Which Martial Arts Work?

By Tony Higo Founder & Chief Instructor National Martial Arts Colleges

Which Martial Arts Work? We are sorry to offend those teachers whose styles fail our reality test but at the end of the day a martial art either works or it doesn’t. A good athlete can often make a poor system work, but an effective martial art should work for the average person against an average attacker. Some people are just naturally better fighters than others and they can make a poor style effective because of their natural ability. Some styles work when pitted against others using the same style, but when one style is matched against a different system the shortcomings of an unworkable style become apparent very quickly. The emergence of the Ultimate fighting Championships in the early 90’s stands as testament to the inadequacies of many of the stand up traditional fighting systems such as karate, kung fu and boxing. Although many styles have other benefits to be had such as emotional & spiritual development, this report is about which styles will actually work in the street; to defend you against attack by one or perhaps two attackers. Those styles that work for Mr or Mrs Average; people who are not outstanding athletes or naturally gifted fighters, just normal everyday people who take up a martial art for self defence. We have rated each of the styles based on their effectiveness in 3 areas: cardiovascular fitness, anaerobic fitness and street effectiveness, not just in stand up confrontations but also if the fight ends on the ground. This list is not exhaustive but should provide guidance on choosing a martial art that will protect you in the street.

Boxing As a full contact style Boxing is one of the best. Every other art that uses hand strikes in a full-contact sport has resorted to using Boxing; it is the best in terms of hand strikes. Boxing builds a high level of cardio fitness and lean muscle tissue too, however, Boxing is only effective in striking, if the fight goes to the clinch the Boxers game ends there. If the fight goes to the ground then the Boxer is like a fish out of water. Primarily taught as a sporting discipline; its effectiveness lies in the build up of high levels of strength and fitness combined with highly effective punches. Judo Like Boxing, Judo is full-contact and relies heavily on free-sparring, and, like Boxing it is very specialised. Judo picks up where Boxing leaves off; at the clinch; it consists solely of grappling, throws and ground fighting. Judo uses locks and holds using the larger joints of the body. Judo training gets you very fit & strong and is effective in the street. Drawback? Lack of kicks, punches and its reliance on the use of the Judo Uniform (GI) to effect many of its throws and submissions. Still it remains an effective system. Karate A Japanese art consisting of kicks, punches and strikes. Sadly, like boxing it has lost its throws and ground fighting which would have made it more complete in our terms. An art form consisting mainly of learning Kata (prearranged forms). Modern minded instructors have endeavoured to introduce more realism, but sadly, these are all too few in number. Traditional Karate is too far removed to be effective for all but the most gifted athletes. The stances, guards, blocks are now so stylised that they are aesthetically pleasing but not very effective without substantial modification. There are several main styles of Karate such as Shotokan, Wadoryu, Shukokai, Goju ryu, Shitoryu and Kushinkai. Of which Kushinkai is the most realistic but there is not much of it taught around the UK. Where much of karate classes are spent performing kata they lack aerobic stress and strikes in thin air rather than padwork means that lean muscle is also not built up too well, unless supplementary exercises are added. Kung fu There are many styles of Kung Fu around: Tai Chi, Wing Chun, Choi Lee Fut, Lau Gar and Pa Kua to name only a very few. Generally Kung Fu consists of striking and kicking. Northern styles such as Choi Lee Fut are known for being more physical than southern styles such as Pa Kua which are softer

