Once you’ve decided that you want to start training a martial art, you’ll need to decide which one is best for you. Of course, your choice might be dictated by the schools available in your area, but if you’re lucky you’ll have the choice of at least a few different types. There are many different types of martial arts (and even variations within the basic types) so it’s important to make sure that you research the techniques and features to find the best fit for your lifestyle and needs. This general explanation of the six most popular styles in the United States can help you get started on the decision.
It’s also important to note that there are as many interpretations of the martial arts styles as there are instructors. Students also interpret the class differently than other students in the same class, so other people’s opinions are not always the best determiner of what style you should pursue. While you are trying to find the martial art that’s right for you, it is helpful to also try a few classes to get a feel for the style, instructor and school.
Karate can be translated as “empty hand” which means that it is a martial art performed without weapons. While the history of Karate is somewhat vague, its ancient roots have been traced back to China in the 5th century B.C. The more modern form of Karate began in Okinawa, Japan during the late 1700s. There was a weapon ban in Okinawa at this time, so people had to come up with system of self defense that used empty hands – they combined aspects of Chinese martial arts with the Te traditional to Okinawa. By the early 1900s it began spreading throughout Japan. In 1964, the Federation of Karate Organizations was formed as a means to create some continuity for Karate world-wide. Even so, there are many different styles and variations of Karate today.
Karate is a linear martial art. It uses a wide variety of movements: kicks, punches, blocks, strikes, evasions and throws. Training focuses on having a strong offense and puts equal importance on the three areas of the art: basics, sparring and forms.
• People who practice Karate use their hips to generate power.
• Ranks, values and styles differ from organization to organization.
• Karate, which can be hard and straight line, is very disciplined and some traditional schools might seem very harsh.
Using the influences of the traditional art of Daito Ryo Aikijo-Jitsu, Japanese fencing, spear fighting and Omotokyo, Moriehie Usehiba developed the martial art of Aikido (“the peaceful art”). He first used this name for it in 1942. The basis of this art is to live in a spirit of protection instead of physical domination. The art of Aikido is ruled by the International Aikido Federation in Tokyo, Japan.
Aikido is a circular martial art. Instead of winning a fight with physical domination, Aikido teaches its participants to control and redirect the negative energy. This leads to a commitment to both peaceful resolutions of conflict as well as self-improvement through training. People who practice Aikido learn to use throws and pins as well as how to immobilize their attackers. They don’t use punches and kicks, except as a distraction. The basis of the art is to learn how to stay out of the line of attack and gain control of the attacker’s balance in order to stop the attacker.
• Aikido does use weapons: jo (a 4-5 foot long staff), Bokken (a wooden sword) and a Tanto (a wooden knife).
• Aikido is a non-violent method of self-defense.
• The quality of the belt ranks is strictly regulated.
• Aikido lacks many of the kicks and strikes common to other martial arts.
Dr. Jigro Kano developed Judo after he was enrolled at Tenjin Shinyo ryo School of Ju-Jitsu because he was frustrated with all of the student injuries. Judo is a gentle martial art that helps its participants strive to perfect themselves and to be a value to society. Judo, which means “the gentle way”, improves physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
Judo uses throwing, grappling, pins, holds, locks and choking. However, the training focuses on safety – participants need to work towards top conditioning and Judo is always practiced on mats. Judo participants learn the art through a series of forms that consist of throwing and sparring – there are no strikes in competitive Judo.
• Judo has a strict set of rules and a clear instructional sequence.
• Judo rules, training and ranks are fairly standardized throughout the world.
• Judo helps develop complete body control, fine balance and fast reflexes.
• Judo uses a lot of grappling, throws, grabbing and ground work. Because of this, it often reminds people of wrestling.
