which martial arts should I learn first?

Introduction

A common question a lot of people new to martial arts ask is “Which martial arts should I learn first?”.

With so many different martial arts out there, it can be quite the challenge trying to decide what to study.

If you pick the right one, you’ve just saved yourself a tonne of time, money, and effort in a style that you will no doubt fall in love with.

Depending on what your goals are for studying martial arts, each style may or may not serve your needs.

In this article, I will go over several martial arts that are best suited for beginners as well as what criteria to look for when deciding which one to study.

Karate

which martial arts should I learn first: Karate

Karate is a Japanese martial art developed in Okinawa with influences from Chinese Kung Fu.

Back in the old days when the use of weapons were banned by the Japanese, the local residents came up with Karate as a means of defending themselves without the use of weapons.

Today, there are many variations of Karate that descended from the original style in Okinawa.

In Karate, the main mode of striking is with the hands, followed by kicks supplementing hand strikes.

This traditional martial art focuses on three main components:

Kihon (fundamentals)

  • Strikes such as punches, kicks
  • Stances
  • Blocks

Kata (patterns)

  • Pre-arranged sequence of movements that simulate attacking and defending positions
  • Practiced alone or with partners

Kumite (sparring)

  • Sparring with an opponent in a real life controlled environment

Furthermore, students also learn how to use weapons and break objects like ice or wood.

Why Beginners Should Study It

Karate helps beginners build a solid foundation in martial arts such as punching, kicking, blocking, stances, and sparring. This makes it quite a lot easier to transition and pick up a new striking martial art compared to someone starting fresh without a solid foundation in traditional martial arts.

In addition, classes are beginner and family friendly.

From day one, discipline and focus are instilled on the students, and over time as students master new techniques and move up in rank, their confidence increases as well.

Unlike some of the more brutal striking martial arts out there, sparring is a lot less dangerous in Karate, especially point sparring.

Best suited for: People looking to develop a strong foundation in martial arts that utilize both punching and kicking

Kung Fu

Kung Fu is a series of hundreds of different Chinese martial arts that have been developed thousands of years ago.

In broad terms, Kung Fu can be broken down into two main categories: hard and soft style.

In hard style, kung fu practitioners meet force with force such as blocking a punch.

In a soft style, kung fu practitioners instead use the attackers force against them by either redirecting it or making the attacker off balance.

Depending on the style of Kung Fu, students will learn a combination of the following things:

  • Strikes using their fists
  • Strikes using their legs
  • Throws and joint locks
  • Weapons training
  • Qigong training
  • Stances
  • Meditation
  • Sparring
  • Forms

Why Beginners Should Study It

Kung Fu is a great martial arts base to have under your belt. Unlike Karate and Taekwondo which has a more linear and rigid style of fighting and technique, Kung Fu is very graceful and fluid. Students learn a variety of different techniques, more so then most of the other traditional martial arts. In addition, their’s weapons training, meditation, qigong, forms, and sparring to make this system very versatile.

This versatility makes it a great option to brand off of into other martial arts such as kickboxing.

You’ll never get bored learning Kung Fu at all.

Best suited for: People that want a strong base and versatile martial arts that looks graceful and eye catching, yet doesn’t get boring after a while of training.

Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a Korean martial arts that places a heavy emphasize on striking using one’s legs, especially in World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) style.

In class students learn a large variety of kicks such as:

  • Front kicks
  • Side kicks
  • Round house kicks
  • Axe kicks
  • Crescent kicks
  • Spinning hook kicks
  • Back kicks

Furthermore, punching, blocking, and a few self defense techniques are taught to students to supplement the kicking in the martial art.

Breaking objects such as wooden boards or bricks, along with sparring are also apart of the curriculum in Taekwondo.

Why Beginners Should Study It

Taekwondo provides a solid beginner foundation and base for which to build off of like the other traditional martial arts like Kung Fu and Karate.

In class, students develop strong and powerful kicks that can be easily transitioned and incorporated to other striking martial arts such as Muay Thai due to their strong base.

However, unlike a Muay Thai or MMA student, Taekwondo students also have a whole slew of kicking techniques that are not taught in these other styles which gives them an advantage when it comes to the number of weapons in their tool kit.