and gentler. Like Karate, Kung Fu can be very aesthetic to watch but the flowery dance like movements are in the main not practical. Much modification is necessary to make Kung Fu work in the in the street. Once again modern minded instructors are introducing modern methods of training alongside traditional teaching to make Kung Fu more street effective. But still too many teachers teach ineffective methods that won’t work in the street. Tae Kwon Do As with Karate and Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do is a kicking and striking style. It is very similar to Karate but with more emphasis on kicking. Known for its dramatic jumping and spinning kicks. Not a practical style for street defence and once again the emphasis on forms detracts from its aerobic and anaerobic value. Muay Thai A kickboxing system from Thailand now mainly taught as a sport. Muay Thai is very effective for street defence and builds high levels of cardio and lean muscle. Thai is relatively simple in that it has few techniques in comparison to karate or kung Fu but this is a strength rather than a weakness. Some close quarter grappling is allowed to accommodate strikes, but the lack of any groundwork and submissions keep it from being even more effective. Ju Jitsu A Japanese art, probably the forerunner of Karate before the throws and locks were removed. Very comprehensive in terms of the number and type of techniques taught, but affected greatly by the method of teaching. A modern instructor will make Ju-jitsu into a formidable art, but some traditional teachers focus too much on the small joint work rather than the more effective large joint locks and throws. The punches are less sophisticated than Boxing. Styles which favour sparring work tend to be much more effective than those that don’t. Brazilian Ju Jitsu We have listed Brazilian Ju Jitsu separately because it differs significantly from traditional stand up Ju Jitsu. Brazilian Ju Jitsu focuses on groundwork and submissions worked in sparring situations. Generally very effective for fitness strength and street and growing in popularity. Traditional styles have no strikes but have introduced them to make the system more complete. Its weakness is that it relies on taking an opponent to the ground to complete

the submissions and though protagonists state that most fights end up on the floor the reality is that they don’t. most fights stay standing up and if you are facing two opponents you don’t want to be toed up fighting on the floor when the other guy’s friend is trying to kick your head in. still it build good fitness and strength and a high level of grappling skill. Wrestling Wresting has many different forms from Cornish ‘Catch As Catch Can’ to Russian Sombo, to Japanese Sumo, to Greco-Roman to Olympic. For many years the only wrestling seen has been the ‘worked’ (fixed) matches of Saturday afternoon TV and the farcical matches of the WWE. This has done little to help wrestling develop as a serious style. Like Judo and Ju Jitsu wrestling is very effective though lacking in strikes and kicks to make it complete. Wrestling builds high levels of cardiovascular fitness and lean muscle tissue. The lack of submission techniques also makes the wrestler less effective in finishing an opponent, but a good wrestler is often strong and powerful and will drop you on your head in double quick time. Kick Boxing A striking and kicking system based on the effectiveness of Boxing with kicks added. Karate experts in the early 70’s were disillusioned with the ineffectiveness of traditional karate and in the United States & Europe and the development of kickboxing as a distinct style was the result. Kickboxing builds high levels of fitness and is very street effective, though the lack of grappling and groundwork leave it incomplete. MMA MMA is a modern combination of Kickboxing, Ju Jitsu, Wrestling & Muay Thai to produce the rather clumsy title of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) but a very effective system as it combines stand up fighting techniques of kicks, punches and grapples, with throws, submissions and Ground Boxing. MMA builds high levels of cardio and muscle fitness. A good MMA fighter is a real handful in a street fight. Krav Maga Krav Maga is a Hebrew phrase meaning ‘Contact Fight’, it is system developed for the Israeli defence force against armed and unarmed opponents. It stresses high levels of physical fitness and simple defence strategies to escape injury in armed and unarmed combat. More complete

than most styles in that it recognises the need for armed as well as unarmed training. It recognises good strikes and kicks with simple grappling and escape techniques. Freestyle Freestyle is a hybrid art developed from sport karate, kung fu, and tae kwon do. It brought together many styles to compete on level terms whereas in the past a karate competition may not have admitted a kung fu competitor and vice versa Freestyle is a more a set of competition rules, but over time has become a distinct style in its own right. Very fast techniques with extra points scored for high & jumping kicks to make competition more exciting. Good for speed and aerobic fitness; because of the speed of attack it can be useful for the street; however, with no throws or groundwork it lacks the completeness for total street defence Aikido A Japanese system developed in the early part of the 20th century, concentrates on circular motion to re-direct attacks, works on development of Ki or inner strength. Has no punches or kicks and mainly consists of long range throws. An interesting style and philosophy and pleasant to watch but not practical for street defence. Physical fitness is low end of aerobic depending on drills practiced and strength development is low. Aegis Developed in the mid 70’s originally from Boxing and Karate with later additions of Ju Jitsu and Wrestling and elements of Krav Maga. Concentrates on effective street defence based off kickboxing, boxing clinch work, MMA takedowns and groundfighting. Also has weapons syllabus to develop familiarity against armed attacks. Draws heavily from knowledge of street confrontations, basing defence on learned ferocity and aggression which can be switched on and off as necessary. Puts emphasis on fast attack and developing anaerobic threshold to cope with high intensity fight situations. As I mentioned this list is not complete but does give an overview of some of the systems available. Below I have included details of how I assess the systems based on the F.A.S.T. principle.

