their Junior Belt System.
- Elementary age children can enjoy Judo if they enjoy wrestling type activity and have no problem with being in close body contact with others. Judo will start out with partners, whereas Karate will start out as an individual that will bring in partners a few months into the training. There is a good short term goal setting program through the belts in Judo. In Judo, you must wait until you are 16 to be considered for Black Belt rank. So, if your child is going to start in Judo at age 4, you should figure on them taking classes for 12 years before achieving Black Belt.
- Teens do very well in Judo. It gives them strength and confidence to interact with others. The close body contact makes them very comfortable in their own body. It is a consideration if you have a teen who is not the type to enjoy being close to another person. It has a great structured system for achieving rank and tournament competition is a big part of this art.
- Adults enjoy Judo so long as they are physically fit. It is a hard art to begin if they are not in good physical condition.However, a good instructor can make it work for anyone. It is particularly hard on those with bad backs and knees, so it would not be the first choice for those nursing injuries. While adults certainly enjoy Judo, most Instructors would agree that if you are starting a martial art for the first time and you are the average 50 years old, there are probably other arts that would be a better pick. There are adults practicing Judo over age 50, but most of them have been in Judo for quite some time and are likely to have Black Belt rank or higher.
Jujitsu is a very interesting martial art. It has gained a lot of notoriety in the past five years. It is often considered an important part of Mixed Martial Arts fighters. It is often also misunderstood. There are forms of Jujitsu that are mostly grappling and there are forms that involve stand up techniques as well. Many well rounded Jujitsu programs spend as much time standing and teaching blocking and striking as they will on wrist locks, arm bars, chokes and pins. There is not national or international organization that regulates the rank in Jujitsu, so, just like Karate, it can vary from school to school.
- Pre-school children don’t really belong in Jujitsu, but there could always be an exception to the rule.
- Elementary age children can enjoy Jujitsu if there is an instructor that has some background in teaching children. Most Jujitsu programs are targeted at teens and young adults. As long as there are children in the Jujitsu class and an instructor who teaches with positive reinforcement, the parent should consider it a possibility for their child. Look for an instructor who convinces you that your child’s safety is a huge part of their teaching style.
- Teens can do well in Jujitsu and again, the parent simply needs to make sure there are teens in the class and that the instructor teaches them on the level of a teenager, not an adult. There are some programs where they are put all together and quite frankly that is an accident or injury waiting to happen. Some teens particularly enjoy the competition portion of this art form. Be sure your teen wants to participate in competition or make sure the Jujitsu program has a clear policy on it.
- Adults of course can participate in Jujitsu, but like Judo, it is a younger adult’s sport. This does not mean that you cannot stat in Jujitsu at any age. It simply means that a trial program will tell you if this a smart idea for a 45 year old adult who has to return to work each day. Jujitsu incorporates putting the body in many positions that it has not been used to. The younger you are, the easier it is to get your body to do these things.
Kendo is the Japanese art of Sword Fighting. This is a striking art in which the practitioners use bamboo swords to strike each other. It is a very traditional art form and unlike many of the other martial arts, Kendo only moves forward and back on your feet. There is no lateral movement and you are never on the ground. All techniques employ a Shinai (bamboo sword) and the ability to raise it over your head and strike the opponent. Some Americans have compared it to Fencing, although there are many differences between the two. Most Kendo programs involve a good bit of travel for competitions and testing.
- Pre-school age children do not belong in Kendo, nor is there equipment meant for their age group.
- Elementary children are rare in Kendo programs in the United States although there are children practicing Kendo. More often than not, Kendo programs are adult classes. I usually advise children to take another art form, like Karate to build their strength and confidence and to consider moving into Kendo after Black Belt in Karate or when they become stronger teens.
- Teens in our area are very interested in Kendo. Apparently this influx of teens came from an interest at that age in Japanese Anime. Teens do very well in Kendo if they are comfortable with the striking portion of the art form. It is tough and it does take some getting used to.
- Adults of any age seem to enjoy Kendo. It is a striking art but you do wear protective armor. The advantage of Kendo is that it is all done in a movement going forward and backward. It is not as hard on the knees or backs as other martial arts. It is not uncommon to see adults practicing Kendo well into their 70’s. It is a safe art for most any adult to start at most any age.
The point of this article was to help the average person, considering a martial art, have a beginning point to start their search of what is best for them. These conclusions that I have brought forward are my own. There are always exceptions to any rule. The point is, search for what would be best for you and by all means, try it out!
Kathy Olevsky is an 8th Degree Black Belt who has been teaching martial arts classes in Raleigh, NC since 1980. She is an international speaker on Women’s Empowerment and the Business of running Martial Arts schools. Kathy writes a bi-monthly column for MA Success Magazine and has authored a book on self-defense, Take Control.