What Martial Art Should I Learn?

Man practicing one of the best Martial Arts he chose to learn

A lot of beginners or even advanced students looking to expand their knowledge have similar thoughts. “What is the best martial art I can learn?” seems to plague the mind of many martial artists. 

Martial arts can quite literally be a life changing decision or just a simple hobby. There are serious competitors at the professional level as well as students that are just starting out. Furthermore, their are different goals you can have in your pursuit of Martial arts. 

Let’s address some other common questions which will help shed light on what the best martial art for you is.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Why should I learn martial arts?” or “is it worth it to learn self defense?” Before we answer that, let’s look at the definition of martial arts. 

Martial arts is defined as: various sports, which originated chiefly in Japan, Korea, and China as forms of self-defence or attack, such as judo, karate, and kendo. Now that we know the definition, let’s begin to dive in to how it can benefit you. 

There is an old Japanese proverb that goes like this. “It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in war”.

The meaning that can be taken from this is simple. You may not ever need to use the skill of self defense. You may never have to defend a friend or family member from harm. However, if that situation does present itself, are you prepared? Do you know how to engage your opponent in such a way that you can neutralize the threat efficiently? 

Above all, are you able to reduce the odds of harm to you, family, or friends?

Maybe you have never thought of this and hopefully you never will have to be in that situation. Clearly, the situational benefits can be important. Even so, let’s go over some more things people have found value in through taking martial arts.

Health Benefits of Learning Martial Arts

health benefits of learning martial arts

Martial Arts has many health benefits. It is the pillar of many peoples health and fitness lifestyle and can be a great way to improve yourself inside and out. 

You may even be surprised at some of the ways you can benefit by joining a martial-arts class!

Physical Benefits

Intensive exercise has many physical benefits that extend much farther than you may realize. Martial arts training will help in everything from losing weight to reducing blood pressure. 

There are four main types of exercise that are hard to hit in a single type of workout: endurance, strength, balance and flexibility. Most martial arts encompass these by nature.

Firstly, in your typical self defense class you will be doing some sort of endurance work. Without a doubt, intense bag work, grappling, and sparring are often staples in martial arts training. Dynamic movement such as throws, jumps and various other motions are used. These satisfy the strength pillar of exercise. 

Also you will be learning kicks, body-weight positioning, and how to effectively maneuver your body to execute your technique. Absolutely, your balance will improve as a result.

When the thought of martial arts comes to mind you may picture a jumping split kick or crazy acrobatics. Of course this takes flexibility, but there are other areas you will have to use your flexibility. From the little motions like turning your hips to follow through on a punch to even setting in a deep stance during kata. 

Flexibility will improve as a byproduct of your martial arts experience. Regardless of what martial art you want to learn, it will benefit these core elements of physical health.

Mental and Emotional Benefits

Studying martial arts has many positive mental benefits

Focusing on a goal and improving yourself little by little is proven to have self-esteem benefits. Along with this, many martial artists encourage mindfulness and meditation as a part of their lessons. 

These can reduce stress and have long reaching benefits to your ability to control your emotions and think under pressure. Furthermore, tight bonds and possibly life long friends can be met at your local dojo or training facility. 

There is a certain air of confidence that is obtained by knowing that you are able to defend yourself should the need arises. Mental toughness and resilience are developed through martial arts. There can be few things in life that tests your self-confidence more than knowing that a 12 year old greenbelt can choke you out. 

Martial artists that used to have difficulty focusing have often noticed great improvements on being able to focus for long periods of time. In addition, leadership skills are developed through the passing down of knowledge and mentoring younger ranks. 

Also, Martial arts training has been scientifically proven to improve brain cognition.

In short, there are many ways that martial arts can be a part of your healthy lifestyle. These benefits will bleed into your everyday life and can have a positive impact on everything from work to your relationships.

How Many Types of Martial Arts To Learn Are There?

Map showing the world of where so many martial arts can be learned.

The popular answer is that there are more than 170 types of martial arts. However, this is a very broad question with no simple answer. For simplicities sake, we will use the strict definition of martial arts to help break this down.

First of all, there are three main categories of systems: armed, unarmed and mixed. For instance, there are supposedly around 600 styles and variations of Kung Fu in China alone. 

Karate, which originated in Okinawa, has many variations of core styles that are their own style. Aikido, kenjutsu, jujitsu, aikido, and Shotokan to name a few more Japanese styles. Many Korean styles such as Taekwondo, Hapkido, Moo do kwon exist as well.

There are styles that have died out, fused with another, renamed or forgotten. With these facts taken in to account, the actual number can be talked about as you do the topic of language. 

There is so much history it would take a book to even scratch the surface. If you are interested in going deeper into this topic, I recommend reading “The Martial Arts: Origins, Philosophy, Practice”. Not that it goes into detail or is anywhere near a complete list, (you would need encyclopedias). Nevertheless, it does provide a shallow explanation of many different styles and their origins. 

Through reading you may even come closer to an understanding of what style you like and what martial art you want to learn.

What Is The Best Martial Art To Learn?

It is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of choosing what the best martial art to learn is based on opinion. One of the main struggles of taking a martial arts class that people have is deciding on a certain style. 

As mentioned above, there are many styles to choose from. Ultimately, your choice comes down to personal goals. Ask yourself “what is my main purpose in joining?”. Do you want to focus mainly on self defense or do you want to benefit from the meditation and self discipline that many styles also teach? 

Let’s dive a little deeper and learn about what some of the more well known styles have to offer. In reading the brief descriptions think about what your personal values and goals are.


