What is the Best Martial Art? Part II of III

This question makes for a great conversational piece for instructors, avid martial artists or martial arts geeks.  It has so many layers and there are so many correct answers.  It could be like discussing the topic of music, what is the most influential music or rock n roller of our time.  So I began addressing this question about a week ago by first getting specific about my background and how it relates to answering a question like this when I am cornered at a party.  But generally speaking I do not think it can be intelligently answered without two follow up questions :For whom?  and  What is your goal in learning?

I am going to simplfy this question and summarize some of the most accessible martial arts in the country and the Chicago-land.

Thumbnail image for 2008_kung_fu_panda_002.jpgFor Kids:
Most systems are very welcoming to children.  In truth, I believe it is less about the system and more about the instructor.  It is critical that you are comfortable with how an instructor builds respect and trust, and also disciplines your child.  For example, intimidation tactics are not an appropriate form of gaining a child's respect and therefore having them become disciplined.  It happens that many of the Tae Kwon Do Chains and Larger Karate School Families have such an organized system that rewards and incentives are built into all the pre-written lesson plans leaving adults with poor child management skills the abilities to revert to negative teaching tactics.  With that being said, it is still important to watch who will be teaching your child, not who owns the school.  Kung Fu systems are great too, there just are not as many around.  Kung Fu and Wushu schools are uncommon, but the good ones are great.  Kung Fu/Wushu teaches kicking and punching drills, but their movements also push children towards acrobatic techniques used in the competitive arenas of forms.  This is a great plus for kids who have good gymnastic skills or an interest in more of the Kung Fu theatre type arts.  All three of these major art systems: Karate (Japanese), Tae Kwon Do (Korean) and Kung Fu/Wushu (Chinese) will also give your kids access to the sport of point sparring which also has several competitive opportunities.  
judokids.jpeg I wouldn't forgive myself if I didn't mention Judo. The styles I mentioned above are grounded in punching, kicking, forms, stances and point sparring.  I would never want a parent to dismiss Judo.  Judo is completely different than the fore-mentioned arts.  It is an amazing art with tremendous history and tradition.  Chicago has always had access to great Judo instructors because several Illinoisans have been part of the Olympic team or involved in the training.  But keep in mind, it is an art grounded in the sport where throws and grappling, not kicking are the focus.
For Adults Who Like Grappling:
Martial_Arts.jpgIf ground fighting is your goal then you really can not avoid Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  It is the most referenced system for ground fighting in the reality based systems, as well as MMA.  There are two types of jiu jitsu: Brazilian and Japanese.  They implore different teaching styles and  - the vibe is just different.  Today, there is a bit of separation in jiu jitsu as a whole - gi verse no -gi.  Fewer schools today are teaching the gi application and techniques.  And of course there is a variance in the opinion on whether or not gi is relevant today or has street application.  Regardless, it is preference.  Both have tremendous competitive arenas.  In fact, gi helps to preserve the traditional aspects of the art form which I believe is valuable.  It is really up to the user if they want to learn one, over the other, or both.  In general, you will find more Brazilian schools.  Although the Japanese system is the original art form, the Brazilians, particularly the Gracie family have evolved the art and made more contributions in the last 20 years to JJS.  The Japanese JJS style is more traditional and reminiscent of Judo.  If you desire a traditional training environment perhaps the Japanese systems and/or Judo would be a better choice for you.  If a looser training setting suits your personality then explore the Brazilian schools in your area and then decide whether you want to take go or no -gi classes.
300px-Hapkido4.jpgThe Korean system of Hapkido is another art that does emphasize joint-locks and grappling.  It is a dynamic blend of some kicking, throwing, joint locking and even weapons.  It is a very traditional art form.  And I have never seen it taught without adherence to the traditional format.  It has not been modernized into a fitness driven system like some of the Tae Kwon Do schools.  This is not a compliment or criticism.  It is important to realize that although many hapkido schools have great kids programs, I have witnessed more reward and incentive programs in the karate/TKD/KF schools out there.  Hapikdo carries many cool traditions and many schools are still run and taught by the original Korean families that brought them to Chicago-land. It does advertise itself as a self-defense system.  It teaches you how to control the opponent and boosts all aspects of martial arts. 
aikido.jpegAikido is often thought of the Japanese version of Hapkido or vice versa.  In saying alone this I have pissed off a lot of people.  But it is true at first glance or when looking at dueling demonstrations. The uniform is different.  But aikido is very traditional and a system used for self defense as well.  It too uses redirection of an attacker.  It is also categorized as a grappling style.  However, having been involved in Brazilian JJS since 1998, I can tell you that the intricacies on the ground are not comparable.  However, aikido and hapkido have always been a system that appeals to law enforcement and military.  Once again, I need to emphasize the true traditional training environment and how your goals fit into this. Aikido has its cool bag of tricks like all the grappling systems.  It requires tremendous skill like all the grappling arts in order to be effective.  
Traditional arts require and therefore teach patience because you need it to become proficient at the art form.  I admire the traditional path required to train in both Hapkido and Aikido.  Although this is something I experienced in the Karates and Tae Kwon Do that I studied, I liked Brazilian JJS because it was loose and non-formal, which is what I needed after 19 years of traditional martial arts.  So review this information within the context of your personality and goals.  There are of course other arts that are grappling in nature, but these are not larger systems with several school to choose form in the Chicago area.

More to come - Part III will wrap this topic up.
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  • When it comes to kids martial arts... I couldn't agree more - it's more about the instructor than the style, how they present the information and keep the children engaged. If an instructor can keep the class, fast paced and flowing nicely - there's usually little time or opportunity for children to become distracted, run around and lose 'focus'.

  • When I grew up in the 80's, there was nothing cooler than Kungfu, but that all changed in 1993 when UFC first aired and Royce Gracie showed everyone how important the ground game was. I still find the traditional martial arts more enjoyable to practice, but you need to have some knowledge of submission wrestling as well.

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