While the beginnings of Taekwondo can be traced as far back as 30 B.C., modern Taekwondo began after Korea was liberated in 1945. Koreans wanted to eradicate all Japanese influence on martial arts, so they began connecting the Korean martial arts schools and styles to create a national sport. The name Taekwondo (“the way of the hand and foot”) was chosen in 1965. 1973 marks the beginning of the World Taekwondo Federation. It became a part of the Olympics in 2000.
Taekwondo consists of four disciplines including patterns, sparring, self-defense and a break test. Taekwondo is primarily a kicking art and there is a large emphasis on sport. People who train Taekwondo need to combine philosophy, mental and physical discipline and ability to their training.
• Taekwondo is recognizable by its high kicks.
• Taekwondo black belts exams require a break test.
• Taekwondo training can include the use of vital points to attack an enemy.
• Taekwondo schools are often kid- and sport- oriented.
• Taekwondo students often are expected to compete in many tournaments.
The development of T’ai Chi (translated as “the supreme ultimate”) is credited to Chang San-feng, but Wang Chung-yueh and Chiang Fa elaborated on the original art. They took San-feng’s 13 postures and devised continuous sequences that linked them together. T’ai Chi used to be a greatly defensive art – even deadly. So much so, that the families who knew it guarded it fiercely. Now, T’ai Chi is less violent and is used to get rid of more figurative enemies such as stress and fatigue.
People who practice T’ai Chi may use weapons, but the underlying theory is that the art is used to unify the mind, body and spirit. It is often now used to guide negative energy away from oneself. There are two ways to practice T’ai Chi. The long form can take 30 minutes or more while the short form can take less than 10 minutes. The forms focus on continuous movement that leads to relaxation and solid stances. In T’ai Chi, each arm is used to protect half of the body and the hands never reach past the toes. T’ai Chi can be done alone (forms) or with a partner (self-defense training).
• T’ai Chi teaches awareness of balance and what affects it in oneself and in others.
• T’ai Chi has five major styles, but there are always new ones developing.
• The basis of T’ai Chi’s self defense is to meet force and stick with it until can be redirected instead of resisting it.
• T’ai Chi focuses on slow movements, so people who like vigorous exercise often find this martial art to be boring and slow.
Kung Fu (translated as “skill and effort”) actually refers to over 200 styles of martial arts (most of which stem from Chinese martial arts). Kung fu can be traced back to the shoalin temples where the monks used it for health and spiritual developments as well as a method of self defense. During the early 1900s, Kung Fu, also called Wu Shu, spread throughout China when fighting arts became very popular. In the 1960s and ‘70s Kung Fu’s popularity grew due to the Bruce Lee movies.
Kung Fu is central to the Chinese culture and is used both for physical wellness and artistic expressions. Within the many different styles of Kung Fu, there are variations from hard and linear to soft and circular in technique. Some use weapons (including the common sword, saber, spear and cudgel) and others do not. The seemingly common thread through them all, however, is to teach the students to respect the teacher and other Kung Fu styles. Kung Fu also requires (as well as builds) mental strength in addition to physical strength to be successfully practiced. Kung Fu students also often practice some techniques individually and others with groups. In many schools, beginning training starts with what is called the Southern Fist style. It involves footwork, kicks and hand combat techniques.
• Kung Fu refers to the hundreds of different styles of martial arts in China.
• People who practice Kung Fu learn many different fighting techniques including fist fighting, weapon fighting, routines and combats.
• Many Kung Fu styles use similar principals such as, proper diet, and breathing, concentration and meditation exercises.
• Some Kung Fu styles use weapons while others do not.
• Kung Fu training improves physical conditioning through strengthening of the joints and increases speed and reactions.
• Kung Fu’s major difference over other martial arts is that it not only focuses on outer, physical power, but also involves training the mind and inner power through breathing exercises and meditation.
I hope you find this information useful. I wish that I could cover all of the styles that I left out, but it would take an entire book to do that. If you have any questions about which style would be best for you, please feel free to call or email me.
The Academy of Kempo Martial Arts