Does the Style of Martial Art You Practice Really Matter?

I recently wrote the following paragraph at the start of a book. I share it here as it leads into the opening of this blog…

Young Frank Axe Kick - Style of Martial Art“I began my study of the martial arts after an assault by a gang of thugs in 1974. The beating hurt more psychologically than physically, and for a long time afterwards, revenge was my prime motivation to take up martial arts training. The Bruce Lee craze was in full swing and I began training in Boxing and Taekwondo in June of 1974. It really did not matter to me that the style was called Taekwondo, I could just as easily have walked into Judo or a Karate club.


I was always more interested in the person rather than the style they practiced. The training and conditioning always was, and to this day remains more important to me than the style practiced.”

Taekwondo Times magazine as well as many martial art on-line forums have debated this subject at length. If you look closely enough there is even styles within styles.

From my own experience, style is down to the individual, and whatever style we choose at the beginning of our martial journey is an important foundation. It is in the nature of martial arts to instil a sense of loyalty in students. But on occasions, it can go a step too far, when it reaches the boundaries of being almost dogmatic and obsessive, and can end up interfering with our lives and the people who are close to us.

Martial Arts TrainingThe very first instructor that we train under in our journey has the ability to influence us greatly. Strong feelings and emotions are attached to this experience. We all remember our first instructor, training partners, our first uniform and our first training hall. Like our first teachers in school, our instructor set the direction, raised the bar for us and we ended up here today with a certain conditioning. This may have formed our judgements, our opinions and our own individual likes and dislikes on which style suited us best.

Back then, I wonder did the style really matter before we joined up. In my case, I did not even know there were other styles around. Mankind can be tribal, and most certainly we are all creatures of habit. Once settled in tribal, conditioned and habitual ways, many of us find any change uncomfortable. ITF style Taekwondo was a religion for much of my adult life, and traces of that addiction can flare up when I see a beautiful bladed side kick, or a dynamic demo. Try telling me that even WTF style Taekwondo was better and my guard would go up. So yes, style did matter to me at the time, and I would be offended if I heard anyone put down Taekwondo, even today, as it offers many benefits to millions worldwide, especially children and young adults.

As I got older, I explored other styles in considerable depth and it added to my personal development as a martial artist. I also had to go through a period of acceptance that as I aged, my body could no longer keep up with some of the physical demands of Taekwondo, such as high kicking or competition. It took me a long time to accept this. I finally retired from competition at the age of 37 after the advice of T.A.G.B.’s Kenny Walton, who told me to wake up to the fact that, no matter how experienced I was, a younger man of 18+ was going to have faster reflexes, and the chances of being injured were dangerously high. At that stage of my career, it just wasn’t worth it. So it was a natural progression to develop in other areas to satisfy my creative spirit and constant hunger to learn new things. I don’t think I’ll ever stop training in Taekwondo, I just continue to add to my martial arts adventure, which at the end of the day is a highly personal journey for us all anyway.

Taekwondo Master Hee IL Cho with Master Frank MurphyTaekwondo Master Hee IL Cho was a great advocate of Boxing. Little did he know that his endorsement would have a huge impact on me. I took up Boxing as well to help support my competition skills, and that for me was a whole new area to explore. So I added Boxing as an additional style on to my traditional Taekwondo style, just to have a competitive edge. However many of my peers did not, as they argued that traditional Taekwondo already had more than enough hand techniques in that style. Two current mentors in my life bear this out, Master Ted Hopwood and Master Shabir Akhtar

I look up to Master Ted Hopwood an 8th Degree Black Belt, who was a pioneer in the beginning of ITF Taekwondo in the UK, but today unfortunately has MS and this disease is challenging. Despite this, he continues to show me true Taekwondo indomitable spirit as he is nearly always in good form when I call him. Although confined to a wheel chair, he can command attention in a function room of seasoned instructors with his charisma and knowledge. He admits that Taekwondo was the only style for him. It stood him well and he did not see or feel the need to change it.

Another mentor of mine is Master Shabir Akhtar. He won every major Taekwondo competition during his time in the TAGB. He fought every one of the top fighters on the Taekwondo and Kickboxing tournament circuit in his fighting career, from the late seventies through the eighties. He is an example of a martial artist who expanded his learning beyond boundaries of the norm where he is also a qualified Chen style Tai Chi Instructor, Holds an ABA Boxing certificate, and every year travels to China to study Wing Chun. By the way, if you want to have an Excrima stick fighting course he would also turn his skilled hands to this.

Both “Stylists” are happy, both are free to choose whichever style they practise and venerate. My conclusion is both are right to follow what they believe is right for them.

I would encourage all martial artists’ regardless of style, to do two things, and I am not alone in this advice. Firstly, do try to get a solid base in one system or style. And then if you feel the need to do another style, by all means do so.

Secondly, and this is very important, respect all styles and all training exercises. Never criticize another style or system or encourage your students to do so, as in doing so, you really are criticizing yourself. If the ultimate goal of Martial Artist is character development and enlightenment, then none of us can judge on the matter of style.

Different styles make our world of martial arts very interesting. God, can you imagine if we were all doing the same patterns, drills and exercises, in the same uniforms, under the same name, and forever!!!!! aaaggghhhh!!!!

Finally if you are a beginner, or a martial artist on holiday, or new to another country and want to take up and enjoy your martial arts training again, visit as many dojos and dojangs as possible in your area. Consider checking out the instructor first before signing up to any commitment. You should then join the club that you feel most comfortable with, rather than the style.

Different styles make the world a better place, the respect of these differences make even better martial artists. Respect to all, and no matter what your style…Yes you guessed it……


Frank Murphy. 1st December 2011

2 Responses to Does the Style of Martial Art You Practice Really Matter?

  • Alex Paton says:

    Hi Frank,
    This is a fascinating account which I thoroughly enjoyed reading! I actually came across it whilst trying to find out about Master Ted Hopwood. I trained for 6 years under him and was employed by him working in his construction company. I was aware he had MS at least 20 years ago when he was diagnosed with the condition. At the time I was employed by the MS society and was doing a Masters degree researching the disease and possible treatments. I had many discussions with Ted at the time about new breakthrough’s etc.
    He was an unbelievable inspiration to me and many friends and current wife (and therefore my 4 kids!). A colleague that I trained with told me that Ted had passed away with MS which I could hardly believe. Thank God, I now know that this is not true.
    Having heard this, I have tried to find a contact address/email etc for him recently but have not been able to. I would really appreciate if you could give me an email address or even pass this email on to him. My name is Alex Paton and wife is Camilla Lewis and we trained in Oxford about 20 years ago. I really look forward to your reply and keep up the great work you do!
    Best regards
    Alex Paton

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