Why Do People Say Traditional Martial Arts Aren’t Effective?

It’s a common idea that traditional martial arts are now useless in modern times due to becoming outdated or watered down. But maybe it is simply that traditional martial arts also play a different role now that we have more effective combat systems.

People say traditional martial arts aren’t effective because they are no longer the best options in terms of learning fighting or self-defense. The prevalence of schools that aim for financial gain and encourage cult-like behavior also adds to the belief that they are not effective.

The truth is that both traditional and modern martial arts systems can hold value and purpose in today’s society. Read on to understand the differences between the two and what types may appeal to your interests and goals the most. 

What Are Traditional Martial Arts?

With all the different types of martial arts out there, it can be confusing how to categorize them.

When referring to martial arts, people break these up into older and newer forms, traditional and modern. But what actually is the difference between the two? 

Traditional martial arts are systems of fighting that have historical roots. They were often built to teach people fighting systems applicable to that time period. They are closely intertwined with discipline, etiquette, and the philosophy of life.

Therefore, traditional martial arts have a long history and still hold a place in today’s society, but have shifted mostly into usefulness for the aspects of self-development like building discipline, having proper manners, and approaching life mindfully.

I go into the roots of martial arts from its origin to modern day in this article.

However, due to that approach and the fact that schools are not standardized and have differences in efficacy for the fighting system portion, you can often see martial artists emphasizing the wrong things and having an inflated view of their combat ability.

This is something that is tangible and makes it easy to draw unfavorable comparisons between traditional martial arts and newer combat system oriented martial arts.

Types of Traditional Martial Arts

Many traditional martial arts have developed throughout history. Some have lost popularity with time. However, there are several that are still widely practiced throughout the world. While not an exhaustive list, these are some commonly known traditional martial arts. These include:

  • Karate. Karate practice revolves around defensiveness and attacks but also seeks to achieve strength of character. Karate has stances, punches, kicks, and blocks. 
  • Kung Fu. Originating in China, Kung Fu is also called Wushu. It uses quick strikes to take down opponents. 
  • Tai Chi. Tai Chi is a martial art known for its gentle sequence of motions that blend fluidly. It’s non-competitive and can have meditative qualities. 
  • Taekwondo. This Korean martial art contains kicks, punches, and spinning techniques. It’s known for its speed and high-kicking movements. 

What Are Modern Martial Arts?

You may hear people refer to traditional versus modern martial arts. The traditional arts were developed within a specific culture for the purpose of teaching a fighting system at that time. Modern martial arts often teach their students to excel within a combat sports ruleset.

Modern martial arts focus on sport and competition over mental and spiritual harmony. Modern martial arts usually provide more direct contact fighting. While some forms may be derived from traditional martial arts, they usually have a shorter history.

Types of Modern Martial Arts

Seeing how the word modern is in the title, these styles are more geared towards our modern lifestyles and environments. There are many types of martial arts that are quite popular today, including:

  • MMA. MMA is well-known in the world of fighting. This type combines multiple forms of martial arts, which is why the acronym MMA means mixed martial arts.
  • Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ for short, this style focuses on ground grappling. In this sport, a smaller opponent may leverage angles and targeted positions to control and submit an opponent. 
  • Boxing. This standing sport involves two opponents throwing punches at each other, usually in a ring. Both athletes typically wear protective gear such as mouth guards, hand wraps, and gloves. 
  • Muay Thai. Muay Thai is a stand-up sport between two opponents involving punches and kicks with fists, elbows, feet, knees, and shins. Muay Thai boxers traditionally wear boxing gloves and are barefoot. 
  • Kickboxing. Kickboxing is a stand-up sport that involves kicking and punching. While it can be used as a combat sport against two competitors, it’s also practiced solo for fitness purposes. 

What Is the Point of Martial Arts? 

In such a modern society, you might feel that martial arts are unnecessary. Like some other sports, they may be seen as pure entertainment or fitness-focused. 

However, martial arts have a long history, and everyone’s reasons for practicing differ. So you might wonder why someone would practice martial arts at all. 

