I never could get into gym life. I knew weightlifting and aerobic training improved my strength and stamina, but I never found either particularly motivating — a death sentence for any exercise regime. Don’t get me wrong: weight training and aerobic gym classes are excellent exercise; they just didn’t work for me personally.
My training motivation comes less from seeing improvements in my health and more from learning a new skill. So martial arts were a much better choice for me. I found I enjoyed the traditional structure and ritual of the karate dojo, and the belt system provided a built-in goal setting system. Besides, after a few months training I got to play with tonfa, Bo sticks and other weaponry, which impressed the hell out of my inner child.
Like other exercise programs, martial arts aren’t one-size-fits-all. Fortunately, dojos and donjons are easy to find across the country, whether you live in Los Angeles, California, or are staying in one of the Dover, Delaware hotels. Below are some of the more commonly taught martial arts, each with its own benefits and philosophy.
Aikido forgoes attack, focusing solely on defense. The art relies on transforming your attacker’s motion and movements into controlling counter-techniques. Attacks are taught only as a means to practice defense.
Another Japanese art, Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling art focusing on throws, holds and ground fighting. A subset of Jiu-Jitsu, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is very popular, and teaches tactics where a smaller person can defeat a larger, stronger individual by taking the fight to the ground, using choke holds and joint locks to control the opponent.
Judo evolved from Jiu-Jitsu. Also a grappling art, judo has become a popular Olympic sport, and emphasizes immobilizing and subduing an opponent without causing significant damage.
A Korean art, taekwondo emphasizes the use of kicks, capitalizing on the greater reach and strength legs have over arms. Sparring and competition are important aspects of the art, with safety gear worn for protection.
While most people think of karate as Japanese, the art developed in the islands of Okinawa. Practice includes set forms (kata), prearranged drills and sparring. Karate dojos may include instruction in traditional Okinawa weapons such as the sai and tonfa.
Kung fu, more correctly known as wushu, describes a wide range of fighting styles from China. Popularized in the west by Bruce Lee, kung fu schools vary widely in their philosophy, training focus and forms. Some styles mimic graceful animal behavior, some on external strength, and other on cultivating internal “qi,” or inner energy. If you’re a fan of weapons training, kung fu offers a broad range of weapons, from long swords to three-sectioned staffs.
Muay Tai is a Thai art known for vicious elbow and knee strikes from close quarters and clinches. Full-contact Muay Tai is a powerful fighting style with connections to Chinese and India martial arts. The art places great emphasis on conditioning and strength.
Mixed Martial Arts
Mixed martial arts (MMA) are full contact schools, which borrow striking and grappling techniques from many different schools. Some purists deny MMA qualifies as a martial art, but the fighting style is often brutally effective.