There’s no denying that there’s a ton of Martial Arts out there.
Deciding which one you want to learn is no easy feat.
Are you more of a striker? Like the idea of taking someone to the ground? Perhaps you’re not sure what you want to do.
Either way, our guide will explain how to choose a martial art you’ll find interesting, enjoyable, and hopefully stick with for years to come.
What Are Your Goals?
The first step in choosing a martial art is assessing what you want to achieve.
Is your primary goal to get in shape? Learn the most effective way to defend yourself against an attacker. Perhaps even become a professional athlete in a sport you watch on TV.
Knowing the eventual outcome you’d like to achieve will help to narrow down the options and should point you in the right direction.
Types of Martial Arts
Before we look at specific disciplines and what they entail, it’s probably a good idea to take a step back and look at the different types of Martial Arts first.
Up first we got grappling. This is where you take hold of your opponent, and look to take them down to the ground. Depending on the Martial Art, the aim once you’re on the ground will vary, from pinning them on their back, or perhaps forcing them to tap via a submission.
The chances are you’ll have seen some form of striking in your life, whether in the latest Creed movies, Karate Kid, or if you’ve caught a boxing match live on TV.
Striking involves using your limbs, to attack your opponent. Depending on the discipline, the limbs allowed can vary. For example, boxing is punching only, whereas Muay Thai (known are the Art of Eight Limbs) allows for elbows, knees, and kicks to be thrown.
If you’re as indecisive as I am, and can’t decide between grappling and striking, then I have good news for you.
You don’t have to.
Sports such as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) incorporate elements of both striking and grappling into one, governed by its own rule set.
Armed, as the name suggests, are Martial Arts that make use of various types of weaponry designed for hand-to-hand combat. Given the fact that it’s unlikely you’ll be strolling around with an arsenal of weapons in your pocket, they probably aren’t the best for self-defense.
Still, though, they’re great fun and good exercise and worth considering if they sound like something that would suit you.
Popular Martial Arts
When it comes to choosing a Martial Art, it’s going to be pretty hard if you don’t know what options you have.
With that in mind, it’s now time for the fun part. Let’s break down some of the most popular Martial Arts and see what they’re all about.
About BJJ: BJJ stands for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is a grappling Martial Art that takes place mostly on the ground. BJJ was founded in the early to mid-1990s when Juduoka Mitsuyo Maeda traveled to South America to demonstrate Judo.
Here he met the Gracie family, who continued to adapt the ground aspect of Mitsuyo’s craft, morphing the Martial Art into the BJJ we know today.
BJJ takes place predominantly on the ground, with the aim being to submit your opponent through a variety of different techniques, such as chokes or arm bars.
What to expect: BJJ has an exceptionally sharp learning curve. Fully expect the first 6-months to a year to be a somewhat painful learning process.
This is because there is such a wide variety of techniques that can be utilized from any given position. Knowing how to both utilize and defend against all of these techniques is going to take time and dedication. For reference, it can take 15-20 years to achieve a black belt, the highest distinction in BJJ.
That said, do not let this put you off. BJJ is an incredibly humbling, but satisfying learning process.
Passing guard to secure a top position for the first time, getting your first submission, learning to submit off your back, all of these small milestones add up. Before you know it, you’re no longer the new guy and are walking around with a blue belt around your waist.
In terms of gear/ equipment, there are a couple of “types” of BJJ – Gi and No-Gi. Gi, as the name implies requires you to wear the Gi, which is a jacket/kimono, pants, and a belt. In No-Gi BJJ, you’ll typically wear a rash guard and shorts.
Will I like it? BJJ is one of the more claustrophobic Martial Arts out there. If you’re not keen on the idea of having someone on top of you for 5 minutes straight putting you in pretty uncomfortable positions, then it may not be for you.
That said, pressure makes diamonds, and BJJ will teach you to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, a skill that translates perfectly in real life.
BJJ is like playing chess with your limbs. There are a ton of different possible moves to employ at different times. If you’re technically minded, and like the sound of a puzzling Martial Art that uses as much of the brain as it does the body, then BJJ could well be with you.
About Judo: Judo is another grappling Martial Art, founded in Japan by a man named Jigoro Kano. Judo is also one of the few sports on this list that takes place at the Olympics.
Kano, being smaller than many of his other Jiu-Jitsu practitioners, decided to develop a Martial Art that can negate many of the disadvantages of being smaller than your opponent.
This birthed Judo, translating into “Gentle Way”, a Martial Art designed to utilize the weight and movement of your opponent to your favor.
There are several ways in which you can win in Judo; accumulate more points than your opponent, throw them directly onto their pack for an “Ipon” or submit them via armlock or choke. Unlike BJJ, Judo takes place mostly standing up, however, some groundwork “Ne Waza” is allowed.
