Area Woman Wants to Learn to Hit People
November 24, 2013 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to take up a martial art, and there are a bewildering variety of them. Help me choose one and figure out where I can study it in my area.

I'd like to learn self-defence and get into better shape. I've taken some karate and kickboxing lessons in the past and enjoyed them. I like the idea of being able to earn belts or having some way to measure my progress (kickboxing doesn't have that, alas). I don't want to have to wear the belt or a uniform. I don't like the idea of doing a lot of grappling — I want a discipline that allows me to mostly maintain some personal space. If it will take me a long time to learn to defend myself in a certain discipline, I would be open to taking a self-defence workshop first. I'm in the Junction Triangle in Toronto. What martial art should I study and where should I take it?
posted by orange swan to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I still say muay thai kickboxing. It is the most effective discipline in a (standing) fight, and if you become proficient in kicking you can deliver some serious power to leg, body, or head, and it's highly unlikely Joe Mugger on the street will know how to defend against it unless they are a kickboxer, too.

I know you like the belt system, but there are plenty of confidence-boosting markers of progress in kickboxing. As your technique improves and you're throwing your weight around more efficiently you're rewarded by increasingly resounding *thumps* from the heavy bag or pads. Throwing a one-two-leg kick combo (even shittily, like me) just makes you feel like a badass. And you'll really feel your body get stronger week by week (and it will look fitter and stronger too!). Thai round kicks are the best ab work out ever.
posted by TheRedArmy at 11:09 AM on November 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Krav-Maga is supposed to be the no-nonsense self-defense. That is, there's no belts or grades or 'this bit is just for competition' stuff, it's 100% how to defend yourself against 1 or more multiple attackers in the real world. That said, some instructors/clubs do try to cobble together some kind of structure so people can get that feeling they are progressing.
posted by K.P. at 11:39 AM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in self-defense without grappling, you want boxing, muay Thai kickboxing, or a school of karate that competes and spars under what's called "knockdown" rules. The karate will almost certainly involve a uniform, bowing, and so on, so nix that if "no uniforms" is a dealbreaker.
  • Half an hour away by car you have Revolution MMA, which has boxing and kickboxing programs. The instructors and program appear solid.
  • Toronto Kickboxing & Muay Thai Academy looks like a perfect fit. Downtown and uptown locations. I would definitely try class here if I were you.
  • Consider Open Mat MMA, which appears to have a kickboxing program. Their website rubs me the wrong way but they could be a great gym.
  • I'm sure there's a Western boxing (not kickboxing) gym in the area, but boxing gyms are notoriously web illiterate, so I suggest you ask and look locally using pre-internet methods. I did find this list, which you might find useful. All the gyms it lists sound legit.
You'll need to buy handwraps (~$10) at any boxing/kickboxing gym you train at. You might be able to borrow (smelly) gloves without handwraps the first day, but you'll want to buy your own gloves (~$50, varies widely) and probably shinguards too if you're kickboxing. Sparring is very, very important to actually learning how to defend yourself. You must (gradually) experience hitting people and getting hit at nearly full power in a chaotic, competitive environment in order to actually have the skill of defending yourself from strikes. Talk to the instructor and make sure they understand that you want to work up (gradually) to real sparring. Do not get railroaded into a light-contact gym or a cardio-kickboxing class.

Self-defense workshops and seminars don't impart you with any lasting self-defense skills other than petty truisms like "be aware of your surroundings" or "perhaps you weren't aware that men's testicles are vulnerable and make a good target". Skip them. Just train for six months at a school where you spar hard.

You should avoid any form of light-contact karate, as well as any form of "cardio" kickboxing, because they will not teach you how to fight and you will remain forever unsure of your ability to defend yourself. Here's the metric to use for whether you should trust a technique: ask yourself "Have I pulled this off against a resisting opponent in hard sparring while they were trying to do the same or similar to me?" If not, well, how do you really know you know it?

Source: nine years of light contact karate, three years teaching it, six years of judo, plus a little muay Thai, taught multiple self-defense workshops as one-offs and college courses. However, I don't live in Toronto and have never done any martial arts there except literally one class of BJJ while visiting.
posted by daveliepmann at 11:48 AM on November 24, 2013

I do not have any personal knowledge of schools in your area, and I cannot recommend anything based on perusing a school's website. As a former (highly opinionated, it seems) martial arts instructor, I would suggest in insisting on three things:

1. Constant, aggressive use of contact equipment:
Students can not learn to develop power if they are only striking air 90% of the time. Find a school that constantly employs focus mitts, Thai pads, kicking shields, and other contact equipment that allows students to feel the impact of their strikes. This will help encourage correct hand and foot position (to avoid injury on impact), fosters aggression, and is a lot more fun than yelling at the air.

