Will martial arts help me?
March 26, 2011 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Did studying a martial art get you in shape (from a very bad starting point) or help improve your confidence and ability to deal with people?

I'm thinking about beginning classes in jiu jitsu (or perhaps another martial art, I'm open to suggestions) to help with a). my weight problem and general out-of-shapeness and b). my insecurity and self confidence issues. What's stopping me? Why, "a" and "b", of course.

I currently am about forty pounds overweight with zero muscle tone and cannot walk up two flights of steps without getting winded. (I'm a man in his early 30s). Is it a mistake to plunge directly into martial arts without getting myself into some semblance of shape first?

I also freeze up when confronted with "alpha male" behavior or confrontations. Unfortunately my career ensures that I'm going to have to deal with bad behavior for a while. Have you found that martial arts helped you deal with social anxiety/dealing with adult bullies? Or did you find that the schools were full of said alpha behavior? (PS - yes, I'm in therapy too).

Any advice on these issues or getting started in martial arts as an adult would be welcome. Also, I live in L.A. so I'd welcome school recommendations in that area.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
It didn't help me with my weight, but I wasn't really sweating that. (And still don't.) It has a surprisingly significant effect on self-confidence, especially if you stick to it for a long time.

You learn a couple of important things: 1: you don't have to be afraid. 2. If you pick fights, eventually you're going to find someone better than you are and get stomped.

So you learn a kind of quiet confidence. You don't have to back down, but you don't become a bully. (If you do, Sensei will kick your butt.)

Martial arts isn't really like aerobic exercise. It's more about stretching and gaining muscle tone than it is about losing weight. It is good exercise, but don't expect "a pound a week" from it; it won't deliver.

I did it twice when I was younger. Once was Tai Kwon Do and the other was a version of Karate. I think those are probably better than Jiu Jitsu if you want exercise and self confidence.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:34 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Congratulations first of all on deciding to get in shape. I take Taekwondo and as a woman I really didn't want to be a part of a place that was all aggressive and macho. My studio emphasizes a non-competitive style of learning. It really helps weed out the people that just want to learn how to be all Cobra-kai about it. Taekwondo is a really great work out but if you get the right instructor he/she will let you work at your appropriate ability level. Most places offer trial lessons for free or a minimal cost.

1. Yes, it has greatly improved my weight and my asthma has almost gone away completely.
2. My confidence has improved by being healthier, losing weight and feeling strong.
3. The process of passing early tests is quick, like a few months and it will make you feel like you have goals. This is super important in sticking with a new work out.
4. You get to break wood boards and it makes you feel invincible

Sorry don't live in LA but try to find a non-competitive school no matter what martial art you choose. Good luck.
posted by yfatah at 5:36 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

So I have to disagree a bit with Chocolate Pickle. Plenty of Martial Arts are highly aerobic and can be great for both weight loss and generally "getting in shape", gyms focused on competition and Mixed Martial Arts competition tend to focus on everything from martial arts to general fitness - there are a ton of MMA (or MMA focused Jiu-Jitsu) gyms in the LA area I don't know many off hand but 10th Planet is pretty good . Boxing is an absolutely phenomenal workout, Krav Maga is another combat sport thats great for losing weight I've known a few people losing greater then a pound a week doing 3 Krav Maga classes a week..

Dealing with Alpha Males, these types of gyms will kind of make or break you. The sport itself may lend confidence, but it will also put you "in the ring" with "alpha males" on a regular basis, just building up a thicker skin. My experience with these types of Gyms is that you can go in out of shape, and if you stick with it, and just keep trying you'll get respect and more confidence in yourself.
posted by bitdamaged at 6:01 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have been taking Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for about 5 months. I'm not familiar with traditional Jiu-Jitsu so your mileage will vary if it's not BJJ you're considering. BJJ and regular Jiu-Jitsu are VERY different.