The point of martial arts throughout history has been as a codified system of combat that can be used for survival, personal development, and cultural preservation. Modern martial arts have a stronger emphasis on athletic ability, self-defense, and competition. 

Purposes of Martial Arts

There are several reasons to engage in martial arts. Some of the most common reasons people are attracted to this sport include the following:

  • Discipline and self-development. Martial arts, mainly traditional martial arts, promote discipline and self-development. The etiquette, rules, and philosophy often encourage using fighting as a last resort and value mental strength, wisdom, and self-control. 
  • Cultural preservation and community. Being part of any community, including martial arts groups, can help build community. Several martial arts connect people to the traditions of their cultures. 
  • Self-defense. Martial arts have long been a form of self-defense. Several modern martial arts, such as Krav Maga, are used primarily for this reason. 
  • Fitness. There are varying degrees of athleticism and coordination required for traditional martial arts. There is a heavier emphasis on power and endurance in modern martial arts. 
  • Competition. Several martial arts have a competitive component. Fights can be point-based, and ranks are awarded based on progress and skill. Martial arts are also in many global sports competitions, including the Olympics. 

Are Traditional Martial Arts Useless?

Different types appeal to different goals– so it’s essential to consider this question when choosing the martial art for you. 

Traditional martial arts are not useless. They offer self-defense capabilities over untrained opponents. They also help their student with self-development and other intangible benefits. Some martial arts like Judo do both and integrate strong grappling capabilities.

All martial arts have their time and place. Choosing a martial art depends on identifying your goals and selecting the most suitable one for your goals. 

What Is the Most Useless Martial Art?

When many people think of martial arts, they think of the fighting elements. So in this regard, what would the most useless one be? 

The most useless martial art for developing fighting capabilities is Tai Chi. This martial art focuses on using meditation in motion and uses graceful, slower, controlled, and fluid movements. However, it does a great job of encouraging movement and reducing stress.

However, if these are your goals, Tai Chi may be impactful for you. The usefulness of martial arts simply depends on your individual goals. 

Are Martial Arts Effective in a Street Fight?

How someone reacts in a street fight or any unplanned fight depends on several factors. Some people may freeze, regardless of their level of athleticism or training. Once adrenaline kicks in, others become alert and reactive.

When many envision a street fight, they see martial arts as beneficial. Some martial arts schools are more geared toward fighting, and some individuals may be able to use these successfully at that moment. 

Martial arts are only effective in a street fight if they train their students under stressful live-training situations. Some martial arts like Wrestling, Judo, BJJ, Boxing, and Muay Thai do a better job offering strong fighting techniques alongside providing this live-training stress tolerance.

While martial arts can be helpful in the fighting aspects, it’s hard to say with certainty until the moment arrives. It’s always good to be prepared, but, ultimately, getting out of the situation is always the better option.

Best Martial Arts for Street Fighting 

If you’re concerned about street fighting or self-defense in general, consider some of the following arts: 

  • Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) combines several martial arts and provides the most comprehensive fighting abilities for unarmed combat in the widest ruleset.
  • Muay Thai is known for fast strikes and powerful punches and kicks while including some elements of grappling. In many ways, Muay Thai is the most well-rounded and powerful striking system.
  • Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a grappling art and takes place primarily on the ground. BJJ athletes are experts at navigating control on the ground. So if the fight hits the ground folks who know BJJ can navigate that situation.
  • Boxing is the premiere martial art for punching. The simplicity and effectiveness of this fighting form make it faster to reach critical mass in defending yourself in many situations.
  • Judo teaches people to throw opponents and control them both on the feet and on the ground. It does an excellent job covering enough ground grappling to be brutally effective there.
  • Wrestling is the most well-developed martial art in terms of navigating take-downs and establishing dominance on the feet. The best fighters always have a strong ability to wrestle since dictating if the fight is on the ground or on the feet is powerful.
  • Krav Maga is an Israeli martial art taught to their military. It’s touted as one of the best forms of self-defense applicable to street fighting and attacks. In my opinion, the efficacy of this form of fighting depends on the school in question. 

Why Are Martial Arts Not More Popular?

Those who are into martial arts are often very dedicated. However, not everyone has tried a martial art or knows of the various types out there. While it seems people are either fully invested or not at all– there is a reason for this. 

