Eight Letters Re: Selecting a Martial Art and a Dojo

Hi Jim and Family,
Many, many years ago I was an assistant martial arts instructor. I had studied several Chinese styles along with Japanese Kendo. I was making inquiries about instruction in my area for my daughter after being out of that area of study for over 30 years. The self defense instructor I was talking to said that for the best ‘out of the gate’ use of martial arts for practical street self defense was Ju-Jitsu, but to watch the style you want to learn. Basically the styles of Ju-Jitsu are quite similar but some are less suited for immediate self defense utilization. He stated his approach was toward the styles that deal with grappling techniques. His idea was that, for females particularly, the advantage the attacker wanted was one where the attacker gets the female on the ground and then he has control. A school that teaches good grappling techniques will train the student how to defend her/him self when on the ground, and make short work of the attacker or to grapple with the attacker while standing and place him on the ground. Unfortunately he was from a distant county or I would have had him teach my daughter. But the type of school I wanted to find was one where what is learned in the classroom can be immediately applied when the student walks out the door. And that was his method. Learning some systems or methods can take a year or more to be able to utilize in a practical sense. This is fine for athletic endeavors or building strength and endurance or studying it as an art form. But grappling techniques of Ju-Jitsu is best for getting direct tactically efficient self defense capabilities. It sounds trite or ‘grasshopper-ish’ but from my studies one thing Bruce Lee kept trying to get across to martial artists was that his form was no form. His approach to martial arts, and much of life, was well stated in an interview. He said to be like water. Water can rush forward with great force, destroying everything or it can flow around and erode away an obstacle. When water is poured into a tea pot, it becomes the tea pot. So be like water. Basically I think his concept of martial arts was to have a set of basic tools for self defense and by ‘becoming water’ you can mold those basic tools and techniques into an infinite combination to be applied to differing situations an threats. Don’t become hung up on the ‘style’ of martial arts. Style is nice but can be difficult to learn and easy to be defeated. Whereas good grappling techniques for ‘on the ground’ fighting as well as direct straight line use of force to defeat an attacker is more tactically and energy efficient. The instructor I talked with advised to visit as many of the schools in my area and watch what was being taught. It will take a bit of time but is well worth the time spent. I, like you, prefer the Way of the 1911. But a good set of self defense skills is something you don’t have to have a permit for, at least not yet; and you can carry them everywhere. Later,- The Rabid One


Dear Jim,
I read your blog a couple times a week. You recently asked about martial arts training for the family. Jujitsu is good. From what friends tell me, who practice martial arts on a frequent basis, the art you practice is not as important as having a skilled sensei who can teach it properly. Sort of like with firearms: the gun is not as important as shooting it well. See if you can find out some comments on the skill of the teacher. Even Tai Chi is a good martial art, but finding an actual self defense teacher of Tai Chi is very difficult. Best, – Heretic Monk


I am only a beginning martial artist, and have dozens of military and martial arts books, but one that read and re-read all the time is Living the Martial Way . (Similar to what I do with “Patriots” , and Boston’s Gun Bible, pick it up in the middle and learn something new.) I can’t recommend this book enough. Keep up the good work. Sincerely, – M.W.


Well I personally think a good year of solid training (2-3 days per week) of any martial arts will put you a few levels above the average Joe in this day and age. Ju Jitsu is a good suggestion or Aikido which is similar or even Tai Chi mixed with Dim-Mak for the light weight person. I myself have recently started Escrima as since I am of somewhat poor health I wanted a lower impact exercise, I also seen a fellow who needed a cane for walking use Escrima 100% effectively and kept three opponents from ever getting hold of him. It also made me think that learning stick fight would give you machete skills and some knife skills, and also number one is with stick training everyday items are weapons…canes, sticks, boards, shower rods, curtain rods brooms, baseball bats, toilet plungers–so handy items are everywhere…
Another thing to note is that women are women and men are men and there is no way to get around it. Yes, there are a number of exceptions where some women are as good as a medium sized man but in most cases a toe to toe fight is not what a gal wants to get into. A woman’s strongest body part is her legs and then her flexibility, Tae Kwon Do is one I would recommend for women I do believe Ju-Jitsu has many leg holds so that is a good choice too. if she can get a good leg hold she can easily break an arm leg or neck….but be careful men are really just more savage, instinctive and brutal beasts…
One other thing to note is sometimes no matter the training some people just can’t fight. I know, because I happen to be one, in my training I became a dojo fighter. This means I was very good at
sparring I was even able to keep up with a few orange belts while a white belt and orange in my class was five belts above a white. But the few real fights I was in, I went blank. Kinda like writers block if my first punch or two didn’t work or take a good hit… I was lost and defeated in detail, every time. 🙁 I don’t know the cure for that but be aware of it. Your S&W is a good back up – Wally


I am excited for your family; it sound’s like fun. I would say that the ‘style’ does matter but not as much as the ‘instructor’ and the ‘school’. In probably a year, I will be doing the same with our son(s). I will be looking for some one who teaches respect, discipline, control, and other values that good instructors pass along. I appreciate the spiritual aspects too, but I’m not looking for some one that will be passing on ancestor worship or praying to the Grand Master.

