Cross Training In Martial Arts


First things first – I would recommend cross-training to anyone in martial arts who wants to develop a well-rounded skill set.  No single system is perfect as even the ones which cover a wide range of things are limited by the experience of their own instructors.  Even the best instructor doesn’t know everything (and any honest instructor will tell you that) so it’s always worth trying different places and seeing what you can learn, or what you might find interesting.

Below I’ve written a little bit about each of the places I’ve trained (along with an estimate of how long I’ve trained there) to give an idea of the pros and cons of various styles.


DISCLAIMER:  Obviously I can only speak for those classes I’ve attended myself, but many of the general ideas will be universal within a single style.  Enjoy!

FTR – since a lot of this training overlaps, don’t add it up and think that I’ve actually trained for 40 years (that would be impressive for a 35 year old)! 


Bujinkan Taijutsu

17 years

Essentially a type of traditional jujutsu, this system is made up of several ryu-ha collectively known as the Takamatsuden, after the headmaster who brought the schools together in the 1950s.  The system is a bit of a ‘Jack-of-all-Trades’ one, where most stuff is covered to some extent or another, but no one facet is focused on as a system speciality.  The main focus of Bujinkan training is on principle over technique; a good idea, but more difficult to apply than it sounds!

The great strength of the Bujinkan is unfortunately also its greatest weakness, in that the lack of formalised structure allows for a great deal of experimentation but also means that people can train there for years and not develop solid technique.  Experimentation is the only way that an art can grow and develop but it must be balanced out by a strong base, so choose your instructor with care and strike a balance.

The traditional side of this system is interesting and includes fun things like swords and spears, and the ryu-ha are large enough that you’ll be kept busy learning them for life.  Combatively it has vast potential but it is highly dependent on who you’re training with.  Get the right partner and you’ll be scrapping well, get the wrong one and you’ll be wasting your time.

Most dojo don’t practice much in the way of randori, and getting your technique solid is very much the responsibility of the student.  As a general rule (and there are exceptions!) there’s not much fitness included either so if your motivation for training is to lose weight, you are better off starting with something like karate.

Pro-wise wise it’s a great place to experiment with new ideas and I personally get a lot out of it as a place to practice and adapt my techniques.  Beginners can find it hard to grasp and my advice would be for a new Bujinkan student to cross train with something like Judo to compliment their Taijutsu training and give them a more solid base to work from.

Best Style to Compliment it:  Judo/Aikido

Best Style to Fill in Gaps:  Karate



Jinenkan Kobudo

Approx 10 years

The Jinenkan is another organisation that teaches the Takamatsuden, but with a different training focus to the Bujinkan.  While the Bujinkan’s main focus is on the teaching of concepts, the Jinenkan concentrates first and foremost on a solid foundation of basics and a loyal adherence to traditional kata.

Training here will always be interesting if you’re into traditional technique, weapons and Japanese history.  As a bit of an MA geek I’ve learned some great stuff here and to anyone who’s interested in the Takamatsuden schools, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place to learn about them than a Jinenkan Dojo.

For combative effectiveness – well, yes and no.  The techniques are trained solidly enough that making them practical doesn’t take much, but the classes themselves feature very little actual scrapping.  Things like boxing attacks, grappling, multi-attacker drills and pressure testing are a rarity in the dojo and take a distant second place to solid drilling.  If you and a fellow student meet up and train more combatively, your technical base will serve you well, but don’t expect it in your regular classes.

Fitness-wise it’s fairly minimal.  There’s a warmup and if you train hard you will sweat, but don’t expect to get in great shape from training alone.  These dojo adhere to the, perfectly sensible, traditionalist argument that dojo time is for learning MA, and you can do all the press-ups you want at home.

In all, this school is mainly for those with a love of lineage and tradition (and sticks!) but the drilling and the attitude you develop (they’re very big on Zanshin) can also come in very handy for your other training.  Be aware that if pure self-defence is your aim, this is very much the long way around of learning it.

Best Style to Compliment it:  Judo/Aikido

Best Style to Fill in Gaps:  Karate


Gendai Jujutsu

Approx 5 years

(Gendai as opposed to Koryu, mostly the TJF)

I once heard the TJF described to me as weaponised judo, and I think that’s pretty accurate.  This is one of the many jujutsu styles that grew from a judo base (interesting side note – jujutsu led to Kano creating judo by focusing on throws, and people then learned judo and added in some strikes to turn it back into jujutsu again!) and features all the usual throws and pins you would expect from a judo class.  They practice some randori with judo rules and use judo terminology, but practice their art with strikes and weapons as well (you know, like old-school judo used to…)

Basically this is judo as it originally was, with throws, locks and chokes applied from punches and weapon attacks as much as from grabs.  They do a lot of pressure testing and their gradings are both technically and physically tough, and they keep to a very high standard.  Their fitness training is pretty good and if that’s your motivation to train you could do a lot worse than the TJF (though if you’re a real masochist for that kind of thing – take up Kyokushin!).  There’s plenty of jogging and calisthenics at the start of each class and the sessions are generally high-energy enough to keep you sweating throughout.