Martial arts are not more popular because they can be challenging or uncomfortable to learn because people do not do activities that are similar to martial arts in daily life. Martial arts can also be not financially or physically accessible in the local area for prospective students.

Not everyone sees martial arts as worth their time for these reasons. Others may encounter barriers that prevent them from trying a martial art. 

Barriers That Could Prevent Someone From Trying Martial Arts

Some common obstacles that make it difficult for people to practice martial arts are: 

  • Fitness. Not having a baseline athletic ability or being intimidated by the athletic component when beginning.
  • Cost. Gyms, classes, and private trainers usually cost money, which not everyone can afford.
  • Time. Martial arts require consistent practice in order to improve. It may be difficult for busy individuals to fit this into their schedules.
  • Location. While martial arts gyms are widespread, they’re not everywhere. Living remotely or far from these gyms may prove difficult.

Why Are Weapons-Based Martial Arts Unpopular?

Although the idea of using weapons as a tool in martial arts might sound appealing, it’s actually less popular than unarmed martial arts overall. 

Weapons-based martial arts are unpopular because the accessibility and use of weapons are restricted in many places. Using skills like swordsmanship, even in self-defense, is illegal in many places, therefore the appeal of learning the skills is reduced.

Some tools are illegal to use outside of training purposes in many locations. For example, nunchucks, or nunchaku, are prohibited in Germany and heavily restricted in England. 

Furthermore, some skills learned in martial arts are illegal in many countries. The general rule of thumb is that it’s unlawful to use unnecessary force to dispel an attack. It’s often illegal when the martial arts heavily outweigh the threat and poses more physical harm to the attacker than warranted. 

However, the legality of using martial arts depends on individual countries. So, it’s best to check each country’s laws regarding this issue.

Most Popular Weapons-Based Martial Arts

If you’re interested in weapons-based martial arts, here are some of the most popular types:

  • Arnis. This Philippine martial art also goes by the name Kali or Eskrima. It uses sticks and bladed weapons, as well as improvisation to fight.
  • Fencing. While not typically considered a martial art, fencing teaches a fighting system using thin swords like the epee, foil, and saber in points-based combat simulation.
  • Geom Sul. This Korean martial art centers around sword fighting.
  • Kendo. Kendo is practiced in Japan as well as internationally. It uses protective armor and a bamboo sword.

Is MMA Better Than Traditional Martial Arts?

The debate of which martial arts are superior is a matter of opinion. Some are better at achieving specific goals, such as disarming an opponent, while others build more coordination and mental agility. 

MMA is seen as one of the top combat sports of all time. But how does it fare when compared with more traditional martial arts? 

MMA is better than traditional martial arts at teaching combat. This is due to live sparring and building competency in a wide range of techniques and situations. It’s a sport specifically designed for fighting against a singular, unarmed opponent both standing and on the ground. 

Because of its versatility and wide application in fighting, MMA is touted as the best way to build unarmed combat abilities. I enjoy learning mixed martial arts because you can learn several different fighting techniques while both standing and grappling. 

What Martial Arts MMA Includes

MMA, or mixed martial arts, incorporates aspects of many different martial arts disciplines under a unified set of rules for MMA fights some more prominent martial arts that are common in MMA include:

  • Muay Thai
  • Wrestling
  • Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
  • Judo
  • Boxing
  • Karate
  • Taekwondo

Are Combat Sports Better Than Traditional Martial Arts? 

Suppose you’re trying to decide between combat sports or traditional martial arts. In that case, you should consider your reasons for learning martial arts, as each has its strengths. 

Combat sports are better than traditional martial arts when it comes to teaching combat. This is because live sparring and contact are common. Those elements are required to teach combat effectively. Traditional martial arts often emphasize growth and self-development.

Many modern martial arts tend to be geared more toward combat sports than traditional ones. However, you can find elements of combat in most martial arts schools.

Something to keep in mind is that traditional martial arts are more accessible to the majority of the population due to fitness, aggression, and stress-testing in live combat situations being uncommon in the early stages of learning a traditional martial art.

