For centuries people have bragged about their chosen martial art. It's unfathomable how many times the words "My art is best." or "My style is the greatest." or other things of that nature have been said. It's part of the competetive nature of human beings really. It doesn't have to make sense for us to go on and on about it. The truth is that there isn't really one art that is above and beyond all others. Lots of really good arts are out there. It's the individual and what he or she does with what they know that determines how good it or really they are. And we also have to ask the question; What does "best" really mean? Well, of course, most commonly over the years, it's referred to which art is best for fighting or self defense. Again, I'd say it's not really a fair question. However, having spent my entire adult life and a good portion of my childhood either training in or discussing martial arts, I do have something to say on the subject of what makes a complete art.
Now, what do I mean by a complete art? Well, even that isn't quite an accurate description. You see, any art which has a set purpose or specialty and stays true to that with workable techniques and a well developed curiculum could potentially be considered a complete art. Akido or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for example could be considered complete arts, but not complete in the sense that this article will be focussing on. It's more a complete fighter or martial artist. The martial artist part could imply some character or phylisophical elements. So, we'll focus just on the "fighter".
A complete fighter is someone who is trained to deal with any potential type of physical conflict. This doesn't mean that they're unbeatable. It just means they're better prepared. It also doesn't mean that they can't have a specialty of some kind, but should be well versed in many areas to the point that they understand them at the least. One of the biggest aspects of this is that of functioning in different ranges of combat. If you are standing only one foot away from someone, you may not be able to high kick them in the face and even if you could, it probably wouldn't be your best option. Kicks work best in a range where they can get maximum power and utilize their full arch of motion. A foot away from someone would be a better range to maybe do a knee or elbow strike. It's important to have techniques which work in different ranges and to know which ones work best at which range. So, what are the fighting ranges? Well, that depends on your perspective. I've been taught a few different ways of looking at it by different teachers in different arts. I tend to look at it as from farthest to closest: weapons, kicking, punching, trapping, grappling. However, I've also heard it like this: kickboxing, knees and elbows, grappling. You can break it down however you want I suppose. The point is to know what works and what doesn't depending on your distance to your opponent though.
Along the lines of ranges and functioning in them, there is another important aspect. That is transitioning from one range to another. One of my teachers teaches a course on a type of Kung Fu where he focuses on takedowns of different variations and how to get to that point. He says that a fight can be looked at as a breaking down of distance. It just sort of collapses in untill the fight is over. Although he also said that sometimes a fight will expand back out from short range to long range. Some times people get knocked out with a roundhouse kick to the head. That would end the fight in kicking range and leave no need to go into any other range. So, it's a sequence of moving back and forth throughout the ranges and finding whichever one works best for you and worst for your opponent. Bruce Lee used to say, "When my opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand." It's a good concept and one that a good fighter needs to be familiar with.
Another important aspect of being a complete fighter is being familiar with different types of potential attacks. Knowing the ranges isn't enough, because different people of different fighting styles may attack using different techniques in the same range. So, you need to be familiar with the different types of attacks you may encounter. That doesn't mean you have to go out and learn every type of attack and master every move in every art. It just means that you need to know how to defend against different types of fighters. A boxer for example will use tighter punches than a drunk guy in a bar with no martial arts training, but both can hurt you and you might not be able to use the same exact defense on one as you can on the other. It's best to experiment. That's one of my favorite things about how Bruce Lee originally designed Jeet Kune Do. He had people grappling on the ground and punching and kicking on their feet in the same class long before almost anyone else was doing it. In JKD, or at least where I was taught, it's a requirement that you be capable of defending yourself against a "wild man" attack, a kicker, boxer, grappler, etc. Because if all you have is a guy throwing Karate reverse punches at you all day, that may be all you're ready for. At least make sure that you are learning to defend against every possible angle of attack, because that is something that you'll need no matter who you may have to fight.
I have three more quick points to make about what I personally think makes a complete fighter and that'll be it for today. The first is weapons. I've known plenty of people who didn't consider weapons training important and you can imagine that may have something to do with competitions like in the UFC. If that's what you're doing, you don't need weapons. They won't allow you to use them, but it could still help with your coordination. That being said, a complete fighter does need to know or more to the point, understand weapons and how to defend against them. Next, you also need to be versed in how to defend against multiple opponents in order to be a complete fighter. If somebody wants to mug you, they may very well bring a friend to help them out and there's no referee to stop them on the street. The final point I'm going to make today is that you should train both the right and left sides of your body no matter which side is your dominent side. The reason for this is that you never know what circumstances you may be in when and if someone attacks you. Maybe you just broke your arm or maybe you're carrying something when someone tries to snatch your purse and you don't have time to drop it and react to the attack at the same time. It's always best to train both sides. Bottom line is that to be a complete fighter you need to do your best to be prepared for anything.