Is One Martial Art As Good As Any Other?

Is one martial art as good as any other?  Aren’t there only so many ways the human body can move?  Isn’t a punch a punch, regardless of whether it’s thrown by a boxer or a kung fu practitioner?  I used to think so before I actually started practicing different martial arts. I was wrong. Like most things in life, the devil is in the details.  There’s a big difference between reading about something in a book and actually doing it.

Saying that “a punch is a punch” is akin to saying that all combination locks have the same numbers on them.

It’s how you set up a punch, how you put together different combinations, blocks, perrys, footwork, where your balance is when you throw the punch… all of these things vary from one art to another. Now add chokes, arm bars, kicks and trapping into the mix and you can imagine how there are thousands upon thousands of variations you will come up with, which explains why there are so many different martial arts.


Some arts were created for peasants to use when confronting armed horsemen (Korean arts that employ high kicks, for example).  They’d use the high kicks to knock the rider off the horse.  Certain styles of Kung Fu were developed over a period of years so that Chinese fishermen standing on small fishing boats next to each other could fight off attackers who were trying to steal their fish.  You can probably imagine how useless high kicks would be to a Chinese fisherman in that type of scenario, right?

I don’t plan on being attacked by horsemen so an art that focuses on high kicks isn’t useful to me.  Nor am I a Chinese fisherman.  I’m an American and I’m most likely going to need a hand-to-hand combat system that will work in the type of environments at typical American might find himself in: A bar, a sidewalk, inside a store, in a parking lot.

Even defenses to the same type of attacks are taught differently from one art to the next.  How does one art teach an escape from the mount? What I was taught in Tang Soo Do was ineffective against an active, resisting partner. What I learned in Gracie Jiu Jitsu actually worked and it worked with consistency.

Even how you stand is different from one art to another. I took a few different martial arts (Shotokan and Tae Kwon Do)  that taught me to stand with one foot in front of the other, so that you’re not squared up to your opponent and you don’t give him too much of a target. What I found when I later took a few Muay Thai classes is that: standing one foot in front of the other will give the Muay Thai guy an easy target for his low kicks and makes it very easy for him to take out my front leg. Once your leg is destroyed, the fight is over.

When you’ve practiced a variety of different arts you start to pick up on what actually works against a wide variety of styles and resisting opponents and what doesn’t. Personally, I’m far from being an expert but I’ve seen enough to know where you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Most guys who’ve been around various martial arts for awhile have come to the same conclusion I have and tend to gravitate toward:

  • A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school with an emphasis on street effective techniques for ground fighting.
  • Muay Thai for stand up
  • Filipino Arnis/Escrima/Kali for trapping and hand to hand weapon/stick/knife work.

If you’d like to learn more about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai or the Filipino Martial Arts here are some books and DVDs I can vouch for.  Just keep in mind that you can’t learn to fight from a book.  You’re gonna have to get on the mat and practice your techniques against a resisting opponent.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:

Gracie Jiu-jitsu Master Text Book by Helio Gracie
Gracie Combatives DVD
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Self-Defense Techniques (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu series)

Muay Thai

Muay Thai Unleashed: Learn Technique and Strategy from Thailand’s Warrior Elite by Erich Krauss, Glen Cordoza and Tana Chun Yingwitayakhun
Muay Thai Basics: Introductory Thai Boxing Techniques 
by Christoph Delp
Muay Thai Kickboxing: The Ultimate Guide To Conditioning, Training, And Fighting by Chad Boykin
Filipino Martial Arts (Modern Arnis, Kali, Escrima) – Stick/Knife/Improvised Weapons

Filipino Martial Culture (Martial Culture Series) byMark V. Wiley (A Fantastic overview of the various styles within FMA)
Complete Sinawali: Filipino Double-Weapon Fighting (Complete Martial Arts) by Reynaldo S. Galang

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