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Judoka, Karateka or Martial Artist? – The Benefits of Cross Training

The benefits of training across a number of different martial arts is often, unwisely, undermined, by many martial arts instructors, more intent on ensuring the protection and longevity of their own club than the wholesome development of their students. Similarly, or perhaps consequentially, many students, often believe that their chosen martial art is the best, or better than any other martial art.

Having started karate as a 6-year-old, I was guilty of having only stuck to one single martial art, however this was more as a result of habit and circumstance than an intention to avoid cross training. In May 2017, circumstances changed when we moved our karate club to Ichiban Leeds, offering a wide variety of traditional Japanese martial arts. In January 2018, I resolved to try at least one other martial art, I chose judo (BJC), taught by Bob Jones. I knew very little about judo other than I knew it was likely to compliment my karate, having previously done very little traditional karate throws and grappling etc.

Wrist lock martial arts

Whilst still less than a year into my judo experience, I’ve loved every minute. I knew that I would learn new techniques, and expand my knowledge, what I hadn’t really anticipated, was the joy of being a beginner at something again. When you’ve done a sport or have been practicing a skill for a long time you take for granted how much you rely on muscle memory to do the basics. When you learn something new you have to start building new muscle memory and habits just to complete the basics and going through this learning experience again, has been really invigorating. Building the confidence to successfully break-fall from height, the rush when an uke throws you unexpectedly (and you land the break-fall) to just getting your head around new Japanese terminology have all, in their own right, been exciting, challenging and fun experiences.

So far, I’ve learned two main lessons from cross training.

  1. You start thinking like a beginner again.

  2. You realise how much you have to learn. It’s a cliched observation I know but bear with me.

Having a beginner’s mind is one of the best mindsets you can enter the dojo with and also apply to your life. Having a beginner’s mind means you put aside your pre-conceptions, what you think you know already, leaving you ready to listen, and ready to learn. As a martial artist you can always revisit a new move or way of doing something in one martial art vs the other at a later point, and debate the merits of one way over the other, but if you don’t allow yourself to at least learn openly, cross training will be pointless.

Clearly, I have much more to learn about judo, I haven’t even scratched the surface yet, but starting it has really emphasised the point that ‘You don’t know what you don’t’ know’, and that there will always be more that you don’t know. Sticking with just one martial art, can cause a type of complacency in martial artists, letting them believe that perhaps, ‘they almost know it all’ because they’ve been doing it for a long time. Starting a new martial art, with a beginner’s mind, will completely evaporate this notion.

There is a widely circulated quote by Bruce Lee, that I think perfectly sums up the case for cross training,

“The best fighter is not a boxer, a karate or judo man. The best fighter is someone who can adapt to any style. He kicks too good for a boxer, throws to good for a karate man and punches too good for a judo man.’

Having taken up judo and having started to dabble in some of the other martial arts at Ichiban, I am by no means going to give up karate. Karate will always be my ‘first’ and my ‘core’ martial art, but now I’d probably consider myself more a Martial Artists than simply a karateka.

Martial artists cross training, Muay Thai, Karate, Judo


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