I am slightly overweight (around 24-26% body weight depending on the week it seems) but in rather good shape. I've not lost any weight but I have definitely built some muscle tone and haven't gone up in weight. The cardio in beginning classes is fairly minimal but it becomes much more intense in the intermediate classes. It took three months training 2-3 times a week before I was promoted to access the intermediate classes. In these classes we were "rolling" (meaning actually fighting/wrestling) for 30 minutes straight. These are very intense sessions and I'd equate them to running a 10k personally. I have heard feedback that as you become better at technique you don't exert as much effort.

In regards to getting started I wouldn't sweat it. I'd say about 50% of the people starting out are just like you. I've also found that there is an amazing fellowship within the school. They want you to succeed and it really keeps me going back.

The biggest shocker to me was the cost when I initially signed up. I would expect to spend $100 a month or more for a good school.
posted by Octoparrot at 6:10 PM on March 26, 2011

Oh, and regarding the alpha male piece. My personal experience has been exactly the opposite as Bitdamaged. The alpha males seem out of place out my school.

Try a few out and find one you feel comfortable with. I almost signed up at the first school I attended but tried another on recommendation from a family member and was VERY happy I did.
posted by Octoparrot at 6:12 PM on March 26, 2011

I took jiu jitsu for a while. If you're out of shape, it will kick your ass, at least at first. But keep with it, it's absolutely worth it.

What I found was that my confidence went down as I moved from beginner to intermediate, mainly because a different sensei was teaching the intermediate class and I lost my sparring partner. Like you, I react badly to the "alpha male" mentality and behaviour. The second sensei I worked with was all "the best of you are samurai and all the rest don't count", and that did little to inspire confidence in me or willingness to work.

My best advice to you is twofold:
1) find a sensei you like and who you can work with. Ask questions about teaching style, philosophy, etc. Don't go with one who seems to be giving you the hard sell or who gives you the alpha male schtick. Good sensei are out there, and it will make it infinitely easier on you and on your training.
2) A good sparring partner you trust will help immensely, as this person will be hip throwing you regularly.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 7:08 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

The closest I've done to a martial art is tai chi, but as someone who started out far more overweight, I am now a huge fan of gym classes because they build strength, confidence, skills, and relationships. You can see and feel your progress. People miss you when you're not there.

As others have said, choose carefully to get the vibe you're looking for. And I'd caution you to remember that the conscious incompetence at the start of any new skill is HARD. Promise yourself to keep at it for a few months so you can get beyond that to the new confidence that comes with a little more competence.
posted by ldthomps at 7:17 PM on March 26, 2011

You might also consider Seidokan, which is a self-defense karate...not competition, so there's not much aggro leaking around.
posted by dejah420 at 7:42 PM on March 26, 2011

I started taekwondo with a host of physical issues and absolutely no stamina due to some chronic health problems. It's definitely a workout and it wasn't easy for me at the start. There was at least one class where I overdid it and almost threw up in the car on the way home, but I've stuck with it and it's gotten easier with time.

Don't worry too much about being overweight. There's a pretty wide range of shapes and sizes at my school, and everyone gets by ok. As for losing weight, I haven't actually lost any, but my clothes are certainly fitting differently. I can see that I've gained muscle and lost fat. And I have visible biceps now! Hooray!

My class is filled with kind, supportive people. I have yet to see any alpha male posturing crap. Even sparring matches (which I was terrified to do) are all about encouragement and education. The less experienced students are usually paired with a black belt who is actively teaching as they spar with you. There's no pressure to win the match since your partner is clearly so much more experienced, the goal is to try to improve.

It's pretty easy to get a feel for what the place is all about if you watch a class or two before you sign up. Is the instructor patient with the students? When people are practicing throws do they offer a hand to help their partner back up? Is there an emphasis on self control? If you can try out a couple classes for free or for a reduced fee, even better.
posted by Kicky at 8:04 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I also came to chime in - both of your qualifications, getting a good workout and avoiding the alpha male mentality, depend heavily on the school. There can even be lots of variation even in the same style. But definitely what you want exists, you just need to shop around.

