Choosing the Right Martial Art

This is more of a personal question but what MA you’d recommend to a 30 something? There’s krav maga courses at my city but I’m not sure if krav is actually good? I’ve read conflicting opinions on it

It its native environment, Krav Maga is very effective. Krav Maga was developed by the Israeli Defense Force and designed around combat in very tight quarters. It’s entirely built to operate in modern Israeli urban warfare. That’s also the problem.

Krav Maga was, originally, designed to kill opposing combatants. In its original form, it was ill suited for police or self defense roles, and would have been a disaster for sports and recreational martial artists.

What followed was that Krav Maga filtered out of the IDF. The martial art was revised and modified for people who had different needs. Police didn’t need a martial art that could kill people, they needed one that could keep the suspect alive. Recreational martial artists needed something they could practice safely. MMA fighters looked at the potential applications in sport.

So, roughly 50 years after Krav Maga escaped the IDF, there’s now multiple variants of the martial art. It’s not even that there’s a single sport variant, or a single self-defense variant, because each instructor is going to have a slightly different take on it, and that will filter down to their students. These tend to be almost imperceptible, initially, but when you’re talking over multiple decades, distinct schools of thought will start to emerge.

If someone is teaching Krav Maga as an exercise routine, that’s not going to be what you want if you’re looking for a self defense style. Beyond that, not all schools are created equal. You will find quality differences based on the skill of a school’s instructors. Two different schools practicing the same martial art could produce students of radically different proficiency.

This is where it’s a bit tricky for me. Because I don’t have a background in Krav Maga, I can’t tell you exactly what to look for in a school to immediately determine if it’s what you’re looking for.

Beyond that, a lot of recreational or sport schools will advertise themselves as, “self-defense.” The easy one to point out is Karate. 99 times out of 100, if a Karate school is offering itself as self-defense, it’s not going to deliver on that. It’s going to offer the recreational form of the martial art (because, that’s what actually exists), and at best may offer some practical self-defense considerations above that, but it’s not a good martial art for self defense (unless, you’re really worried about attacks from time traveling samurai from the 17th and 18th centuries.)

So, is Krav Maga a bad martial art? No. It’s an entirely legitimate choice. However, if you’re thinking you can take eight weeks of Krav Maga and come out the other side with hand to hand skills on par with IDF Special Forces, that’s not going to happen.

I’ll admit, I’m biased, but if you’re looking for self-defense training, my recommendation would be Judo as a base. Particularly the, “self-defense,” strand of Judo used by Law Enforcement, if you can find that. (Usually, this will be via police or sheriff’s department community outreach programs.) This is especially useful, because the most important part of self-defense isn’t the martial arts, it’s the threat management skills. Actually, a major red flag with a, “self-defense,” course is if there isn’t a priority given to non-combat skills, such as explaining threat psychology, or methods to make you less attractive as a potential victim. In self-defense, avoiding combat entirely is far safer, and thus more desirable, than testing your combat skills.

If you’re after something spiritual or physical exercise, you have a lot of options, and honestly, most schools will accommodate this goal pretty nicely. If you’ve got the option, Judo and Aikido are my first thoughts here, Karate isn’t a bad choice. There isn’t a categorically wrong answer. If you’re worried about your physical condition, then Tai Chi may a good choice.

If you’re looking to get into competitive martial arts (such as MMA), at your age, I’d strongly recommend against it. As we get older, our bodies slow down (a fact, I’m pretty sure you’re well aware of), and competitive fighting is something that takes an enormous toll on you. When you’re young, you don’t realize just how much damage you’re taking, but all that abuse stacks up. Starting older is an option, but you don’t have the benefit of being able to bounce back from that wear and tear. That said, Muay Thai has been extremely popular as of late. Though there are a lot of popular martial arts, and sport focused Krav Maga isn’t a bad option. The same technical considerations that make it an effective CQC martial art still work in a competitive bout.

If you need practical hand-to-hand training, you probably already have the contacts you’d need to get access to the military strand of Krav Maga, but, then again, if this was the case, you probably wouldn’t need to ask, “why do I see conflicting opinions on it?” You’d be buying a ticket to Israel. If that’s your goal, and you don’t have the contacts, you’re going to be disappointed. You’re unlikely to randomly come across a school teaching practical Krav Maga. Even if you did, it would not be the right choice for, “normal,” self-defense needs. If you want self-defense training, find an off-duty cop moonlighting as a martial arts instructor.


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