Regarding ‘styles’ some are more practical then others but the ‘instructor’ is the key. There’s a lot more to learn then just learning how to fight (however, if the school is not teaching them how to ‘aggressively’ defend themselves then it will let them down when they need it the most.) It’s is as essential as learning discipline, respect, and the other values.

What I’m going to tell you is considered “Old School.” The most important things is learning how to ‘block’, how to take a ‘punch’ and how to keep yourself covered when the chips are down; fighting is a contact thing (forget the art part). The first style I took was Kenpo (the instructor taught us how to cover ourselves and take a hit); it was very practical, straight forward, and easy to learn. I have never taken Ju-Jitsu and admire it as well as Aikido, but IMO I think if the person has already touched you, you have already failed (to protect your perimeter). If the Ju-Jitsu instructor is practical (and provides striking techniques) than I would give it a try.

One of my good friends recommends the Haganah F.I.G.H.T. (Fierce Israeli Guerilla Hand-to-Hand Tactics) System. He describes it as: “a unique combination of Israeli military tactics and Israeli and other martial arts—to defeat stronger, more skilled, and even armed opponents. Learn how to restrain, incapacitate or terminate your opponent fast with intuitive strategies and tactics. Haganah doesn’t employ countless, complicated techniques, but rather easy-to-learn systems enabling you to get confident and capable in just a few months. Men and women from across the country use the system to feel safe, secure, confident and stay in shape.”

Perhaps to save money, you could have the one son teach the rest of the family the lessons that they learned in the previous session (it will reinforce what they’ve learned and the rest of the family will benefit from it also). God Bless, – The Bowmn


Mr. Rawles:
I have practiced many martial arts in the last 10 years. Jiu Jitsu would be my first recommendation to anyone. A huge percentage of hand-to-hand combat scenarios are going to the ground at some point anyway, so you may as well know what to do once you get there. Someone ignorant to Jiu Jitsu stands virtually zero chance against someone even moderately trained. You will gain more in the first month of Jiu Jitsu training than you would in any other martial art.
That being said, Jiu Jitsu is virtually worthless in a two (or more) versus one scenario. Your best defense there is obviously the 1911. 😉 If I had to pick a martial art for multiple bad-guy encounters, I would choose Muy Thai kickboxing. Many of the martial arts that focus on striking are very good if taught properly, but for my money Muy Thai is the most versatile striking art around. Someone skilled could easily take down a large person with one well placed shot. (Best case scenario, obviously.)
The plus to both of these arts is that they are both immensely fun to practice and are an amazing workout. If you have an opportunity to take both I would highly recommend it. If you have any additional questions please let me know and I will be happy to help. Regards, – Big Wooly Mammoth


You were looking for advice on self-defense courses? I would strongly suggest that you look into either Jerry Peterson’s “SCARS” training or the new school of his protege and former partner, Tim Larkin. Both of these are very expensive but the systems are virtually unbeatable. I’m on the small side of average sized and after taking the SCARS course, no fighting scenario intimidates me (and that’s some serious rewiring there. The concepts these guys teach are geared to real world problems, while the other disciplines are built around exhibition fighting (where it is literally ingrained in you to stop fighting when the other guy says “enough.” That is very dangerous when you’re in the middle of a street fight.)
I know that you feel that it pays to buy “quality” when it comes to weapons that your life depends on. The curious thing about that is that the most lethal weapon you have at your disposal is your mind, and these courses show you how to take possession of that weapon so that, whatever the situation, you are never unarmed! Best Regards, – Jim K.


The study of a martial art should be a goal for any serious survivalist. We must remember to counter force, in kind; not all situations call for use of deadly force. The skills obtained allow the individual a force progression, from mild persuasion to deadly force, if needed. The martial arts foster respect for others, respect for self, team work, physical coordination and mental focus.
First, any Japanese art that has a “do” attached to it means “way” and in most cases can be viewed as a sport. “Jitsu” or “Jutsu” attached means “art” and in most cases can be viewed as a combat art. Jiu-Jitsu is the original samurai combat art, which uses your opponent’s force against him. This art uses joint locks, arm bars, throwing and grappling techniques to subdue your opponent. Judo was derived from Jiu-Jutsu, with most of the maiming techniques removed, except for arm bars which are allowed for senior rank competition.
I spent six years studying Jiu-Jutsu and competing in Judo, as well as a couple of years in Karate.
In my opinion, Jiu-Jitsu as a “soft” art is more beneficial than say Karate, a “hard” art. Hard arts focus on strength against strength moves, like punching, kicking and blocking. These arts may be viewed by bystanders as aggressive. Soft arts focus on off-balancing techniques which may be viewed as passive. This can be of benefit in a situation where the police are summoned.
One very positive benefit of Jiu-Jutsu is learning how to fall. In a throwing art this skill is a must. I’ve used it outside of training and saved myself unwanted injuries.
Christians who wish to become students, should ask the instructor if any meta-physical techniques or teachings are included in the training. Zen and Bushido (The Way of the Warrior) teachings are, in my opinion, not compatible with a Christian lifestyle. – Terry in the Northwest.