martial arts for dummies
August 12, 2005 9:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in starting a martial art, but have no idea which type to choose (judo, karate, etc..). Any suggestions?

My main fear is that I will be terrible because I am quite uncoordinated and have zero experience with martial arts (or sports in general, for that matter). Are there some types that would be easier than others for a klutz just starting out?
posted by groar to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here and there are others, too, I believe. Might be of use.
posted by dobbs at 9:16 PM on August 12, 2005

I would suggest mainly looking for a martial art that has a beginner's course of some sort, so you can start easy.

I can only speak from experience of one martial art: Aikido. I started Aikido two years ago with no prior martial arts experience, and have never regretted it (though, yes, two years is a short time). Aikido is generally non-competitive, and more gentle on the body than a lot of martial arts can be. A lot of people at our dojo have come from other martial arts or do Aikido along with another discipline.

The basic premise of Aikido is to follow the way of harmony - you take the attacker's energy and send it back on them. It's often considered a defensive martial art.

There are several websites that provide information on Aikido practice, and you can certainly contact me (doodlebugsha if you have any questions. And lucky you, there's even a dojo in Tucson.
posted by bibbit at 9:20 PM on August 12, 2005

Aikido might be good, for the reasons bibbit specifies, although I will caution you that it involves copious amounts of tumbling and rolling. If, like me, that makes you fairly dizzy, you might not enjoy it that much. However, it could definitely still be a good choice.

Otherwise I can't add much, except that you should stay far, far away from any place that's called Karate for Kids, or that's named 'Such and Such's Karate' but actually teaches tae-kwon do, or that has a strict belt ranking system and/or guarantees a black belt in any set amount of time.

Instead, you want a learning hall that teaches an art authentically, with a minimum of bullshit and hand-waving, and probably one that doesn't participate in tournaments. A true martial arts dojo/dojong/etc will be all about internal enlightenment, helping people learn at their own pace without undue pressure, and respect.

Well, that and the whole kicking-punching thing ;)
posted by cyrusdogstar at 9:36 PM on August 12, 2005

If you take brazilian jui jitsu, you won't have to worry too much about falling over, because many studios primarily do ground work. ;) Also, it's one of the most effective martial arts out there, since many fights end up on the ground, rather than just two people standing around swinging at each other.

I wouldn't worry too much about not having any experience. Instead, go find some martial arts you're interested in, say aikido is primarily defensive and (I'd say) quite graceful (the comments above about aikido are on point; I took some aikido as well at one point). Shotokan karate is quite a bit more offensive and direct. Kung fu is almost like dancing and probably requires more flexibility and coordination. But you can pretend you're Jet Li.

Once you've identified a martial art (or arts) that you think you want to start learning, try to find at least three dojos in your area and sit in on one class. I have been to some *horrible* dojos before. If you don't have something to compare it to, you might think that first dojo you go to that sucks is the best there is out there. Good luck!
posted by cactus at 9:43 PM on August 12, 2005

You might want to approach the question by finding a good teacher first. As cyrusdogstar points out there's a lot of bad schools. I went to a couple of local schools (aikido and something nameless but wierd) and asked who was a good karate teacher, and they pointed me to an excellent place. Get feedback from other martial arts schools on the places that seem good to you. Go watch -- good places are happy to have you visit -- and see what appeals to you. Have fun, I did (and wish I'd kept it up.)
posted by anadem at 9:57 PM on August 12, 2005

I think people could probably give you more useful advice if you told us why you want to learn a martial art.

I'm not an expert; I know very little. But I did take T'ai Chi for a while, and it was lovely. Simple physical discipline, and deeply relaxing. Much like yoga, but with more movement.

If you want to learn in order to build muscles/know how to fight, though, you have to study for something like 15-20 years (if memory serves) before you speed up the motions to a point where they can be used defensively.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:58 PM on August 12, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everybody. I was thinking of something more towards the 'tumbling and rolling' stuff, such as judo, and was not aware that Aikido and Brazilian Jui Jitsu were similar in that respect. Something to check out.

And dirtynumbangelboy - I mostly want a fun way to keep in decent shape, blow off steam, and hopefully improve my coordination. Self defense would be an added bonus, but is not my primary motivation.
posted by groar at 10:18 PM on August 12, 2005

I would suggest Judo (or the more martial Jui-Jitsu). If you rush or tackle a Karateka and force a "confined" fight, you take away their most potent tactics and stand a better chance of equalizing the situation. Judokas don't play that shit and will slap a blood choke on your goofy ass.

