Help me martial art.
February 21, 2019 9:59 AM   Subscribe

Last year I shed about 30# through some combination of not eating so badly and going to the gym. I hate the gym and stopped going and have put half the weight back on. I am trying to start going again (and to stop eating all the everything) but I'm also curious to try something else.

Everyone says the key to exercising consistently is finding something you enjoy. I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen, but I'd like to find something at least a little bit more interesting than pick up heavy thing, put down heavy thing. We had dinner with friends the other night who were super enthusiastic about some particular martial art.

So the question really is how do you start? How do you find a place, I guess I mean particularly. If you're local to the east bay and have suggests, I think what I'm looking for is somewhere low key that I won't feel intimidated. Extra bonus points if it's not fetishy, like for all my agnosticism about cultural appropriation, I'm not going to keep a straight face if I have to bow and call some white guy "sensei." Is there a particular martial art that I should be looking at? Etc etc etc.
posted by Smearcase to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Unless you're really committed to martial artsing, another option you might consider is picking up indoor rock climbing or bouldering. It's a great workout, with lots of stages of progress to make you feel cool and strong, lots of fun, and no funny robes.
posted by dis_integration at 10:20 AM on February 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ask your friends about their experiences. Does their description sound like something you'd enjoy? If so, look into their school. What's their web presence like? Do they encourage visitors? When you go there, what do you think of the school, the students, the instructors, the neighborhood, etc.? Do you want to grapple, or box, or fight? Do you want to do kata/forms? Do you want to go to competitions and win trophies? What's your end goal: dropping a certain amount of weight, lifestyle change, etc.?

I studied Kokikai Aikido for a number of years and I had a good experience. We wore gis, there was what I think of as an average amount of formality ("sensei", bowing, etc.) but the founder of our school is Japanese so it wasn't incongruous. Along the way, I tried a few other schools and styles, and even within Kokikai the school, students, instructors had enough variability that I wouldn't say that if you liked the dojo in Rochester you'd still like the one in Albany. And as far as different styles of Aikido, worlds of difference. I also studied Tae Kwon Do, Shotokan, and this weird blend of Aikijujutsu and Judo, which I think of as pretty common arts, and I had the same experience in that the college club had a different vibe from the school in the town I moved to later. A friend of mine was doing capoeira for a while. That was some crazy looking shit that looks like it would be a lot of fun. But maybe not for you?

In my opinion, a school should be welcoming to visitors, someone should happily welcome you in and show you where to watch a class, provide you with an overview of what you would need to do, and give brief answers to your questions. If you go to a place that has the wrong atmosphere, or there's too much machismo, or the instructor is yelling at the students, or you feel like an intrusion, turn around and walk out. There are a lot of places for you to go, and you can find one that works for your goals. So think about the questions from the first paragraph, then find places near you and start calling them up.
posted by disconnect at 10:22 AM on February 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, I think I sort of absent-mindedly did not finish a paragraph up there. The people I was talking to live 30+ minutes away so I'm not going out to where they are.
posted by Smearcase at 10:29 AM on February 21, 2019

I support your initiative. In addition to workouts, I try to park a little farther away at the grocery, do an extra lap around the store I'm shopping in, stuff like that, to add even small amounts of exercise. It works better in better weather. Before my fitbit bit the dust, it was a big help.
posted by theora55 at 11:01 AM on February 21, 2019

Your cultural appropriation feelings make me wonder if most martial arts places would feel icky to you; at my karate school we bow to everyone and everything all the dang time, to the point where I learned to ski yesterday and accidentally bowed like 3 times because apparently that's just what I do when I'm learning a new physical skill now. I've seen a few other styles that are the same to some extent; in capoeira you spend a lot of time singing in Portuguese, in Tae Kwon Do, there's a lot of bowing too. But there's a world of other group activities that can be welcoming and fun--dance? Running group? Aerobics class? Spinning class?

I agree with disconnect that the place matters more than the style for being an environment I want to go back to. A thing that I particularly notice with a couple of places I've gone to is: are the demographics in the same ballpark as the area I live in? Are there old people, fat people, women, people of different colors and abilities? Do the teachers look like average people you see out in the world? If the answer is no, it's likely to be a place that's more fetishy and less open to someone who's agnostic about style, and that's probably true whether it's karate or ballet.
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:13 AM on February 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Everyone says the key to exercising consistently is finding something you enjoy.

