Karate? Tae Kwon-Do? Hapkido? Judo? Kung Fu?

People ask me all of the time, “Sensei Burke, what’s the best martial arts style?”  One person boldly walked into the Burke’s Karate dojo and asked, “Do you teach tae kwon-do?  Because tae kwon-do is the best, and I only want to learn the best!”
Another student asked me what he should study purely for self defense purposes.  He had heard that karate was good because it was hard and strong.  “But perhaps kung fu might be better because it’s fluid and graceful?”
A student in a kids martial arts class proclaimed, “I want to learn judo because I want to throw people!”  A student at an adult martial arts class asked which would be the best style for a woman.
These are all good questions.  With the growing popularity of mixed martial arts, more people are looking at more styles of fighting, combat, and self defense.  So what, exactly IS the best style of martial arts?  This is difficult for any sensei to answer, but here is my answer:  In the course of my study and training, I have found that the best style of martial arts is…
All styles of martial arts have qualities that are great for sparring, for combat, for self defense, and can be appropriate for men, women, beginners, children, and even people like myself who have been studying and training for decades.  For example:
Tae kwon-do is great for the lower body, due to flashy kicks and footwork.
Karate is an upper body workout with hard throws and powerful hands.
*  Hapkido is a great combination of dynamic throws and effective joint locks.
Judo offers a number of throws and takedowns for sparring in mismatched weight classes.
The real answer to this question is twofold:

  1. Your benefit from any style of martial arts training is relative to the quality of your instructor.  No matter your level of training or physical condition, you will suffer in your martial arts training if your instructor isn’t good in that style.  If you believe tae kwon-do is the best, even if you work hard, you will be limited to the ability of your sensei.  It’s always beneficial to do your due diligence when looking for a dojo.  Does the head of the dojo teach the classes or does he or she delegate that to others?  Are youngsters and lower-level practitioners teaching the classes?  Do you notice an abundance of young black belts running around?  Might you be looking into a franchise “McDojo?”
  2. Martial arts are like the people who study them.  Some are passive, and some are aggressive, and like your sensei, have their own personalities.  Some are defensive, some hard.  Some are soft.  My first instructor (and our founder), Master Thinh, believes that a truly effective style of martial arts should be balanced.  Especially when it comes to self defense; it should sometimes be more aggressive, and sometimes more passive.  Knowing what the situation may call for and being able to adapt is more important than an allegiance to any one style.

The question that every student should be asking is, “What am I looking for?”  Your answer should be, “A great instructor,” regardless of style.