Which Jiu Jitsu? Why Aikido?
August 16, 2017 3:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in studying martial arts with the girlfriend, but we're at a loss for a discipline that would satisfy both of our interests. More details beneath the fold!

We're looking for a class in the NYC area that we can both go to once a week. She's small in stature and interesting in building sheer strength while subduing opponents with grappling. I'm mainly interesting the play and counterplay of sparring and learning how to use an opponent's momentum against them. What's the best school that accommodates these interests while providing a workout at the same time?
posted by iNeas to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's generally easier to find really good judo or jujitsu instruction in the U.S. than aikido or other "soft" martial arts. How much sparring a school does mostly depends on the individual dojo, and finding a place that puts a lot of emphasis on sparring will be good for meeting both of your needs (as well as critical for if you want your skills to ever be useful in real self-defense situations).
posted by waffleriot at 4:46 PM on August 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seems like judo would be a good place to start. As mentioned above, this is really about finding a studio and a teacher that is the right fit for your desires. I'd suggest you go to a trial class at a bunch of nearby schools and see what you like/don't like.
posted by gnutron at 5:24 PM on August 16, 2017

Nthing judo, which involves both grappling, and using your opponent's size/strength/momentum against them. I outweigh my best friend by around 60 lbs, and although it's been decades since she studied judo, she has thrown me several feet like it was nothing.
posted by zebra at 6:18 PM on August 16, 2017

Aikido is entirely defensive, and entirely about throwing momentum around using natural body mechanics (mostly joint stuff) and psychology or reflexes. I studied with the kokikai school, which I really liked. I think it varies by instructor, but it was about 2/3 sparring. I definitely got my heart rate up too. I would have kept it up, but my joints hated it.
posted by zennie at 6:49 PM on August 16, 2017

There are some great Tomiki aikido practicioners in NYC. I'm not sure if he is still teaching, but look up Angel in the Bronx. Tomiki aikido split off relatively early, when it was closer to aiki-jutsu (for which judo and jujitsu also evolved) and has a lot more sparing, and LOTS of momentum/timing moves and throws.

That said, it doesn't do floor or close-in grappling, everything tends to be at arm's length.

For you guys I think judo fits the bill, as it has a lot of momentum and throws (from a closer stance than aikido), plus floor grappling.
posted by foodmapper at 7:11 PM on August 16, 2017

Hi there,

When it comes to selecting a martial art, the general opinion is that the school/instructor is more important than the style. In general, most reputable martial arts schools will give you a free trial, my suggestion is to visit and see if you like the general atmosphere.

* Keep an eye out for the students there; are they like you? Are they all a bunch of 20 something meatheads who want to 'train UFC'? There's nothing wrong with that, but if that's not you, then I would try a different place. Sometimes there's a bit of instructor worship. Sometimes the instructor or some instructors are real badasses, but the students aren't necessarily. Sometimes the students seem a little overly concerned about questions like "what happens if I use a samurai sword to kill a guy in the parking lot of a 7-11?". Probably don't hang out with those guys.

* I am a Judo player so I am kind of biased, but it does seem like Judo would be appropriate for you. Judo is essentially a jacket-wrestling sport where the primary objective is to throw another person flat onto their back. If this fails, you can transition into a pin or submission hold. Judo schools can be variable sometimes, depending on how much geared towards competitors they are. Judo can be a pretty rough sport, or it can be a bunch of older people working on kata. Again, school dependent.

* In my experience, outside of Tomiki aikido (mentioned above), Aikido tends not to be very heavily into sparring. I personally find that sparring keeps things honest and interesting, and find the lack of sparring to be kind of boring, to be honest. This is my personal taste, and if it works for you, good for you.

* I also practice Brazilian Jiujitsu. This is an art form similar to Judo, but with more focus (in some schools an almost exclusive focus) on ground fighting. Ground fighting is fun because you can become vaguely proficient at it much more quickly than you can at standing throwing. BJJ's ground fighting tends to be more sophisticated than Judo's, and the lack of a pinning option for a win changes the game. BJJ tends to be more expensive than Judo, since BJJ instructors generally try to do it full time while Judo instructors generally have a day job. In NYC BJJ can be extremely expensive, since you have some of the best in the world teaching there (Marcelo Garcia, Renzo Gracie, etc). BJJ tends to be somewhat easier on the body than Judo. Sparring is heavily involved.

* I have briefly trained Japanese jiujitsu (traditional jiujitsu styles). In general I have not seen a ton of sparring from these guys, and the striking training has been non-realistic compared to, say, boxing.

* In general, for grappling arts with sparring, size has been an advantage, and being smaller can be frustrating. This can be made up for with technique, but this can be frustrating at first.

