It is a very difficult task to determine which martial art is the best so first of all let’s take a look what a martial art exactly is and what not.
The word “martial art” consists of 2 parts ; “martial” and “art” both of them are very important as you will see in the following lines in the determination of what a martial art exactly is.
According to the dictionary the word martial means:
1. Of, relating to, or suggestive of war.
2. Relating to or connected with the armed forces or the profession of arms.
3. Characteristic of or befitting a warrior. As you can see, martial has everything to do with war and the ways of the warrior.
The word “Art” on the other hand gives the following definition:
1. Human effort to imitate, supplements, alters, or counteracts the work of nature.
a. The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium.
b. The study of these activities.
c. The product of these activities; human works of beauty considered as a group.
3. High quality of conception or execution, as found in works of beauty; aesthetic value.
4. A field or category of art, such as music, ballet, or literature.
5. A non-scientific branch of learning; one of the liberal arts.
a. A system of principles and methods employed in the performance of a set of activities: the art of building.
b. A trade or craft that applies such a system of principles and methods: the art of the lexicographer.
a. Skill that is attained by study, practice, or observation: the art of the baker; the blacksmith's art.
b. Skill arising from the exercise of intuitive faculties: “Self-criticism is an art not many are qualified to practice” (Joyce Carol Oates).
a. Arts Artful devices, stratagems, and tricks.
b. Artful contrivance; cunning.
So combining the two this would give us “a system of war principles and war methods employed in the performance of a set of warlike activities” as a useful definition for martial art.
In short; “the training of the methods and principles of war”
It is very important that we understand this because most martial arts nowadays are not martial arts as defined by the definition above. War is not defined by rules, competition or divisions. War has only one goal; the destruction of the opponent by all necessary means in the shortest time possible.
The moment a martial art sets rules of competition, divisions, and rules of engagement or protection, the martial aspect of the martial art is lost and the martial art in question becomes a completely different thing.
Now I am not going to write about the sports derived martial arts because the question in this article is “What is the best martial art”
In my opinion the best martial art is the one that gives you the widest range of options of survival in a true case of life and dead confrontation.
This means that the martial art must be prepared to give the practitioner the possibility and means to deal with both armed as well as unarmed opponents, single or multiple attacks and so on.
This is not only done by techniques because techniques and the human capacity to perform them in the short period of time (seconds) during a true case and in constantly changing environments , situations and against different opponents makes it virtually impossible to use only techniques to overcome all sorts of attacks.
This is where the martial methods in Japan became an art. Being aware of the limitations of training (limited time and physical capacity) the Japanese bushi started to study the underlying principles of war. They found out that all human beings have similar reactions when they find themselves in similar situations.
Let me give you an example to make this clear: When someone touches a hot stove his hand automatically recoils without even having to think about pulling your hand back. Or when your head is pulled down, your body automatically will follow and to prevent falling to the floor you will resist pulling to the opposite side of the force that is pulling you down.
Knowing and understanding these concepts gave the bushi in ancient Japan an enormous advantage over their adversaries. It increased by no small amount their capacity to deal with life threatening situations.
Today this is still useful and I think it will always be useful because humans today have the same reactions as the ones 600 years ago. We still share the same fears and instinctive reflexes and the principles of war have not changed, only the means by which we engage in war.
So if you want to practice the best martial art first of all you must be prepared to do a lot of hard physical training (did you ever see a warrior with an overweight of 50 pounds?) to prepare your body. Next explore your fears and instinctive reactions and adapt or change them to fit your needs as a warrior so you will be able to use them in true combat and finally learn to understand your opponent so you can use his fears and instinctive reactions against him.
This will give you the best martial art.
Peter Vermeeren is a traditional martial arts teacher for over 30 years. His websites can be found here: Takaharu Dojo and Kamikaze | martial arts | fitness | self defense