2. Positive reinforcement in the teaching method:
Many martial arts are derived from systems developed to quickly train soldiers for battlefield combat. In some cases, their teaching methods have changed little from these times, and may be military in attitude and/or strictly traditional. It is possible to develop mentally-tough martial artists while using a teaching method that focuses on highlighting a student's successes while still requiring rigorous, constant improvement.

3. Private lessons:
It is very hard to experience the above two points if you're stuck in the back row of a class containing 10-15 other students, many of whom have only a few more weeks' experience than you do. Not many schools automatically provide private lessons, but they are almost always available. The school for which I taught assigned each student a personal instructor that would teach them one 30-minute private lesson each week. This helped me to learn the goals and motivations of each student, and gave me a time to instruct them on new material that they could then practice in group classes throughout the week.

Though your preferences regarding not wearing a belt/uniform, maintaining personal space, and getting quick results are understandable, I think you will find better results by first locating a school that fits the criteria above and which you find professional and welcoming.

Sidenote- I don't know the reason for your desire to avoid grappling; however, to truly prepare yourself for self-defense, you should learn some basics (even if only enough to defend against takedowns and regain your feet). It's rare to have to defend yourself from attackers that are smaller or weaker than yourself (unless drugs, alcohol, or mental instability are involved), so you can assume any potential assailant will be bigger and stronger than you are. These bad guys are unlikely to do you the favor of remaining in hand- and foot-striking range; they'll seek to bring their weight and strength to bear at close range. I have known many female students that were averse to learning graplling because they didn't want to spend their time in class being flattened under a sweaty, 200 lb creep- which is 100% understandable. You should be able to find a school that can teach you these skills in a comfortable environment, while still retaining a focus on "Stand up" fighting.
posted by EKStickland at 12:23 PM on November 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Krav Maga. Krav Maga. Krav Maga.

1. It is explicitly designed to kick ass in the simplest, most effective way possible. The techniques are solid, reasonably idiot-proof, and don't require much of anything to master but a decent amount of practise.

2. It is freaking _brutal_ in how much it takes out of you, in a good way. I ramped up going to the gym just so I could keep up with my KM training. I don't go any more (moved cities) and I miss it so much.

3. It is designed for real life, not competition. Unlike traditional martial arts, where the focus is on the 'correct' form in terms of gaining points, KM is more focused on a) avoiding bad situations to begin with b) keeping your cool should shit hit the fan and c) getting out of said shit as quickly and easily as possible.

So yeah. Krav Maga all the way.
posted by Tamanna at 12:41 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also! I'm not sure where K.P. got their information, but the International Krav Maga Federation, which my dojo belonged to, definitely has rankings and belts, the certifications for which kick your ass like nobody's business. The rankings start from basic beginner and go all the way up to expert level.
posted by Tamanna at 12:43 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think you'll have much trouble measuring your own progress. You will be able to tell you're getting better-- and you will also have those long plateau periods where you feel like you're "stuck", regardless of whether or not you have a belt or ranking system.

For some dojos, the belt and rank are more about seniority than skill. In those, having a belt might actually make a difference. For most places, belts and ranks are about skill, and for those (at least for me), the belt color never made much of a difference-- in fact, I could anticipate that I would be testing for my blue belt in the next 6 weeks or so, based on how I just suddenly knew I had gotten better after hauling through a really long plateau. So don't rule it out based on no rankings or belts: there are other ways to tell (not to mention praise/respect from others, when others start asking you for tips on this one thing you do really well, when you get invited to help show something to the new people, etc.)

Also, I'd be careful about MMA gyms. MMA has gotten really popular in the past few years and many of the classes I've gone to (and subsequently not gone back to) have been ego-ridden, cult-of-personality, bro-gatherings that were less interested in being serious, respectful and getting good than they were about bragging rights and the diameter of their biceps. The good news is, it shouldn't take you long to figure out which gyms are which, and most good places will let you at least come and observe, if not outright sit in on a class, for free.

Also, EKStickland has it nailed as far as grappling. Maybe you don't want to start there, but eventually to be proficient at any kind of self-defense, you'll need to learn it.
posted by WidgetAlley at 2:47 PM on November 24, 2013

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