I'm most certainly NOT dissing Karate (and variants). But as a matter of practicality, I observe that most street fights rapidly degenerate into grappling -- the most fundamental aspect of Judo (perhaps only second to concepts of "balance").

Since you say that self-defense is only one aspect, I'll add that Judo generally offers a much more physical workout (compare a karate Gi to a Judo uniform).
posted by RavinDave at 11:11 PM on August 12, 2005

Over the years Ive done karate, krav maga, jujutsu, tai chi and dabbled at a few other arts including aikido and arnis... and I am not super coordinated or a great athlete either, just enjoy it. If I was going to pick a new school now the number one factor would be the quality of the teacher. Ego is a huge curse in martial arts and many teachers have it. It comes across in many ways

- in how they treat the students, .e.g., various kinds of respect games they might play.
- in how they encourage students to treat each other, e.g, higher belts vs. lower belts.
- in how they handle questions about what they are doing. Do they actually seem to have answers that they have thought about. Nothing is worse (and unfortunately common) than a teacher that teaches techniques that you would never be able to pull off (as they leave you open or require your opponent to do something senseless) with compelete confidence.
- in how they handle questions about new things. Do they encourage them or not.

Checking out a new school and the quality of the teacher is mostly about evaluating the students. The thing is the advanced students are what you will become if you stick with it long enough. Most places will allow you to come in for a free class. In that free class what I would want to evaluate is how good are the advanced students, where good is physical and mental knowledge. Obviously do they know their stuff, but also if you ask them to explain what they are doing do they actually seem advanced about it showing understanding vs. parroting. Also how friendly are they? Are these people I would want to be with out of this context? Different schools attract different mentalities, so this is key. I would look for fun, respectful people who have a sense of safety that isn't compromised. In that regard I would always get somebody to give you the real lowdown on injury rates in the class. If they seem excessive in quantity or the severity of injuries I would get away as fast as possible.

After all that I would evaluate the art. Is it interesting at my current level of understanding. They all are at some point and they ultimately complement each other and merge together the more advanced you become. For example taichi is very useful for karate and jujutsu as you learn how to use your body to generate strength and balance. While jujutsu gives you the anatomical tools to understand how to use your body to disrupt someone elses.
posted by blueyellow at 12:12 AM on August 13, 2005

They're all a bit poncy, aren't they? You're better off, as in most things, picking along the lines of personalities. Sample each and figure out the ones whose practitioners synch with you the most. It's a social decision, ultimately, not one of "efficacy".
posted by cadastral at 1:37 AM on August 13, 2005

Do they have to be unarmed styles? What about kendo, or fencing? Foil fencing can feel a bit restrained to the newcomer, but both sabre and epee styles are a lot more explosive, and all variations will teach you proper footwork, the foundation of any martial art.

Also, it may simply be the salle I attended, but the gender split in fencing seems to be consistently 50-50. If socializing is a goal, this is a major plus.

Can't tell you much about kendo, although the students I knew tended to get injured fairly regularly (minor fractures, mostly). This may have been peculiar to their school, the head instructor of which was a drunk.
posted by Ritchie at 6:07 AM on August 13, 2005

I'm just going to echo a one of things here.

Ego. Ego in two parts.

First, is the teacher good enoough that he/she has patience with what you do and how you do it. Second, does the teacher/school breed artists who have the 'ego' about the art that it's the best thing ever.

I started out with personalized, one on one lessons, which helped me deal with the fact that I didn't have a sports background. And it helped in a big way.
posted by filmgeek at 6:37 AM on August 13, 2005

What's your reason? For self-defense, you're going to want something like Karate or Hapkido - I don't recommend it, though, the need for hand-to-hand fighting is quite rare in our society. If you're looking for the more mental side self-improvement a relatively abstract art like Aikido could be better, which is somewhat more about mastering it on its own terms than relating directly to combat (exception being the more angular, aggressive Kidotai form which is taught to the Tokyo police), though (the exteme being Tai Chi, which is mostly one slow sequence with no opponent). If you mainly want a work out, then it's largely a choice based on level of strenuousness.

Here's a good guide on E2.
posted by abcde at 9:22 AM on August 13, 2005

Also, Aikido isn't really a tumbling and rolling system like the ground fighting styles. It's just because much of the art is about taking someone's punch or whatever and altering that momentum so it's throwing them at the ground. Since you practice on each other, you learn rolls so that you don't die when you hit the ground.
posted by abcde at 9:26 AM on August 13, 2005

In addition to the earlier discussion that dobbs linked to, there are additional discussions here, here, and here. I've got a longish comment in the last linked discussion which may be useful.