* Sometimes it can seem like schools are selling you a lot of stuff and they're trying to take a lot of money from you. (IE: You can only train here wearing a uniform that you buy here and a t-shirt that you buy here and we are happy to sell you shorts). This is a somewhat common practice in the martial arts except maybe Judo. This doesn't necessarily mean that the instruction is poor, but I tend to not be a huge fan of that.

If you have any questions feel free to send me a message or something.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:52 AM on August 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Wall o text: Aikido won't fit her goals for strength or subduing. It's quite a bit like (no offense to any aikidokas here) ballroom dance as self defense. This person is running at me; if I sidestep just so and slap the back of their neck as they pass, they'll end up tripping facedown on the ground four feet to my right. If they get up and keep after me, I'll just keep doing stuff like that until they go away. So for you, there's a lot of interplay and redirecting momentum in Aikido; but the practicing you'll do in class is much more like working on partnered choreography than combat-simulation sparring.

Judo and (Brazilian) Jiujitsu are both wrestling / grappling sports, and since they're 'scored' differently, they train somewhat differently.

In Judo (as judged in the Olympics) the object is to get the other person standing across from you down onto the mat and pinned on their back immobile for 20 seconds; extra points if you throw them down in an authoritative fashion.
So you'll be practicing "how do I get them down and keep them pinned there (while not getting downed and pinned myself) until the referee/judge blows their whistle".

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu basically starts with the idea that all fights will end up with both people piled on the ground anyway, so it focuses on getting control of the other person once you're both down there. One wins by getting the other person locked up under your control (leg twisted painfully, arm around their neck, etc) so they are forced to submit and tap out to surrender.

Both build strength, since you have to use your whole body to wrestle a squirming person who's trying to do the same to you. It's just that BJJ is more aggressive about gaining dominant control, since Judo ends when a judge says you scored the point, and BJJ ends with the other person saying 'Ok, you win, I can't take anymore'.

It's one of the reasons BJJ dominates those mixed martial arts and ultimate fighter competitions; why mess with fancy boxing and flying kicks when you can just Boa Constrictor them into a headlock until they slap the mat three times to give up before they pass out, as seen in girl vs big Marine demonstration ? It's also popular in women's self defense, since it starts with the worst has happened, there's a bigger man on top of you - here's how you turn that into a chokehold or dislocated joint so you can escape.

Training for both is mostly all sparring but Judo will divide time between throws and groundwork while BJJ is get down and wrasse. For you, there might be less use-momentum-against-them as you wished for: that gets replaced with the mind-body puzzle of "okay, we're both wrapped up like pretzels but at an impasse - how do I get into a controlling position from here?"

[There's also Japanese jujitsu which has a lot of throws and redirecting incoming force. But it'll be much harder to find since it's not a sport and tends to be a bit violent in its philosophical options at the end of each practiced maneuver, which can creep people out. AKA if you're going to throw someone over your shoulder using the arm they swung at you, don't bother getting down and wrestling with them afterward; use the opportunity to either a) let go and run away!! or b) hold on and do the follow through move which breaks the arm.]
posted by bartleby at 7:54 AM on August 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but have not done aikido (and only did a little bit of judo when I was very young), but I'll try to make my advice general. You should be able to try different schools and see how you feel about the environment. Most places I have seen advertised do a one day trial for free or minimal cost or have deals for 6 weeks for new people to the school. Check for beginner classes or introductory workshops.

Comrade_robot is right on the money about who to look out for-- some schools are very competitive, some are more relaxed, some are just meathead/bro-fests. Your girlfriend may get a very different vibe from the place than you will. I also recommend checking out social media pages to see what they post and what the make up of their classes might be.

I would caution, however, that one day a week may not have the results you and your girlfriend are looking for (and many instructors will caution the same). A lot of learning in martial arts is through drilling and so if you're only able to commit one day a week, it gets hard to really practice and build your skills (and endurance).
posted by thefang at 8:26 AM on August 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I studied aikido for over twelve years, so maybe I'm biased, but, while there is not sparring, per se, once you get to the more advanced levels, there's plenty of freeform attack, which includes how to handle punches, grabs, and strikes.

Also, as a small woman, I found aikido to be very much up my alley, as you don't need to be as physically strong to master the techniques. In fact, too much strength can get in your way. You do end up subduing your opponents, mainly with pins and wrist locks - and, if nothing else, you learn how to use your opponent's momentum against them so you can get away. It also teaches you to remain calm if there is an attack, and get out of the way to perform a more effective move. Morihei Ueshiba himself was only about five feet tall, so, for me, it was rewarding to study an art that had been designed for someone like me in mind.

I'd probably check into Bond Street Dojo if I were going to study in New York, but that's because the former chief instructor and I studied at the same school.
posted by dancing_angel at 12:52 PM on August 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

PS. If you go for aikido and it's like what bartleby described, find a different school. Aikido is not street fighting, but it's also shouldn't be magical hippy dippy nonsense against nonresisting opponents.
posted by zennie at 5:51 PM on August 25, 2017

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