There are a lot of questions which boil down to someone asking:

I want to learn a martial art, here are some criteria I want X, Y, and Z.

Nearly all are answered by

My style is super cool, you should train that!

These answers, which are sometimes well researched and thought out, boil down to a popularity contest. Many arts are very similar and it can be hard to see which would be a better answer between say Muay Thai and Kick Boxing or Savate were one to want a kicking and punching martial art. Also, most weapon and western arts are never present: what about fencing, archery, or Hema?…

The other answer is always

Art is irrelevant, teacher is what matters.

Which I think is kinda the best answer for all those questions.

I am all for increasing the volume of questions here provided that those are good questions. I do not think martial arts recommendations are good questions in general. I would be happy to have a community wiki with a generic martial art recommendation, perhaps with one answer per style as well as the accepted being "teacher > art/style". And all new martial art recommendation are marked as duplicate of that one.

What does the community think?

Is this a duplicate of Topicality of “What martial art should I practice” (and similar suggestion questions)? Kinda yes. However, the question was asked a long time ago. I think we should revisit with the experience of what questions were actually asked.


5 Answers 5


Two considerations.

First, "What style should I study?" is probably one of the most common questions people ask when getting into martial arts. It's absolutely on topic, regardless of whether someone is well informed or needs help to frame the question better.

Second, "teacher matters more than style" is a terrible answer by itself. It is, however, a critical point to add TO a full answer.

Most people from the outside imagine martial arts are standardized - you learn CPR more or less the same no matter where you go, shouldn't that be the same for a martial art that shares the same name? But if you've trained with different teachers from the same style, same school even, you probably have seen their training regimens and methods differ greatly, and you only get that with some time in the practice.

You'll note when I answer these things, I always include what qualities or aspects a given style TENDS to favor, and what you're looking for within that training, given whatever goals the poster lays out.

If we're getting bad answers that either promote one thing without thought ("My style is best!"), or promote no meaningful answer, the solution is to push for better answers (since, presumably, if you're writing an answer you're speaking from more knowledge, than the person asking questions).


The most important piece of information is what the OP's goals are. If their goal is to become proficient in Karate, the answer will be different than if their goal is to become proficient in self defense.

So if OP is strictly implying that they want to become better at X technique from Y art, no other arts are relevant, unless they have a similar technique that's worth looking at.

I wouldn't agree with "Art is irrelevant, teacher is what matters" because some martial arts ARE better at specific things than others. If someone has self defense goals, they shouldn't be training Chi strikes. If someone has meditation goals, they shouldn't train Muay Thai.

In summary, OP's will get better answers if they make their goals clear. Martial Arts is a broad topic, and still the wild west compared to other things on StackExchange.

  • I have seen Aikido dojo that train hard against fully resisting partners where military, police, and prison warden personel train so they can use what they learn in their job -- most do. I have seen Aikido dojo teaching mythical non-sense. Yet it is all Aikido… So, yeah, teaching does matter even within an art or style. The rest of the answer is good. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 9:41
  • I never said teaching doesn't matter. I was pointing out that the "Art is irrelevant" part of the statement is completely false. There are martial arts out there that are horrible for some applications, like fighting.
    – coinbird
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 13:42

I think it's pretty much inevitable that a lot of the answers will be "my super cool style" because most of us answered based on experience and, by definition, answers will tend to "my style" since that's what we have experience with. Most of the more prolific posters have experience with multiple styles, so it still provides a fair amount of breadth, and as long as the answer provides details for why the style works for the querent's needs, I think it's all good.

I think that mentioning that the experience highly depends on the teacher, especially in a less regulated art (some styles have federations that state what are the approved techniques and katas, so going from one school to another in the style means you're at least learning the same thing. The WTF and ITF Tae Kwan Do experiences tend toward this. Others are much less regulated, such as Capoeira where the same term might refer to two or three totally different techniques, so it's highly individualized), is worthwhile, but that should not be the only answer, because the styles do have characteristic footprints.

I do agree with coinbird, that if someone specifies a particular type of martial arts, suggesting a completely unrelated one is seldom appropriate. This discussion was inspired by by What are the best free online resources to learn Drunken Kung Fu style?, where someone was asking about how to learn Kung Fu, and coinbird instead suggested going to an MMA gym. That said, it's not always wrong, especially if the person posting the question seems to have gotten confused about what they're asking after. For example, if someone asks about katana usage in Krav Maga, you might suggest that they instead look at kenjutsu. In this case, coinbird clarified in comments that they felt that an MMA gym would provide practical self defense more quickly as well as better conditioning.

  • 2
    To add to this, I think that a less than clear question will receive a less than clear answer. The most important thing to a broad question is the OP stating their goal. "I want to be good at fighting", "I want to be good at karate", "I want to be good at Muay Thai". Those three statements from an OP would warrant three very different answers, regardless of what the question is, because now we can tailor our answers to their goals.
    – coinbird
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 13:45

Both style and teacher matter. Although the example punching and kicking criteria will not lead to a unique answer, it's difficult in general for an asker to know this before asking.

Here are objective reasons why style matters:

  1. Any martial art naturally focuses on some elements and less on others. Boxing is exclusively about punching. Someone interested in grappling should not pursue boxing. Judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu have only peripheral striking, yet for some reason, "judo chop" is a popular term. These are clear, nontrivial differences that everyone should be able to agree on separately from questions about effectiveness.
  2. Teachers have to decide what to teach students. There are teachers who believe that styles they have learned should be taught separately, and not as a mishmash that may not be consistent. A single teacher may teach one student one style, but another student a different style. The originator of bagua even preferred his students learn another art first, rather than starting with bagua.

Factors like expected time in training, physical/mental/health goals, competition/fighting goals, social needs/desires, age, and body state should all be part of the decision of what to study.

StackExchange to some extent is a popularity contest for sites that are not easily verifiable like martial arts. The key idea is for good questions and answers to get higher visibility through upvoting, not to stop bad questions and answers from being made. It's up to each voter to judge whether answers are useful and vote accordingly.

It's still the responsibility of established users to moderate recommendation questions. If questions are poor, too broad, or overly opinion based, they should still be closed. But the recommendation aspect should not be sufficient to close questions.

Regarding weapons, in the US it is more accepted to carry a firearm than a sword or bow. Suggesting study of these now exotic weapons does not make much sense unless the requester is already interested in them.


I agree that this kind of questions doesn't contribute much to the site. But I think we should go a pragmatic way. We need more questions to get this site out of beta. And beginners/martial artist-wannabees need/like to ask such things. I don't think it is a good time to declare these questions off-topic. If a similar question already exists, it can be marked as duplicate.

  • 1
    I disagree. We do not need more questions, we need better questions. We need to build quality, not volume. We will attract more people if the questions and answers are good ones instead of 100% pure manure. Of course, there is a scale there. ☺ Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 7:42
  • @Sardathrion Quality and volume do not need to be in contradiction. In addition I have seen very good answers to bad questions, and the other way is relatively rare.
    – Endery
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 7:47
  • True, they are not antithesis of each other. I have seen many bad answers to good questions. Quality is hard to get. Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 7:54
  • 1
    "You don't know what you don't know" is an important thing to understand, especially for beginners. Unless you grow up in a martial arts practice you probably enter with more misinformation than knowledge, and therefore the questions are poor. I think we do a good job of guiding people towards better questions, and it seems like we have a good ratio of giving answers they find adequate. Ultimately, the answers we give typically are just guide posts for types of training to go look for, where they get the REAL answers anyway.
    – Bankuei
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 1:18

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