1) Introduction.
     2) What is a Martial Art?
     3) What kind of Martial Arts are there?  (the descriptions of the
        various arts are in section 16, which is in parts 2 and 3.)
     4) Which Martial Art should I study?
     5) How do I choose a School?
     6) (a) This guy says that his style will make a Full 
            Certified Warrior & Killer out of me in 3 months- is it serious?
        (b) What do I do to become the deadliest person in the world ?
     7) Should children study Martial Arts?
     8) I believe/don't believe in X.  Should I train Y?
     9) Rankings/Color Belt Systems
     10) What is Ki/Qi/Chi?


1) Introduction

This FAQ is not intended to be a Martial Arts Bible, but to give some
help to those that are looking for a place to start, or those more
experienced that would like to know more about some different style, have 
a particular doubt, etc.

Please note that this is not the Absolute Truth(TM) but rather an attempt
to give clear and basic information about this group and the martial arts.
Your suggestions, opinions, and additions are welcome; send e-mail to


2) What is a Martial Art?

A Martial Art can be defined as a system of techniques, physical and 
mental exercises developed as an effective means for self-defense and 
offense, both unarmed and with the use of weapons.

The origin and history of Martial Arts is a controversial issue.  We can
see signs of Martial Arts in Greek, Egyptian, African, Japanese, Chinese,
Thai, as well as other cultures.  There is a clear trail leading from the
Southern China-regions up to Korea, Okinawa and Japan.  The details before
that, and the exact details of that transfer, are greatly debated by
historians and Martial Artists.


3) What kind of Martial Arts are there?

There are many ways in which martial arts can be divided.  Here are
a few of them that might be useful to use in defining Martial Arts and
discussing them.  These are not necessarily consensus definitions but they
are commonly held.

It is also useful to remember that very few of these martial arts are just
one way or another...they are all mixtures of these elements in various
degrees.  When we say a style is "hard" what we mean is that the 
predominant expression of that style is hard.  If we say Shotokan is 
linear, it does not mean Shotokan has no circular techniques.

"Sport" vs "Fighting Art" vs. "Exercise" vs. "Philosophy"

These are usually NON-useful comparisons because people tend to be very
strongly opinionated on this matter.  Most people want to think their art
is an ancient "fighting art" and can be applied thus on the street.  Some
styles truly are all four, and to some degree all styles contain all four

In discussions of a style it is most useful when people highlight which
area or areas their style emphasizes.
"Linear" vs. "Circular"

This distinction refers to lines of movement, attack and defense.
"Circular" styles use circular movements to block, attack, or move.  
Around and aside... "Linear" styles use direct, straight-on movements, 
attacks, or head-on blocks.   In and out...

Styles can, and sometimes do, mix circular blocks with linear attacks.
This is a subtle distinction and not absolute, but it gives some

"Soft" vs. Hard"

"Soft" styles tend to redirect energy, channeling and diverting momentum 
to unbalance an opponent, or to move them into striking range.  They tend 
to be lower commitment and use less force.  Thus, they are less likely to 
be unbalanced and can recover from redirection easier.   Examples are Tai 
Chi, Aikido, Ninjutsu, or many Kung Fu styles and sub-styles.

"Hard" styles tend to direct energy outward and meet energy with energy.
They will tend to strike more, and deliver more force with each strike.
Hard stylists will often damage with their blocks, turning them into
attacks. They deliver more power, and thus are harder to turn aside, but
they are higher commitment, and thus don't recover as well from mistakes.
Examples are Karate, Tae-Kwon-Do, Muay Thai, and some Kung Fu styles and

"Internal" vs. "External"

"Internal" styles are styles that emphasize the more non-tangible elements
of the arts.  They utilize chi/ki/qi flow, rooting, and those elements
which some people consider "mystical".   They tend to emphasize 
meditation, body control, perception, mind control (self, not others!), 
and pressure points.  `Typically' internal styles are soft.  Tai Chi is 
an internal style.

"External" styles tend to emphasize body mechanics, leverage, and applied
force.  They tend to use weight, strength, positioning, and anatomy to
optimal advantage.  `Typically' external styles are hard.  Tae-Kwon-Do is 
an external style.