Interview sensei about their class and teaching philosophy, any sensei serious about finding good new students will be happy to talk with you. It's as important for them to find the right students as it is for you to find the right school.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 8:35 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are as out-of-shape as you say, I would shy away from any martial art that focused on strikes or kicks, primarily because these types of fighting styles generally require several years of strength training and fight experience to get comfortable enough to use in your day-to-day life. I would instead suggest any martial art that uses grappling, throwing, and locks… something like Brazilian Jujitsu or Judo.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:45 PM on March 26, 2011

With eight years of Kuniba-Ha goshin budō under my belt, here's my two cents:

Choose carefully.

There are a lot of really great schools out there, and there are a lot of terrible ones. You'll get exercise in most of them, you'll get fit, you'll lose weight; however, the matter of confidence is trickier. Pick the wrong discipline, and your confidence in your ability to take care of yourself could just get you in trouble. A few rules of thumb, drawn from my experiences and, I'll admit, more than a few of my own opinions:

* If the school advertises how quickly you gain rank, walk away.
* If the school is affiliated with American Freestyle Karate, don't expect to learn meaningful self-defense. Again, walk away.
* If the school considers tournaments to be an important part of karate training, walk away. Tournament karate is essentially tag: get too used to it, and you'll get your ass handed to you anywhere else.

My recommendation is that you pick a branch of one of the older Okinawan schools; preferably one that teaches a syncretic approach incorporating grappling and aikido in addition to the core standing strikes. You don't ever want to lose on the ground.

If I had to choose again, I'd still go for something affiliated with Shito-ryu karate. On the east coast, these guys are about the best bet- even the middle-schoolers I know that have Chikubu-kai training are unnervingly effective combatants. I don't know how things are in the LA area, but I imagine you'll have plenty of choices.

As to dealing with 'alpha-male' jerks: martial arts might give you some peace of mind around them, but when it comes down to it, the last thing you should do is rely on them. Advertising that you have martial arts experience will get you into trouble. If you put a spring in your step and don't let yourself be baited, however, people will tend not to give you too much shit. Knowing exactly how you could deal with them if they did is your own private bonus, but that must always remain a hypothetical scenario.

In eight years, I've never had to throw a punch in anger; nor do I plan to.
posted by fifthrider at 10:07 PM on March 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

I did a few years of judo as a kid, and have about 8 years of capoeira under my belt, having started that around your current age, give or take a little. During this time I also did about a year of what was called "freestyle martial arts", which was a kind of combination of bujinkan ninjutsu & tae kwon do.

First up, I'd say just do it. My experience with all of these is that they're very encouraging & supportive, regardless of your body type or fitness level. I've never really been overweight myself, but all kinds of people with all kinds of body types take part, and I've never felt there was too much of a macho, alpha male thing happening. I'm definitely much fitter in an all-round sense, and can easily keep up with the 18yo kids, so that's gotta be good.

Confidence & stuff...capoeira isn't that much of a realistic street-fighting / self-defence art, but all the same I definitely feel more confident in my strength, fitness, reactions, etc than if I hadn't done anything, and if up against the wall might resort to trying a kick if I had to (kicks are generally advised against in real fights...too easy to catch! This was why I was supplementing my training with the freestyle martial arts)

If you wanted something self-defencey, a grappling style might be best, like Brasilian Jiu Jitsu - just about every Mixed Martial Arts cage-fighting dude uses BJJ + some kind of striking art, from what I've heard. Plenty of suggestions upthread.

If you want something fun for fitness (and a mixed male-female group, too) maybe take a look at Capoeira Brasil LA. (disclaimer: that's the group I belong to, just not the LA one)
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:00 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's nothing particularly magic about martial arts that would make you lose weight. Just the warm-up routines most martial arts trainees do could get you fit, if done multiple times per week over an extended period of time in conjunction with a calorie-reduced diet. 'Run around the hall. Again. Push-ups. Again. Run around the hall. Again.' And so on, no pyjamas or kanji-embroidered belt required.

Choose your group carefully. There's something about the martial arts that attract (a) the same kinds of scumbags who run gyms and will try to sign you up for an expensive contract, (b) Cobra-kai fucktards who scream loyalty to The One True Instructor of The One True Way, (c) bullies and (d) single individuals who embody all of the above. I've seen this in karate, judo, kendo, taekwondo and aikido, and sadly the (d) people are more often than not the instructors. They all know that people are wary of that sort of thing and all claim up front that We're Not Like Those Other Guys. Don't think for a minute that some styles are above this sort of crap, because they're not.

