During my global travels as host of The History Channel’s Human Weapon, I was able to explore a variety of martial arts. While the show’s focus was primarily the history of these arts, mine was their practicality. Having been involved in some form of traditional martial arts since I was six years old and MMA since I was 16 years old, I see two very different sides to the collective martial community.
On one side of the fence is mixed martial arts. Mixed, by definition, is a hybrid—a combination of techniques consistently refined by today’s gladiator, the MMA fighter. The problem we tend to have as MMA fighters is tunnel vision. We have seen martial arts come further in the past 15 years than the past 150 years. We have seen hundreds of fights and now have a strong sense of what works and what doesn’t in the cage.
On the other side of the fence are traditional martial arts. Some date back hundreds of years and are rooted deeply in a nation’s people, including Kung-Fu and Karate. These are the styles that—as mixed martial artists—we tend to almost look down on as “not effective” or “for fitness only.”
I admit that I was guiltily of prejudice. I would journey to a country and be genuinely captivated by the culture, people, and history, but often times lacked the respect for the actual “art.” If this worked, we’d see it in the cage. If we didn’t … it didn’t.
This was my thought process until I went to Israel and met some awesome Krav Maga instructors. They opened my eyes to the simple fact that MMA, as all encompassing as we think it is, is really linear. We have techniques designed and refined for very specific combat. While highly effective in the cage and often outside, they are, like it or not, for sport.
Don’t get me wrong, if you train in MMA you can handle yourself better than 99% of the population. The difference is what works inside the cage isn’t necessarily what will work outside the cage.
Ask yourself these questions:
• What if I have to defend a family member while I’m getting attacked?
• What do I do if I’m a BJJ black belt but have to fight two guys?
• How can I minimize damage if someone picks up a knife or bottle?
The list could go on and on. This paradigm shift forced me to reevaluate all martial arts and realize that in the big picture, some are very underrated. Here is my list of martial arts that I believe should get their due.
Judo makes the list due to its extreme effectiveness.We have seen a few MMA guys use Judo, but as a whole it is not trained on a regular basis. With Judo you are able to manipulate an opponent using minimum force and still remain standing, alert, and aware. Judo also gives you a great sense of balance, which is a fantastic attribute in any sport.
5 Krav Maga
Due to the fact that Israelis a country with roughly seven million people surrounded by 40 million people that “aren’t too fond of them,” Krav Maga is an art consistently being refined to deal with very real world threats. Every citizen has to do their time in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and everyone in IDF is taught Krav Maga. While most of the techniques are not cage-ready, this is arguably one of the most effective martial arts for the real world.
4 Jeet Kune Do
Often called the “Father of Modern MMA,” Bruce Lee designed a martial art with one simple principal: use what is useful. Similar to Krav Maga, JKD builds on many art forms and encompasses a wide range of attacks. Simplicity is key.
3 Kung Fu
As one of the oldest arts known to man, Kung-Fu focuses on the holistic sense of balance. Body, mind, and spirit are all trained in this art. While I am not sold on many of the technical aspects of Kung-Fu, I do believe that martial arts at its highest level is a use of the mind, be it to meditate for focus before a fight or avoid a street altercation all together. Another great benefit of Kung-Fu is that it teaches us to use our chi, a vital part of fighting if not just life.
While I don’t advocate beating someone with a stick, Escrima/Kali (yes, they are the same thing) is a great art for several reasons. First, a stick, unlike a sword, nun-chuck, or sai, can be found almost anywhere, making this weapons system a viable choice in the real world. Secondly, the techniques taught in Escrima/Kali can also be applied to knife and hand-to-hand combat. A focus on attacking angles and proper footwork is also a keynote for the curriculum.
1 Tai Chi
China has a few zillion people in it. How do they manage not to go nuts on a daily basis? I’m going to go with Tai Chi. This ancient art is not combat based, but rather a way to focus and align oneself. Many fighters have found the benefits of calming your mind thru yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi. I chose this as the #1 underrated martial art simply because if you do not have a calm mind, it is difficult to focus in any area of life. Have you ever had those days where you had so much going on you didn’t want to train? How about so much stress that it affected work? Train the mind and the body will follow.
Remember, at the end of the day, whether you are a Judoka, BJJ’er, boxer, mixed martial artist, or high school wrestler, we are all martial artists first.