Whitewater kayaker seeks wintertime outlet for aggression - AKA - recommend a martial art (in Pittsburgh)
January 2, 2011 6:02 PM   Subscribe

I want to try a martial art, but I'm overwhelmed by the huge assortment of styles that are out there. I have an idea of what I'd like, but I don't know what it's called, or how to find a good place to take classes. I've read a lot of the previous threads on martial arts, and they've helped me identify what I'm interested in, but I haven't gotten a good enough sense of which style matches what I'm looking for. [special requests inside]

So ... my preferences:

* Does not require me to take blows to the head - so boxing is right out. This is VERY important to me .... my main sport involves enough bashing my head on rocks, and I don't want to add more brain abuse to that. (didn't find anything about this in previous threads)
* Doesn't just involve standing up and trading blows - Jackie Chan style stuff just looks silly. Sure, knowing how to land/take a punch would be good to know, but I have no intention of kicking somebody's head.
* I'd love to learn how to throw somebody / be thrown, and how to pin somebody / escape various holds. Playing with leverage and momentum really appeals to me.
* Unscripted practice matches, going all-out.
* (in direct opposition to the previous) This isn't going to be my main sport, and I'd rather not wind up breaking bones. A shoulder dislocation would be particularly bad for me.
* Real-life applicability doesn't really matter to me. The only thing I can imagine using the skills I learn for would be pinning somebody in a tickle-fight ... I have no intention of entering into barroom brawls or fighting back against somebody with a weapon, as many of the other threads discuss.
* I'd have a hard time paying more than ~$75/month for once-weekly classes. As mentioned in the title - I'm addicted to whitewater kayaking, and this would be a second sport.
* If it matters: I'm 5'8", 195lbs, female ... so, pudgy but pretty active. I'm looking for fun and exertion, in that order. Love working out until I'm utterly beat, but it has to be fun for me to go back to it.

Bonus - I live in Pittsburgh (Shadyside, to be more exact) - any recommendations for specific instructors?

[tl;dr] I need a martial art that involves all-out sparring while playing with leverage and momentum, with a minimum risk of concussions and absolutely no jackie chan style dancing.
posted by Metasyntactic to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
* Unscripted practice matches, going all-out.

I can't speak to all the various types out there of course, but I don't think you'll find anywhere that lets you do this until fairly far down the road. like many months, but maybe years.
posted by hermitosis at 6:06 PM on January 2, 2011

my main sport involves enough bashing my head on rocks

Woah! Sounds...fun? :p

And I think hermitosis is right about no free for alls for beginners in martial arts. But what about fencing? You get to 'spar' immediately...so it would satisfy that need.
posted by ian1977 at 6:12 PM on January 2, 2011

Jiu-jitsu sounds perfect for you! A fall is the only way you'll take a real hit to the head- it's mostly holds and grappling, and there's very little striking involved. Holds, momentum, leverage, and pinning pretty much describe it in a nutshell, and all-out sparring is really the only way to learn.

Have fun!
posted by libertypie at 6:15 PM on January 2, 2011

OK - fair enough - beginners can't be expected to just have at each other safely ... make that a far-off goal, not an immediate requirement.
posted by Metasyntactic at 6:18 PM on January 2, 2011

You're obviously looking for Judo. Or Brazilian Jiujitsu. Judo is generally cheaper than BJJ, and both sports are much friendlier to the larger-than-average than many others.

I cannot guarantee you that you will not be injured at all in either sport. From what I've observed, BJJ probably has a slightly lower injury rate than Judo, but injuries happen in both sports. Then again, injuries happen in no-contact martial arts as well.

Unfortunately, progress will be very slow at once per week.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:19 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Please don't get caught up in the seeming array of choices you have. For a good long while, your participation at virtually any martial arts club, class, or school is going to look and feel almost exactly the same: a warm-up period, a bit where you do drills, a bit of sparring with a partner, and then a cool-down. With some martial arts, you might also get a bit of zazen meditation.

It's best to remember that a martial art is a contemporary, modern athletic activity. You're not a monk at a medieval monastery in the mountains, and your instructor is not a sage. A great deal of the stuff about the "flying drunken praying monkey mantis" is, roughly speaking, marketing.

