help me get a life
June 9, 2009 6:51 PM   Subscribe

I need to fill out my life a little. I'm not interested in the martial arts, but I want to find something with some of the same general characteristics (formal advancement, regular commitment, etc)...

I want to get involved with something relatively formal that will require me to show up somewhere every week or a couple of times a week. I want it to include some sort of formal or at least recognizable advancement from a beginner-type status to an expert-type status. I want it to be mentally or physically challenging (or both, I suppose). I am not interested in the martial arts for various reasons. So, what are some things I might consider?

I know people are going to say "well, what are you interested in?" This is the problem: I'm not sure. That's why I'd like to generate a nice list of things that people do that are like this. Maybe one of the ideas will stick.

Bonus points if no particular genetic endowment, enhancement, or mutation is necessary for success.

Double bonus points if it takes several months or years of commitment to advance to the highest levels of expertise.
posted by crapples to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (39 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Formal music lessons.
posted by The World Famous at 6:59 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bicycle racing.

Start in Cat 5, advance to Cat 1. And it's a team sport to which anyone can contribute but demands all sorts of discipline and commitment.
posted by The Michael The at 6:59 PM on June 9, 2009

If it wasn't for the physical aspect of your request I'd almost but not quite seriously recommend World of Warcraft. Addictive potential aside, it meets all your other requirements. LOL.

That being said, there's lots of things out there that could work - even if they don't have such a 'formal' tracking of advancement or achievement. Take things like yoga - it takes regular commitment, but no one is going to give you a gold star for advancing to the next level. It's easy to tell the beginners from the experts though.

Maybe a raquetball league? Or any kind of 'league' for that matter... many of them only pair you up with those with similar skill-sets.

The same could apply to any number of clubs... chess comes to mind for some reason.

My favorite would be SCUBA diving. You can go from a discovery course all the way up to DiveMaster and beyond. Granted, that's an expensive hobby.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by matty at 7:01 PM on June 9, 2009

Chess? Go? Bridge?
posted by lsemel at 7:01 PM on June 9, 2009

posted by milarepa at 7:01 PM on June 9, 2009

You could go back to school and get another degree in something. That requires you to show up, and results in formal advancement.
posted by lsemel at 7:02 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Drum lessons. Seriously, playing drum kit is a lot like martial arts at times, as far as coordination and physicality are concerned. With drumming you get to exercise, blow off steam and make music. There are no formal "recognizable advancements" but there are obvious milestones that you will hit. People spend their entire lives trying to master a certain style of drumming (ex Jazz).
posted by hector horace at 7:04 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Book clubs require commitment, though it's usually of the every-other-week-or-once-a-month frequency.

Dance classes that operate on a cycle (as opposed to drop-in style) would be an option. Partner dancing in particular (salsa, ballroom) seems to work this way. In addition to the movement benefits, there is a definite visible improvement track.

Team sports (city softball league, etc). Volunteer work at an animal shelter or similar. Tutoring.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:09 PM on June 9, 2009

Competitive ballroom dancing? As a bonus, it's surprisingly useful socially.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:11 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

You could look into joining a fraternal organization, like the Masons (serious) or ECV (not very serious at all), or perhaps a service organization like the Rotary or Kiwanis Clubs.
posted by lekvar at 7:23 PM on June 9, 2009

Roller Derby.

Leagues can always use a good referee.
posted by Lucinda at 7:24 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Horseback riding, especially competion-oriented sports such as eventing or dressage.
posted by mmf at 7:24 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by notyou at 7:45 PM on June 9, 2009

Downhill skiing?


Start taking math classes and see how far you can progress?
posted by paultopia at 8:13 PM on June 9, 2009

Oh, supposedly rock climbing has a sequence of ranked challenges like downhill skiing.
posted by paultopia at 8:14 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

The ranking system used by many martial arts today originated with Go.
posted by ignignokt at 8:30 PM on June 9, 2009

Nthing Go.
posted by aniola at 8:33 PM on June 9, 2009

posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:42 PM on June 9, 2009

Join the Freemasons.

