You have your own tendencies and preferences. Your tendency may be more fluid, you like to go with the flow. Or you might like the idea of unadulterated power. You also might prefer the aesthetic element of some martial arts or you might be primarily interested in practical application of an art.
On a personal note: I’ve trained in Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate for many years; beginning in the mid-80s, but consistently since the mid-90s. I stuck with it so long because it fit into my own natural tendencies. My instructor remarked to me once that I naturally used circular movement, contrasted with most of his students who he had to work on to smooth out their moves and make them more circular. The importance of using circular movement in Kenpo is that it completes an overall study of motion: Linear and circular movement is included in Kenpo. It is also very important to a principle in Kenpo called Continuity of Motion: This means your movement isn’t choppy, it flows, and so cannot be easily interrupted by an opponent. It’s not extraordinarily complicated, even boxers use Continuity of Motion when they use a combination of straight jabs and crosses and hooks and upper-cuts.
Another consideration is your preference in terms of the aesthetics of the art or the practicality of the art. Some people simply like the look of the movements of the art, while others prefer a system that focuses on the practical application of the art. It is up to you to decide. Again, I preferred an element of practicality in a martial art. Kenpo offered it: Emphasis on sound principles rooted in science, practical considerations based in logic, low-line kicks and emphasis on hand techniques. These all added up to a system I preferred.
You might prefer an art that looks good and also emphasizes an easier approach, in addition to promoting health and wellness: Tai Chi is known for promoting these things in its system, it is based on slow fluid movement, meant mainly to get your air and blood circulating to make the body and mind healthy and to coordinate mind and body as well, leading to physical and mental balance.
Do you prefer to grab someone and apply a lock? I do. Kenpo appealed to me because it had elements of grappling in it. It emphasizes strikes, but you learn locks along the way. Locks lend themselves to fluid movement too.
At any rate, you might prefer powerful linear blocks and punches. Traditional Karate offers this kind of method. It is based in generating heavy power, not designed for fluid movement.
Along these lines, martial arts differ in terms of approach: That is, some emphasize total aggression, others do not. Aikido is a non-aggressive martial art and also tends to be more fluid. Muay Thai tends to be totally aggressive, relying on crippling kicks, elbow and knee strikes, and punches.
Are you small, are you big? Those two questions kind of narrow it down.
The tendency is for bigger people to have an advantage when grappling. You have the size and strength to overpower people. This is not always the case: Royce Gracie is not particularly big, yet he’s one of the best grapplers in the world. However, many MMA fighters have shown that size brings an advantage when grappling. In the old days, even Royce had trouble with big fighters who knew how to grapple, like Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn.Though, in Dan Zan Ryu Jiu Jitsu, a system based in grappling, they have a list of techniques specifically designed for someone who might not be as strong as their attacker. To a great extent, Jiu Jitsu is built around handling someone who might be bigger and stronger, through proper technique.
Of course, size is an advantage for strikers too. It’s one reason Mike Tyson hit so hard.
Still, the tendency is for a grappler to have an advantage if he is bigger and stronger.
Another consideration is whether you want to use high kicks or prefer not using kicks or only want to use low kicks. I don’t like kicking and my body isn’t well-suited for high kicks; this is one reason I liked Kenpo. Kenpo kicks never go above the abdomen, unless you’ve kicked the opponent’s leg out and put him on one knee. You lower him to kick him in the head, you don’t try to kick high. There are practical reasons for this, but here we are only talking about preference and how your body works. I’m a bit big and not naturally flexible. Some of the best kickers have slight builds. For kicking arts, if it’s your preference, you’d want to look into Tae Kwon Do or Capoeira. Both emphasize high kicks to the most vulnerable target, the head.
A lighter person tends to be faster. Not always, but that’s the tendency. So, such a person might prefer a style that emphasizes fast strikes and kicks.
So, you might prefer to be non-aggressive, are more fluid, and would prefer to lock someone up instead of beating them with hands and feet; then, you might prefer Aikido, Jiu Jitsu or wrestling. Maybe you like fluid movement, but prefer to use strikes and kicks; then you might consider Capoeira, Kenpo or Tai Chi. Maybe you like high kicks; in addition to Capoeira, you would want to look into Tae Kwon Do. Or you are a very practical person and want to know how the art can be applied; you would like Kenpo, Krav Maga and Jeet Kune Do (Bruce Lee’s art). Maybe you like the combat; you might like to take up boxing or kickboxing, arts proven in full-contact competition.
You have to know yourself, what your body is capable of and how your mind works; then you can venture into which martial art is best-suited to you.
Featured image: By Mia St. John [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons