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Choosing Your First Style & Beyond


t’s not uncommon for Martial artists of today to train across multiple disciplines. However, this was not always the case. In yesteryear, this was much less common and, in fact, frowned upon by many. One was expected to focus solely on a single style and master it at the cost of ignoring the potential advantages of assimilating knowledge from other systems. Some still cling to this singular ideology, but fortunately, most seem to understand the benefit of cross-training in multiple systems.

However, please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying that jumping from school to school is the key to becoming a proficient and capable Martial Artist. Rather, establishing quality habits and delving deeply into your base art, followed by expanding out and exploring other systems, is what I’m suggesting. Choose a primary art that becomes the rock upon which all your other studies are built.

So, how do we choose our primary art?

Well, first off, you must determine what is available. If you live in a big city like Los Angeles, options abound. You’ll find Kenpo, TKD, Judo, BJJ, Krav Maga and many other arts, all within a few blocks of one another. If you’re in a small town you may only have a few options within a reasonable commute. After determining the available options, you’ll want to observe some classes. By watching classes in different schools and speaking with instructors, you’ll get a good idea if a particular style is something you can see yourself doing and if you’d like to study under that instructor. It’s also not a bad idea to do a few trial classes in those that you find intriguing.

Once you’ve done this, one art will likely excite you more than the others and grab your interest. That is the style you should study. I don’t care if it’s Kickboxing, Judo, Karate, or any system in particular. The important thing is that it excites and interests you.

The art you choose needs to be something that you are or can become passionate about. It is through this passion that the necessary commitment and follow-through are born.

The only way to succeed in the Martial Arts and life, for that matter, is by developing the fortitude to push through any challenges that come our way. By choosing to study what truly piques your interest, you set yourself up for success. When you start your studies, you should plan to be there for the long haul. Start with the goal of working to first-degree black belt and beyond. Depending upon the school, getting to black belt can take anywhere from 3-10 years with regular attendance. Once you earn your black belt, that is the time to consider cross-training in other systems in addition to continued training in your base art.

As you add additional systems to your training plan, it is ideal to commit to them one at a time and work to the rank of black belt. By the time you reach black belt in a supplemental art, you gain enough experience to glean from it what you need to complement your base art.

You can, of course, continue in the secondary art or transition to the addition a 3rd system. Either way, be sure to continue your studies in your primary art. Remember, that is your foundation. By following this process, you can be assured of lifelong growth.

Before I let you go (until next time), I must add two caveats. The first of which is regarding “workshops.” I know you’ve seen flyers or social media posts about them. Workshops are where you study with an instructor for a very brief period. Usually, it’s a daylong event or at most a weeklong getaway. These are excellent ways to engage your mind and body as a Martial Artist. You will also likely pick up a few tips that will benefit your training. What’s different about these events from the long-term addition of a secondary art is that the exposure is for a limited timeframe.

Consequently, you aren’t going back and forth between two similar systems and repeatedly sending your body conflicting information as it’s trying to learn. You temporarily step away from your base art, approach the instruction with an open cup, and see what you can pick up. You may find your next art in this fashion, but remember not to jump into full-on training in a second art until you have reached at least the level of black belt in your first.

This leads us to caveat number two:

When I say working to at least black belt in your primary art before exploring a second discipline, I’m referring to “similar” arts. If you study a style that is predominately striking, adding a second striking system can become confusing and lead to sloppy basics. For example, let’s say you study American Kenpo, and before establishing your basics, you start cross training in Tae Kwon Do. This will lead to confusion. Principles and teachings will clash before you have developed the wherewithal to compare, contrast, and assimilate the different teachings.

However, if the arts are very dissimilar such as a striking art like Dutch Kickboxing and a grappling art like BJJ, you can progress in both and are unlikely to retard your growth in either discipline by engaging in both simultaneously. Instead, you become a more well-rounded Martial Artist. For this reason, I am a proponent of studying both a singular striking art and a singular grappling art simultaneously, should you desire. If you take this approach, beware not to establish the bad habit of quickly jumping from art to art. Whether you decide to train in a singular primary art or study one striking style and one grappling system concurrently when starting out, make a long-term commitment. Set the goal to work to black belt and beyond in your primary art and at least to black belt in any supplemental arts you study. As a basic rule of thumb, if a style doesn’t have a belt ranking system, like wrestling or boxing, plan on putting in at least three years of training for a supplemental art or a lifetime if they become your primary style. Remember, every system has something to offer a true Martial Artist. It is up to the practitioner to put in the work and make the style work for them.


Ian Lauer CSCS

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