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Martial Arts in a Nutshell - A Guide For All Beginners

For someone who wants to begin a martial art, it can be really intimidating trying to dive right in without knowing how to determine a starting point.  Just blindly previewing and reviewing individual disciplines alone can be tedious and exhausting.  To give a bit of a gentle nudge in the right direction, I’ve composed a brief guide to simplify your first choice. 

Just remember, just because you choose one martial art, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck with that forever.  In fact, I compel you to explore as many as possible. 

I truly believe, to be a great fighter (and even a great person) is to explore as much of life as possible.  The more experience you have, the more confident you’ll be, anywhere.  Above all, HAVE FUN!

To begin, I believe the simplest way to categorize most martial arts is by referencing what Bruce Lee regards to as The 4 Ranges of Combat.  Below is a summary of hand-to-hand combat and examples of martial arts. (This article will not dive into weapons, as it is always best to gain a good understanding of your own body before you include any extensions)

1.  Kicking - The longest range from your opponent.  From this distance, your only option is to either kick your opponent, or move (close the gap or exit the situation).  Martial Arts that focus on this range tend to train a lot of cardio - as you can imagine the effort it takes to move this part of your body vs. an elbow or a fist.  These attacks tend to be much more powerful than punches, however may not be as practical in self-defense/street situations as reaction time is significantly reduced.  You can find these tactics most commonly in martial arts such as: Tae Kwon Do (Korea), Muay Thai (Thailand), Capoeira (Brazil), Savate (France), etc.  

2.  Punching - The most common range of combat.  From this range, the action takes place much closer and attacks tend to be much faster, leaving you with less time to react.  Most martial arts focus on techniques and tactics from this range.  Due to the speed of combat, this range of fighting is commonly used in both sport martial arts as well as in self-defense.  A few martial arts displaying this range of fighting are: Boxing (USA/UK), Most forms of Kung Fu (China), Karate (Japan), Tang Soo Do (Korea), Pencak Silat (Indonesia), etc.

3.  Hand-trapping/Clinching - This is the range where body contact becomes no stranger.  The focus of these techniques stem from the manipulation of opponent’s limbs in order to create openings for attack, apply a submission/hold, or dominating your opponent’s balance with a sweep or takedown.  In self-defense, the nature of attacks also call for techniques drawn from martial arts that focus on these types of movement.  Excellent demonstration of these techniques can be found in: Wing Chun Kung Fu (China), Jiu-Jitsu (Japan), Krav Maga (Israel), Tai Chi (China), etc.  

4.  Grappling - The closest of all possible ranges of combat, (standing or on the ground).  To control the fight, martial arts focusing on this range place a heavy emphasis on positioning/holds, sweeps/takedowns, as well as locks/submissions.  Although grappling (especially ground grappling) may not be very practical in street situations where multiple opponents may be a factor, techniques taught from some of these martial arts can be extremely efficient and excellent against one-on-one fights.  In ground-grappling especially, the key to dominance focuses on using leverage to outmaneuver and control a stronger or larger opponent.  Ground-fighting arts tend to be science-driven martial arts that do not rely on strength or damage to defeat an opponent.  It is said that 90% of all fights end up on the ground, and one could not become a complete Martial Artist without any ground training.  To study this range of combat, perfect examples are seen through: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brazil), Judo (Japan), American/Scholastic Wrestling (USA), Greco-Roman Wrestling (Greece), Sambo (Russia), Aikido (Japan), etc.

Ultimately, martial arts becomes a game of distance management.  If you can control the space between you and your opponent, you will always retain a higher chance of success by avoiding their strongest range and playing to their weaknesses.

So where will you begin?


-Kelvin Cheong 1st Dan Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt, BJJ Blue Belt

1 comment

  • Joe Monzon

    Fantastic Post! You shared a great piece of content. Thank you for sharing with us. It would really be helpful for everyone. I love to read their blogs –

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