Furthermore, Taekwondo students are among some of the fastest when it comes to striking out there. This is due to all of the speed drills that students perform in class on a regular basis.

Taekwondo is also a lot less intimating for a beginner compared to some of the other styles of martial arts due to the beginner friendly environment.

Sparring in Taekwondo is also a lot more beginner friendly and the chances of injuries are a lot lower compared to something else like Muay Thai.

Best suited for: People that love to kick and develop speed and power in their kicks.

To learn more about Taekwondo, click here to read my article about it.

Judo

Judo

Judo is a Japanese martial art that focuses mainly on grappling, throws, take downs, and pinning opponents and submitting them on the ground.

Using leverage, students are taught how to overcome size differences when dealing with opponents that are much bigger then them.

In a typical Judo class, you can expect to learn the following things:

  • Throws
  • Take downs
  • How to grapple
  • How to safety fall down
  • Rolls
  • How to pin down opponents
  • Chokes
  • Joint locks
  • Sweeps

In addition, Judo is an Olympic sport and students get the opportunity to compete at the Olympics and represent their country if they have what it takes.

Why Beginners Should Study It

Judo is a safe yet very effective martial arts that can be a great starter martial art to build a solid grappling foundation and base.

Students are taught how to minimize injury, while maximizing effectiveness of throws and take downs from the get go.

Furthermore, Judo has a lot of self defense applications such as teaching students how to prevent getting taken down during a street fight.

Many Judo practitioners have found success transitioning from Judo to mixed martial arts such as Rhonda Rousey.

Best suited for: Those that want to learn how to throw or defend against take downs during fights.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

BJJ

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is a Brazilian martial arts that focuses on ground fighting and submissions on the ground.

Rather then try and compete on strength, BJJ practitioners try to take their opponents to the ground to minimize the size advantage.

Unlike some of the other martial arts that prefer to stand up and are not very good for ground fighting, BJJ students feel right at home and actually prefer to be on the ground.

Some of the things that students will learn in BJJ include:

  • Take downs
  • How to mount
  • How to pass guard
  • Chokes
  • Joint locks
  • Submissions
  • Rolling
  • Take down defense

Over the years, BJJ has found a lot of success in mixed martial arts tournaments due to its efficiency in overpowering larger opponents and submitting them.

Why Beginners Should Study It

BJJ helps beginners build a strong foundation in grappling and ground fighting, which is often neglected in traditional striking martial arts.

BJJ is a very effective martial arts for self defense especially when it comes to wrestling and grappling. If you learn how to ground fight, you won’t get into a panic or be overpowered if you ever end up on the ground.

If you plan on ever competing in the UFC or another MMA type of fight promotion, you will undoubtedly need to learn some BJJ to be a well rounded fighter.

Best suited for: students that want to learn ground fighting and submissions or intend on competing in MMA.

Wrestling

wrestling

Wrestling is not really a martial arts per say, but it is a combat sport that involves grappling with opponents, and either pinning them, submitting them through chokes, joint locks , or even slams.

Wrestling is one of the world’s oldest forms of combat sports that has been practiced over 15,000 years ago.

Unlike the WWE which is wrestling for entertainment purposes, wrestling actually has a lot of practical applications as a combat sport and self defense style.

In a lot of street fights, grappling and wrestling inevitable happens and the guy that knows how to grapple will usually have the upper hand and be able to ether take down their opponent or defend against take down attempts.

In wrestling students can expect to learn the following things:

  • Take downs
  • Throws
  • Joint locks
  • Chokes
  • Slams
  • Pins
  • Clinching

In addition, because wrestling is a very physically demanding sport that relies on both technique and strength, students will need to develop strength and conditioning to excel in the sport.

Why Beginners Should Study It

Wrestling is a great starter combat sport for beginners to learn as it will build a strong grappling foundation and base for them.

There are no strikes allowed in wrestling, therefore students do not need to worry about getting punched or kicked in the face or body, however slams and even submissions are present in class.

In addition, students will develop quite a significant amount of strength over the course of their wrestling studies through constant sparring with opponents.

Best suited for: guys that want to develop a strong grappling background and be able to defend against take downs in a fight.

