Description: There are many types of martial arts, but most fall into the two broad categories of striking and grappling arts.
- Martial arts that focus on striking include boxing, kickboxing, wing chun, taekwondo, and karate.
- Grappling arts include ju jitsu, judo, aikido, and wrestling.
These are by no means exhaustive lists. There are many martial arts systems and variations on each style. There are also weapons-based martial arts focused on fighting with sticks, swords, and even bows and arrows. Popular martial arts systems that incorporate a mix of techniques include the following:
- Krav maga is a hand-to-hand combat self-defense system used by the Israeli Defense forces that incorporates elements of many different martial arts and includes strategies for dealing with weapons attacks.
- Jeet Kune Do is another broad-spectrum fighting system/philosophy established by Bruce Lee.
- Mixed martial arts (MMA), also known as Pankration, incorporates a full spectrum of striking and grappling techniques.
- Hapkido is another mixed martial art that involves grappling, striking, and weapons.
- Capoeira is a fun and challenging practice that combines martial arts techniques and dance.
- Thai chi is a mixed series of techniques done at a slow, flowing pace that is more akin to a moving meditation; it is a good style for those seeking spiritual or meditative benefits rather than fighting skills.
Your ideal martial art or arts will vary based on your goals. Do you want to train for fun, fitness, self-defense skills, peace of mind, confidence, flexibility, or other reasons? Do you want to go hard and take risks to develop realistic fighting skills and self-defense capabilities or participate in lighter, easier, safer training that enhances fitness without significant risk of injury? Determine your goals so that you can choose a suitable martial art, teacher, and school.
Cost: Cost varies from one place to the next. Expect to pay between $100 and $200 per month in Vancouver, BC, depending on the number of classes you attend and the level of instruction (there are a handful of cheaper places and a few that are more expensive, but most fall in this range for unlimited class access). Gear can also be expensive if you need to buy boxing gloves, sparring gear (helmet, shin guards, etc.), practice weapons, and uniforms (official martial arts school uniform or T-shirt, gi for ju jitsu, etc.)
Time: To make significant progress, you should attend at least 3 hour-long classes per week, and if you want to compete or learn self-defense skills, you’ll need to do some regular sparring as well.
Difficulty: Martial arts can be as difficult or as easy as you want make it. Some places are hardcore, with brutal warm-ups, intense cardio training, challenging abdominal work, exhausting bag and target work, and lots of full-contact sparring, whereas others are relatively gentle, with lighter workouts and no sparring, or just shadow sparring (no contact). Choose a place that provides the level of challenge and risk you seek. A good school will allow you to attend a few classes for free (with no obligation) to try it out.
Required Equipment: This will vary based on your chosen martial art:
- If you’re boxing or kickboxing, you’ll need boxing gloves at the very least. Many places provide these and other gear, but you’ll end up wearing someone else’s sweaty, ill-fitting stuff if you don’t buy your own. If you plan to spar, you should have not only boxing gloves, but also a helmet, mouth guard, and shin guards (with foot protection).
- If you’re doing mixed martial arts that involve both punching and grappling, you should get a good pair of grappling gloves. Some martial arts require wrist and/or chest protection as well.
- Certain martial arts such as stick fighting and krav maga require weapons, though most schools will provide these.
- If you want to practice at home and have the space, a punching bag is a good investment.
- Almost any martial arts training will improve your fitness (both strength and cardio), confidence, reaction times, proprioception, body coordination, and flexibility.
- Some (though not all) martial arts systems will reduce your risk of being attacked because your body language will become more confident and your reflexes sharper. Learning certain martial arts will increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to successfully escape or defend yourself as well. However, not all martial arts are very effective for self-defense because many would only be useful if someone attacked you using the same fighting system. If self-defense is your goal, choose a defense-based system and be prepared to train regularly for many years. To be useful for self-defense, the system you learn must be geared toward defending against realistic attacks and you will need to train to the point where reactions to attacks are rapid and reflexive.
- If you go to a good school, you’ll meet some great people and make new friends.
- It’s an effective stress reliever (not too many leisure activities provide the opportunity to kick and punch).
- If you don’t do lots of sparring, you won’t really learn how to defend yourself, but if you do, you’ll probably suffer some injuries (usually minor, but there is always an element of risk when fighting).
- Some martial arts, such as ju jitsu, can be socially awkward initially (you need to have a sense of humour when you have to straddle and choke someone you’ve just met).
