I’m the proud parent of a young boy, and someday will have to decide whether to let my son practice a physical contact sport. As a kid myself, I wasn’t allowed to practice any fighting sports or martial arts at all. I didn’t get to practice or learn a martial art until I was in college, where I enjoyed them tremendously. In high school, I wasted my time on more scholarly pursuits and fantasy boardgaming and roleplaying. While these are great hobbies, I want my kid to be as engaged in physical activities as he would like to be. Limiting a whole genre of physical activies just because they’re supposedly violent in nature seems to be a bit of a stretch. If my kid takes a fancy to sports, that’s okay too. I thoroughly enjoyed swimming and cross-country running and they were great physical activities. But, if he’s interested in martal arts… well… we have to pick a good one!
You can basically break martial arts into three distinct fields of physical dynamics. You have punching and striking forms (most notably boxing, karate, muay thai, etc.), throwing, grappling, and lock forms (like Judo, Jujitsu, Aikido, Tai-chi, etc.) and finally grappling, holds, and ground submission forms (like wrestling, brazilian jujitsu, etc.). All three represent different bodies of techniques and have their place in a martial artist’s repertoire. As UFC has shown, you can’t be a top MMA without solid groundwork, but you still have to get a hold of your opponent before you can finish him on the floor.
That being said, my son, if he’s interested in martial arts, must learn something from all three schools, but probably should emphasize the striking and throwing forms mainly. It’s been pointed out many times that only knowing brazilian jujitsu is a sure-fire way to lose a street fight. If he’s going to learn a martial art, I’m also hoping that this will add some positive survival ability if he ever gets into an actual fight (which I’m hoping he’ll never actually get into). We’re currently located in southern california (which has a lot of access to oriental martial arts) and is suitable for learning a bit of everything (or one really well if you want). So here is my short list of potential choices for Ravi:
Striking and Punching Forms:
Karate: The japanese group of karates has many different schools in the local LA area and we wouldn’t have to much problem finding a reputable teacher for him. I’m not sure I like the structured karateka aspect of these martial arts and they tend to focus a little too much on sport fighting which can create long term problems with actual ability. We can do this if he’s into it, but not my first choice.
Tae kwon do: I’ve never really liked tae kwon do due to their emphasis on high kicks and groin exposure. I’d be happier with a martial art that structured their sport to allow realistic fighting conditions than highly stylized rules that will get someone seriously hurt in an actual school yard fight. Not a top choice.
Hung Gar: The martial art of Wong Fei Hung, how could you go wrong! This seriously seems a very traditional style that emphasizes low postures and strong striking skills. It seems too be a winning choice. The only problem there were only two schools that I could find that taught Hung Gar in LA and they were both in Monterey Park. It’s a possibility, but that’s a long commute.
Wushu: The “official” martial art of China that emphasizes streches and acrobatic manuevers more than actual punching and kicking. It’s kind of sad that something so pretty probably isn’t all that useful. (btw- I still think Jackie Chan could kick Jet Li’s butt anyday, even if he “only” knows Chinese opera, the dude’s super cool.)
Wing Chun: Bruce Lee’s first martial art and one of my top choices. The style’s practical emphasis on centerline strikes and close combat fighting seems simple, but highly effective. Coupled with compact no-nonsense push hands makes this a style that can grow with the martial artist. The lack of grappling is a bit of a problem, but not if tied with another form that teaches throws and locks.
Jeet Kun Do: Bruce Lee’s official martial art! I’m not so sure about jeet kun do. I think the lack of a well defined school of technique leaves the martial art open to interpretation and allows less competent instructors to trade on Bruce’s good name. Only a strong choice if the instructor is awesome.
Kajukenbo: A top choice due to its street cred, but might be a little too realistic for a kid to practice. Still, I’ve only heard good things about it. It might be a bit harder to find instruction inas its fairly new and mostly in the San Francisco area.
Kung Fu: The most ancient tradition with multiple animal forms to specialize within your body type and physique. I’m all for kung fu, but the same problem as jeet kun do exists; you have too many schools emphasizing too many animal and weapon forms such that nothing is mastered. It’s a possible choice, but not a first choice.
Boxing: The staple striking and punching form. This one I’m dead-set against for Ravi, due to the wearing of gloves that increases the chance of long term head injury and the emphasis on actual bouts. It’s a good choice for a profession, but lousy as a hobby.
Throwing, Grappling, and Lock Forms:
Judo: This happens to be the most ubiquitous choice in the greater LA area, with large schools and a strong body of competition in LA. While this is mostly a sport, this would be my number one choice for Ravi as he can get constant highly competitive exposure to throws and grapples.
Aikido: A more pacifist form of judo that emphasizes throws and locks exclusively. I like aikido a lot (I practiced it myself in college), but I’m not so sure how great this would be for Ravi as there is a lot less competition than judo and its lack of contact sparring. A good second choice, but low on the list.
Jujitsu: Traditional jujitsu opens up strikes and kicks over judo and embodies a decent martial art all on it’s own. I wouldn’t mind him learning this!
Chin-Na: The chinese form of throwing and locking sounds awesome, but also a bit rare in LA. We’d have to be going to Monterey Park or China Town on a regular basis if he wanted to learn this. Not a first choice.
Tai-Chi: While I’m a bit biased as I studied this myself, these days the majority of tai-chi schools focus mostly on kata and emphasis the exercise and balance aspects of the art. I’ve seen a couple of studios practice push hands, but this isn’t the combat version that wing chun does. A good second choice.
Bagua: The only time I’ve seen this in a dramaticized is in the Jet Li movie “The One.” Totally cool martial art, but real world applicability might be lacking. It’s definitely too esoteric for a small kid and probably best to stay away from.
Lastly Wrestling Forms:
Brazilian Jujitsu: Or BJJ as the practioners like to refer to it. The number one choice in wrestling forms; I’ve been able to hold my own against guys 100lbs heavier than me. Definitely makes one feel bad-ass until you realize that all it takes to hurt you is two guys… this is a definite secondary choice.
Collegiate Wrestling: This is big in the mid-west, but I haven’t seen many schools that offer it or competitions in this area. If he wants to wrestle, I think BJJ is a better option.
There you have it! My short list of possible martial arts in the southern LA area. I’m pretty sure I’ve missed a bunch of choices, which I don’t know about in the area, but at least he’s got a great set of choices and my ‘learned’ wisdom documented for future reference!
What do you think?