"Complete Art" or not

The term "complete art" is sometimes applied to arts that include strikes,
kicks, throws, pressure points, and joint locks.  The arts most often
mentioned in this regard are some Kung Fu styles, Jujutsu, and Hapkido.
Although some arts contain more techniques than others, no art is
"complete" in the sense that it includes all the important techniques from
other arts.  In general, every art has its strong and weak points, and 
each has something to offer to the lexicon of martial arts techniques.


4) Which Martial Art should I study?

That's a question that only you can answer, maybe with a little help of
your physician (in determining whether you should practice martial arts at

While some people advocate that "my style fits any individual", it is
very debatable if any single individual would adapt to *any* style.

It depends heavily on your objectives, but remember, these may change with
time.  Many people who begin martial arts training strictly to learn
self-defense become quite interested in other aspects as their training

(a) What are you looking for?

For instance, if you are looking for on the street self-defense
training Tai Chi or Kendo might not be your first choice.
Some choices:   Jujutsu, Hapkido, some Kung Fus, Karate, Kenpo (or Kempo),
                Tang Soo Do, Muay Thai, Tae-Kwon-Do, Ninjutsu, Kali, or

If you are looking for meditation and philosophy Western Boxing
is probably a poor choice as well.
Some choices:   most Kung Fus, Aikido, Tai Chi, Kendo, Kenjutsu, or Iaido.

If you are looking for a sport and competition, Shao-Lin Long Fist
would probably be a bad choice.
Some choices:   Fencing, some Karates/Kung Fus, Judo, Boxing, Kendo,
                Tae-Kwon-Do, and Savate.

If you are looking for intense body conditioning and muscle
development, Aikido is probably not the style for you.
Some choices:   some Okinawan Karates, Judo, some Kung Fus,
                Muay Thai, Tae-Kwon-Do, Capoeira.

Now these are general guides- in truth any art can be taught in a manner
which promotes any of these things- Tai Chi masters have competed, some
Aikido schools have rigorous workouts associated with the class, etc. The
way to find out is to look at three things, only one of which is directly
linked to the style.

-The basics of the style (what does it teach, what is it used for)
-The skill and the teaching style of the teacher
-The purpose and the logistics of the school.

See Section (5) "How do I choose a school" for the answers to the last
two questions.

Also remember that more "complete" arts (ones with more techniques)
naturally require longer periods of time for a practitioner to achieve a
given level of proficiency.  This is neither good nor bad; there are good
points on both sides of the debate.  This is simply another facet to
account for in your decision.

(b) Advice of many experienced Martial Artists here on NetLand coincide in
    the point of "go, read, look around, ask---then decide".

As above the teacher and the school have as much to do with what you will
learn as the style.  Check out the styles in your area. Go see some 
classes of the different styles and see what interests you and what you 
think you would stick with.

(c) Many people change from one style to another.  While this is a common
practice, accepted as a means of development, it is known that the first
style is normally the one that leaves the base, the more profound "marks".
Try to choose a style that suits your needs and at the same time offers 
you a kind of "challenge" to go on learning.


5) How do I choose a School?

This question is integrally linked with Question 4 "Which Martial Art 
should I study?".

A couple of things that are important parts to look at in the process of
choosing a school:

        -The environment where you'll learn and train
        -The people that will be your partners
        -The instructor
        -The logistics of the school

(a)     The environment where you will learn and train

Don't get impressed by the size of the place- just be sure that you feel
"ok" in there.

Also don't necessarily be impressed by huge number of trophies.  They may
indicate a very successful competitive school (if that is an aspect you 
are interested in) or they could be all show.  Check carefully.

If you are not allowed to watch any classes, you may not want to invest
your time and money.  Without seeing a class you will not be able to get a
good feel for the school.

Ask questions- don't worry about looking stupid or asking the "wrong"
question.   They are going to be teaching and training you- you want to 
get any concerns or considerations you have out before you commit to 

If you feel bullied or threatened in any manner, look somewhere else.