There’s no real tradition to it per se, beyond it being judo-based (it’s called Shorinji-Kan because the founder apparently studied Shorinji Kempo but from my experience it bears very little resemblance to it and besides, Shorinji Kempo’s not that old either!) and is best suited to those who like practical training.  As far as weapons go they focus more on defence against than on use of but then that follows their focus well and in fairness, they don’t claim to be weapons experts.

For weaknesses – they don’t drill their strikes much and occasionally commit the Deadly Sin of going to ground on purpose (though to be fair, a good V tends to counteract that!).  The randori is good for developing judo skills but as with judo itself, it comes at the cost of good instinctive striking.  On the plus side that randori makes sure you test your throws and pins against resistance and there are various other pressure testing drills that are practiced regularly, with lots of mutodori and multiple attacker stuff.  Overall a well-trained style.

Best Style to Compliment it:  Judo/BJJ

Best Style to Fill in Gaps:  Karate/Kickboxing


(On the subject of modern jujutsu, I’ve also trained a little with Ishin Ryu but not to the extent that I can comment on it with much authority – see later in article for a few words)



Approx 7 years

As the name suggests, this focuses almost exclusively on striking, mostly punches and kicks along with some close-in knee and elbow work.  Boxing skills are incredibly useful things to have and what it lacks in tradition and variety, it makes up for in good drilling and sparring.

Weapons are either ignored here or if they are trained it’s very rare and to an extremely basic level as instructors focus on the striking that makes up the core of the system.  Like any sporting style it’s assumed you will want to compete and as such need the stamina to last in the ring.  Naturally, there is a great deal of fitness in the training sessions with skipping, running, calisthenics and of course, free sparring.

For combative effectiveness good punching is never a bad thing, and so long as you don’t go trying to kick muggers in the head, this sort of training can be very useful to you.  Overall this style is useful, simple and straightforward, but definitely not easy!

Best Style to Compliment it:  Karate

Best Style to Fill in Gaps:  Judo/Jujutsu



Shotokan Karate

Approx 6 years

Like kickboxing or TKD, Shotokan focuses its efforts on striking, though unlike those others there is at least an element of things like locks and throws.  Where I trained, and in most good Shotokan places, kata was paramount and by extension we did a lot of bunkai (application of kata).  When I began in Shotokan it was a real eye-opener as I’d only done forms like that in TKD, where no applications were ever taught.  Seeing all the locks and throws and CQC-style stuff that can be extrapolated from this very traditional-looking stuff was fascinating.  The history, though you’ll hear little enough of it in class, is interesting as well, and some of the most interesting MA books I’ve read have been on Shotokan.

Fitness-wise I’d call this moderate.  Strength and cardio takes second place to technical training (you can do your press-ups at home etc) but there’s enough there to keep you active, if not ripped up.  The only weaknesses I really found were that some instructors taught bunkai that they didn’t really understand (luckily my instructor was a former judo man!) and there is very little as far as weapon-work goes.  Beyond that my only issue is with their method of sparring:  When I sparred with my friends we tended to ignore this but ‘officially’ you’re supposed to stop each time a point is scored and if you didn’t shout loudly as you hit, the blow didn’t count.  Allegedly this was to develop Ikken Hisatsu, but what you end up with is a bunch of guys not wanting to close in on each other for fear of being scored on, waiting to land that ‘perfect’ chudan gyaku-zuki (which I’ve yet to see put anyone down for long and thus undermines the point more than it highlights it).  That said, you can spar properly so long as the instructor isn’t watching too closely!

In the plus column the technical training is so solidly drilled that you’ll be punching and blocking in your sleep, and if you find the right dojo you’ll also develop some good fighting spirit.  Kata and rock-solid basics are the order of the day here and trained right, they will serve you well.

As a sidenote, I did this before going to Kyokushin and when I started there my basics were spoken of highly (the Kyokushin guys said nice things even as they were beating me up – lovely bunch!)

Best Style to Compliment it:  Kyokushin

Best Style to Fill in Gaps:  Judo/Jujutsu



Tae Kwon Do

Approx 5 years (TAGB)

I have to say that while the Korean military give this style a good name, what the average club does is very different.  The style is a lot like Shotokan (unsurprisingly given its history) with a bit more emphasis on stylish kicking – so prepare for some serious stretching.  Very little tradition is embraced here and the sporting element is very prominent in most places.