Karate evolved in East Asian over a period of centuries, becoming systemized and popular in Okinawa, Japan. Some of the most popular karate styles include Shotokan, Goju-Ryu, Kyokushin, Shito-Ryu, and Shorin-Ryu. Karate translates to “empty hand” meaning without a weapon. 

It uses strikes, blocks, and kicks and emphasizes concentrating as much power as possible on the point and instant of contact.

Karate holds spirit, timing, and tactics in just as high of regard as the techniques being taught. Self discipline, control, and conflict resolution are also deemed important by sensei, or instructors, and are taught alongside self defense.

Students wear a gi, or uniform and may be required to purchase sparring gear. Karate uses a ranking structure based on knowledge, time, and the upholding of core principles through the use of “obi” or belts. 

Most often, karate has around 6 belts that start at whitebelt and work your way up to blackbelt. The karate belts often have stripes or dashes to signify progress towards the next rank.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu

Brazilian jiu jitsu was developed and coined in the 1920’s by Carlos Gracie and his brothers. In 1917, Carlos Gracie learned traditional Kodokan judo from a travelling Japanese judo master and prizefighter named Mitsuyo Maeda. 

The Gracie brothers modified this style with their jiu jitsu which then became its own combat sport through various martial arts governing bodies. Today, BJJ is a common style in MMA (mixed martial arts) competitively around the world. 

A core concept of BJJ is that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a larger, stronger attacker. Through the use of body positioning, leverage, and eventually taking the fight to the ground and using submissions, bjj allows you to effectively defeat your opponent. 

Because the overall goal of bjj is to get your opponent down and submit them, BJJ is considered a ground fighting style. Students will learn various joint locks, chokeholds, and transitions to submissions. 

Since Brazilian jiu-jitsu has roots in Japanese martial arts, they use a similar ranking structure with the use of belts. There are 5 main ranks, with stripes being awarded on the basis of technique mastery and moral development.

Kung Fu

Also called wushu or quanfa, Kung Fu is a martial art originating from China. The original meaning of Kung Fu is any discipline or skill achieved through hard work and practice. 

Only recently, in the late 20th century has Kung Fu been used to mean Chinese martial arts by the Chinese population. Kung Fu comes in many forms such as Tai Chi, Wing Chun and Shaolin Kung Fu which utilize both armed and unarmed techniques. Each style of Kung Fu has its’ own techniques, philosophies and principles.

One thing these forms have in common is they embody “trickery and quickness”, which is where the term Kung Fu comes from. Many stances and movements found in Kung Fu are inspired by animals. Moreover, They require great coordination, flexibility, and balance to perform properly. 

Kung Fu and its various styles have a strong spiritual component to it’s teachings. This stems from the importance placed on focusing your mind and mastering the movements without interference from emotions or thoughts.


Taekwondo was developed in the 1940’s by Korean practitioners of other martial arts such as Chinese martial arts and karate. In addition, Taekwondo also takes influence from older Korean martial arts like Taekkyon, Gwonbeop, and Subak. 

Taekwondo translates to “the way of kicking and punching”. Despite this it places a focus on fast high level kicks, jump kicks, spinning kicks, all above the waist. Taekwondo places speed and agility above all else, with much narrower stances than other arts such as karate. The belief is that the tradeoff of decreased stability is less important than the increase in overall agility.

Furthermore, Teachings include meditative elements such as controlled breathing, relaxation, and focusing on the task free from distraction. Although Tae kwon do is known for kicks, there are also holds, throws and grappling taught to a lesser extent. 

For character development there are five tenets taught: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit. The standard belt ranking system is used with 9 different belts from white to black.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

Mixed martial arts was popularized by organizations such as The Ultimate Fighting Championship and Legacy. MMA has recently become mainstream enough that schools can be found all over the world, with it’s audience steadily growing. 

MMA is a combat sport that combines effective strikes and techniques from various martial arts around the world. Mixed Martial Artists use a variety of gear such as MMA Shorts, mouthpiece, and gloves. 

Among these disciplines that techniques are derived from are: judo, karate, jujitsu, Brazilian jiujitsu, boxing, wrestling, hapkido and Muay Thai, to name a few.

Mixed martial arts is combat centered and incorporates throws, positioning, strikes, submissions, elbows, and clinches. In addition to this it can take place both on your feet and on the ground. The main goal of many MMA practitioners is the competition aspect. 

Similar with the other martial arts, the success you see in competition will be in your preparation and dedication. Tournaments and bouts are held based on weight division and record of wins and losses. The top ranked fighters compete to be the champion in their respective weight division for prize money or recognition.

These are just a few of the martial arts that may be found close to you. If you would like to learn more about other martial arts from around the world, please click here. 


Which Martial Art Should I Choose?

Now that you know a little more about what martial arts teach and what to expect, it may be easier to make the best choice that resonates with your own motives. 

Choosing what martial art to learn can be difficult. Every person is different and every martial artist can give you an anecdotal story about why their style is best. It is a good idea to sit and watch a few classes of a style you are interested in. 

Also, it is important to know that every school or dojo is different. When you have first-hand experience it can be much easier to choose what martial art you want to learn.

If a certain style interests you then look for one in your local area. It is important to watch lesson before signing up. A lot of schools will try to put their instructor’s rank, pedigree and backgrounds as a way to gain new students. Make sure to see them in action before deciding. 

Finally, go with your gut. If a school, club, or dojo does not resonate with you, move on until you find one that’s your perfect fit.

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