It's all about commitment and formal advancement. And, indeed, there's an awful lot of mental challenge if you work at it.
posted by Netzapper at 8:47 PM on June 9, 2009

posted by eatyourcellphone at 8:47 PM on June 9, 2009

I got a sailplane pilot's rating ("Private Pilot, Glider" to be exact) to scratch this kind of itch. It took about two months of relatively intense effort (flying three days a week) to go from ab initio to rating, and I'm currently building time and skill for my commercial add-on -- 100 hour minimum, plus much more rigorous practical test standards. There are also acrobatics, cross-country racing, and a whole family of records to chase, if that's your thing. Aviation is interesting in that it can be learned, and in fact there's always something you can be doing to improve your skill, safety, etc.
posted by Alterscape at 9:20 PM on June 9, 2009

Go, Fencing.
posted by phrontist at 9:30 PM on June 9, 2009

Whitewater kayaking! Rivers (and the rapids you'll be running) are rated, typically Class 1 through 6. Class 1 is barely moving water, Class 6 is suicide. Find a river near you. There's no requirement for height, weight, or body type; you can do it at any age, in most weather, and if you get hooked, any season. It can be as physically challenging as you feel you're ready for, and even when you're comfortable and conditioned and have a solid roll, it's still going to take some mental concentration to focus on scouting, planning and executing your run while not letting the pressure (and adrenaline!) get the better of you.

As for recognizable achievement, it's pretty evident when you first learn the rudimentary strokes and maneuvers and then start getting a grip on them after a few sessions of practice. There's always room for fine tuning the basics (like your roll or forward stroke) and going back to the same rapid after some practice and nailing a line that wasn't so great before is HUGE confidence booster. There's no belt system and unless you're competing, no ranking, but it's evident to you and those you'll be paddling with what level you're at and what you're comfortable with.

There's also the added benefit of getting out, meeting all kinds of people that share the hobby, seeing the world from a different perspective. It's great to work up a sweat and roll in the water to cool off immediately. There's a sense of adventure that permeates the sport: running a new river for the first time or just seeing the local spots change depending on the level, how features grow and shrink. I was invited on a trip down the Grand Canyon and, having rafted before, resolved to not have my butt chauffeured for the month. It was eight months in and I paddled every damn rapid.
posted by now i'm piste at 9:31 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not to dissuade you, but fencing is a martial art. I love the sport (check the name) but the OP specifically ruled them out. It does meet all the characteristics asked for and is a great little world unto itself.

Rock climbing is very popular, easy to get in to (most gyms have a basic wall, if there's not a dedicated place), and the routes have a difficulty rankings, albeit not always the same ones.
posted by now i'm piste at 9:38 PM on June 9, 2009

Join an APA Billiards League team. Competition with all manner of interesting folk, travel, beer AND cash prizes.
posted by EnsignLunchmeat at 9:42 PM on June 9, 2009

Running. Start here, end here. Use a GPS watch and a log to track your progress.

I love marathon training because it scratches every itch you listed in your post. It demands discipline and determination. There's visible, measurable progression. And it culminates in an event that proves that yes, you really did that, and you have the body and mind to prove it. (Not to mention the pictures and the medals.)
posted by liet at 10:39 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

As others have said, climbing does have difficulty ratings ("I typically climb a 5.10a or 5.10b"). Then, after you get good at top-roping, you can learn to lead climb, or to set your own protection. It would definitely meet your criteria.

I would add yoga, unless that's too similar to a martial art. The grades are less defined than black belt, etc., but you do progress from level to level, and then into teacher training.
posted by salvia at 1:23 AM on June 10, 2009

Learn the piano (Trinity Guildhall syllabus). There are eight grades, and exams for each. You get certified.
posted by murtagh at 1:57 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding learning to fly. If you don't practice regularly and study you'll be wasting a lot of money on relearning things at every lesson, but you want to go every week, right?

