|How many styles?|
What is the best? Training in one martial art or many? If more than one is of a benefit then how many more? In my opinion, there is not one good answer.
I train in TSYR and prior to that aikido. At one point I was doing both. I remember asking my aikido instructor what he thought of cross-training and he said that was fine as long as you have a foundation in one martial pursuit first.
I have met some people on that mat that have studied many martial arts through their lives but not necessarily at the same time.
What are the challenges? First there is the issue of available training time. If you have a family and a job then your time will be limited. You will have to work around those important commitments. You will need to find a club or dojo that fits in with your lifestyle. A club that trains on Saturdays is no good if you have to take your daughter to her soccer games on that day.
If you are single with flexible working hours then things open up for you. So you have time? How do you use it? You will need to find clubs that train on alternate days so you can get to the training times. Perhaps an aikido dojo trains three times a week, on the alternate days you train in karate.
Even if you have plenty of time to give to martial arts you have to have access to dojo or training halls nearby. Your time disappears quickly if you are travelling two or three hours to get to your training every time. It may mean moving to a larger town or city where more clubs are available. In New Zealand most towns have a Judo or Tae Kwon Do club but you need to move to a bigger place to get the variety of styles.
Training in different martial arts certainly gives an insight into how each style trains and focuses on and you can quickly make a comparison but I'm not sure you progress as a quality martial artist as quickly.
What is the advantage to training in one martial art? Well, if you spend all your available time on that martial art, you will get good at it sooner than a person who is spreading time across two or three martial arts (or do you?). Even here I find myself thinking of exceptions. Some people find different martial arts that compliment each other and training in one may help your technique in another. Sometimes people are just talented and pick up body mechanics and movement much easier than others so find training in more than one martial art easy.
For now let us assume we are doing one martial art and training as often as we can. What does this do for us? Firstly you are taught some fundamental skills in that martial art. Depending on that martial art you will be developing cardiovascular fitness, balance, timing and speed. As you progress you will become better and better at the different waza or kata. You will learn more waza and kata. Over time your training will take on new levels as you look more deeply into principles and ways your body has been trained to move. Hopefully you will internalise the movements that make up your martial art. They will become second nature and others will see you as being very good.
I trained in aikido for about 9 years and a large part of this training included taking ukemi. Without a doubt, that aspect of my training has been internalised and even though I train in another budo, the skills I learned before are well ingrained. There is certainly an advantage to sticking at one martial art for a long time.
What are the advantages to training across more than one martial art? Well, first of all you get to see the differences and similarities of two or more fighting systems. Maybe a technique common to both is applied differently. You get a lot of information in a shorter amount of time while you learn the basics of two or more disciplines.
The downside, and I see it as a major downside, is that this information overload can be conflicting or confusing for complete beginners. If you have never done martial arts before then you have no point of reference. You can start blurring techniques and trying things that are complete rubbish and not found in either art you are training in.
From my personal experience and from what others have told me, it would seem the safest route would be to get a grounding in one martial art first. Once you think you are at least competent in that martial art then start considering your next path.
When choosing another martial art you should either train in a complimentary art or one that has a completely different focus.
For example, Aikido is a Japanese martial art that focuses on joint locks and throws. Training in solid striking with hands and feet is not paramount. A complimentary martial art to take up would be a karate style. It is still a Japanese martial art so many terms are similar but there is a heavy focus on doing a good kick or punch. In this way you develop a more holistic approach to your training. Western Boxing would also develop good striking but due to its very different background could cause a student to develop the wrong body mechanics or mindset.
Most people I have met who have trained in more than one martial art appear to have progressed from one to another in a natural sequence. They have become better and better martial artists as they have transitioned, learning what each art had to offer. Many still have a core martial art they have their base movements in.
My current instructor trained for many years in Goju Ryu Karate. This style of karate has strong Okinawan influences and practices. He then moved into Wado Ryu karate which has Okinawan and Japanese influences. While still training in this style he began training in TSYR. This progression actually has a nice continuity about it. He started with a purely Okinawan martial art, then to a martial art with both Okinawan and the more subtle Japanese Jujutsu elements and finally to a classcial Jujutsu school. He now presents as a very proficient martial artist who can inform his current practice based on years of studying earlier arts.
Even my own less lofty journey makes sense in a way. Aikido training has elements of the more traditional jujutsu way of training and when I began training in TSYR I found some familiar elements within. I was familiar with joint locks and wearing a hakama and some of the Japanese terminology. There were certainly differences (sword work being one of them) but overall learning aikido certainly prepared me for training in TSYR.
Training for a long time in one martial art also teaches other things. One learns perseverance. To never give up and to move through frustration in yourself and your progress. You learn to trust that you will get better in time. When you take up another discipline you are familiar with starting again, learning basics and being patient with yourself and others. You also learn what your limits are in those early years. You learn to listen to your body and understand when to push through discomfort but not to push on to a point of harming yourself. Long time practitioners of the martial arts also learn how to teach themselves, how to use their time off the mat to further their training. It might be practicing sword cuts in your garage or going through rolling drills. In this way when you start a new discipline you know what it takes to progress quickly.
In conclusion, I would have to say that getting a strong foundation in one martial art and then trying others is my preferred way to train. In this way you can make better decisions in choosing your next path and making sure it is a logical progression in your martial arts journey.