The whole purpose of starting this blog was to get people to talk about martial arts. I kinda felt like the more common forums for martial arts discussion were unfocused, narrow, and hostile. Case and point: YouTube. Look up any martial arts video on YouTube and proceed to the comments section below. What you’ll inevitably find is a cacophony of NSFW language and vulgar arguments (and strangely, harsh grammar corrections) all aimed at a answering a single question: Which martial art is best?

But this argument isn’t just limited to YouTube. It seems to be part of our martial culture. Take UFC for example. It started in 1993 as a tournament between practitioners of different martial arts to see which martial art would prevail in a no-holds-barred competition. Though UFC has moved on from that question, martial artists all over the world are still trying to answer it. Which, of all the countless styles and variations of mankind’s fighting systems, is best?

UFC 1 was all about answering questions like "Can a Jiu-jitsu fighter beat a boxer?"

UFC 1 was all about answering questions like “Can a Jiu-jitsu fighter beat a boxer?”

But define best. For that matter, define martial art. What you might find, if you’ve spent any time visiting various martial arts training centers, is that the definition of Karate or Jiu-jitsu or Taekwondo largely depends upon the people running that individual training center. When I was fifteen years old, I started training ATA Taekwondo. I loved my instructor, I loved the forms, I loved the training. I swore I would study ATA Taekwondo my whole life. When that school shut down, I found another ATA place and tried a few classes there. Big difference. In fact, I haven’t gone back to ATA since. So what changed? The instructors…

That brings me (finally) to the main point of this article. A martial art, in the sense of a system of fighting that can be rated against others in a contest, is defined by its dojo. It’s not the techniques or the philosophies or the forms or even the organizations that create good fighters. It’s the instructors, trainers, coaches, and other assorted staff that make up the dojo.  A  martial art is defined by its sensei.

Want a great example? Let’s go back to the UFC. In its early years, who was the undisputed man to beat? Royce Gracie, of Gracie Jiu-jitsu, of course. And what was the defining characteristic of Gracie Jiu-jitsu that Royce apart from every other fighter in those competitions? It wasn’t his ground fighting. Ken Shamrock was also a grappler and submission artist. So were Kimo, Dan Severn, and that Judo practitioner (I forget his name). Royce won because he was better trained. Remember the Gracie Train? The Gracie family, the UFC’s first fight team, was a unified collection of Jiu-jitsu masters and trainers that honed the skills of one of their smallest, weakest members until he was able to beat the best the world had to offer at the time. That’s a dojo.

The Gracie family walks out to the cage as a single, unified group...

The Gracie family walks out to the cage as a single, unified group…

I think I’ve made my point. But I still feel like there’s a question to answer here. Which martial art (and by martial art, I mean dojo, training center, or academy) is best? I will try to find out by posting my own video reviews of local martial arts training centers.  Unlike many forums that give a simplistic scale of awarding stars or a number between one and five, I plan on dissecting the center’s instructors, training style, facilities, and other attributes that affect its ability to turn out good fighters, competitors, and practitioners. I hope it will facilitate some interesting discussions in the comments section. And, of course, the reviews will be done with all due respect to these trainers and instructors. I expect the comments will be the same. We don’t want this blog to become an extension of those foul YouTube keyboard warrior sparring sessions…

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