"My main fear is that I will be terrible because I am quite uncoordinated and have zero experience with martial arts (or sports in general, for that matter). Are there some types that would be easier than others for a klutz just starting out?"

One of the cool things about the martial arts culture in general is that not that much emphasis is placed on natural talent. It is usually assumed that every one will start out klutzy, and everyone can get really good if they just spend enough time at it. When I started in the martial arts, I was unusually non-athletic, uncoordinated, inflexible, lacking in strength and endurance, and physically cowardly. After 24 years of training, I'm now a distinctly above-average martial artist. In all the dojos I've attended, no one ever gave me any grief about my lack of natural ability, they just kept pushing me to improve a bit at a time.

If you're primarily looking just to get some exercise and inprove your coordination, and you're starting out at a fairly low level, then most martial arts will probably be okay for you starting out. That said, I would focus on finding a school where you like the atmosphere. The best training in the world won't do you any good if you don't keep going to class, and you won't keep going to class if you don't enjoy the process. Some schools are very formal and have a boot camp feel. Some schools are very casual and friendly. Some schools are run by egomaniacs, some are run by people who just want your money, some are run by humble folks who just want to share what they've learned. Some are geared towards competition, some are geared towards passing on tradition. Any good school should allow you to watch a class, many will offer a free lesson or two. Check them out until you find one where you can realistically see yourself showing up ate least 2-3 times a week for a long time, then sign up and give it a try. (Avoid any place that tries to lock you into a long-term contract. You're just starting out, so you can't know if you're going to still want to train at the same place a year from now.)
posted by tdismukes at 10:00 AM on August 13, 2005

Sit on a sparring class if you can. That'll tell you a lot about the quality of self-defence training the school offers (if it's self-defence skills you're after rather than a more dramatic form of yoga). If there's not much sparring or none at all, the school's not worthwhile (a lot of schools are just belt schools -- they churn people through the belt levels to earn money without teaching them actual street-useful skills).

If there's too many tournament rules -- no grabbing people's kicks, that sort of thing -- then it's probably not the place for you. Martial arts is mostly conditioning and developing reflexes, and you don't want to develop tournament reflexes that will actually hinder you in real life.

I'd look for a place that offers mixed martial arts (kicking and punching skills as well as ground fighting skills). You need to be able to defend yourself according to whatever the situation demands. I had a friend who was a high-level judo guy who was quite good in one-on-one situations, where he could control his opponent, especially if went to grappling. But he got hospitalized after getting into a street fight with two guys. He didn't have the stand-up skills to control the situation or at least get out of it. So taking judo or Brazilian jj is good -- mandatory, even -- but ignore the other martial arts at your own peril.
posted by showmethecalvino at 1:18 PM on August 13, 2005

I did Seido Karate for a few years, I don't know why everyone is saying it's all about standing up, we did lots of grappling and ground exercises -- there was a lot of emphasis on blocks, holds, throws as well as kicks and other strikes.

We had a very careful beginner system - no sparring for one thing, until you'd been there for a long time (I think it averaged out to about 18 months - and people still felt rushed when they finally made it to contact sparring level.)

I wouldn't particularly recommend any style, as some others have said, you really need to shop around to find what actually suits you, but I have a couple of things to say...

1. It's not like the movies. I'm sure you already realise this, but you need to REALLY realise it. Martial Arts, in my experience, equals lots of really really hard exercise, sweat in your eyes, and pain. If you don't experience any of these things, I doubt you're actually doing anything of value (or you're already so outrageously fit you just don't notice 200 press-ups.)

2. Watch out for your mindset, I only realised after I took a break that only a few years of practice had made me incredibly aggressive and unpleasantly competitive -- and I certainly wasn't unique in that regard.

3. Watch out for the bullshit. Seido didn't have anything on the Bullshido scale, but there was still a lot of Japanophile / founder worship bullshit hidden in there.

4. You'll feel bullet proof after a little while, but you won't be, you'll be a twerp who thinks he knows it all and one drunk guy who has actually been in a real brawl will know a 1000% more than you about how to really fight. I've never been in a fight since starting training (or subsequently quitting) but I WANTED to on a number of occasions, see point 2.
posted by The Monkey at 6:57 PM on August 14, 2005

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