Combat effectiveness for frequent library patrons
Since a lot of middle schools and high schools have folk style wrestling, I think that's a good choice. Fortunately, they wear headgear and the kid can have peers that are interested in something he his.
For actual fighting, just like in MMA, you need standing-technique and ground-game. You're going to want to have some skills at striking and if it gets on the ground, you want to have some skills there as well. Most importantly, learn how to avoid conflict.
One thing worth considering is the physical impact on the body. Boxing does head damage. Judoka get arthritis in their hands from grabbing the gi. BJJ is the lowest in terms of injury rate, I believe. One thing that is common is that they get cauliflower ear cause a lot of them don't use head gear.
Nice write up! Your experience matches mine, although mine is a lot more anemic till I got to college and had more access. I was lucky to have a judo class at PennState which was taught by one of the coaches of the wrestling team, and damn, Sensei Oishi was brutal. (Also funny as hell.) He could put down huge guys in a heart beat, whether they liked it or not (albeit, they were merely huge guys, just students). Judo is a sport, that is a physical game, but it is a sport that is done as hard as you can, very nearly however you can, and so to the extent it shares the goal of combat, getting your opponent to submit, it is very useful.
I have a bit more experience in weapons fighting, and you see the same patterns you describe. Sports like fencing, kendo, or target shooting are just that, sports. There's a big difference between being good at a sport and being good at fighting. Even moving from sports like fencing or kendo to a full contact sport like SCA heavy weapons combat you see how little transfers. Going from "touch for a point, possibly in very specific places" to "hit me pretty hard for a point, pretty much wherever" drastically changes what matters.
Interestingly, the hand to hand martial arts like tae kwon do and karate seem to transfer negatively to hitting armored people with a stick. I don't know if it is the focus on touch training and pulling punches in tournaments or what, but everyone I have known (perhaps not a large n) with a fairly extensive karate type background had a harder time getting used to striking people hard with a stick compared to your average newbie. I think at some point karate might kind of train the necessary aggression out of you.
My son takes a mixed martial arts class that teaches almost everything on your list. He hasn't ever competed though so not sure how good it really works. He's been thinking of just doing boxing but I liked the idea of him learning them all. That being said, how good can you ever be without actually getting in a fight. It'd be like practicing baseball but never playing a game
Nice write-up. As I've said elsewhere, if I could design a martial art for me personally, I'd love a strip mall dojo version of Jackie Chan and Jet Li's training in the Peking Opera - basically cool looking techniques and weapons, often choreographed. It wouldn't prepare me for fights the way boxing would, but it would be good exercise, fun, and look cool, and would improve with body awareness and general coordination/balance the way most martial arts do.
It's probably more important to pick the dojo/gym than to pick the martial art, though I will say if you want to actually be able to defend yourself the choices boil down to (kick)boxing and BJJ, ideally both. If you're a library geek you will not like this answer because it involves strength and conditioning training and cardio that will probably make you feel like shit the first few times you do it. In any case you want to train somewhere with regular sparring with thoughtful oversight by the trainer.
Some other comments:
1. Re: Krav Maga - I did KM for a long time and don't have much to show for it except sparring experience (in headgear) and harder forearm bones. For reasons that take too long to explain there is enormous variability in the teaching content and quality of KM instructors, with the result being a net "avoid".
2. Muay Thai is incredible and churns out the deadliest fighters in the world time after time. This doesn't mean it's not for beginners or nerds. It will teach you how to stand and move and manage your resources, which are misunderstood skills in self defence or fighting.
3. You absolutely must get used to hitting and being hit. If your dojo/gym doesn't let you spar, find one that does. And if they don't organise and manage the sparring sessions in a way that is appropriate for you and your training partners' level, that can become a serious issue you should be aware of. Sparring is not fighting and it's not free-play, it's training.
Thanks! This made me laugh out loid a few times
Very late on this, but as someone who did capoeira from early elementary to mid highschool the absolute assassination of the whole concept is very funny. I remember in middle school me and another student starting to spar and the teacher stopping us because we were too aggressive. He told us sternly “this isn’t Tae Kwon Do!” Or something to that effect. It was explicitly a game and a dance, and there weren’t points so the game wasn’t winnable. I did actually kick people a few times though! I wanted to actually fight, and kind of wish the school I’d gone to had had anything else. We were told (roughly) that the version they did Back Then was a different style that was actually useful, but that there was also a (my word here) fluffy style that we were learning.