Depending on how much time and money you want to invest, you can keep yourself busy for years learning. Private license should take you around 4 months to get, followed by your instrument rating... complex/high performance endorsement, multi-engine rating, commercial ticket, instructor rating, instrument instructor, Airline Transport Pilot rating. Plus all the cool endorsements that will let you fly seaplanes and skiplanes and taildraggers.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:01 AM on June 10, 2009

Fantastic ideas, folks. Thanks so much. I'm definitely going to look carefully at several of these. I appreciate the feedback.
posted by crapples at 5:09 AM on June 10, 2009

Music lessons are the way to go here. Sign up for weekly lessons, ask your teacher which introductory book series to start on, and watch yourself go through books 1 - whatever. I'm on book 4 for Suzuki viola right now, and I can't wait to get through the book so I can move onto book 5!

Also, this requires regimented practice, of which you can make a schedule. Playing an instrument is both physically and intellectually challenging (and if it's not intellectually challenging, pick an instrument with a different clef than you're used to -- that will get your brain thinking). If you can't afford to buy an instrument right now, I'd recommend renting for a while from a local music shop to see how you like it. I looked into renting, and I found decent beginner instruments for as low as $20/month.

Once you get good/acceptable, you can join a community band/orchestra/rock group/etc. and practice with them (many groups meet weekly).
posted by Maarika at 10:36 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Toastmasters might be what you're looking for.
posted by Iridic at 11:04 AM on June 10, 2009

Try weightlifting! Set as a goal to squat and deadlift 405 pounds. You needn't have any freaky genetics, and it will take you a few years to get there. Every time you hit your lift (i.e. complete all the reps at the weight you are working with) you level up.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 1:02 PM on June 10, 2009

Volunteer for your local ambulance corps or fire department.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 5:07 PM on June 10, 2009

I second the volunteer fire department angle. They will train you to do amazing things, and you'll feel good about yourself for doing it.
posted by tr0ubley at 12:22 AM on June 11, 2009

Here are two suggestions:

1) Should you want a formal hierarchy, weekly meetings, defined advancement to "expert status" you could join a multi-level marketing company. The benefit is that you will learn techniques to manipulate people, destroy/damage your friendships, and it qualifies as a hobby because you will never make any money. If you joined Amway you could also get exercise carrying around the boxes of unused soap and pamphlets you would undoubtedly acquire.

2) On a serious note, you could go to school (if you aren't currently). You can do night school and get a college degree or graduate degree. Defined advancement to expert status. If your put yourself in the right frame of mind you could study something that is interesting to you and see it as a hobby that pays off for your resume.
posted by SantosLHalper at 3:53 AM on June 12, 2009

What about growing some sort of crop that you could sell? I had a student who started a ginger farm, for example. You could track your profits from year to year, and find some niche crop that won't get you arrested.
posted by mecran01 at 6:17 AM on June 12, 2009

I'll second competitive ballroom dancing. You can sign up for classes that meet weekly (depending on your level of comitment you might start taking several classes per week)

On the competitive side there are distinct levels that you can compete at. Starting with newcomer for people who have not danced for more than 6 months or so, up to bronze, silver, gold, pre novice, novice, pre champ, champ, and then onto professional level competitions if you are so inclined.

There's always more to work on and improve, and it is a ton of fun.

Another thing that is perhaps more fun but with a little less heirarchy is swing dancing. Its a lot easier and cheaper to get very involved with doing swing dance socially, but there are fewer levels to compete at. But you would have a sense of advancement as you would start in a beginner class, then move on to taking a couple of intermediate classes, and then advanced classes and so on. You can really feel yourself getting better it as you go on. It is a great way to meet people and a ton of fun.
posted by vegetableagony at 12:03 PM on June 24, 2009

Sorry for being el-stalker (I know Crapples in the real world) but maybe you should take Jazz guitar lessons. Tons of scales to learn, hierarchy, etc.
posted by mecran01 at 11:32 AM on July 12, 2009

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