Eh, I'm not so sure that's true. The key to exercising consistently is finding something that you can tolerate and stick to. That's easy if you enjoy it, but exercise kind of sucks a lot of the time and when that happens you have to just grit your teeth and go for it.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:15 AM on February 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you want something low key, you might want to look for a martial arts academy that caters to families and/or is non-competitive - those tend to focus more on student journeys and goals and less on, well, competition. But a lot will depend on vibe and what you find you enjoy - forms, kicks, breaking, sparring, grappling/throws.

Most martial arts academies will offer a free or very low-cost trial period (like a few classes or a week of classes), and so I'd encourage you to stop in to places geographically close, ask them about their approach, and book trials with any where you like the vibe.

I get where you're coming from about the formality and "weirdness" because when my kids started martial arts, that's where I started too. Now I train and work in martial arts. :) The way I now understand the formalized environment is that the structure and routine helps students to focus, and also to ensure that students are not getting hurt - standing in rank order, for example, means the people around you are closest to you in skill, so if you are starting to practice together, you will be paired appropriately by geography. As a bonus, I've found that getting as comfortable with bows as with handshakes has helped when I've travelled abroad...or stepped into certain areas of Toronto.

In my experience, most schools use their terminology and titles pretty deliberately; using the proper term for an instructor whether that's sensei or something else is like using say professor or doctor, which mean trained in a particular way in a particular tradition. (In my particular martial art, we use 'Instructor' and 'Chief Instructor.') It's not so much appropriative as using proper terms, and came with a fairly deliberate expansion. For example, coloured belt ranking developed when a Judo master was expanding into Paris in the 1930s and found that Europeans needed more markers for progress. If one of your criteria really is not having to call a white guy sensei, that's up to you, but it may be rooted in bias and not in understanding.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:18 AM on February 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Sugetsukan in Oakland is a cooperatively operated aikido and jujitsu school that's run by anarchists who really care about cultural issues, so while students still call teachers 'sensei' and everyone does some bowing in the general direction of appropriate people and artifacts, they've really thought through all the relevant issues. They're on the far side of Lake Merritt.

Brazilian jujitsu is an incredible workout and they've pretty much gotten rid of any pseudo-tradition stuff. It's more expensive than some other martial arts. I've found the schools in the city (Fight And Fitness, the Ralph Gracie gym in SOMA) to be better the Berkeley/Oakland options, though it's been a few years for me.

Judo is supposedly the same way.

CCSF has an excellent judo/jujitsu program, and it's probably the cheapest place to train in the Bay Area. It's a little confusing from their website but when I went a few years ago you basically signed up for one timeslot but were allowed to take the same class during other timeslots, so it was super flexible. I think those were mostly daytime options.
posted by twoplussix at 12:43 PM on February 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was in a similar spot around 10 years ago and joined Pacific Ring Sports in Oakland. It was the first boxing gym I ever went to and is now my platonic ideal for boxing gyms. They also do Muay Thai. When I was there (again, almost a decade ago) it was beginner-friendly and just friendly-friendly. The workouts were a combination of strength/cardio and heavy bag or pad work. Every day was different. I loved learning a new skill and it stuck with me. I still box alone in my basement because there are no boxing gyms in my area now. Try it!
posted by codhavereturned at 12:45 PM on February 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Finding an athletic activity that you will stick to is hard! At first, it's more about the environment, classmates and trainers than the activity itself (at least for me). Then, small measurable goals can help keep you interested. I hope you find a martial arts place you love, and if not - maybe try roller derby ;)
posted by stompadour at 3:07 PM on February 21, 2019

Walking for miles and exploring your town or county is another approach, one which suits me. Exercise doesn't have to be a group or social activity! My social life involves playing music with friends, a more-or-less sedentary pursuit which burns up a surprising amount of energy.
posted by Agave at 4:21 PM on February 21, 2019

If you want to get away from the "bowing to sensei" thing, I would look toward an MMA-focused school. Generally, they will care a lot more about the practical "what works" aspect than the "tradition" thing, and therefore will not usually include too much of the silly stuff.

However, those places can be intimidating, and actually put you totally off the idea if they are run badly (there are stupid assholes everywhere, and having one as a training partner as a newbie sucks).

The option I would go for and recommend that will likely get you into a chill (usually) environment, while giving you a workout and teaching you pretty practical stuff, is Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu.

I have written many answers promoting Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, and you can read those if you want, but assuming you go with BJJ, I have some recommendations targeted toward your needs:

There are different types of BJJ schools, usually more "traditional" vs non-traditional schools. There are schools with some aspects of both as well. Some of the extreme "Traditional" schools will have pictures of the "lineage" of the teachers and might have you "bow" to them, and might have some other silly rules like that. You obviously don't want that. I would look for a more modern school, which I will give an example of soon.