Further, their particular definitions of 'confidence' and 'discipline' are closer to my definitions of 'groupthink' and 'blind obedience'. Suck up to sensei and follow all his stupid rules, and you'll somehow have magically acquired both. Stand up for yourself (no, Bob, I don't see why I should call you 'sensei' and avert my gaze when I see you at the local mall) and ask questions (how relevant is this kick designed to dismount medieval Korean cavalry, exactly?) and you'll find yourself at the bottom of the pecking order quick smart.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:32 AM on March 27, 2011 [12 favorites]

Do remember that getting in shape and losing weight are two different things. If you want to drop that 40lb, you need to change your eating habits, weight loss really is 80-90% diet, and the rest is exercise. That said, changing your diet - decreasing sugar, simple carbs, transfats and calories, increasing protein, leafy vegetables and omega-3 fats - will make it easier for you to get a good work out. And vice-versa, I've found that nothing kills my evening cravings like a nice walk.
posted by jedrek at 5:19 AM on March 27, 2011

I found taking judo to be quite helpful in general fitness. While there was conditioning involved in class, the biggest help was that it motivated conditioning outside of the gym. Most of the time I'd just get bored at weights, but when I was taking judo I had specific applications for strength and endurance in mind. I'm fond of judo because it is both a full-on cardio sport designed for safety and a skill based competition. Practice often goes in 3-5 minute rounds, so if you're out after the first two you can take a breather.

WRT alpha male stuff, judo and ju-jitsu and such teach you the importance of actually knowing what you're doing and of seeing the opportunity for aggression and counter aggression. I always relished crushing an over-aggressive young'un.

I'd say it's pretty important to find a teacher who is legitimately good at what they do. My first judo instructor had been on the US Olympic team at one point, and he was able to demonstrate good form and show you how your mistakes would make you lose. His excellent control meant that he could beat you all day and you wouldn't get hurt. When I worked with people with much less skill, there's more a tendency for them to overdo it.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:54 AM on March 27, 2011

Congrats on deciding to get in shape. BJJ is an excellent vehicle for improving fitness, but I would try to prepare before jumping in. It is going to be very hard to learn if your lungs are burning at the same time. So maybe just being able to run a mile in 10 minutes is a good benchmark.

I have trained in Muay Thai and BJJ for about a year and before that wrestled throughout my youth and in college. From my experience I would say the school you choose is very important. You really want to avoid the "UFC Crowd," and I say that as a huge fan of the sport. So if a gym advertises MMA training and does most of their BJJ training sans gi, there's likely to be a lot of testosterone. There is nothing wrong with this type of gym, but many are focused on cranking out the next ultimate fighter.

Most gyms and attendees are great about welcoming all, and really build up a great relationship.

I believe BJJ is a great choice, by the way. It is, in my opinion, the best martial art for self defense. In the early going, you are going to get thrown around... a lot. You almost need to get comfortable getting pushed around. I absolutely think BJJ will help you deal with the Alpha male. The sport was designed to help the little guy take out the big alpha male. So it can give you that confidence in time. Don't get discouraged. Everyone will have more experience and fitness than you at the start.
posted by jmugrapler at 7:30 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

After sleeping on it, one more thing I want to add about martial arts training. Most martial arts discourage any kind of two-way interaction with the sensei during class. Sensei instructs, you do as instructed (to the best of your ability), and you don't do any further talking. Clarifications are to be asked for after class is done, and if the sensei is willing to stay after class to talk to you. If sensei can't stay (for whatever reason), you're expected to work it out on your own or with your classmates.

If your learning style doesn't match this kind of instruction, you may find martial arts quite hard.