Sparring is semi contact but there is a lot of it.  8/10 sessions ended with 10-20 mins of sparring (get your dancing shoes on!) and unlike Shotokan it’s generally continuous in class, with the stop-start method saved for tournament training.  Your technique will not be as well-timed or ‘one-shot-devastating’ as Shotokan and you won’t be as toughened as you will in Kyokushin, but it’s a very good place to start and you learn early to cover your head!

For fitness it isn’t bad, though it lags behind the TJF in its intensity.  A definite downside is that there is no real instruction of locks, throws or groundfighting (on the rare occasions when I saw them try to teach them it was unsettlingly amateurish – sorry!) and no knowledge at all of weapons.

I have to say that for the most part if you like this, take up Shotokan – it’s mostly the same but generally better taught because a good Shotokan school will teach bunkai,  The very fact that neither I nor any other student in my TKD class knew the equivalent term in Korean speaks volumes.  In 5 years there we never once actively trained in the application of the forms we learned – they were purely for gradings (my first session of Shotokan we did a kata in the first half and spent the second half of the lesson practicing and experimenting with applications of it!).  Try if you want and you may well find a great teacher, but from my own personal experience I can’t recommend it over karate.

Best Style to Compliment it:  Karate

Best Style to Fill in Gaps:  Judo/Jujutsu


Styles of which I have limited experience;


As well as my principle training I’ve spent anything from six months to four years apiece in a few other fighting styles.  I can’t claim anything more than a basic familiarity with these ones but I’ll give you some quick impressions of them based on what training I’ve done.


Kyokushin Karate:


  • Not so much a martial art as a factory for building hard bastards!
  • They don’t train a huge variety of techniques (limited locks, throws, weapons etc), but what they do, they are very good at!
  • Great for conditioning yourself to a beating
  • Great camaraderie
  • Lots of fitness


  • Doesn’t include head punches in most sparring
  • Limited grappling, throwing and weapon work


 Feng Sou Kung Fu / Tai Chi


  • Good for chi development
  • Good for focus
  • Good range of techniques
  • Interesting weapons
  • Interesting traditions/history


  • Many techniques are highly stylised
  • Minimal sparring


Wing Chun


  • Can be combatively effective very quickly due to speed and simplicity
  • Good conditioning of the upper body
  • Good sensitivity


  • Limited tradition (though they love to talk about Bruce Lee…)
  • Lots of dull solo training in class when you could be doing partner stuff
  • Very limited technique range – no real instruction of locks, throws, groundwork etc




  • Good for developing fluid technique
  • Good intro to jujutsu styles for those who don’t like getting beaten up too much
  • Some interesting tradition
  • It may take time but once you’re able to use it techniques can be devastatingly effective and, crucially, easy to use


  • Combative effectiveness tends to take a long time
  • Striking is almost completely overlooked and groundwork barely covered at all beyond kneeling techniques




  • Judoka are to throwing what boxers are to punching
  • Training against full resistance and plenty of it
  • Good level of fitness
  • Good for developing determination as groundfighting in particular is gruelling
  • Good for developing an understanding of balance and timing
  • Seriously – everyone should do at least a bit of judo!


  • Highly specialised in that they train pretty much nothing but throws and grapples
  • No weapons training




  • Brilliant grapplers because that’s what they do bro!
  • Training against full resistance and plenty of it
  • Good level of fitness
  • Good for developing determination


  • Highly specialised in that they train exclusively in grappling, with only the odd takedown to break the monotony
  • No weapons training


Now for two styles I literally only see once a year at my annual Thetford trip.  I’ll keep it brief.


Ishin Ryu Jujutsu

A bit like a cross between the TJF and Kyokushin, this is a great style for building tough all-rounders.  They have a bit of everything and they train it all with military-level intensity with the camaraderie to match.  There’s not much bad I can say about this lot since they host multi-style seminars so any gaps in their training, they go out of their way to fix by asking others.  The only thing it’s missing from my perspective is an interesting tradition to get immersed in.  I enjoy the study of martial arts history almost as much as I enjoy the training, so if you’re a geek of my persuasion you’ll want to cross-train in a traditional style as well.



Stick fighting is great fun and a skill worth learning, but either find a place that teaches a complete system with knives and empty hands included (of which there are several, but you have to look for them) or be prepared to cross-train heavily.  If you have the time I recommend that anyone give this a go, but my personal priority is always unarmed combat so I only do this on occasion (still fun though!).


Well, I hope that was informative and that it encouraged some good cross-training.  Anyone offended by criticism of your style well… live with it!  It’s all just my opinion based on my own experience and what I look for in a class.  For everyone it’s important to note that I’ve yet to see a class that didn’t have something there that you can learn from!