(b)     The people that will be your partners

Go, watch some classes (without participating), then ask to participate-
see if the behavior of the students changes by the fact that there is a 
new person in their class.

What follows is a quick and dirty check list, to which you can add your 
own points, based on what you consider important.  Remember: these 
questions and suggestions are just guidelines, not hard and fast rules. 
There will always be exceptions.  But if you look in these domains you 
will have a solid ground to choose from.

        - How good are the students?

This is more of a measure of the quality of the students as students than
their skill at martial arts.  See if you can picture yourself with these
people.  Are they attentive, respectful, interested in being there? Those
are all good signs...

        - Is there a mix of upper and lower ranks?

This is not always obvious in the styles without belt rankings, etc. It is
generally a good sign if advanced, intermediate and beginning students are
practicing together.  Check the approach the higher ranked students take 
to you- their help will probably be very important in your advancement in 
the Art you choose.

Some schools have classes separated by rank though.  Ask.

        -Is there a mix in the type of people in the class?

Although this doesn't necessarily mean anything if it is not present, it 
is a good sign if there is a mixture of males and females, older and 
younger people in the class.   It is a pointer to the efficiency of the 
Art if it can teach a wide variety of people together.

        - Do they move the way you would like to?

This will give you some sense of what you can achieve.  Look to the senior
students and see if they move the way you want to move.

        - Do they help one another?

In a small class this may not apply, but in larger classes it is a good
sign if the senior students support and assist the junior students. This
kind of personal attention will aid you greatly in your training.

        - Do the senior students seem fit and relaxed?

This will give you a sense of the atmosphere of the school.  If the senior
students are uptight, nervous, unfit, out of shape, or unhappy, it may be 
a sign to move on.  However, do not be put off by a single occurrence, 
i.e. because on THAT day the senior student was in a poor mood.  It 
should at least prompt you to look carefully though...
        - How common are injuries?

As most martial arts involve vigorous physical activity and contact,
injuries will occasionally occur.  However, if injuries are common and/or
serious, there is likely a problem in how training is supervised, and you
will probably want to look elsewhere.  It will be difficult to tell what
the frequency/severity of injuries in the class is in one or two visits.
Ask the instructor.

(c)     The Instructor

-You'll need some basic trust in the individual, as a beginning.

The instructor is the person who is going to be guiding your development 
as a martial artist.   You need to feel comfortable with him or her, and 
feel secure in receiving instruction from them. If you have some unease or
personality conflict with the instructor(s) you might want to look

        - Do the students get personalized attention?

This will be a good judge of how valuable your time will be.  If there is 
a good amount of instructor to student attention there will be more value 
for you.

        - Does the instructor differentiate between forms and function?

Another good indication is to find out if the instructor(s) differentiates
between form and function.  In other words do they do it "because it looks
good" or "because it works."  This may not apply if you are looking for a
martial art as a performance art or as an exercise (though then you want 
to look at the efficacy of their exercises...)

        - Does the instructor(s) differentiate between tournament and

As above, your reaction to this question's answer will depend on what your
goals are.  However, there is general agreement that tournament training
and self-defense training, while highly related, are different. If the
instructor does not differentiate the two- that may be a danger sign!

        - Violence in the class

If you see an instructor hitting students, or a senior student hitting
students, be very clear that it was appropriate before you consider that
school.  Though be aware - if you are unfamiliar with the art, medium or
full contact sparring may seem overly violent to you.  Violence as
discipline is to be avoided.

        - Are adjustments made for students of differing body types and

Another good sign is if the instructor adjusts the training of his or her
student's physical realities:  telling a slow person to work contact, a
fast person to work ranges, a heavy person to work leverage, a light 
person to work speed, or, conversely, concentrating on their weak areas to

(d)     The logistics of the School


This is an important element to be clear about.  You don't want to commit
to a school if you can't afford it.  It is impossible to address what a
reasonable price would be here, because the benefits offered, the local
economy, the quality of instruction, and the amount of instructor time are
all variables in the equation.

