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What Martial Art Should I Learn?

Updated on July 9, 2020
NateB11 profile image

I've been training in martial arts since the 1980s and consistently since the '90s. I am a 2nd-degree black belt in Kenpo Karate.

If you have been training in martial arts for some time, you probably already have a good sense of what you like to do, in terms of fighting techniques, and what you are capable of doing. But if you are new to martial arts and are still trying to decide which art is best for you, you might have some questions in your mind concerning what is a right fit for you in terms of a fighting system.

Here I would like to present some key points to consider when deciding which martial art works for you and one that you will stick with over the years. The two main concerns, each I will break down, here are propensity and body type.


You have your own tendencies and preferences. Your tendency may be more fluid, you like to go with the flow. Or you might like the idea of unadulterated power. You also might prefer the aesthetic element of some martial arts or you might be primarily interested in practical application of an art.

On a personal note: I've trained in Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate for many years; beginning in the mid-80s, but consistently since the mid-90s. I stuck with it so long because it fit into my own natural tendencies. My instructor remarked to me once that I naturally used circular movement, contrasted with most of his students who he had to work on to smooth out their moves and make them more circular. The importance of using circular movement in Kenpo is that it completes an overall study of motion: Linear and circular movement is included in Kenpo. It is also very important to a principle in Kenpo called Continuity of Motion: This means your movement isn't choppy, it flows, and so cannot be easily interrupted by an opponent. It's not extraordinarily complicated, even boxers use Continuity of Motion when they use a combination of straight jabs and crosses and hooks and upper-cuts.

Another consideration is your preference in terms of the aesthetics of the art or the practicality of the art. Some people simply like the look of the movements of the art, while others prefer a system that focuses on the practical application of the art. It is up to you to decide. Again, I preferred an element of practicality in a martial art. Kenpo offered it: Emphasis on sound principles rooted in science, practical considerations based in logic, low-line kicks and emphasis on hand techniques. These all added up to a system I preferred.

You might prefer an art that looks good and also emphasizes an easier approach, in addition to promoting health and wellness: Tai Chi is known for promoting these things in its system, it is based on slow fluid movement, meant mainly to get your air and blood circulating to make the body and mind healthy and to coordinate mind and body as well, leading to physical and mental balance.

Do you prefer to grab someone and apply a lock? I do. Kenpo appealed to me because it had elements of grappling in it. It emphasizes strikes, but you learn locks along the way. Locks lend themselves to fluid movement too.

At any rate, you might prefer powerful linear blocks and punches. Traditional Karate offers this kind of method. It is based in generating heavy power, not designed for fluid movement.

Along these lines, martial arts differ in terms of approach: That is, some emphasize total aggression, others do not. Aikido is a non-aggressive martial art and also tends to be more fluid. Muay Thai tends to be totally aggressive, relying on crippling kicks, elbow and knee strikes, and punches.


Body Type

Are you small, are you big? Those two questions kind of narrow it down.

The tendency is for bigger people to have an advantage when grappling. You have the size and strength to overpower people. This is not always the case: Royce Gracie is not particularly big, yet he's one of the best grapplers in the world. However, many MMA fighters have shown that size brings an advantage when grappling. In the old days, even Royce had trouble with big fighters who knew how to grapple, like Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn.Though, in Dan Zan Ryu Jiu Jitsu, a system based in grappling, they have a list of techniques specifically designed for someone who might not be as strong as their attacker. To a great extent, Jiu Jitsu is built around handling someone who might be bigger and stronger, through proper technique.

Of course, size is an advantage for strikers too. It's one reason Mike Tyson hit so hard.

Still, the tendency is for a grappler to have an advantage if he is bigger and stronger.

Another consideration is whether you want to use high kicks or prefer not using kicks or only want to use low kicks. I don't like kicking and my body isn't well-suited for high kicks; this is one reason I liked Kenpo. Kenpo kicks never go above the abdomen, unless you've kicked the opponent's leg out and put him on one knee. You lower him to kick him in the head, you don't try to kick high. There are practical reasons for this, but here we are only talking about preference and how your body works. I'm a bit big and not naturally flexible. Some of the best kickers have slight builds. For kicking arts, if it's your preference, you'd want to look into Tae Kwon Do or Capoeira. Both emphasize high kicks to the most vulnerable target, the head.

A lighter person tends to be faster. Not always, but that's the tendency. So, such a person might prefer a style that emphasizes fast strikes and kicks.