"Gis" are the uniform used in Jiu-Jitsu, usually, but there is a subset of Jiu-Jitsu called "no-Gi." You can guess what that means. You just show up in (usually fairly tight, somewhat specialized) athletic wear, so that might be what you want if wearing the "Gi" feels like "appropriation" to you. The details of the art are somewhat different, but the central principles are pretty much the exact same.

A particular chain of no-gi Jiu-Jitsu gyms, "10th Planet," were started by a man named Eddie Bravo. He is somewhat eccentric, but a lot of people swear by his particular take on no-gi Jiu-Jitsu which incorporates a silly (in a way that probably aides in memorization) naming scheme for various techniques. To my knowledge these names are original and will not be the appropriation that you could see in the Japanese/Brazilian names involved in traditional approaches.

My general impression is that 10th Planet teaches effective (though perhaps packaged with an eccentric culture) Jiu-Jitsu while offering a non-traditional, "chill" environment (perhaps too chill? I have the impression they are basically the equivalent of the stoners of the Jiu-Jitsu world.)

There is a 10th Planet Gym in what might be considered the East Bay Area: 10th Planet Walnut Creek

They appear to have a youtube page as well.

Maybe consider them? I can't vouch for them personally, or 10th planet, but it is a well-known chain without the appropriation, I think.
posted by hypercomplexsimplicity at 7:16 PM on February 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Broadly speaking, there are two categories of martial arts: traditional martial arts, or TMAs, and 'sport' martial arts (TMA is a widely-used term but there's no consistent terminology for non-TMAs, I like 'sport martial arts' myself). The names are a bit of a misnomer - for example aikido, which is the uber-TMA, is a younger art than judo, which is sport through and through. TMAs are about the art itself, rather than fighting. They're generally rigid and traditional, and will usually involve a whole lot of the cosplaying and bowing and cultural stuff, because that's pretty much the main point. TMAs will basically never involve full-contact sparring, any sparring will be light and easy. Sport martial arts are actually about learning to fight; most will involve a great deal of full-contact sparring and are usually tied in some way to MMA (which, these days, is itself a form of martial arts which borrows from a bunch of other martial arts). Generally sport martial arts don't have the cultural component, because unlike TMAs the main point is combat, not the art.

If you want a martial art that doesn't involve the cultural angle, that rules out pretty much all TMAs. For sport martial arts, different schools will have different levels of the cultural trappings but it shouldn't be too hard to find one that doesn't. That being said, if you go with a sport martial art you should be prepared to spar at full intensity (either with punches and/or kicks for boxing or Muay Thai, or grappling and wrestling for judo and it's derived arts). Most won't make you do it if you really don't want to, but it's a key part of the experience and training without sparring will be pretty pointless. Either will get you fit, but if you actually want to learn to fight you should stick with sport martial arts, while if you don't want to fight for real you'll want something more on the TMA end.

As far as specific arts, a rule of thumb is this: sport martial arts are Brazilian jiu-jistu, judo, sambo, any form of wrestling, sambo, boxing or kickboxing, sanda, and muay thai. For the most part any Japanese martial art that isn't judo (including Japanese jiu-jitsu at most schools) is a TMA, with the exception of Kyokushin karate (but that involves a ton of cultural stuff).

If you don't want to go with a sport martial art, you might want to consider krav maga, since that's largely TMA-like (at most schools there's basically no real sparring) that has no Orientalism to it, though it's replaced with equally obnoxious woo about how the art is ~so deadly~.
posted by Itaxpica at 9:59 PM on February 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

(It's also worth noting that while Brazilian jiu-jitsu does use gis and have Japanese names for a few moves, it comes by them honestly - BJJ is a direct descendant of judo, as taught to the Gracie family in Brazil by Mitsuyo Maeda in the 1920s. The BJJ gi is the judo gi and moves with Japanese names are either adapted judo moves, or named after Japanese judoka who made heavy use of them)
posted by Itaxpica at 10:02 PM on February 21, 2019

Ahem. Historical European Martial Arts, to be precise. Or sport fencing.
"Tonight I will go and play with swords" is quite motivating :D
As with anything like this, there will be some schools run by arseholes who are totally up themselves and may be intimidating, but I think from talking to other people that they are in the minority.
A quick google gives this somewhat old list of SF Bay clubs, which might be a place to start looking.
posted by Vortisaur at 1:11 AM on February 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

What Vortisaur said. I started HEMA about a year and a half ago, and I am obsessed with swords. I work out at least 3x/week, and I always look forward to it. Because who doesn't want to hit people with swords?
posted by Molly Razor at 8:08 PM on February 22, 2019

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