From my perspective, if I were to choose a class, I would figure out what's available very nearby: the closer, the better. I'd pick one class and visit it: what's the demographic? Can I imagine spending time among these people? Is there a range of skill levels, and how do the instructors cope with that? What's the average level of exertion? Can I manage it?

With the exception of some boutique martial arts, the remaining differences are pretty trivial from the beginner's point of view. Taekwondo perhaps demands more straight-up athleticism than most. Karate (any style) is a good bread-and-butter activity to build endurance, strength, and poise. Capoeira is widely available on college campuses and typically attracts a younger demographic, but does lend itself to showing off. Judo involves more grappling and falling.

And then, of course, you have various self-defense classes, as well as mixed martial arts developed for armed forces, which are probably somewhat different in spirit.
posted by Nomyte at 6:22 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Fencing sounds perfect for you. No head blows, and you can start bouting fairly quickly. And once you can get good, you can combine it with the boat and invent a new form of jousting on water :) $80 a month should get you an all you can visit club membership, with one group lesson a week.
posted by COD at 6:25 PM on January 2, 2011

Judo sounds about right - how about Capoeira? Less emphasis on striking/grappling but loads more on movement, flexibility, balance, and cardio...
posted by porpoise at 6:34 PM on January 2, 2011

A lot of people I went to school with got into Aikido as a martial art. They spent a lot of their early training learning how to fall and to be thrown. One woman I know (who has since gone on to become a very skilled master). showed me the bruises on her arms and back after the first week. Yikes. Like all fighting (and sports), it is a discipline and you study and practice it to get proficient.

I also remember her showing me some of the techniques used to break out of holds and very quickly and efficiently turn them into very effective come-alongs.

Flash forward 20 years, I spoke to her about her art and asker her about some of the Aikido propaganda - is size immaterial, really? Does it meet the non-violent goals? (ie, your opponent is inherently off-balance by attacking you, so you keep taking advantage of that imbalance until s/he gives up). The answers are not-surprising: runkido is still the best first defense. Size does matter - she's 5'5ish and ripped like all get out and said she'd probably have trouble with a 300 pound opponent. Non-violent? Well, you do what you need to do. If it means breaking bones, you break bones.

And she is still enthralled by it. Last we spoke, her job still pays her Aikido habit, and that I think is the take-away: you should try a few that meet some of your core goals and then see how well you click with the instructor's style and the school, and stick with what works.

I consider this similar to Yoga - I've taken Yoga classes from three different instructors and had I judged it by just one in particular, I would've given up, but the other two communicated the goals in a way that worked for me.
posted by plinth at 6:50 PM on January 2, 2011

Judo and aikido.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:02 PM on January 2, 2011

The ideas about Aikido, Judo, etc are good places to start. make sure you also take into account the teacher and the community, that can make a big difference. Take a practice class or two, or visit and watch to get an idea of how the class is run and what the people are like. The instructor's philosophy can lean toward mindfulness, or physical fitness, or self-defense, or combat training -- find a teacher whose approach matches yours and the style won't matter so much.
posted by cubby at 7:10 PM on January 2, 2011

Based on all your requirements, I'd agree with Comrade_Robot that you definitely want judo or BJJ.

Given your concern for avoiding injury, I'd look around for a school that's more focused on developing technique and having fun than all-out competition - the school culture can make a difference in the injury rate.
posted by tdismukes at 7:33 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I see that a few people have mentioned Aikido. I should mention that Aikido will generally not give you "unscripted practice matches, going all-out", unless you study a branch of the art known as Shodokan (or Tomiki) Aikido, which may not be available in your area.
posted by tdismukes at 7:43 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

* I'd love to learn how to throw somebody / be thrown, and how to pin somebody / escape various holds. Playing with leverage and momentum really appeals to me.
* Unscripted practice matches, going all-out.

Yup, you have described judo. Judo is often run by non-profits, and usually costs $50-$70/month. You'll spend your first two weeks learning how to take falls and won't be going all-out in stand-up sparring for about a month and half.

However, you can go all out in ground sparring right away. They'll advise that you relax, and don't go all out, but it's very hard to resist for pairs of beginners. (I know I couldn't.) It's fine to go for it right away, then try relaxing a bit more after you get that out of your system so that you can learn more. (And of course, still turn up the intensity later when you do know what you're doing and you and a partner are looking to test yourself.)

