Martial arts have evolved over the years in many different styles and disciplines. Styles range from Capoeira – a form of martial arts that blends with music and dance – to Krav Maga – a martial arts form that focuses on dealing damage without a strict set of rules. Each martial arts style has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, but they all have several benefits in common.
Training in the martial arts can do more than just help you learn to defend yourself; it can help you reach your fitness goals by offering these physical benefits:
Weight Loss: Martial arts training can help you shed any extra pounds you’re carrying. The best part about it; you’re more likely to stick with a weight loss program if you actually enjoy the workouts.
Increased Strength: Lots of Martial arts classes use calisthenics and other body-weight exercises as part of a warm-up or cool-down, which can increase your strength.
Improved Reflexes: To compete in martial arts you will need to perform various movements, defenses, and attacks quickly; what is not obvious is that these speedy reflexes can also translate into other parts of your life. Faster reflexes can help with driving, sports, and many other areas where you need to react quickly to your environment.
Martial arts are not just about getting stronger or losing weight; martial arts training can also help improve your mind. Here are some of the mental benefits associated with training in martial arts:
Focus: Martial arts teach you to focus on your body and your actions while tuning out distractions. This can translate directly into the rest of your life and allow you to stay more focused on the things you need to get done.
Discipline: Martial arts teach you to control your emotions and impulses, and require great discipline and years of training to become proficient.
Confidence: Gaining new skills, being part of a team, and improving your focus and self-defense can all lead to increased confidence.
Stress Relief: Letting out your aggression on a punching bag or opponent can help relieve some stress, but that is not the only way that martial arts help keep stress at bay. Martial arts teach you to slow down and take things one step at a time; they teach you to accomplish one task completely and then move onto the next instead of taking everything on at once.
Choosing a Discipline
While the benefits of martial arts training are numerous, so are the different disciplines and styles available. This can be overwhelming to those first entering the world of martial arts, but it doesn’t have to be. Consider these questions when deciding on the right style for you:
What is your goal? What are you looking to get out of your training? Are you looking for the most effective way to defend against and deal damage? Then Something like Krav Maga may be for you. Are you looking to lose weight and get in shape? Cardiovascular-focused kickboxing might be the right choice. If you are looking for competitive outlets then karate may be the right discipline. Figure out what you want and then find a discipline that meets your goals.
What is your budget? Find a martial art style that meets your goals and your budget; otherwise, you may be forced to limit your training or stop altogether.
Choosing a Location
Once you have found the right style you will need to look for a trainer or class. Take these items into consideration when choosing the gym or dojo for you:
Accreditation: Is the trainer or owner of the establishment professionally trained as an instructor? Ask to see a diploma, certificate, or other means of validating the teacher’s qualifications.
Meeting Times: When do the classes meet? Does your schedule conflict with any of the dates? Will you have to give up other activities in order to participate? Make sure that the class times fit into your schedule before choosing a trainer or gym.
Teaching Style: You can choose from a highly competitive class where you are pushed to your limits or a casual class where the instructor helps you go at your own pace. It’s important to get a feel for the pace and intensity of the class before deciding on any particular venue.
Atmosphere: The teacher is only one part of the environment of a class. Sit in on a few lessons to see how the students act towards the instructor and towards each other. You will want to see if the attitudes and behavior of the other students are acceptable to you and if you will be comfortable training with them.
There are lots of martial arts styles to choose from; finding the one that is right for you is important. Here are eight of the more popular and accessible forms of martial arts:
Karate: Karate is one of the most well-known martial arts and is a great choice for basic self-defense and exercise. Karate utilizes strikes, blocks, evasion, throws, and manipulations of the joints. Practicing karate can help improve your decision-making and sense of balance in life. Karate also has many competitive outlets for those interested. There are classes for people of all ages and all skill levels.
Jiu-Jitsu: Jiu-Jitsu provides ways to defend against attacks both while standing or on the ground, whereas most styles teach primarily standing attacks and defense.
Kickboxing: Kickboxing combines traditional boxing with the use of kicks, in a competitive setting. There are several styles of kickboxing; some are focused on fitness, others on fighting.
Krav Maga: Krav Maga was developed in the Israeli military and is designed without a strict set of rules. Krav Maga focuses on defending and attacking reflexively in the smallest amount of time possible while hitting the most vulnerable parts of the opponent’s body. Krav Maga uses not only the body as a weapon but also any nearby objects.
Boxing: Boxing can be an excellent way to learn to defend yourself, and get in great shape. Boxing lessons and practice are typically cheaper than other martial arts training, and there are an exceedingly large amount of competitive venues for those interested.
Wing Chun: This is a martial arts style that focuses on allowing you to defeat opponents who are stronger and larger than you. It also focuses on combining the actions of attack and defense into a single motion. Wing Chun teaches body control, as it focuses on precision and efficiency to achieve its results.
Taekwondo: Taekwondo uses both the fists and the feet as weapons in a fight. The ultimate goal of taekwondo is to unify the body, mind, and life.
Aikido: Aikido seeks to use the force and energy of an attacker against them, rather than meeting force with force, and as a result, it can be practiced by almost anyone. Aikido also focuses on achieving harmony and peace within oneself.
Studying Martial Arts can offer real benefits including improved cardiovascular health, discipline, and mental focus. There are many styles to choose from so spend time to find the right school and teacher to help you meet your goals.
Does Taekwondo training improve physical fitness? Physical Therapy in Sport; Official Journal of the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine, May 2011
A review of the effects of martial arts practice on health. WMJ State Medical Society of Wisconsin, February 2009.
Health Benefits of Kung-Fu; A Systematic Review. Journal of Sports Sciences, October 2008.