Choosing which martial art to learn can be difficult.  There are many choices available. Different martial arts will benefit you in different ways, so being clear on your goal will make your choice easier.

Self-Defense

Every martial art teaches some elements of fighting and self-defense, but some more-so than others.  For example, Chinese Wushu is performance oriented.  Wushu students spend a lot of time learning choreographed routines, and do not focus on learning to fight.  Martial arts such as Muay Thai and Brazillian Ju Jitsu focus a lot of fighting, for defense and offense.

Physical fitness

When choosing a martial art, you need to take into account your age and any health concerns or injuries that you have had.  Some martial arts are very aerobic and contain a lot of jumps, leaps and flips that may not be suitable for all students.  For example, Shaolin and Capoeira involve many upside-down movements. Tai Chi, on the other hand, is a gentler style which may be suitable for people with physical limitations. Different martial arts also focus on different parts of the body.  Karate and western boxing are very good at developing upper body strength, while Tae Kwon Do helps improve leg strength.  Your size may also influence your choice.  Martial arts like Wudang, Judo and Aikido teach you how to use another person’s weight and size to your advantage, which makes them a good choice for smaller people.

Weapons

Many martial arts teach a variety weaponry, and some martial arts teach none at all.  Most Chinese martial arts include weapons training.  Shaolin and Wudang martial artists train many weapons, but Wudang is famous for the sword, as is Japanese Kendo.  Indonesian Silat known for its stick fighting.  Other martial arts like Ju Jitsu and Judo do not include weapons training.

 

Cultural Affinity

Learning a martial art is a great way to learn about a different country.  In your martial arts class you will learn about the country’s culture and maybe learn some of the language.  You may even have the opportunity to travel to the other country as part of your training!

Here are some martial arts by country:

Spirituality

Many martial arts are also associated with spiritual traditions.  Of course, you don’t need to be Buddhist to practice Shaolin, or Daoist (Taoist) to practice Wudang kung fu.  Although I am Daoist, I have students who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Atheist.  However, if you’re curious about Eastern spirituality, you could choose a temple style as a way to learn more.  If you are interested in meditation, Tai Chi is often described as “meditation in movement”.  Many people choose Tai Chi for the sense of peace it brings to their lives.

Resources

When you choose a martial art, it is important to consider your resources.  What styles are available in your area?  What are the teachers like?  The quality of instruction varies greatly within style, and every style has good and bad teachers.  This means that the karate studio half an hour away may be a better choice than the one down the street.  The more flexibility you have with your schedule and the further you are able to travel, the more choices you will have.

The internet can also be a great resource.  You can read articles about the different styles of martial arts, watch videos on YouTube to compare what they look like, and search for schools in your area.  I recommend trying a class at a few schools before making your choice.  If you are interested in learning a style that is not available your area, technology can also help you there too.  You may be able to find DVDs or an online learning program for your favorite style.