Boxing

which martial arts should I learn first: boxing

Boxing is a form of martial art, combat sport, and self defense system that focuses on punching as their main means of offense.

Using a combination of footwork, punching technique, and range, boxers are able to have the upper hand on their opponents.

In boxing typically there are two variations: amateur and professional.

In amateur boxing, boxers wear protective equipment such as boxing gloves, hand wraps, and headgear during matches. Boxers can compete locally, nationally, and even on the world stage in the Olympics. There are less rounds in amateur boxing compared to professional boxing.

Professional boxing on the other hand, has boxers fight in much longer rounds and with less protective equipment such as no head gear and lighter gloves. In addition, men need to be bare chested when boxing in professional bouts.

Students typically learn the following skills in a class:

  • Jabs
  • Straights/Cross
  • Hooks
  • Uppercuts
  • Blocks
  • Body blows
  • Combination punches
  • Counter punches
  • Bobbing and weaving
  • Strength and conditioning

Furthermore, footwork, sparring, and speed drills are taught in class to help the student develop impeccable fighting skills.

Why Beginners Should Study It

Unlike some of the other traditional martial arts, boxing takes a no nonsense approaching to fighting and self defense.

Students are taught how to punch almost immediately upon enrollment at a school.

A lot of the techniques that are taught in class are very practical and can be applied to any sort of fighting situation except for grappling matches.

Due to its simplistic nature and only focusing on punching, boxing is much easier and quicker to take up and learn versus another martial art that has a whole slew of different striking or grappling techniques that one needs to master to become proficient at it.

Best suited for: people that love to punch and want a quick and easy martial art and self defense system to start out in.

Muay Thai

which martial arts should I learn first: muay thai

Muay Thai is a Thai martial art and combat sport that was developed in Thailand that focuses on striking using the eight limbs of the body.

Muay Thai is well known for their vicious elbows, knees, and leg kicks that send opponents down to the canvas in no time.

In Muay Thai, students learn the following things:

  • Leg kicks
  • Punches
  • Knees
  • Clinching
  • Elbows
  • Footwork
  • Strength and conditioning, especially in the core

In addition to these techniques, students spend a lot of time learning how to spar in class. This gives them a lot of fighting experience.

For guys that don’t know how to defend against the clinch or how to check low leg kicks, they will easily become overwhelmed and dominated by a Muay Thai fighter, as was the case back in the 70s and 80s when Thai boxing was starting to make its way around the globe.

Why Beginners Should Study It

Muay Thai teaches highly effective striking techniques that are not overly complicated and easy to learn.

By only mastering a few basic techniques, proficiency in the martial art is a lot quicker compared to some traditional martial arts.

Through strength and conditioning, students will get into tip top shape and develop high pain thresholds.

Its also an excellent choice as a striking martial art to incorporate into a mixed martial arts career or even a professional fighting career focused on striking.

Best suited for: people that want a highly practical and deadly striking martial arts and dreams about fighting professionally one day.

Sanda

Sanda (Sanshou) is the combat sport version of Kung Fu.

Sanda was originally developed for the military as a fighting system that incorporates a variety of different techniques all woven into one system similiar to Sambo or Krav Maga.

In Sanda, students are taught a variety of techniques such as:

  • Punches
  • Kicks
  • Throws
  • Wrestling
  • Joint Locks
  • Take downs
  • Sweeps

A lot of the techniques you will find has been borrowed from other martial arts such as kickboxing and wrestling.

Depending on where you study, Sanda may be taught together with Taolu, the more forms and performance based version of Wushu.

Why Beginners Should Study It

Sanda is a great practical combat sport style of martial art that is very applicable to fighting and combat sports. If you ever intend to compete one day in some form of striking or MMA type of competition, then Sanda will provide you with a great base to work with.

Furthermore, Sanda is great for self defense on the streets as you will learn how to not only strike, but how to grapple and throw down opponents as well.

Best suited for: People that want to compete in combat sports that utilize a combination of striking and grappling.

What are your goals?

Before embarking on a martial arts journey and spending years studying a specific style of martial arts, its important to ask yourself “What are my goals?”, otherwise you may end up wasting your time studying a martial art that you don’t enjoy or that doesn’t get you to your goals.