Types of Combat Sports

Combat sports are competitive sports that involve one-on-one fighting under a specified ruleset. They may involve striking, grappling, or some combination of the two. Many types of martial arts have competition structures that also allow them to fit into the category of combat sports, some of which include the popular ones listed below. 

  • Karate. Karate is a Japanese striking-based art. Striking may be punches, kicks, or throws with the inclusion of knees and elbows. In competition, points are awarded for strikes, with specific techniques being awarded more. 
  • Wushu. Wushu is a Chinese martial art whose name originates from the words three and art. This makes sense seeing how it includes three elements: kicking, punching, and throwing. It’s a full-contact competitive sport. 
  • Boxing. Boxing is a standing combat sport that revolves exclusively around punching. Two opponents square off against each other. Due to the intense nature of these strikes, especially to the head, opponents usually wear protective gear such as hand wraps, gloves, and mouthguards. 
  • Kickboxing. Kickboxing differs from general boxing because the use of kicking is legal. Punching is also allowed, and the opponents wear some protective gear. Bare feet are usually required to facilitate proper kicking. 
  • Wrestling. Wrestling is a competitive grappling sport with several subgenres. The contact elements include throws, takedowns, locks, pins, and holds. Punches are not allowed in traditional wrestling, but aspects of wrestling are included in several other martial arts such as Jiu-Jitsu and MMA. 
  • Fencing. While fencing includes a weapon– a fencing sword in this case– it’s technically a combat sport. It’s a competitive sport based on a point system. The fighters don’t make physical contact with their bodies; their swords must touch the opponent for points. 

Reasons To Learn Modern or Traditional Martial Arts

It can be challenging to pick one martial art. I go over the many reasons to learn martial arts in this article if you want a deeper dive into reasons that might apply to you.

Generally speaking, modern martial arts are more closely tied to development within combat sports rulesets, and traditional martial arts emphasize culture, tradition, and self-betterment. The answer really comes down to what you’re hoping to gain.

Both modern and traditional martial arts have some shared benefits:

  • Increases coordination 
  • Increases endurance 
  • Increases strength 
  • Increases flexibility 
  • Better cardiovascular health
  • Providing a sense of community

However, both martial art forms also have their own separate advantages and disadvantages, which I’ll go over next.

Advantages of Modern Martial Arts

  • It has a stronger emphasis on fitness ability, particularly endurance, and strength. 
  • Some types may be more beneficial in a street fighting or self-defense scenario based on modern environments due to stress-testing techniques through live training. 
  • It includes the ability to spar or grapple in a controlled setting with safety rules. 
  • It incorporates more developed techniques of grappling, free fighting, and clinch. 

Disadvantages of Modern Martial Arts 

  • Modern martial arts centered around fighting like MMA have increased injury risk
  • If culture and tradition are important to you – modern martial arts don’t emphasize that.
  • If you are not fit or willing to be in high-stress situations – modern martial arts can be uncomfortable to participate in.

Advantages of Traditional Martial Arts

  • Traditional martial arts have a strong element of personal development incorporated. 
  • It includes a greater focus on mental and spiritual harmony and the mind-body connection. 
  • It’s more likely to connect you to the history, lifestyle, and philosophy of culture. 
  • It can improve fitness abilities in a gentler manner. 
  • It teaches usable fighting techniques (depending on the school). 
  • Some styles incorporate weapons into their fighting if you’re interested in weapon play. 

Disadvantages of Traditional Martial Arts 

  • Weapons-based training is of limited usefulness in modern life.
  • Traditional martial arts are not as effective as modern ones in creating combat ability.
  • Some techniques were initially used to kill or maim – so practicing them is impractical

Final Thoughts

Traditional martial arts are a somewhat less effective option at teaching raw fighting ability as compared to modern martial arts that are paired with combat sports rulesets.

That doesn’t make traditional martial arts useless – but compares it unfavorably against modern martial arts for self-defense and fighting purposes.

All that being said – traditional martial arts can be effective at helping its students find self-development options and work on their fitness while still being relatively accessible at lower fitness levels and willingness to train in a live-training environment against resisting opponents.

For more check out How Can Martial Arts Improve Your Life


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

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