How to Do Martial Art Cross-training Effectively

Cross-training in more than one martial art can be a great way to improve skills or to learn new ones. But at what point does it start to interfere with training in your primary martial art (if you indeed have a single art on which you have primary focus)? Since we have a number of students who cross-train or ask to learn skills from other students that are training with us who have significant experience with other arts, this is an important question to consider.

If you’re going to cross-train, pick a martial art that either reinforces skills that are already being taught in your primary style or pick one that covers an entirely different area than your primary.

For example, in my style, Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, our striking system is based on boxing/ kickboxing principles, but since it is not our sole focus, a student can benefit from taking extra training in them. This is why I have Louis Sargeant (the professional boxer with whom I do extra training) come in and teach a class once a month for my students. It’s a nice change of pace for my students and they get to experience a different teaching style, as well as have the opportunity to get extra focus on their sparring skills.

On the other hand, if you study an art like Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, you might be getting excellent focus on competition ground work, but might be interested in learning skills to improve your stand-up game for MMA. You might consider taking up Muay Thai to work on your striking, or perhaps Judo or wrestling to get more focus on throws and takedowns.

I generally discourage students from learning other styles that are very similar if they are just starting out in the martial arts world. For example, learning two different styles of Karate would be very difficult because they are so similar yet have many differences, some subtle, some major. It would just be confusing to someone who hasn’t already a strong foundation in one.

I myself am currently cross-training in two styles of modern traditional Japanese Jiu-jitsu. But since I’ve been training in Can-ryu for over 15 years, it’s much easier for me. I’m able to compartmentalize my learning in such a way that keeps me from getting confused. I can’t say I could have done this kind of cross-training with the same ease back when I was in the Kyu ranks (coloured belt ranks).

As for my students, I have no issue with them doing cross-training (many schools frown upon it), but try to keep the above in mind when choosing an art. And if you want to ask some of the resident ambassadors from other styles to show you things that are different from the techniques being taught on our mats, please do so during open training times and NOT DURING OUR CLASSES. Can-ryu class is for learning Can-ryu, unless I’ve given over the mats to a guest instructor.

Comments (5)

5 thoughts on “How to Do Martial Art Cross-training Effectively

  1. Food for thought?

    I remember when I did Go-Ju Karate and Tai – Chi Chuan/(Wu-Shu) at the same time. I think it wasn’t the fact that my balance and strength improved, or that I was good at sometimes seeing the martial applications of what was done…

    My old sensei was a brilliant redirector of energy. When challenged by me about the slowness of Tai Chi he taught Saidho ( I think that is how it is spelt), which is Kata slowed down. When I “walked the floor” he applauded at my balance.

    Jim had done Karate and then strapped on a white belt for Brazilian Grappling (which we sometimes learnt) most of which I have forgotten. He went to the Philipines to learn Arnis. He networked with others to add to the style. He worked hard at what he did. Lori, Chris and Jon do the same.

    Sometimes I remember things that were implanted in my mind, for example last night I remembered that I was always taught that in blocking, one must make circular motions with the block.

    For me that has become part of the Can-Ryu experience.

    If Can-Ryu is different then it is for a reason I understand that. I also realise that Sensei has to take time from other students to correct a flaw in the style we are learning. Yet I can’t help wondering, “Is that something I have missed about blocking so far that would improve my Can-Ryu? I can only ask…”

    I went back to Go-Ju a “few” nights ago and the style has been modified in certain areas…What used to work no longer does.

    I did a few months of Shotokan trying to get back into the martial arts and they wanted a punch to be executed differently to Go-Ju…

    For me it was a matter, not of how many styles I know, its a matter of the teacher and the class. It took me along time to get over loyalty for a Sensei that changed my life.

  2. I fully agree with what you said about finding the right teacher and class, Jonathan. I’ve trained with a lot of different instructors, styles and classes, and the best experiences I had were ones in which the instructor was excellent and the class’s students had great attitudes.

  3. I had studied Karate up to brown belt before moving onto Judo. I a sure that i Learnt Judo move easier after my karate expereience. The body rotation, balance, and not relying on brute strength but good technqiue really helped.

    In the same way, learning Muay Thai and performing techniques in a Thai fashion, which to me was similar to my Karate training, seemed very natural and I found it very easy to blend the arts together.

    I agree with you about trying to cross train with arts that are different (eg, striking and grappling) as this helps in producing a more complete fighter.

  4. Thanks for your great article. I found your blog and after spending a lot of time reading different articles, I decided to add it to my feed reader.

    Regarding cross training, I have a question. I am training in Shotokan Karate (3 times per week), about one year already, and now I am thinking to improve my skills by learning something new in parallel. I think I will choose Aikido one time per week, and Krav Maga/Judo occasionally, maybe 1-2 times per month during the weekends. I was thinking to JJJ or BBJ but there is no dojo closer to my place, but there is a great judo dojo. What is your opinion, would be that useful or would be to much?

  5. I'm happy to help provide guidance. Generally, I discourage people from training in more than one martial art at the same time unless it is totally complementary or there is no cross-over whatsoever. In my style, our striking utilizes boxing/kickboxing style strikes, so those would be good complementary arts. Or taking something with little to no cross-over, like Kendo, wouldn't be too bad, though the stances are different so it can cause some confusion.

    I wouldn't bother taking 2 other arts because only training 1-2 times a month won't allow you to make any real progress in it. But if you're going to take a different art, I would try to choose one with no strikes so as to not mess with your learning in Karate. Judo would probably be the best choice of the ones you've listed. Aikido takes a lot of practice and dedication to the art to become proficient at it (once a week is really not enough) and the underlying principles behind the art conflict greatly with Karate. One is a very hard style and one is very soft. If you have only been doing Karate for a year, the principles they'll teach you in Aikido with mess with your Karate mindset.

    I hope this helps!

Leave a Reply to Lori O'Connell Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Jiu-jitsu Sensei
Martial Arts Blog