When it comes to martial arts there are many different styles and selecting the one that best fits your child’s needs can be confusing. To make things simple, martial arts styles can be broken-down into 2 categories, practical and traditional. While some martial arts may in fact be both practical and traditional, we will be looking specifically at traditional martial arts that are based in theory.

Practical Martial Arts:

Practical martial art techniques are tested in a live contest, and there is plenty of data to back up the effectiveness of these techniques.

Popular Practical Martial Arts

Mixed Martial Arts
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Muay Thai

Theoretical Traditional Martial Arts:

What’s a theoretical martial art? Just like it sounds, it’s a martial art based whole or in part by theory. An example of a technique used in a theoretical martial art would be a groin strike or an eye gouge, something that cannot be realistically practiced without severely injuring someone. Many theoretical martial arts were at one time effective, but over time have been watered down so that they can be fun for everyone.

Popular Traditional Martial Arts

Tae Kwon Do
Kung Fu
Wing Chun
Disclaimer: Although Karate is listed a theoretical Martial art, there are a small number of schools that fall into the practical category.
Pros (Practical Martial Arts ) Pros (Traditional Martial Arts) Cons (Practical Martial Arts) Cons (Traditional Martial Arts)
Proven Techniques Fun to Learn Often Lack the Teaching of Core Values of Traditional Martial Arts Flashy Techniques Often Do Not Work as Well as Much Simpler Techniques Taught in Practical Martial Arts Systems
Opportunities for Competition More Likely to Teach Core Values Associated with Martial Arts (Respect, Honor, Discipline, etc.) May Lack Safety Depending on the Coaches Teaching Style False Sense of Confidence From Techniques That Are Less Than Effective for Real World Self-Defense
Confidence Backed by Proven Skill Flashy Techniques that catch the attention of children May be Intimidating to New Students Often Include Lengthy Contracts of 1 Year or More
Often Do Not Include Lengthy Contracts Upon Sign Up



Scroll to the Right to see full table of pros and cons

The Best of Both Worlds:

If you’re looking for fun, practical, self-defense that teaches traditional martial arts values, a good start is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Although not all Jiu Jitsu programs teach traditional values, many do, such as Alliance Jiu Jitsu. Muay Thai is another practical martial art that is steeped in tradition and values. If you find a coach that holds safety in a high regard, you can find a great practical martial arts program with the benefits of the more traditional theoretical styles.


If you would like to see a great example of Practical Styles vs.. Traditional styles, in competition, checkout the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC),. UFC One was a tournament of 8 different martial artist, each with a different style. These artist showcase a combination of practical and  theoretical styles, under very limited rules (groin strikes and hair pulling were all legal!)