Find out if there are extra charges for going up in rank, find out if 
there are organizational dues, tournament fees, mat fees, etc.
But do not be upset when a Martial Arts instructor charges money- they 
need to eat and have a place to stay.  In our culture money is the way 
that happens.  We do not feed and house wise old men.  Now, some 
instructors, especially around colleges, or who have big garages;-) teach 
for free after their primary job.  However, the costs of a school, 
equipment, and insurance are frighteningly high.  The best way to 
determine if a school is being reasonable is to compare what they offer 
for the price compared to what other local schools offer for their prices.


If you are intending to spend a lot of time at the school you want it to 
be accessible, and convenient enough for you to get their after work, on
weekends, etc.


Another thing you want to be clear on is when you can go to the school and
when classes are.  Some schools are open almost all the time and have lots
of classes.  In some schools you can only come when an official class is
being held. An open school is usually better for obvious reasons-
convenience, practice time, access to mats, etc.

        -Commitments and Promises

This is an important thing to know about any school you will be joining. 
Be very clear on what they will expect of you and what you expect of them.
Some teachers want to teach only people who are willing to commit to them
and their style, some are willing to introduce you to their style and let
you dabble, some will teach you as long as you show up. None of these are
intrinsically better or worse, but you want to know where they are coming
from so you and they are not surprised.

Find out if you are required to attend classes, find out about being late,
find out what the policy is on school rules of behavior and etiquette.
Find out how you are supposed to interact with the teacher and other
students.  There are many styles for all these things so make sure you 
find out.  The easiest way is to ask these questions.

There may be other questions you want to look at and specific questions 
you have about an instructor, school, organization, or style you are 
looking at. Know the questions you want answered and you will find the 
perfect school for you!



(a)     This guy says that his style will make a Full Certified Warrior &
        Killer out of me in 3 months---is it serious?

     In short: NO.

First off, while many people enter the Way of the Martial Arts trying to 
be the deadliest people in the world, it is not true that the final 
objective of most, if any, Arts is this.  Many Masters say that the best 
battle someone can win is one that he doesn't fight.  Most martial arts 
are not designed to make you an instant killer.

Secondly, don't expect any miracle to come down on you, any light to come
through your window in the night and make you the most skilled fighter- it
all depends on your dedication, on your objectives, and on the amount of
training you get.  Any school that promises to teach you to be an "expert"
in less than two years (at the lowest minimum) is probably a scam.  
General net consensus seems to be that results can be seen within a few 
months but the elusive "MASTERY" is the product of YEARS and YEARS of 
dedicated work. Don't be fooled by false promises.

(b)     What do I do to become the deadliest person in the world ?

In brief: You can't.  While a Martial Artist does learn combat skills, the
final objective of a Martial Art is not to become the deadliest person

The Martial Arts recognize there will always be someone who is bigger,
stronger, faster, has a bigger knife, a more powerful gun, a longer range
missile, and so on.  The objective, then, is to become the best that you
can be, regardless of how good anyone else is.


7) Should children study Martial Arts?

In general, yes.  Some of the possible positives would be control of
agressiveness, instilling self-respect and self-control, as well as

The style that a child should take is a totally different question, and is
directly influenced by the style, if any, of the parents.  It will of
course be convenient if the child can practice with, or at least in the
same school as, the parents.  The major issue with children in the martial
arts is the integrity and trustworthiness of the teacher and the school.

The joints and connective tissues of children are more vulnerable to 
injury than those of adults.  Keep this in mind when selecting a style 
and school for a child, and discuss it with the instructor.  Schools 
which allow agressive joint locks to be applied to children or don't 
train them to refrain from snapping/hyper-extending elbows on strikes and 
knees on kicks should be avoided.  (It is for this same reason that good 
baseball coaches will not allow young pitchers to throw pitches which 
require hard snapping of the arm - like curve balls).  Throws, however, 
are quite different; the small size of children makes them naturals for 
arts which require falling down. 


8) I believe/don't believe in X.  Should I train in Y?

Some martial arts have philosophical and/or religious roots or
associations, e.g. with Buddhism, Taoism, or Omotokyo.  Thus, it is
natural for people who are considering a particular art to wonder if
it is compatible with their own philosophy or religion.