I come from a musical background - in rehearsal, you correct mistakes in music or technique before progressing. Nothing is considered worse than learning something wrong, so you don't allow it get to that point. This sometimes means asking questions in the middle of rehearsal to clarify technique and get it right. I tried that in my jiujitsu dojo and my second sensei hated it.
posted by LN at 7:41 AM on March 27, 2011

I think that the answer really is - it depends. You have to find the right instructors for you. I took karate long ago, and decided I hated martial arts; mistakes were corrected by yelling at students, there wasn't much correction during practice, and you often got up to make a fool of yourself.

Last year, I wandered into a tae kwon do studio. I hadn't exercised in two years. I couldn't bend down and touch my knees, let alone my toes, and I couldn't run a lap without getting out of breath. The instructor said to me, after my first trial class, "well, I think you haven't exercised in a long time, so at first it will be hard. But I think mentally you are prepared to try, and so I encourage you." One year later, I can touch my toes, run three miles, and do 50 push-ups (and I'm a girl). I also have shed a lot of my anxieties and stress. Our instructors allow each student to work at his or her own level - they will push you hard at each level, but not in a cruel way, and will not push you past what you can do. They are unfailingly positive, and encourage your successes and the attempts you make that do not end in success.

Tae kwon do has made me happier and more confident - it has also turned me from someone who felt pretty slobby into someone who thinks of herself as an athlete. My biggest hurdle initially was overcoming my embarrassment around the other students, at my being so out of shape. But now that I am a higher belt student who can do a class without feeling exhausted, when new students come in who are out of shape, I do not look down on them - I just encourage them to keep trying and not give up. And I realize this is the way that the other students felt towards me, too. A large part of this I would credit to our instructors' style.

So I would say this - don't let your fears of being out of shape stop you. I don't ever really focus on other students during class, because I am too worried about improving myself - realize that really, it's your own attitude you're feeling shy about, not someone else's perception. Martial arts can really help you in both levels. You just have to find a place where the environment is comfortable for you to learn in. Good luck to you!
posted by mccn at 9:23 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Definitely shop around the available schools before you commit to anything.

There are schools with "alpha males" who feel the need to show off their rank or ability to beat up on newbies. There are also schools with alpha males who have quiet confidence in their abilities and are committed to helping others in the dojo to learn and grow. You want the second type of school. Watch a few classes, talk to the instructor and other students, try a free class if one is offered. You should be able to get a feel for the training atmosphere.

I definitely don't think you need to worry about getting in shape before you start training - the classes will do that for you. Based on your current condition, I wouldn't jump right in at a gym that specializes in training professional fighters, but a typical school aimed at average folks should be fine. You'll start out being exhausted by the end of a workout, but your body will adapt over time. Bear in mind that there can be a large difference in the intensity of the physical workout between different martial arts styles and even different school of the same style. When you're observing classes, you can pay attention to how much the participants are sweating. Some schools will get you a light workout, others will give you an intense workout. Either way, your body will adapt.

Regarding this note from LN:

"Most martial arts discourage any kind of two-way interaction with the sensei during class. Sensei instructs, you do as instructed (to the best of your ability), and you don't do any further talking. Clarifications are to be asked for after class is done, and if the sensei is willing to stay after class to talk to you."

This is completely dependent on the school and the instructor. There are plenty of schools where the instructor is happy to come around during class and help you out when you need guidance with a technique. This isn't to say that they'll allow the entire physical workout to get sidetracked into an academic Q&A discussion, but you can certainly ask "Am I doing this right?", "Where should my right hand go during the second step?", etc. There are other schools that operate in the manner LN describes. Once, again, pay attention to the way classes are run when you are checking out potential schools.

"Did studying a martial art get you in shape (from a very bad starting point) or help improve your confidence and ability to deal with people"

Yes and yes.
posted by tdismukes at 9:26 AM on March 27, 2011

Yep, definitely depends on the marital art you want to take and then school you sign up for. I've done taekwondo and kempo (with some bjj, wrestling, and filipino stick fighting mixed in). Taekwondo was great for cardio and getting in shape, but I didn't feel like I learned to defend myself or really gained any self confidence from it. The kempo school I went too (and I looked at a lot before choosing this one), has some classes that are more intensive workouts, and some that work more on technique, so that overall, it was less of a getting in shape workout, but, a lot of the time, you could push it to be more of that if you wanted it to be. However, I know feel like I can take care of myself, and I think it would help in a learning to be more confident in an alpha male sort of situation.

