People are always debating about which martial art is better. Is karate better than kung fu? Is aikido better than tae kwon do? How about jiu-jitsu, judo, tai chi, escrima, ninjitsu, aikido, hapkido, and krav maga, just to name a few more?
First let’s make sure we qualify what we mean by “better.” I am using “better” from the perspective of a physical unarmed fight.
As a martial artist, I have looked into this question as well. Based on my experience and observation over time, I have come to some pretty eye opening conclusion.
Martial Arts — How They Came to Be
Martial arts can be traced back as far as recorded history–as far back as 2800 BC (see reference 1). Throughout history humans have proven they are prone to conflicts. People of various groups, tribes, and countries have fought many battles and wars. Because of conflicts, many ways of fighting (martial arts) have evolved. Such evolution occurred in various places we now know as China, India, Japan, Korea, Greece, Germany, Italy, and England, just to name a few.
Some of the early martial artists were knights, Spartan soldiers, Roman soldiers, Japanese samurais, Japanese ninjas, and Chinese Shaolin monks. What made these warriors better than their opponents were their training and dedication? These people trained all their lives with one purpose–to win physical conflicts or fights.
Evolution of Modern Martial Arts (Western View)
To some degree, the human race have evolved to the point where there is no longer a need for the fighting arts. Modern weapons have made the need for martial arts warriors a thing of the past; people no longer have to train all their lives to fight off enemies. With an automatic weapon, good aim, and ammunition, one can easily fend off attackers.
Today people who train in martial arts do it for some other purpose. Most train to make themselves better people. Some train primarily for the sport of fighting. Others train for both.
On top of that, various martial arts styles from many countries, once only available from their respective locale, are now available everywhere. Martial arts styles and techniques once known to a few are now prevalent. Hollywood has done their job promoting the arts to those who would otherwise never look into such things. Movies like “Enter the Dragon” and “Karate Kid” (the links go to Amazon.com, which provides basic information about the movie) have made “kung fu” and “karate” common terms for the masses. Having Judo and Taekwondo as Olympic sports have also added to the promotion and prevalence of martial arts in modern times.
The next wave in martial arts rave came with the introduction of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships). The first widely publicized UFC event (aka UFC 1) occurred in November 1993. It was an 8-man tournament involving people of various fighting styles. This event was supposed to answer which was the best; or so we thought.
Laws of Physics
What does the law of physics have to do with this topic? Well, most people know that it is near impossible to defy the laws of physics (unless you are a magician, of course). In any tournament, the winner is always the one who has three things going for them (which is what I would refer to here as the laws of physics):
- Well trained for the event at hand
- Healthy on date of event
- “Eye of the tiger” or the inner heart to win
At UFC 1 Royce Gracie (Brazilian Jujitsu style) came out on top. Here’s why he won:
- He has trained all his life in Jujitsu and in this style of event. This was the perfect venue for Gracie.
- He was healthy and was 7 years younger than his final opponent.
- He fought for his family name; there was no way he was going to lose this as his family name was on the line on a widely publicized event in the US.
All three of the above lined up perfectly for him.
Compare this to his opponents.
- Gracie’s first opponent was a retired boxer. Boxers are used to fighting with their fists and on their feet using all kinds of fighting rules. The boxer was basically like a fish out of water once he was taken down to the ground. There was no way the boxer was going to win. This was a very easy win.
- Gracie’s second opponent was Ken Shamrock. I wouldn’t say that Shamrock was at 100% since he just came back 4 days earlier from fighting in Japan (see reference 2). On top of that, Shamrock was used to events involving more rules. In UFC 1, the only rule was “no eye gouging or biting”.
- Gracie’s last opponent was Gerard Gordeau. Gordeau’s core was Karate and Savate. He did multi-martial arts events, but it involved more rules than UFC 1. On top of that he injured himself punching and kicking a sumo wrestler (Tuli) on match 1. He was no match against Gracie.
It is now over 140 UFC events later. UFC has evolved. It now has weight divisions and more rules. Fighters of various core styles have come to compete, and in various events, grapplers and stand up fighters alike have won. Some won with a knockout punch or kick, and some won through some submission hold.
So what does this say about which style is better? Nothing really. It proves only one thing, the laws of physics cannot be defied. Thus in order for one to win a true, no rule confrontation the same three things need to hold true:
- Trained well for the situation
- Healthy on date of event
- Inner strength and motivation to win
Which Is Best? The Winner Is…
After all this, which martial arts is really best? The answer is none. What truly makes a martial art style best is the martial artist. It is the martial artist who trains and masters the arts. It is my true belief that in a true physical confrontation where there are no rules, the best martial artist always wins, regardless of style.