Some quick Googling seems to indicate that South Hills Judo Club is active. So is Kim's Judo and Taekwondo which seems to have a decent reputation on the Judo Forum.

If you compete seriously, an injury will probably happen at some point in your career. I think it's far less likely if you just get good workouts in at the club and go to a few local tournaments.
posted by ignignokt at 8:10 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jiu-jitsu will give you pretty much everything you're looking for. Judo also, except for the punching bit, but that's easily learned on the side.

Aikido is pretty great for learning about use of momentum but not for the "free fighting" side of things.
posted by Decani at 11:40 PM on January 2, 2011

I think you have some good suggestions here, especially in the judo/jiu jitsu/BJJ camp. Since Pittsburg likely has several dojo for them, I wanted to strongly advise you to do visits to each place you wind up considering. Pretty much all martial arts are really interesting when you get into them — once you find a set of ones that fit you well, try to find the best school, not the best martial art. This means not only having a good sensei, but also having a good set of students as well. Good both in that there are a range of levels represented (once you get above absolute beginner, a great deal of your learning will occur from sparring and drills with others, not just comments from teachers) and in terms of the general feel of the people.
posted by Schismatic at 2:10 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

It has been my observation, with a friend who got seriously into jiujitsu, that as a sport it is appallingly brutal for beginners and smaller people. I was hoping it was just her school, but then she went to a national camp and met thirty other women who all shared stories about spending their first year sobbing after practice. Apparently the mentality is often to just kick the shit out of the new kids until they either quit or learn to kick back.

(I study a fairly traditional form of karate - think Karate Kid, not Jackie Chan - so it's probably not what you're looking for, but I really like the gentle, thoughtful progression from beginner to black belt. It's particularly helpful for women who don't have any contact-sport background, too, because hitting people can be pretty emotionally taxing when you're acculturated to never, ever be mean to people.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:11 AM on January 3, 2011

Thanks everybody!

I'll be visiting a couple of Judo schools this week. (Jiu Jitsu also sounds interesting, in theory, but the websites of a lot of the local places are squicking me out ... )
posted by Metasyntactic at 10:00 AM on January 3, 2011

Judo sounds like it might be right for you. But, as a biased aikido guy (20+ years), I wouldn't rule aikido out. We do "unscripted" (called "randori" or freestyle) stuff often (once or twice per week).

MefiMail me if you want more info.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 12:43 PM on January 3, 2011

Judo is awesome. You should do it.

But since you make a big point of it, I just want to say it - Injuries happen and if you do martial arts, you will be injured. You will land hard on your head. Note the "will'. You are training, not fighting, but you are still doing something risky. Judo is actually worse than some other arts for this - all the tumbling, throwing and slamming.

__I can't speak to all the various types out there of course, but I don't think you'll find anywhere that lets you do this until fairly far down the road. like many months, but maybe years.

Sparring isn't fighting, it's a training tool. As such, you should be using it soon - think days or weeks, not months. In grappling its even quicker - my first BJJ day we learned an attack and counter in class, then we used those techniques as a starting point in free rolling. Question any school that says sparring will take months or years to get to, or treats it like some crazy cage death match.

__(Jiu Jitsu also sounds interesting, in theory, but the websites of a lot of the local places are squicking me out ... )

Too bad. BJJ is awesome and many clubs now have womens only classes to take some of the brutality and intimate contact with strange men out of it. Most people in BJJ classes are closer to martial arts geeks than aggro tapout meatheads anyway. Might want to drop in and check them out - a decent school will give you a free class or two.

FWIW, There's two kinds of schools that teach jits. "Jujutsu" schools teach an old traditional Japanese style and mostly focus on forms, culture, and stylized fighting like lockflows. The other kind of school is "sport" Jiu-Jitsu or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or BJJ. It's called Jui-Jitsu as well, but the style actually evolved from Judo to focus on the leverage and timing of locks and chokes more than the power of throws and slams. The vibe will be very different between them.
posted by anti social order at 2:10 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the great advice everybody - I visited South Hills Judo, and it seems to be exactly what I'm looking for.

(I called a bunch of places, only 2 called back, and of the 2, one cost more than twice as much as the other ... So I didn't wind up looking around as much as recommended)
posted by Metasyntactic at 6:56 PM on January 11, 2011

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