What to expect: Judokas/ Judo practitioners wear a Gi, consisting of a kimono, pants, and a belt. It’s not crucial to have this before your first lesson, as you’ll mostly be learning the basics, such as learning to fall correctly (break fall).
A class will consist of a warm-up, technique learning, and drilling, followed by sparring, known as Randori.
Given the nature of Judo, expect to be thrown to the ground a lot. As I mentioned, one of the first things you’ll learn is how to land safely. While this does hurt a little bit, the mats are pretty soft and it’s not too bad at all.
Will I like it? While not to the same extent as BJJ, there are some claustrophobic moments on the ground. Fortunately, Judo is around 80% on the feet, so this won’t be a consistent problem.
Given that Judo translates to “Gentle Way”, it’s a great Martial Art for people who like the idea of utilizing technique and movement, as opposed to brute force.
Yes, there are some painful moments when you’re thrown, but overall it’s a pretty safe Martial Art that teaches respect, technique, and discipline.
About Wrestling: While you can argue that this isn’t a Martial Art, it is a combat sport worth considering, especially if you’re looking to transition into MMA down the line (wrestling is a key component of MMA).
Wrestling is a grappling sport that requires you to pin your opponent on their back. The required time for this changes depending on the level and type of wrestling, but it’s usually 1 to 2 seconds.
Wrestling is bigger in some countries than others, for example in America and Eastern Europe. Being from the UK, there aren’t a ton of wrestling schools compared to other sports, and it’s rarely an extracurricular sport at schools.
That said, I know a lot of MMA gyms will have wrestling classes a couple of times a week.
What to expect: Wrestling is known to be a very tough sport that embodies the “gindset” way of thinking. It’s physically demanding and given the extremely high level that many young kids are performing at, is extremely competitive.
Expect a ton of hard work and intense times in the gym. If you’re looking to compete, you’ll be required to diet/ watch what you eat to make weight.
I don’t want this to sound like wrestling is a bad sport, when in fact, it’s the complete opposite. If you want to be performing at a high level, expect a lot of discipline and dedication, although this can be said about pretty much anything in life.
Will I like it?
The demands of wrestling can either be a pro or a con, depending on what you’re looking to achieve. If you’re looking for a sport that builds a disciplined mindset and you’re looking to get stuck into the grind, then wrestling is worth a shot.
If you’re looking for something a little more laid back, more of a fun way to get into shape, there are some better options for you to consider.
About Karate: Karate is a Japanese striking Martial Art that involves both punching and kicking your opponent.
There are a number of different types of Karate, from no-contact Kata (this is a solo technique demonstration) to full-contact point Karate (a knockout means a win).
Karate has been a popular Martial Art for years, I mean, who hasn’t seen Karate Kid? This means that there are a ton of Karate schools around the world, so the chances are there’ll be a school somewhere near you.
There are even many notable professional UFC athletes who come from a Karate background, for example, Wonderboy, one of the greatest strikers in the world.
What to expect: This depends on the school you go to and the types of Karate that they teach. That said, expect a heavy emphasis on technique and a lot of drilling.
After your first few lessons, you’ll be wearing a gi. Again, a Gi consists of a Kimono, pants, and a belt. Karate gi’s are usually pretty thin and lightweight, allowing for an unrestricted range of movement, which is of course required if you’re going to be throwing high kicks.
Will I like it?
Given that there are a ton of different types of Karate, it’s a great option for a variety of goals. If you’re looking for a Martial Art that doesn’t involve getting punched in the face or thrown to the ground, then Karate is a great option.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to get stuck in, and compete in a full contact Martial Art, again, Karate is a great choice.
About Boxing: Who doesn’t know boxing? Muhammed Ali, Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, and some of the most famous athletes of all time are boxers. That said, I’ll pretend like you don’t know and go ahead and explain boxing.
Boxing is a striking combat sport that involves punching your opponent attempting to knock them to the ground, ideally for 10 seconds. Boxing is fought over the course of numerous rounds, with the number of rounds and their duration varying depending on the level of the fight.
A fight can be won in a number of ways. Knocking your opponent unconscious, knocking them to the ground where they stay for 10 seconds, TKO (referee stops the fight if the fighter is not defending themselves adequately), or if none of this has happened, by judge’s decision.
What to expect: Beginner boxing classes focus a lot on technique, form, and combinations. Expect a lot of shadowboxing, bag, and pad work.
Boxing can be a bit confusing at first, as it seems like the coach is shouting random numbers at you (these numbers represent punch combinations). That said, after a few sessions, you’ll get the hang of things and without a doubt, find a love of sweet science.
