Ever since the Gracie family's Ultimate Fighting Championship hit the scene and gained popularity, an ongoing debate is going on among martial artists: Is Gracie Jiu-Jitsu really the best fighting system out there?
Brazilian Carlos Gracie founded the style in the early 1900s, according to the Gracie's official Web site at www.gracie.com. The site quotes a newspaper advertisement from 1920 which documents the longstanding challenge to take anybody on regardless of size, weight or style.
The Gracies say their art has been proved to be the best fighting system again and again in "no rules" competitions.
Generally speaking, Brazilians tend to believe they are the greatest at everything, have the most beautiful women in the world, and so on. Credit must be given for them backing up their words with action, of course. But do their challenges and contests really prove what they say?
When it comes to the human body, training is very specific. If you want to become a faster sprinter, your training time is best spent sprinting, not running marathons, even though both races require running.
A sprinter who wants to "prove" that sprinting is the "ultimate running style" could set up a short race and take on all comers. The truth is, however, it would only prove who is the best sprinter, not the best runner. Change the race to the Boston Marathon and you are likely to get a much different outcome.
The Gracie style is built on the premise that most fights end up on the ground, so if you master ground fighting techniques - as well as techniques for taking the fight to the ground - you will be a superior fighter.
The "no rules" contests promoted by the Gracies - which do have rules, by the way - are tailored toward Gracie Jiu-Jitsu's strengths.
Here's where the premise breaks down: in the real world, you can't count on a one-on-one fight. Grappling arts are a great way to beat a single opponent but chances are, while you are rolling around on the ground patiently waiting for an opportunity to work into a choke hold or joint lock, your opponent's buddies are stomping on your head with their steel-toed boots.
And in the real world there really are no rules. Fights can and do include eye gouging, crotch grabbing, hair pulling, finger biting and anything else under the sun to come out on top.
Another question you have to ask yourself is, even if you are attacked by a single person who has no help, do you really want to go to the ground with them?
Sure, it's fun to wrestle around on a padded mat in a gym while wearing your workout clothes, but do you really want to roll around on blacktop or on gravel in your business suit or while wearing a new silk shirt?
In a nutshell, I don't think there is a "best" martial art style. Both striking and grappling techniques have their place. If you are truly good enough at one, you can probably do pretty well without the other, but being proficient in both striking and grappling can only improve your odds of coming out of a self-defense situation unharmed.
Which brings me to my final point: If you are studying martial arts to defend yourself, the ultimate goal is to keep yourself from getting hurt.
Win or lose, the risk of injury in many "no rules" type of contests is very high. Why spend 5-10 years of your life learning to defend yourself only to end up maimed or crippled while trying to "prove" your techniques work?
The best defense, after all, is simply walking away before a fight starts.