But it all depends on the school and instructor, shop around till you find one where the school it teaching you something you want to know (try out different disciplines too, kempo is, from my experience, the most self defense style, though others will disagree with that), from teachers that seem to resonate with you, and a class that isn't full of macho meat heads (of either gender).

Finally, definitely don't worry about being out of shape. In my years of training I've seen people way more out of shape than you join and do fine. You find that as you get in shape, the more you can do, but being out of shape doesn't prevent you from doing things.
posted by katers890 at 9:35 AM on March 27, 2011

I studied TKD for about a year and a half a couple years back.
I had a blast, until all the "red flags" I kept ignoring about my school came back to haunt me.
I found a new, much better school, but I don't have the time & money to go back.

My tips:
1. There's really no need to sign a contract. If you find a good school that does offer contracts, they should be 6 months or less.
2. The school shouldn't automatically pass you at each test.
3. It should take a few *years* to reach black belt status.

Good luck!
posted by luckynerd at 9:45 AM on March 27, 2011

Oh and on rereading comments, I completely and utterly disagree with LN's comment about the interactions between sensei and student. There are schools like that, but I would never go to one. I have to ask questions to understand and I'm there to have fun, so I want to be able to joke with my instructor. Now I respect them and show them so, but we also joke around before, after, and during class, as do the other students. Find the school that teaches how you want to be taught.
posted by katers890 at 10:16 AM on March 27, 2011

I highly recommend Modern Arnis. It is a wonderful art. The focus is on stick fighting (which translates to open hand fighting) ... but it also has "elements of Judo, Shotokan Karate, and Wally Jay's Small Circle Jujutsu". It's fun... and it works in real life situations.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 11:37 AM on March 27, 2011

Forget about any advice which aims at which martial art is the "most effective". That is primarily dick-waving. Any martial art will make you far more effective at basic defense, and you didn't ask how to kick butt in life-or-death fights with martial arts champions, anyway.

Any of them will add helpful exercise to your life. Any of them will increase your self-assurance.

In my experience with a martial arts styles, aikido stood out as the sole martial art that constantly, actively emphasized peaceful ways to settle disputes. The actual moves, in fact, display unaggressive body language, from the backing-up style of blocking to the "embracing" styles of take-downs. It's a little hard to express quickly in print, but I've seen several styles in practice, and practiced a few myself, and aikido fights looked less like a fight, and more like a decision of the attacker to suddenly quit (albeit, under silent threat of terrible pain and injury...).

So, FWIW, I can recommend Aikido for: physical fitness, self-confidence, and instilling a philosophy of avoiding conflict without submission.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:42 PM on March 27, 2011

I've spent at least 6 months in about 6 different martial arts (I moved a lot, and I was really curious about what the other guys were doing...), so:

Did studying a martial art get you in shape (from a very bad starting point) or help improve your confidence and ability to deal with people?

Two of them got me in shape: A hybrid Chinese style, and Judo.

The others disappointed me in that respect. At one of them, a Karate school, every instructor had at least a little pot belly. When the head of the organization visited (a really neat Japanese guy), he could hardly believe his eyes. He left having made it very clear that each instructor needed to recommit and get in shape.

The Chinese style increased my confidence greatly, as it was the first I spent a lot of time on. A lot of this was because of the instructor. I'd get pinned by a visiting wrestler, and I'd tap out, and he'd say STOP and would come and say "look, it's not so bad. See how he's doing this? You could just wiggle your arm this way and push. Now do it. See? You're free."

That instructor made it his job to show how experience and evaluation would really make us all better people.

Weight loss was also a HUGE confidence-raiser. In addition the acrobatic confidence (learning to kick someone over your shoulder, or being able to kick the top of any doorway) made me feel like I was really doing something not many people could do. Great booster.