Why 95% of Martial Arts Won’t Protect You in The Street and How to Recognise Them There are just four key ingredients in every effective martial art; deficiency in any one of these key areas means the system or art will be less effective and less effective could be what gets you seriously injured. Remember a Martial Art is ultimately a method of self defence, above all else; it should at least protect you from being attacked and hurt. There are just 4 simple things that every martial art must contain if it to be effective for real street survival and in this article we will examine what those key principles are and how you can use them to make your art more effective, or how to recognise an effective art if you are looking to start studying. The Four Keys Sadly, 95% of all martial arts available today not only lack at least one, two or even 3 of these principles but some have none of them! Imagine a self defence system that has none of the mechanics that will make it work; like a car without an engine, like a football match without a ball. It is amazing to me that this can be the case but it is. The shame is, and the danger of this situation is that: 1. 2. 3. The teachers of these arts are not aware of their systems deficiencies They are not aware the principles exist and Their students are blindly following them under the misapprehension that they will be able to protect themselves in the street using the system

I have studied many martial arts in my 40 year plus career and I am often still amazed at the absolute nonsense that is taught in all seriousness as a practical method of self defence. Add this to the fact that most of the instructors are overweight, out of condition, never had a real fight and are teaching a method of self defence that if you tried to use it would get you killed! And yet every time I visit a new school I am more often than not, faced with the same nonsensical rubbish that I have witnessed for the last 40 years.

Now I’m not knocking the instructors per se; in the main they are sincere in their belief that their system works, but they are ignorant of what does work when the chips are down, and you are faced with some ‘druggie’ with a knife and no where to run. They don’t recognise that their long, deep stances, wide sweeping blocks and poor body mechanics are completely impractical when it comes to reality. But at one time most of these arts did work, they had to; they were all the students of the art had to defend themselves with. However, over the years the oral traditions of passing down the knowledge have become like Chinese whispers, every generation gets it a little bit more wrong than the one before and the result today is an art that the masters of 150 years ago would not even recognise as their own art! A martial art; a war art, a method of defending yourself, is not a fixed thing, its an evolution, a constantly changing form, with certain principles that remain constant. Often though they are taught as if they are all constant and unchanging and without realising it, most are changing from generation by trying to remain the same. Let me explain this. Earlier I said that the masters of yesteryear would not recognise their own art; this is a double edged sword and deserves more clarity: what I mean is that the old masters used their art in actual combat, their system was tested and tried under fire. What didn’t work, either got them killed or if they survived the method was adjusted to meet the changing needs of defence. By this I mean that if you are frequently attacked by opponents carrying 10 foot poles, then your system will reflect this and use techniques that defend against 10 foot poles. However, if your opponents change their attack to using 2 foot long sticks, then your system will have to change to meet this new challenge. Obviously some of the principles the system already uses will still apply but others will not; for instance the distance and timing of attack and defence will change significantly and so the method must change too. Whilst being attacked with a 10 foot pole might have been relevant 200 years ago, it may no longer be relevant today and the art must reflect that if it is to stay valid, but so many do not. For instance; Ninjitsu; there is some doubt over whether this art ever really existed as an art or whether it was the manner of covert operations in feudal Japan, or did whole Ninja clans exist offering their services to the warlords for a cash price? Either way it is not the point of this article to discuss this but rather to assume that if they did exist what methods did they use? And how did those methods change over time?

