Enter The Braggin’ – At Last, A Definitive Answer To The Question “Which Is The Best Martial Art?”


 If you took a roomful of very religious people of all denominations and posed the following question “Which is the One True God?” the ensuing debate would probably be quite lively. If you let the debate go on for long enough, there’d probably be a fistfight. Even the Buddhists’ knuckles would start itching eventually.

If you performed a similar experiment, but made the group of people Martial Artists instead of religious people and asked the question “Which is the best martial art?” the debate would be even more lively. Paradoxically though, it would be a great deal less likely that the argument would end in a physical fight. Because that might go some way towards settling the answer to the question. And the last thing martial artists want is an answer.

They do love arguing about the question though.

You would get little patches of agreement. A few of the martial artists might concede that Taekwondo has the edge when it comes to kicks.  Or that traditional Okinawan Karate training makes you as hard as nails in itself, before you even consider the efficacy of its techniques. Or that, yeah, Wing Chun is great if you’re cornered in a tight space. After all, it’s tricky to pull off a roundhouse kick in a narrow alley or a telephone booth.

If you asked them a different question though, you would get the same unanimous answer from virtually everyone. That question is this “What kind of fighter would you least like to go toe-to-toe with?” And the answer you would get would be : “A boxer.”


Martial artists are terrified of boxers. Way back in the dawn of time, I used to train in Wado Ryu Karate, with a man called Sensei Ray Coates. When he was a young man, Ray Coates sold everything he owned and moved to Japan to be a personal student of Tatsuo Suzuki. Lived in his house with him and everything, Mr Miyagi style.

Ray Coates wasn’t scared of boxers, but he did once say this to me. “Michael,” he said “karate is the art of being able to beat people up and look really cool while you’re doing it. It takes a long time to learn, though.  If you just want to learn to defend yourself as quickly as possible, take up boxing.”

He was laughing while he said this, so he wasn’t being entirely serious but he was making an interesting point.

Martial artists aren’t terrified of boxing, they’re terrified of boxers. Boxing is a sport, not a martial art. As such it is limited in its scope. If you get into a fight with a boxer, he’s highly unlikely to punch you in the nuts because you’re not allowed to do that in the ring.

Boxing has no answer to kicks or throws or ground and pound. If a boxer has his arms pinned to his sides by one of his opponent’s mates while that opponent whales on him, he’s as defenceless as someone without any training.

But like I say, it’s not the techniques of boxing that martial artists are scared of. A punch is a punch is a punch at the end of the day. It’s the boxers themselves that are scary and what makes them scary is not their techniques, it’s the way they train.

To put it bluntly, boxers actually hit each other. Really hard. This is their main advantage in a fight. They can take a hit. They also tend to have a better understanding of distance and timing than most martial artists, but essentially their training has made them double hard bastards when it comes to absorbing blows.

There are many martial arts schools where you can get to black belt – and beyond- and barely have had your hair ruffled. You can know all of the most devastating techniques in the world, but if your legs fold under you the moment someone taps you on the chin then those techniques aren’t really going to do you much good in a fight. This is why martial artists are scared of boxers.

But now, with the rise of MMA, lots of martial artists are training like boxers anyway. Which means that lots of martial artists are nowhere near as scared of boxers as they used to be. And the question “Which Is the best martial art?” is being answered daily in the octagon rings of the world. Except, of course, that it isn’t.

The reason for that isn’t that it’s an unanswerable question. The reason is that it is a meaningless question. When someone brags “My martial art is the best”, they really mean “My martial art gives you the best chance of winning a fight.” But people do martial arts for many reasons, not just self defence.

Some people do them for fitness. Some people like the social aspect. Or the fact that positive effects spill over into other aspects of their lives. Or, like my old karate instructor said, because it makes them look really cool.


Of course every martial artist secretly thinks their art is the best. They wouldn’t be doing it otherwise, would they? But martial arts have grown up a bit since I first started practising them. There’s a lot more cooperation and sharing of information and a lot less Jackie Chan movie style “Your Kung Fu is no good” name calling.

Ultimately, all martial arts were created by human beings. Human beings are not perfect and therefore martial arts are not perfect. They all have advantages and disadvantages. They all have strong points and weak points. The only relevant question is not “Which is the best martial art?” but rather “Which is the best martial art for you?”

That’s just a matter of trial and error, I’m afraid. And remember, you can do more than one. This isn’t religion. You’re not trying to find out which is the One True God. It’s way more important than that.

© Copyright Michael Grimes 2015






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About thedailygrime

At that awkward age - too young to be a grumpy old man, but just acerbic and downtrodden enough to have an opinion. Read it here.

10 responses to “Enter The Braggin’ – At Last, A Definitive Answer To The Question “Which Is The Best Martial Art?””

  1. bwanadik says :

    Another great post bro. But Wing Chun Is, categorically, the best martial art. And I’ll chin anyone who says otherwise. Especially Ray Coates.

  2. danny says :

    i trained with sensei coates

    • thedailygrime says :

      I trained with him from 1988 to 1990. At the Karate Club at Newcastle Poly and on Saturday mornings at the squash courts on College Street. He was a very calming influence on my life. I also trained with one of his former students before that when I was still at school. A guy called Paul Fenwick. He was a very different kettle of fish. Complete animal.

  3. Nicholas Grice says :

    I was also at Newcastle Poly in the late 80’s and trained with Sensei Coates twice a week – big tall 6 five’ish Geordie bloke with a ramrod bearing who took no nonsense. I remember when a couple of local blow hards from a different discipline (in unnecessarily over logoed gis) gave it the large one in his dojo one evening – after being told in no uncertain terms whose dojo it was – he made them do about 10 circuits of the big sports hall on their haunches like Cossacks – he continued to take our training while they got more and more exhausted – Suffice to say they didn’t come back the following week! His sessions were disciplined and hard core especially on Saturday mornings when there were brutal amounts of sit ups followed by reps of press ups on knuckles. Nearly 30 years later I haven’t forgotten the stances and technique of twisting / telescopic punches with a loud “Kiai” – possibly true what he said about boxers though…. 🙂

  4. Matt Jeavons says :

    Like you I used to study and train with a Sensei Coates and his wife Sandra and I remember having a similar conversation about boxers with him too!

    It’s 20+ years since I’ve seen him and the crowd I used to train with – I can’t find any real references to him or the continued existence (or not) of the International Karate Association.

    Do you have any idea what happened to Sensri Coates and the network of instructors he headed – I can vaguely remember Colin (3rd Dan) but not his surname.

    Thanks for any insight you can shed!


    • Matt Jeavons says :

      Just flicked back through the posts and realised I was at the Poly Club and the Saturday squash court sessions (and I remember a dance studio on Wednesdays I think) around the same time as you – 1989 to 1992. We must have known each other?

      • thedailygrime says :

        Yeah, we’d have definitely known each other if you were training between those dates. I trained at the Poly club and at the squash courts 1988 to 1990. I used to go there with another lad called Mark Wardle. We would both turn up wearing black leather biker’s jackets most Saturdays if that helps jog your memory any.

  5. Simon says :

    I also trained with Sensai Ray Coates for some time in the mid-eighties – anyone have any photos or contacts from those time?

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