Will I like it? While being limited to only punching may seem like there won’t be a lot to learn, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, it’s true that you can only punch, but there are so many nuisances and minute details in boxing that separate the best in the world from the rest.
Boxing is a seriously good way to get into shape, is extremely fun, and is one of the safer combat sports out there, especially if you’re not inclined to spar.
About Muay Thai: Muay Thai, also known as the Art of Eight Limbs, is a striking Martial Art originating from Thailand. Muay Thai allows for punches, kicks, knee, and elbow strikes to be thrown, hence the name Art of Eight Limbs.
There is also a very small amount of grappling used in Muay Thai, known as the Thai Clinch, although you could easily argue that this isn’t grappling. This is where you have hold of your opponent, usually with your hands behind their neck, from here you can sweep them to the ground or throw close-quarter strikes such as knees and elbows.
Like many other striking sports, Muay Thai is fought throughout rounds, and if there has been no winner, the decision then goes to the judges.
What to expect: Expect a cardio-heavy, drill-based workout with Muay Thai. Virtually every class has pad work and technique drills and I can guarantee you’ll finish the class covered in sweat.
Muay Thai is a great option if you’re looking to get in shape, but don’t want to take too much of a beating. Most gyms won’t allow newcomers to spar and usually have dedicated sparring sessions.
If there is sparring, it’ll likely be slow 40% effort sparring, where you’re mainly focusing on implementing the new techniques you’ve learned.
Will I like it? I personally love how Muay Thai allows you to utilize all of your limbs to attack. It just opens up a ton of possibilities and makes the sport incredibly interesting.
With that in mind, if you like the sound of turning all aspects of your body into a lethal weapon, without a doubt, give Muay Thai a try.
About Kickboxing: Kickboxing is pretty similar to Muay Thai, and you’d be forgiven for getting the two confused. Kickboxing, however, is slightly more limited in the strikes that you can throw, allowing only punches and kicks.
Kickboxing takes place in a boxing ring (which is really a square) and is fought over the course of rounds. If there is no winner by the end of the final round, the decision will be made by the judges.
What to expect: Expect a solid workout with a lot of drill and bag work.
It’s pretty mind-blowing how gassed out you are after 3-minutes on the heavy bag, especially if you don’t work out that often.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be sparring properly until you’ve got a solid amount of understanding of the sport, so most of your time will be spent drilling techniques either on a heavy bag or with a partner holding pads.
Will I like it? I usually recommend kickboxing to people who think Muay Thai is interesting, but are put off by the potential damage of elbows. Yes, getting kicked in the face still hurts, but elbows are known to open cuts pretty easily.
Kickboxing is very good for improving cardiovascular endurance, and if you don’t have good flexibility at the moment, you seen will do with kickboxing. Throwing a high kick is no joke, and it’s a pretty cool feeling being able to get your foot up that high.
About MMA: MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts, and involves blending aspects of different disciplines into one sport. MMA is a relatively new Martial Art compared to the others on this list, but has somehow managed to become one of, if not, the most popular.
MMA consists of both striking and grappling, allowing for multiple routes to victory. This can be in the form of a submission, or a knockout via a kick, elbow, knee, or punch.
An MMA bout takes place in an 8-sided cage, often referred to as the octagon for obvious reasons. Similarly to a lot of the other disciplines on this list, MMA takes place over the course of rounds, with professional fights being fought over 3 or 5, 5-minute rounds.
If there has been no winner after the dedicated amount of rounds, then the winner is decided by the judges, who score the fight on a round-by-round basis.
Like most combat sports, MMA makes use of weight classes, which in theory, allows you to compete against other fighters of a similar build to yourself.
What to expect: Given the fact that MMA employs aspects from various disciplines, it can be a lot to take in at first. That said, once you get a good understanding of the basics, it’s simple enough to build on this foundation, by adding different elements to your game.
Expect to split your time between striking, wrestling, and BJJ. A lot of fighters have areas of MMA that they prefer, but it’s important not to neglect one specific part of your game and to be a well-rounded fighter.
Will I like it? I’m of course going to be biased here, but I think MMA is the best Martial Art in the world. It takes the best aspects from the disciplines in this list and blends them into one.
If you’re as indecisive as me, then give MMA a go. Worst case scenario, you find a certain aspect of MMA you like, say BJJ for example, and you can always focus on that going forward and drop the other elements.
How to Choose a Martial Art: Final Thoughts
Well, there we have it. Hopefully, we’ve given you a better idea of how to choose a Martial Art.
If there are a few that you like the sound of, you can always try them out to see which you prefer.
It’s over to you now, I wish you the best of luck on your Martial Arts journey. If you have any questions whatsoever, please feel free to reach out.
Thanks for reading.