Let us look at the throwing stars that are so associated with the Ninja; rather than being used as weapons of accuracy they were used as weapons of diversion; thrown in a bunch to slow down their pursuers. Now if these were valid in ancient times are they still valid today? Perhaps, but today the modern equivalent of the Ninja would be something like the SAS, would they use throwing stars? Or maybe some more advanced form such as ‘Flashbangs’ that explode with a bright flash and a loud bang that would disorientate their enemy. Whatever the case they would use the stars until they ceased to work and then replace them with a more effective method. This is how a martial art evolves and stays relevant and practical for the task of defence. This evolution should be a major factor in every martial art, yet it isn’t. Why is this? Well, take for example another art that is popular today ‘Krav Maga’. Krav Maga has some very innovative methods of defence and was developed by the Israeli Armed Forces to use against armed and unarmed opponents. Now let us take 2 examples and see how they would affect the effectiveness the system 1. 2. The Israeli Forces continue to use Krav Maga or They no longer use Krav Maga

In the first instance the system would remain current to the changing and evolving needs of the defence forces. When new weapons emerged, new methods would be developed to counter them. The system would be a ‘front line’ system always current and up to date. Many of the principles will remain practical for years and years, possibly for ever, but others would change as new and better technologies are developed – this we can call a ‘living martial art’ always adapting to the needs of the situation whatever they may be. In the second example we presume that the instructors of Krav Maga have lost the franchise for some reason and they perhaps concentrate on developing as a personal protection system. In this instance they would gradually lose some of their relevance. For instance let’s say they have developed a method for disarming at close range a attacker wielding a Heckler & Koch machine pistol. It works in most situations and is very valid to the needs of the armed forces. But after Krav Maga ceases to be used by the armed forces Heckler and Koch develop a new version of the weapon. Let’s say that for example, the

makers of the pistol add an extra defence against the wielder being disarmed; let’s say that they build in a ‘Taser’ so that if someone other the holder grabs the gun they will receive a shock that will disable them just as they would if they were hit by a Taser. Now, the system of Krav Maga would still be teaching the old method without the adaptation of the Taser, so its validity would have reduced, because this part of the system was no longer current. Now this is only an example and I do not mean to take anything away from Krav Maga which is a system that recognises these changes and developments and is a system that I consider to have the key principles of an effective martial art. My point is that a system can suddenly and or gradually become obsolete and the masters of the system must be aware of this and strive to keep their art valid. However, too many martial arts have become obsolete because their masters did not keep their art current with the needs of the day. Instead they have become absorbed by the art and not its practicality. In turn they have taught the system over generations to others who either don’t realise it no longer works or who too are studying the art for the arts sake rather than its effectiveness. Now it’s ok if you want to study a martial art because of its traditions and history but don’t consider yourself a martial artist; you are a historian, not a fighter. That’s not to say that you can’t be both but don’t get the two mixed up. A collector of vintage racing cars is not a racing car driver just because he owns a bunch of racing cars; he is a driver of racing cars, not a racing car driver; the two are similar but not the same. So far we have looked at some reasoning behind the keys to effective martial arts now let’s look at those keys individually:

The Four Keys to Effective Martial Arts Key One – Fitness A street fight; how long will it last? Well that depends doesn’t it? And you won’t know the answer to that question until you are faced with being attacked and every attack will be different. So you must be fit and you’ll never know just how fit for certain. What I mean by fit is aerobic capacity; that is the capacity to work at 140 to 180 heat beats per minute for a period of up to 30 or 40 minutes. For instance if you can run with your heart rate in the above range for 30 to 40 minutes without undue physical stress then you can consider yourself aerobically fit. Aerobic capacity means your body is healthy, relatively strong and has an efficient respiratory system that can supply oxygenated blood on demand at high levels when needed and recover quickly afterwards in case you need to do it again. For instance, if you are faced with an attacker or even 2 or more, the obvious choice is to run away. Could you out run them by virtue of your greater fitness? Does your martial arts training equip you with the aerobic capacity to out run your attacker? Or if you don’t run does it equip you with the capacity to sustain your defence for several minutes without becoming physically exhausted to the point where you become unable to continue? If you want to test this, put your running shoes on and run for 30 minutes without stopping keeping your heart rate over 140/150 beats per minute. You only have so much energy that you can use at any one time and if your energy level burns out during a fight you can’t continue to fight any longer; your body will need time to rest and recover and although most times when this happens you can recover in a few moments but that is along time in a fight; if you are exhausted and can’t continue, then you can be easily beaten no matter how good your martial arts skills, by an opponent who may be untrained but who is aerobically fitter than you are. The first key therefore is aerobic physical fitness. Your system of martial if it does not involve a significant level of aerobic activity as part of the training then it is deficient by at least 25% no matter how efficient the skill you have. Now I can hear some of you saying – ‘but my style develops Chi (intrinsic strength) that is not measurable by aerobic standards’; well I say this; ‘you are kidding yourself!’ in real combat you will get yourself badly beaten; do not