Normally it is not considered ethical for a Sensei/Sifu/Master/Teacher
to try to *impose* his own views on his students.  However, the
philosophical aspects of some arts may still be present in the
required training to the extent that some potential students would be
offended by it.  As with so many other aspects of martial arts, it depends
on the art and even more heavily on the instructor.  So, be sure to watch
for this aspect when you visit a school that you are interested in.  Have
a conversation with the instructor about it, and watch how he/she
interacts with his/her students.


9) Rankings/Color Belt Systems

Many arts have a ranking system.  A typical ranking from beginner to most
experienced master is: 10th kyu, 9th kyu, ..., 2nd kyu, 1st kyu, 1st dan,
2nd dan, ..., 10th dan.  "kyu" and "dan" are Japanese words; Korean 
systems use the word "gup" instead of "kyu".  1st dan and above 
frequently wear black belts.

That being said, do not put too much stock in rankings, and put even less
in belt color.  Belt colors are HIGHLY dependent on the art, school, and
instructor.  Some arts don't have any belts.  Some have only white and
black.  Some have white, brown, and black.  Some have a rainbow.  Some
instructors hand out rank/belts like candy, others are very stingy.  A
given color will frequently signify different ranks in different arts.

Rather than rank or belt color, what will determine an individual's skill
are how long and how intensely they have studied, the quality of
instruction they have received, and (to a lesser extent) their "natural"

A brief history of kyu/dan ranking systems and belts, contributed by
Steve Gombosi (sog@rainbow.rmii.com), is given below:

Before Jigoro Kano invented Judo, there was no kyu/dan ranking system.
Kano invented it when he awarded "shodan" to two of his senior students
(Saito and Tomita) in 1883. Even then, there was no external
differentiation between yudansha (dan ranks) and mudansha (those who 
hadn't yet attained dan ranking). Kano apparently began the custom of 
having his yudansha wear black obis in 1886. These obis weren't the belts 
karateka and judoka wear today - Kano hadn't invented the judogi 
(uniform) yet, and his students were still practicing in kimono. They 
were the wide obi still worn with formal kimono. In 1907, Kano introduced 
the modern gi and its modern obi, but he still only used white and black.

Karateka in Okinawa didn't use any sort of special uniform at all in the
old days. The kyu/dan ranking system, and the modern karategi (modified
judogi) were first adopted by Funakoshi in an effort to encourage karate's
acceptance by the Japanese. He awarded the first "shodan" ranks given in
karate to Tokuda, Otsuka, Akiba, Shimizu, Hirose, Gima, and Kasuya on 
April 10, 1924. The adoption of the kyu/dan system and the adoption of a 
standard uniform based on the judogi were 2 of the 4 conditions which the 
Dai-Nippon Butokukai required before recognizing karate as a "real" 
martial art. If you look at photographs of Okinawan karateka training in 
the early part of this century, you'll see that they were training in 
their everyday clothes, or (!) in their underwear.

Most other arts that have ranking/belt color systems adopted them from the


10) What is Ki/Qi/Chi?

There are no absolute right answers to this question.  Instead of giving 
the one true answer to this, below are several different opinions.

(a)     Ki doesn't exist.  Everything the ki model tries to explain can be
        explained with body mechanics, biophysics, and psychology.  There
        is no need to postulate some mysterious force.  Science can 	
explain it.

(b)     Ki exists absolutely.  Ki is an energy, a living force, a spirit 	
that can be used to increase your strength, throw people around, 	
etc.  Subjective experience shows that ki is real.  It may either 	
be a bio-kinetic phenomena science doesn't understand yet or the 	
power of the mind in union with the body.

(c)     Ki may or may not "really" exist.  It is a useful model.  The ki 	
mode allows you to visualize how to increase your strength, throw 	
people around, etc.--it doesn't matter if it exists or not.  If 	
someone invents a better model (i.e. one that is easier to 		
visualize), then maybe we'll switch to it.

Of the styles that stress ki, some work on developing the flow of ki 
within their bodies.  An example of this approach is Tai Chi Chuan.  
Other styles work on letting the ki of the universe flow through them.