With Keanu Reeves’ Man Of Tai Chi hitting theaters today, let’s see which fighting styles would be most useless in a real fight.
There are more martial arts schools in America than there are 7-Elevens. Many of them offer some cultural mysticism from exotic lands, promoting supposedly lethal self-defense techniques - now available to kids! - for the low, low price of half this week’s paycheck. So in the world of McDojo’s, how do you know what’s legit? Not everyone is offering that UFC stuff: boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, judo, jiu-jitsu (otherwise known as the legitimate arts). Maxim.com donned its all-purpose black belt and tracked down the five least effective martial arts.
With obesity being a prerequisite, sumo is probably the one martial art that doesn’t sell people on healthy living and self-esteem boosts. Sumo fighters are basically rock stars that get to perform for less than a minute, but when it comes to actual fighting, they are more like air guitar performers - less about actual talent and more about amusing spectacle. Strip away the intriguing rituals and you’re basically watching professional eaters in a shoving contest. Pushing someone is, after all, a classic schoolyard bully move, but it doesn’t hurt much more than feelings, and the bulk of technique in sumo is what typically precedes a fight, rather than solving it. You’d probably think having nearly 400-pounds on a guy is an advantage in a fight, but rest assured it is not.
Take UFC 1 back in November 1993, where Dutch Savate fighter Gerard Gordeau kicked Telia Tuli so hard, Tuli’s teeth lodged into Gordeau’s foot. It lasted just 26 seconds. A few years later in Japan, Emmanuel Yarborough tested his 600-pounds against 170-pound Daiju Takase. After sloppily trying to grab hold of Takase, Yarborough implemented the dreaded smother on the ground. With his legs completely trapped, Takase hit Yarborough a few times, and an exhausted Yarborough tapped out like he just picked on the wrong little guy to cut in front of in the buffet line. In fact, sumo is so ineffective, it’s been almost 10 years since the art was represented in a legitimate mixed fight. Legendary sumo champion Akebono got tangled up in a shoulder lock by pioneer Royce Gracie, and sumo went back to the cafeteria with the other dorks.
There’s just nothing tough about the art of dance fighting, no matter what Only The Strong would lead us to believe. Capoeira looks cool in Tekken, yet on the mean beaches of Brazil, it was exposed for being impractical. See, Brazil considered capoeira to be their dominant martial art, until the Gracie family came along. The clan of jiu-jitsu legends had to sell their product by challenging capoeira fighters in order to elevate their art past the perceived reigning king of national fighting arts. Needless to say, the Gracies ended the dance fight fad, sending it to martial arts purgatory, where it’s now taught pretty much exclusively by white girls with cornrows.
In the cold, bleak winters of the United Kingdom, shin-kicking might seem like a viable option. Why not stuff some hay into your pants to protect your shins from repeated kicks? The entire purpose of shin kicking is to tangle the upper body in order to gain better leverage for - you guessed it – more shin-kicks!
Since shin-kicks are easily countered with a punch to the face, it’s so low on the martial arts ladder, it’s only one rung above “amusing slapstick.” Muay Thai fighters kick banana trees to make their legs impervious to pain, so they can double as a baseball bat to smash against an opponent. Meanwhile, rather than learn a real technique, shin-kick participants proudly partake in the preferred self-defense method of 4-year-olds. The impracticality of standing directly in front of someone to administer such a low intensity move like a front shin-kick cannot be overstated. Unless someone agrees to the ridiculous jacket-clinching, hay-stuffing, shin-kicking rules, chances are, a shin-kicker is going down in a real fight faster than a flopping soccer player (with no shin guards).
Aikido’s core philosophy is to avoid head-on confrontation, which kinda overlooks the fact that martial arts are meant to deal with precisely that. Compromised mostly of flashy rolls and closed-quarter wrist-locks, aikido is more about the fancy skirt garb than defusing a real attack. Case in point: Its most famous advocate, Steven Seagal, who touts a seventh degree black belt in it so he can hock energy drinks emblazoned with Chinese symbols and drive up ratings on his Lawman reality show.
It’s not enough for him to have fooled everyone into believing he’s a legitimate martial artist even though he can’t get his leg past his belt line. Seagal’s aikido bravado is so insane, he actually claimed to have taught the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time, Anderson Silva, the posterizing front kick “The Spider” landed in an actual UFC title fight against the incredibly dangerous Vitor Belfort in February 2011. When confronted with a real-world fight scenario by true martial arts legend “Judo” Gene LeBell, Seagal, like aikido itself, was choked unconscious.
1) Tai Chi
The idea here is that a practitioner utilizes their body’s own dynamic resistance, going through a snail’s pace series of katas to prepare themselves for a real-time confrontation. The problem is, since they have no real-time experience, they can easily be overcome with, you know, actual resistance. Tai chi advocates will say they employ their opponents’ energy against them with little effort - the classic McDojo defense - without ever acknowledging that they have no idea how to implement that when being attacked by someone both violent and prepared.
The reality is, no one has ever learned an effective martial art taught by old people wearing colorful windbreakers in a park. It’s been called “supreme ultimate boxing,” yet each of those descriptors are completely misleading. There is nothing supreme, ultimate, or boxing-like about it: It’s more like an awkward solo dance party than a practical self-defense tool. This is a martial art where trophies are given out for fighting the air instead of an opponent. There would typically be some frame of reference for a real contest in which a Tai Chi fighter was beat down, yet there seems to be a shortage of any who have ever accepted a serious fight. Watch an alleged Tai Chi fight and you’ll see more choreographed falls than pro wrestling. No one has ever represented it in the UFC, because it’s even less effective than Cowboy Karate (which we totally have eight black belts in).
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