put your trust; your life, in the hands of an idea that is so esoteric as Chi. I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist; what I’m saying is that chi is accompanied by physical fitness. I’ve seen all the demonstrations done by aikido masters where they sit on the floor and 6 guys applying all their power can’t push them off balance. Clever stuff huh? But I’ll tell you what the 6 guys can do and that’s punch the guy stupid while he sits there all smug. Don’t be conned by these magic tricks, they are illusions and those that aren’t, are not practical in a street fight. At the end of the day there are no mystical secrets to the martial arts; there are only practical secrets and one of those is physical fitness. There is no substitute for being fit; having the lung power efficiency to last the whole fight no matter how long or short that fight is. A benefit of being aerobically fit also is that you will be healthier; your heart will pump more efficiently and your body will cleansed more quickly of the toxins that build up through daily living. You will be less susceptible to disease and will recover more quickly from injury. Key Two – Aggression All too often we see martial artist in films and TV portrayed as calm and collected even during the fight scenes, they barely break a sweat and never get angry. This is another myth of the martial arts. Regular martial arts training will undoubtedly make you calmer and more collected in your daily life, but if you are attacked you must be able to ‘switch on’ a level of aggression that will not only scare your opponent but act to focus your mind and body completely on the fight you are in. We call this type of aggression ‘ferocity’ and it is the ability to become a snarling maniac for that short time that the fight is on. This ferocity creates doubt in the mind of the attacker and also adds to your physical power in striking and wrestling. You might also call this intrinsic power, ki in Japanese and chi in Chinese. Whatever you call it, it is an essential ingredient to effective self defence. Key Three – Strength A martial artist must be physically strong to come out on top in a street attack. If you look strong you are less likely to be attacked, but if you are strong you will have the physical power to add to your cardio fitness and controlled aggression. Aerobic fitness and controlled anger though are not enough on their own, they must be backed by superior physical strength. This doesn’t mean having muscles like Arnold Swarzenegger, in fact this type of muscle is often more ornamental than practical for martial arts purposes. The Strength needed in martial arts is the lean muscle variety that encourages speed, agility and power; the ability to transmit massive force from a what may be a

potentially smaller body frame. Key Four – Training Training is more accurately called ‘Relevent Training’ and this refers to the realism of your martial arts training. No flowery moves or fancy jumping kicks that put you at more risk than they are worth, instead they are the down and dirty martial arts: simple, effective and practical. Any technique that takes years to learn is no use in the street. Sure a seasoned martial artist will take these simple techniques to a whole new level of sophistication, but it will be a practical sophistication born more from practice and experience; repetition over time than some secret move that is only shown to the most advanced student. If a martial arts technique is impractical then it should be thrown out of the system or modified to make it practical if it is deemed worthwhile. Sadly, many martial arts instructors don’t know the difference between a practical technique and one that is impractical. This is one of the most difficult parts of choosing a martial arts school, as an untrained novice you can’t be expected to know what is and is not practical, you are not the expert that is why you put your trust into the hands of someone you believe is an expert. Finally I have put this ebook together as a guide to prospective martial arts students looking for an effective style. There are many variables to consider but I have taken the work out of it by putting together the F.A.S.T principle. Good luck in your search Best wishes

Tony Higo

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