- When you’re new, you’ll typically lose most sparring matches until your skills improve, and this can take a long time with more complex martial arts systems such as ju jitsu. Many people get frustrated with their slow progress and quit.
- If you’re shy, it can be difficult to partner up with new people during training.
If you’re training for self-defense, take classes geared specifically to self-defense, or a martial arts system such as krav maga, MMA (mixed martial arts), hapkido, or a mix of kickboxing and jujitsu or judo. Whatever you take, it should provide both stand-up and ground fighting skills and practice, as well as some instruction in dealing with weapons attacks. Most martial arts will reduce your risk of being attacked by giving you confidence, increased fitness, and quicker reaction times, but many of them won’t specifically help you fight in a real-life self-defense situation. If you’re doing this for self-defense, you need broad-spectrum training, practice in specific attack situations, and lots of sparring. Some martial arts focus only on upper or lower body techniques. For example, boxing will make you a good puncher and taekwondo will make you a good kicker, but neither provide the full self-defense spectrum. Many of the ugliest real-world fights end up on the ground with one person straddling and punching (or attempting rape). Ju jitsu teaches how to escape from these sorts of positions, so it’s a very good self-defense martial art, particularly for women (though it takes a long time and lots of regular practice to be useful).
Watch out for lock-in contracts. Places usually offer a better deal if you sign up for six months or a year, which is fine, but if they only offer lock-ins (no month-to-month option), make the person offering the contract sign something in writing saying that you can leave with one month’s notice for any reason. Otherwise, you could get ill or injured (or just find that you dislike the place) and be trapped making payments for classes you don’t attend. Most legitimate places will offer some sort of guarantee if you ask for it because they don’t want to trap people, but scummy places will try to squeeze every penny they can from you, even if you’re unable to train for a legitimate reason (on the other hand, if you’re just too lazy to train, it’s unethical to expect a school to release you from your contract).
Don’t believe the stereotypes about fighters. Some people believe that fighters are unintelligent steroid ragers or douchebags. In reality, these types are the exception rather than the rule in martial arts, at least at the good schools. In fact, the douchebag-to-non-douchebag ratio is actually far better than in most other testosterone-heavy sports. I’ve liked nearly everyone I’ve met at the martial arts schools I’ve attended and I’ve found that, with a couple of notable exceptions, good fighters tend to be highly intelligent. If your school is full of douchebags, you’ve picked the wrong school. They congregate at bad places. Good training venues and instructors attract good people.
Good martial arts places tend to attract friendly people. When you try out a new place, the instructor should be helpful and work to ensure that you have a good experience, and there will usually be one or more students who go out of their way to introduce themselves and make you feel welcome. If a place is cold and unfriendly, there’s something wrong with it.
Cost is not necessarily an indicator of the best training options. There are some boutique gyms that provide poor-quality training at high costs, and there are schools that have a rougher appearance but offer excellent instruction. Don’t use price or the slickness of the décor as a sole indicator of quality.
Do some research before choosing a gym. There are lots of martial arts forums online. Check out what people have to say about particular gyms, the instructors, and the students. Of course, you can’t believe everything you read on these forums – there are always disgruntled ex students who couldn’t get along with anyone due to their own difficult personalities. However, if several people are saying the same thing, it’s a good indicator about a particular gym. Try out a few different places before making a decision and ask the students you meet there about the school (quality of instruction, social atmosphere, etc.).
Don’t take the colour-belt system too seriously. Some schools award belts based on significant progress, whereas others give belts to those who simply show up regularly for a certain amount of time to keep their students happy. This has diluted the meaning and value of the belt system, so it’s a less relevant indicator of skills these days (except at the few schools that still award based on genuine achievement).
Don’t choose a school based solely on convenient location. I did this once – big mistake. I met some nice people there, but it was a permanent beginner’s place and there were black belts who wouldn’t even do face contact while sparring. People were receiving belts just for showing up and learning a few fancy moves and katas (all completely useless for self-defense). On the other hand, it’s a bad idea to choose a gym that’s so far away that you won’t train regularly, unless there are no good gyms at all in your area and you have to compromise.
Stay calm. Don’t get angry or upset if your opponent is winning. If your sparring partner lands a punch or a kick, he’s doing you a favour by showing you where the holes in your defense are. This will help you in a competition or self-defense situation. You’ll learn more from losing than you would from winning in a practice situation, and what you learn will help you when it really matters.
Do some cross-training. Building up your cardio and strength by running, weight training, and engaging in other fitness activities will help significantly with your progress in any martial art.
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