For example, a grappling style like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu might be a good martial arts for someone looking to compete in the UFC, but if your goal was to fight in K-1, then its pretty much useless.

Do You Want to Learn Self Defense?

Certain styles are better suited for self defense then others.

While most martial arts will give you some skills in regards to self defense regardless of style, there are a few styles that outshine the rest.

If your goal is to learn a martial art that can give you the skills necessary to defend yourself then the following list of martial arts would be most appropriate:

Striking

  • Boxing
  • Muay Thai
  • Sanda

Grappling

  • Judo
  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Wrestling

Do You Want to Fight Professionally?

If your goal is to learn how to fight professionally then you can either go the route of trying to develop a strong foundation in traditional martial arts first before venturing off to a combat sport style such as boxing or Muay Thai or you can go and study these combat sport styles right from the get go.

The advantage of starting off with a traditional martial art style first and then branching off into another style is that you will develop strong fundamentals such as how to punch or kick to produce power.

Furthermore, you will learn some additional techniques that aren’t taught in combat sports that you could use as an additional weapon in fights such as spinning hook kicks, jumping back kicks, etc.

A lot of the professional fighters that are world champions started off in a traditional martial arts that helped them develop a strong base for example Anderson Silva (Former UFC middleweight champion) and Andy Hug (Former K-1 winner).

The transition time period between the styles won’t take that much longer compared to someone that started a combat sport from the beginning.

The only draw back however is you might pick up some habits from your old traditional style that works against you in a combat sport, however that can be quickly overcome through regular practice and repetition.

The advantage of starting with a combat sport style right in the beginning is that you will have more time to train in that style and won’t pick up bad habits.

However, you won’t have nearly as much techniques and weapons available to you as someone that cross trained and mastered another style before switching over.

Here are the martial arts styles that I recommend for a beginning to start with if they want to fight professionally:

1st Option

  • Karate
  • Taekwondo
  • Kung Fu
  • Judo
  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Wrestling

2nd Option

  • Boxing
  • Muay Thai
  • Sanda
  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Judo
  • Wrestling

Do You Want to Compete in the Olympics?

If your goal is to compete in the Olympics one day then just know that not all martial art styles have the opportunity to compete in the Olympics.

Here is the list of the current martial arts and combat sports that are in the Olympics:

  • Boxing
  • Taekwondo
  • Judo
  • Wrestling
  • Karate (starting in 2020)

Choose wisely if you wish to compete in the Olympics.

What Are you Strengths?

If your looking to excel at a martial art, it may be a good idea to select one based on your strengths.

If your a taller person, a striking martial art may be better for you such as:

  • Taekwondo
  • Karate
  • Muay Thai
  • Kung Fu

Taekwondo would work especially well for a tall person due to the heavy emphasize on using your legs to attack an opponent.

Whereas if your on the smaller side, a grappling style would suit you better due to having a lower center of gravity and having an easier time with throws.

For a short person I would recommend these beginner styles:

  • Wrestling
  • Judo
  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Are you naturally strong or quick?

For smaller guys, a martial art that can take advantage of your speed could be preferable such as boxing. You’ll be able to outbox your opponent due to your fast hands.

A guy that is strong would do well in a grapple style that allows him to utilize his strength such as wrestling or Judo.

What Interests You?

At the end of the day, whatever you decide to pick is pretty much worthless if your not interested in continuing to study that martial arts.

So pick something that you actually enjoy studying because your going to be studying it for a while.

Conclusion

With so many different styles of martial arts out there, it can seem overwhelming for a beginning to select a martial art.

But hopefully after having read this article, you can begin to narrow down your choices.

In this article, we looked at several beginner friendly martial arts such as:

  • Karate
  • Kung Fu
  • Taekwondo
  • Judo
  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Wrestling
  • Muay Thai
  • Boxing
  • Sanda

Each style of martial art has its uses for a student and depending on what your goals are, only a handful of them will help you achieve them. Its important to take your time selecting a martial art that is appropriate for achieving your goals and one that you actually enjoy studying in.

Before deciding to commit to one style, it may be advisable to try out a few schools and styles first because your going to be in this for the long run.

Good luck!

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