Ability to deal with people? No way. That's so much more of a multi-dimensional skill than most martial artists seem to think. Confidence is great, but learning to "deal with people" is its own discipline. You learn it by dealing with people.

If you need to deal with people and don't feel you're any good at it, hire a coach who can teach you that. Take classes in assertiveness. Learn what it means to "stick to your guns" in a conversation. Learn how to negotiate. But man, that's a big arena.

I'm thinking about beginning classes in jiu jitsu (or perhaps another martial art, I'm open to suggestions) to help with a). my weight problem and general out-of-shapeness and b). my insecurity and self confidence issues. What's stopping me? Why, "a" and "b", of course.

One question you're not asking, that you should ask: "How do I quit a martial arts studio?" Because there's a good chance that you'll get into right-art-but-wrong-studio situations, or right-teacher-but-wrong-peers. Those situations SUCK.

I would advise you to stick to your goal of losing weight. Look at the instructor. What kind of shape are they in? The students? Are there any highly-ranked students who look sloppy?

When you do your workout, do you see the highly-ranked students getting super sweaty? Or are they faking it and getting away with it?

When you ask the instructor how much focus they put on getting students into shape, do they give you anything but the answer you want? Anything that raises a flag?

I think it's worth your time to make the studio prove its worthiness to you, if you're interested in weight loss. Far too many of them just suck at weight loss or enforcing physical discipline.

I currently am about forty pounds overweight with zero muscle tone and cannot walk up two flights of steps without getting winded. (I'm a man in his early 30s). Is it a mistake to plunge directly into martial arts without getting myself into some semblance of shape first?

If you've had a physical lately, great. Most studios will be OK with you pooping out early. The good ones will evaluate your poop-outs. Do they just let you do your "best" without saying anything, or do they gently but persistently push you along to fit their standards?

I also freeze up when confronted with "alpha male" behavior or confrontations. Unfortunately my career ensures that I'm going to have to deal with bad behavior for a while. Have you found that martial arts helped you deal with social anxiety/dealing with adult bullies? Or did you find that the schools were full of said alpha behavior? (PS - yes, I'm in therapy too).

Please look at this as a separate issue. Ask your therapist for direct advice. Are there courses you
can take? Coaches you can visit?

Please give yourself a head start by writing down what alpha male behavior is to you. To learn to defeat it, you have to pull it off the mental pedestal and start taking it apart, taking every incarnation you can find and developing a technique that helps you deal with it, turn it around, or whatever.

Martial arts studios do this physically, and the philosophy will carry over a little bit, but I wouldn't expect too much if you don't find specialized help.

Any advice on these issues or getting started in martial arts as an adult would be welcome. Also, I live in L.A. so I'd welcome school recommendations in that area.

You might find it fun to ask a friend along when you're trying to evaluate different studios. Someone who "gets" you can really help counter the pressure you might otherwise succumb to (things like "I just need to lose weight, I don't need the perfect studio, so maybe this place is OK even though the instructor is kind of violent).
posted by circular at 8:32 PM on March 27, 2011

so i had kind of the same problem you are describing -- and doing muay thai (plus associated conditioning so i could get better at muay thai) helped a lot. i lost the weight. i got mad strong. and although i didn't have to deal with "alpha males", i did have to deal with very stressful academic pressure, and being able to train while in that situation really allowed me to survive and even thrive under the pressure, rather than give in to it.

i don't think it made me more assertive in dealing with people (i'm already assertive though) but it did give me a physical sense of peace and calm that just made it easier for me to focus and accomplish tasks even under pressure.

i also second arnis, A.K.A. escrima or kali (the filipino fighting art with many names and strains). as far as what to look for in a studio, try to find one with a gym in it. mine is like that so we have conditioning and weightlifting classes included in our memberships and a lot of folks do it just to keep in good shape. we also have an active fight team of amateurs, which means our teachers are very good at pushing people to be the best they can be, but reasonably/realistically. and without all that screaming macho man UFC kind of attitude. cause you don't need the attitude when you have 20+ students who are the real thing. (and are just normal everyday people, too.)
posted by zdravo at 6:06 PM on November 27, 2011

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