When it comes to choosing a martial art, the offer can sometimes be daunting! Kickboxing, Muay Thai, MMA, Boxing, Kung fu... and the list goes on and on!
So what should you focus about?
First of all, it is very important to listen to its inner self. You might be very attracted to kickboxing but everyone around you is advising you otherwise; Trust yourself and give it a go! Yes, I think the first thing is to try stuff out. Try it and you might get a crush, because, yes it comes to the style but not only...
Your instructor is gonna be your guide towards the martial arts path, and you might as well get along with him/her. You need to share the same philosophy towards what teaching is to you; You might need a very regimented/military kind of instructor whereas someone else will be more comfortable around a teacher who is more gentle in his teaching style. Take a few minutes. to think about it!
The last thing you want is to get 2 trains and a bus to get to your class! Try and find something which is convenient for you! Generally speaking, if it gets you more than 30/45 minutes to get to your class your more likely to drop out when you'll have a session on a cold, rainy, gloomy day. Try to find something that is closed to your home or to your workplace. It's gonna be the best way for you to find consistency in your training and therefore improve as a martial artist.
Here we are in the bulk of the topic. The style. Bruce lee was saying that as long as human beings have 2 arms and 2 legs, there are limiations in the variety of styles. I generally agree with that. However there are a few branches depending on what exactly you're looking to learn (I'll develop it more in future articles) :
The traditional martial arts
Traditional martial arts are to me the classical music of combat sports. It's a little dated yes, but it is full of culture, history, philosophy and it gets you solid bases to then evolve in the martial arts world. The uniform, the belts, the forms ( Katas or Quyen in traditional Vietnamese martial arts). You're signing in to discover a whole new culture, country. With history attached to it, food, architecture, litterature. It goes far beyond just punching or fighting. It is about respect of the traditions, the hierarchy and it gives you solid bases through repetition of movement; Think of it as Yoga but with a more Yang and warrior approach to it! It is full of little gems, and seems infinite in it's ressources (weapons, self defence, forms, energy, stretches...)
Martial arts as Viet Vo Dao, Karate, Kung fu, Kali, Pencak Silat even Muay Thai in its most traditional form is a martial art.
Stand up fighting systems
We can call it ring sports or combat sports; The focus here is on sparring techniques. for the sake of being efficient in a 1 to 1 environment, with set up rules. This is a comprehensive workout as well as a tremendous way to overcome fear of confrontation. Understanding that being hit is not that much of a deal. It can satisfy competition spirit as well.
In that category you can put Boxing, Kickboxing, Thai boxing...
The distance is closer, and it's not anymore about hitting, but about grappling, wrestling, throwing away. Those are highly satisfying sports because you'll get back to something that will ring the bell of your inner child! Don't get me wrong! this is very intense! but there is something about wrestling that everyone did in his childhood with siblings or friends. It is quite instinctive ( at first!) but highly technical as well as a very effective workout!
Sports like wrestling, Judo, grappling for MMA... could be put in that category.
BJJ (Brazilian ju-jitsu) is the king there. There are some other sports/martial arts that are doing some ground work as well, but thanks to the Gracie family and the highly effective techniques taught there, it is a go to sports when it comes to grappling on the ground. Here we're at the junction between martial arts and combat sports in terms of philosophy. This is like playing chess with your body on the ground to submit your opponent; Can be practiced with a uniform (Gi) or without ( Usually for MMA)
A combination of the above. A form of stand up fighting, a form of grappling and a form of ground work. This is a pretty intense sport. The competitions usually take place in a cage. I mean you must have come across UFC! Otherwise, go check it out!
The focus is on defending oneself and their loved ones; Most of the sports above have a self defence dimension attached to it. But some sport, solely focus on it. It could be some sort of system derivated from military techniques, or could be an extrapolation of traditional martial arts for instance; Most of the traditional martial arts have a self defence approach anyway, as there are no rules originally ( However there are rules in competitions!)
Krav-Maga is the most known, but lots of traditional systems such as Kali, Pancake silat or Wing Chun Kung fu are specialised in self defence.
This is a non exhaustive list, as there are lots and lots of different system, but this should give you a good idea of the major branches.
Consider the type of outcome you're gonna get if you choose a martial art referring to those categories!
Last but not least, you want to train in an environment that suits you. would you prefer a nice and friendly atmosphere where you'd be happy to make connections and ultimately friends. Would you rather be in a competition atmosphere because you once want to be a world champion? This is a lot to go with the teacher of the class. But make sure you take that into consideration!
So, when it comes to choosing a martial art, you'd understand that it's not just about the style but it is also about the location, the atmosphere, the teacher, and obviously your desires and excpectations. Don't get stuck with the idea you have attached to martial arts. Leave your ego and your self consciousness in the changing room and get to training!