What is the most brutal martial art?
It depends on what is meant by brutal. If we take that to mean who is the most violent to its practitioners (that is, how rough is the training), the booby prize likely goes to Muay Thai (where practitioners beat not only each other but themselves in the name of ‘conditioning’ ). Still, I would opt for a different approach to brutal.
If we take brutal to mean the art that most totally destroys your opponent (in actual combat and not silly competition), I believe kobujutsu (the weapon art) wins. A karate man may punch you so hard you bleed internally; a jujutsu man may throw you on your head and break your neck; the aiki man might snap your arm very cleanly in two; still, I feel none of this adds up to the sheer horror of weapons use…hitting the man with a club, severing his head with a katana, or (in more modern terms) jamming a pencil through his hand, all have an especially terrible quality. So while the kick boxer might talk about how ‘hardcore’ his training is, we should remember the ancient bushi, leaving the field of battle doused in the blood of his enemies, perhaps with a head or two to show his master…that’s brutal—a rock ‘em sock ‘em sparring session, doesn’t even compare.
This is one of the sorrowful points of the modern arts. Most practitioners look at all the violent, competitive practice as a good and worthy form of training that prepares them for real fighting. It doesn’t. The ancients, those who lived and died based on their skills, did not practice for tournaments. They did not have mock fights to get ready for battle…yet their skills are the stuff of legend. I would challenge the modern martial artist to cast off the machismo of modern martial arts practice and turn to the Zen approach of antiquity—free from hate, free from ego…the Way is in the training.