Like Kicks
Big/Like to Grapple
Prefer Hand techniques/strikes
Tae Kwon Do
Jiu Jitsu
Greco-Roman Wrestling
Krav Maga
Krav Maga
Kung Fu/Tai Chi
Muay Thai Kickboxing
Jeet Kune Do
Karate/Kung Fu

Which do you prefer

See results

So, you might prefer to be non-aggressive, are more fluid, and would prefer to lock someone up instead of beating them with hands and feet; then, you might prefer Aikido, Jiu Jitsu or wrestling. Maybe you like fluid movement, but prefer to use strikes and kicks; then you might consider Capoeira, Kenpo or Tai Chi. Maybe you like high kicks; in addition to Capoeira, you would want to look into Tae Kwon Do. Or you are a very practical person and want to know how the art can be applied; you would like Kenpo, Krav Maga and Jeet Kune Do (Bruce Lee's art). Maybe you like the combat; you might like to take up boxing or kickboxing, arts proven in full-contact competition.

You have to know yourself, what your body is capable of and how your mind works; then you can venture into which martial art is best-suited to you.


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    • NateB11 profile imageAUTHOR

      Nathan Bernardo 

      5 years ago from California, United States of America

      One thing I really think is important is self defense. I feel like it is an important skill to have and would hope people are able to protect themselves and keep themselves safe. So, I do hope there is inspiration for people to learn martial arts, from my writing.

      It takes a long time to get to Black belt and beyond in Kenpo too; and I know that that's true in Goju Ryu. Typically, it takes around 5 years minimum to get to Black belt and 3 years between degrees. Those are the kind of arts that have substance, they don't just give away Black Belts or give them just to people who will pay money. Relationship is important in martial arts, as is respect, among other things. There is really not much money in martial arts so people who are into it don't do it for the money. In fact, you can't really even make money from it writing about it online. That's why I write about other subject matter too.

      At any rate, the Dojo is one of the few places I've been where there is real respect and honor and good relationships.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 

      5 years ago from New Jersey

      It takes a long time in the Goju Ryu style to get a promotion, once you get to the first black belt promotion, his Sensei added a 6 month probationary period to be sure the person was worthy of the belt. So many of them get swelled heads, and they have to clean the dojo and keep it presentable at all times. Sensei was honored, because he is not Asian, so he never expected to get that last promotion. It was a few months after his wife passed on, so we think it gave him a boost he really needed. A lot of black belts don't stay after they get the first one. My son was 18, and so it's been 10 years between the other 3 promotions. But it's taught him so much patience and he loves the Japanese culture. He enjoys working with the younger children. He had really long hair he started growing at age 8, the reason he got bullied. I don't know why, guys in other parts of the world wear long hair. He finally cut it last year when my husband/his Dad passed on, he said when he looked in the mirror it didn't feel like him anymore.

      Maybe your hubs will inspire more people to take martial arts. Many of the young women take seminars in summer before they go to college, rape defense, that sort of thing, so they can defend themselves.

    • NateB11 profile imageAUTHOR

      Nathan Bernardo 

      5 years ago from California, United States of America

      You're right, The Last Samurai is one of my favorite movies.

      That's funny, the first style of Karate I took was Goju Ryu; and for the same reason your son took it, because I was being bullied. Specifically, I got attacked by three teenage boys in the street when I was 11 years old. I took Goju Ryu at a community center, my Mom could afford the lessons because it was cheaper there. When we moved, I found another great Dojo where I started training in Kenpo. I've been training in that art since.

      That is very impressive that your son is a 4th degree Black; that is no easy feat in the art of Goju Ryu. Also impressive that his Sensei is so advanced, means his training is exceptional.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 

      5 years ago from New Jersey

      My son has trained in the Gojo Ryu Style of karate since he was 10, when he was getting bullied at school. He's 27 and a 4th degree black belt now. He learned a lot about life at the dojo. He is planning on running the school when his Sensei retires, in a few more years. He is John Porta, the only 9th degree in the U.S. Sensei never expected that honor, but he's a wonderful man, and has taught so much to so many. I like the way the style is more about self protection than trying to hurt others (sort of like the situation on the Karate Kid). I bet you watched The Last Samurai many times!

    • NateB11 profile imageAUTHOR

      Nathan Bernardo 

      6 years ago from California, United States of America

      Thanks, CJ. Glad you liked it.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      6 years ago from the PNW

      Very informative. Great job. Voted up.


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