Which is the least useful martial art to know in a street fight situation?

Peter Cohen, 13 years of training in various striking styles, plus 7 years of melee weapons.

A tea ceremony master was walking through the town market one day when he accidentally jostled a samurai. The samurai took great offense, but because the samurai and the tea ceremony master were of the same social caste, the samurai could not simply lop off the tea ceremony master’s head. So the samurai challenged the tea ceremony master to a duel the following dawn.

Now the tea ceremony master knew nothing of sword fighting, but was bound by honor to show up for this duel. Not wanting to embarrass himself, he went to the town sword master and asked the sword master if he could be taught to use a sword. The sword master was rather flustered, not really being able to teach much in the space of one evening. He showed how to hold a sword, how to do a basic sword stroke, and then said;

“I can teach you nothing about how to fight this evening, but I will tell you this; Go to the bridge in the morning, hold the sword thusly over your head. Think of the tea ceremony. When your opponent approaches, strike with all your might.”

The next morning at dawn the tea ceremony master stood at one end of a bridge and the samurai arrived at the other. The tea ceremony master held up his sword as he had been shown and thought of the tea ceremony. The samurai watched the tea ceremony master for a good while. Finally he bowed, turned, and walked away.


The point I would make is that all martial arts can be useful for training a martial spirit, a purity of focus that will help regardless of what physical techniques one practices to learn that focus. Indeed the less obviously combative arts tend to train that spiritual side all the more quickly. It is an error to discount that side of martial arts.

I have studied a lot of martial arts. I can deal devastating damage if need be. I have also spent much time doing Tai Chi, Yang, Wu and Chen. Most people would understandably assume that Tai Chi would be the least useful of martial arts. Yet the three times in my life where I actually had to use martial arts in a defensive situation, it was the Tai Chi that applied, not the muay thai.

The example that most ties in to the story I started with was a time when I was called to stop a fight on the street between one of my store clerks and someone he tried to stop for shop lifting. As I exited the store I saw a distance away someone throwing wild haymakers at my clerk while the clerk dodged and weaved to avoid them (I had actually given my clerk some training). I approached quickly.

The fight ended the instant I was in contact. It was a push hands exercise, a very unchallenging one, as I simply walked him down the street, through the store and into the back room. My tai chi had taught me to instinctively not be wherever he was applying strength and to always feel his weakness. I simply pushed through his weakness and he had absolutely no choice but to stumble in the direction I wanted him to go. By the time we got to the back store, the fight was out of him.

It turned out that he was a parolee and that if the cops came for him, he would have to spend two more years in prison. Unfortunately he had been violent with my clerk and it was very likely he would be so again with someone else who could not so effectively avoid his blows, and so I was not inclined to let him go. He had every motive and desire to break past me. He would do two years in prison if he did not get past me. It took half an hour for the cops to show up. Half an hour of confrontation with this violent criminal.

He declined to fight me. He did fight with the two cops who showed up. The difference was the mental, the moral, the spiritual. All arts can teach this. The least obviously combative, oft times teach it the best.

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