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What Martial Art Style Do I Recommend?

In this article the author looks at the benefit of martial arts training. He explores the various benefits you get from training and what martial arts style he recommends for self-defense.

Most of my teaching now is done by seminars so one thing that I get very often is afterwards people tend to come up to me and ask questions like, "this has made me want to start taking martial arts lessons, what style or school do I recommend?" I get asked for recommendations on martial arts schools and styles quite often and I have two responses that I typically give.

The first response is I ask the person what they want to get out of their martial arts training. That should only make sense. Martial arts not only teach self-defense but they provide a social outlet, an opportunity to study a different culture, a way to compete and win trophies, fitness and flexibility, mental wellbeing and stress management, and of course a way to social climb by earing belts.

Once they know what they want it gets easier to make a recommendation. If they want to earn trophies I might recommend Taekwondo and if they want stress management and to develop inner calm I might recommend Tai Ji Chuan. If they want to further their study in self-defense I make a little different recommendation.

I tell that that any teacher, school, or style can be great. However, when it comes to defending yourself principles are more important than techniques; the principles that have proven themselves over and over again is that when you are faced with someone who wants to seriously injure or kill you it is best to go right at them, fight back as aggressively as possible, and focus on striking the vulnerable areas of the human body. As long as you do that there is a good chance you'll come out OK.

My recommendation, therefore, is that is doesn't matter so much what style you study. Just find an instructor who teaches that approach. Find someone who teaches you to lower your head and aggressively go in and cause as much damage as possible and it doesn't matter if you're doing it with sidekicks, palm strikes, elbows, or a tiger claw; this approach is what works so just call your local schools and talk to the instructor and pick out a few to visit and then watch a class or two. Talk to the instructor and maybe some students and if this is the approach the instructor teaches you'll probably do just fine.

By Matthew Schafer 
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

Matthew Schafer is a martial arts instructor with over 26 years' experience. He currently runs a martial arts school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more articles visit his blog at

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What Are Hard Style and Soft Style Martial Arts?

Sometimes one would see references to 'hard' style and 'soft' style martial arts. To many non-martial artists, these terms may be puzzling. In North America, these terms are used to classify martial art styles into two main categories. Japanese/Okinawan karate and Korean tae kwon do are generally referred to as hard styles. Movements in both karate and tae kwon do are often linear with their forms (traditional sequence of set moves) performed with crisp movements. Chinese kung fu styles are usually referred to as soft styles. The circular motions of kung fu forms give them a more visually graceful or softer appearance especially when many of the movements flow from one to another. Even Korean kuk sool won which is sometimes referred to as 'Korean kung fu', is often classified as a soft style since its movements are also more flowing than the stop and go of tae kwon do or karate. This is not to say that hard styles such as karate or tae kwon do are more powerful martial arts than kung fu and other soft styles. The term 'soft' is a bit misleading because the power from circular kung fu moves are often hidden. Circular moves can generate just as much power as linear ones.

The terms hard style and soft style came as a result of the evolution of North American martial arts competitions, particularly in forms divisions. For many years, open karate tournaments which allowed all martial arts styles, had competitors from different martial arts backgrounds compete in the same forms divisions. All equivalent level competitors, whether they used a Japanese/Okinawan karate kata, a Korean tae kwon do pattern or a Chinese kung fu form, competed together in the same divisions. This provided a nice martial arts showcase for spectators especially at the bigger tournaments. However, some competitors and judges considered divisions with combined styles to be too complicated. For example, judges who were familiar with only Japanese or Korean styles had a difficult time scoring competitors performing Chinese kung fu forms. Sometimes competitors from different martial art styles felt that judges were being biased against them. Judging a hard style form against a soft style form was often like trying to compare apples to oranges.

To help resolve these issues, many of the larger martial arts tournaments expanded to have separate divisions for hard and soft styles. This was a way to equalize things and add some more fairness to all competitors. The largest tournaments went another step ahead and further separated Japanese karate stylists from Korean tae kwon do stylists by putting them into different divisions too. This still left many kempo stylists up in the air because their particular forms have both hard and soft style elements since their movements are both linear as well as circular. Some promoters of large tournaments decided to accommodate kempo stylists by adding in separate forms divisions just for their style too. Of course many smaller local tournaments have not been able to offer separate hard and soft style divisions for martial arts forms competitors mainly because of financial budget restrictions. The terms hard style and soft style are used only in North America and parts of Europe since these are the only regions of the world that have open martial arts competitions. Martial arts competitions in other parts of the world such as Asia are generally restricted to certain specific styles only.

Clint is a lifelong martial artist with over 36 years of training experience in kung fu, tae kwon do, karate, kickboxing and martial arts weaponry. He has won Canadian and world championship titles (NASKA, NBL and WSKF). He is also owner of Martial Arts Articles Online (, an online martial arts information resource.

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Karate: The Most Popular Martial Arts Style

There are many different styles of martial arts some of which include Iaido, Judo, Aikido, Jujutsu and Karate. However, Karate is by far the most popular martial arts style, largely because of how and why it was developed. It emerged on the Ryukyu Islands in what is now Okinawa, Japan and developed out of the basic necessity to survive by peaceful people. The banning of weapons in Okinawa in the 1400's by the Shimazu clan, a Japanese clan, spurred on the growth of Karate formalizing it into a martial art that was used to defend a culture against armed warriors.

In its purest form, Karate is a striking art of weaponless self defense that uses punches, kicks, elbow and knee strikes, and open hand techniques such as spear-hands, knife-hands and palm heel strikes which are executed in linear or circular striking and thrusting motions. When these techniques and others such as vital point strikes, throws and joint locks are combined with proper breathing and body position, Karate becomes a formidable self defense system than can defend against both armed and unarmed assailants.

Karate, as a martial art, has withstood numerous adversarial challenges. The establishment of trade relationships between Ryukyu Islands and Fujian Province of China eventually caused many Chinese families to move to Okinawa where they shared the Chinese Kenpo, a blend of Indian and Chinese fighting styles, with the native Okinawans they interacted with. Gradually, the traditional fighting techniques of Okinawa began to change as its natives sought to concentrate on power that would focus on inflicting injuries on armor-wearing opponents. Most of the self-defense philosophies and techniques within the Okinawan fighting systems emerged from the original form of Shaolin Kung Fu. In order to adapt to the physique of Okinawan people, modifications were made in some techniques from the original Kung Fu techniques.

Despite Karate maintaining the 9 original essential aspects brought from China, many Karate practitioners, better known as Karatekas, do not know about them nor do they practice them all. These 9 Karate aspects are striking vital areas, joint locks, pressure points, choking and grappling. Others are pain control, throwing and sweeping, breathing, and counters to all of the aforementioned aspects. The aspects are practiced and perfected through Okinawan Kata or forms, within which most of them are hidden movements.

Through consistent, intense training, Karatekas develop both mental and physical strengths which greatly contribute in keeping them healthy and young. Some of the renowned Karate practitioners in history include Gichin Funokashi who headed Karate's first public demonstration in Japan in 1917, and Joe Lewis, who was voted the greatest Karate fighter of all time by Karate Illustrated in 1983.

Although Karate was never intended for sports, the need for Karatekas to test their skills against fellow martial artists developed it into Sport Karate. Today, many Karate sports organizations exist with the largest organization being the World Karate Federation (WKF) which is recognized by the International Olympics Committee as having the mandate of overseeing Karate competitions in the Olympic games. World Karate Federation competition has 2 disciplines which are Forms (Kata) and Sparring (Kumite). Whereas sparring is judged by a head referee with assistant referees, evaluation for kata is done by a panel of judges.

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