I know my question is pretty common but I'd like to choose the best martial art for me. I'm a 20 yo guy, not too fit or flexible (I'm working on it tho). I prefer strike-based styles over grappling that I really don't like. I'm not necessarily looking for a style which is great for self-defense, rather for a style that is great for improving myself but doesn't take forever to improve in it. Here are the ones I can choose from and are taught in my vicinity: Taekwondo, Wing Chun, Boxing, Kickboxing, Ninjutsu, Aikido, Wado-ryu, Kyokushin, Nanbudo, Hapkido, Kendo So I have some good options but I can't really decide which one would be good for me. There are also some Muay Thai gyms near me but I'm kinda afraid of that style. I hope I didn't ask a stupid question or something. TIA

  • 2
    I am slightly concerned with the statement about not wanting to take forever to improve in it. Martial arts is like any skill, it requires practice. The more good practice you get in, the better you will get. Progression speed is (almost) entirely up to you.
    – JohnP
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 13:20
  • I agree. Although some styles certainly take longer to learn than others this is the difference between a few years and a few decades.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 13:25
  • Saying you only want something that will give you a path where you can see yourself get better and better over time is a pretty broad statement. All martial arts have their own criteria for what is good and bad technique. So if you take anything, you will probably be fine. You add that it shouldn't take forever to improve, but that's subjective. What takes a long time for one may be short for another. I'd just suggest going to a bunch of different schools, sit and watch a class or two, and then decide after all of those which one makes you feel most happy. Good luck! Commented May 20, 2021 at 16:37
  • Flexibility is important, perhaps especially in TKD, but don't "worry" about it. Just stretch for 30 min before classes, and also after. Even if you get about half a millimeter better every day or two, it adds up. When I took my first TKD course at age 26 or so, sitting on the mat with my leg straight out, I could only reach about half-way down my shin. For stretching or techniques, don't compare yourself to anyone, just do your best. It's a lot more fun to do things "right" when you're flexible, and it's fun to continuously improve. Commented May 20, 2021 at 16:58
  • Regarding the "not wanting to take forever", to be fair, there are schools of martial arts (or maybe just individual schools) where progress is strictly gated, whether because they firmly believe that students should spend a few years learning fundamentals before getting to the fun stuff, or because they want to withhold the fun stuff until they've extracted enough contract/testing fees. Contrast weapons usage in most Japanese TMAs (you don't learn them until higher belts) to something like Capoeira where everyone is drilling the same flashy kicks and jumps. Commented May 21, 2021 at 14:13

2 Answers 2


I'll go through the styles in order to give you an idea of what to expect. I would recommend trying several styles before choosing one so you find the right fit for you.

Taekwondo: This style is a Korean offshoot of Japanese karate (Shotokan I believe?). It is famous for its high kicks. You will need to be flexible to do well in competitions.

Wing Chun: Made famous by Bruce Lee this is a Chinese style that specialises in very close quarter punches and low kicks. Like all Chinese styles the lineage of any particular school of wing chun is likely to be worth looking into as different schools with the same style name can teach very differently and have little to do with each other.

Boxing: This is of course a western style. Largely competition based although many gyms offer fitness based classes too. Competitions are generally won by causing severe injuries so not to be undertaken lightly. Definitely practical, but perhaps only while wearing gloves.

Kickboxing: Basically boxing but with kicks as well. Generally less impressive looking than Taekwondo but still requiring significant flexibility.

Ninjutsu: largely weapon based and unclear in origin. There is basically about one guy in japan and his students that claim to know original Ninjutsu. They certainly practice something, but whether it's actually linked to the Shinobi/Ninja's of fuedal japan is doubtful. Anyone else claiming to teach actual Ninjutsu rather than just using the name is unlikely to have any Japanese connections other than this. I would be very wary of this school.

Aikido: A light grappling style. They specialise in joint locks and takedowns. They also tend to train swords, knives and staffs. Exactly what the training will look like depends on which of Mori Ushiba's student's teachings the school follows.

Wado-ryu: A traditional Karate style. This school will teach strikes and kicks but in a more stylised way than say boxing or kickboxing. That said it's still more likely to be more practical and self defence based than say taekwondo. They will likely also teach traditional japanese weapons.

Kyokushin: A much less traditional Karate style. This style is known for their full contact, no gloves sparing. Anything goes apart from punches or elbows to the head. Their kata (solo forms) are also different to more traditional styles such as Wado-ryu.

(I will omit nanbudo as I am not familiar with this style and don't want to mislead you)

Hapkido: This is largely a mixture of Taekwondo and Aikido. It's very impressive to watch. They teach punches, but prefer to showcase their flying takedowns, high kicks and joint locks. If you want to fight like 'Black Widow' in the marvel films go with this one.

Kendo: This is a sport based on older Japanese sword styles. They train with wooded blades and lacquered wooden armour. Its like a Japanese version of European fencing, some way from actual swordsmanship but a serious discipline in its own right. The equipment is expensive, so I would recommend asking about this on your first lesson.

Muay Thai: This can be anything from virtually the same as kickboxing to the original Thai Buddhist honour sport. The way to work out what to expect would be to ask whether kicks to the head are allowed. If not it is likely to be a more traditional school.

  • Before everyone tries to correct Huw on details, yes, it's imperfect but not a bad summary to get the gist of it. No need to go into too much detail correcting what was said above, in my opinion. Commented May 20, 2021 at 16:32

Honestly, I recommend tai chi (no impact, lifelong applicability), bagua (super fun, good in crowds) and hsingyi (pure striking, equal training of left and right), all of which can be learned in the Chinese system at a single school.

Best part is that much of the practice involves forms, so you can train wherever you are, whenever you feel like it.

Tai chi also sets you up to counter grappling, so you don't have to focus on the ground work you don't find appealing.

Chinese schools nearly always also teach weapons, which are super fun, and provide some weight training, often in range of movement that far exceed any traditional weight training. (I work out with a 3.5 lb straight sword for hours at a time, and it keeps me toned.)

You can find Chinese schools that teach free sparring even at the beginner level today, with the rise in the popularity of MMA. (This aspect that used to be reserved only for advanced students per the old country traditions.) Push hands is a mellow counterpoint to sparring, and is more mellow and arguably even more challenging than striking.

If you don't care about being a formidable fighter, quickly or ever, and your primary goal is health and self-improvement, tai chi is best because you won't get injuries training and sparring, and it won't leave your joints or back messed up as you age. And you can keep improving your entire life, into old age:


Note the balance in the above video—falls are a major killer of old people. The one clinically validated benefits of tai chi is reducing falls in elders. (Also works on slippery floors and ice;)

Here's another example:

Pretty good vs. Real mastery

Same practitioner, just a couple decades older. This master was famous for being un-athletic and sickly, and became one of the most revered and influential masters of his generation, because, in his own words, he proved that "anybody can do it" if he could do it.

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