Which martial art might I like?
June 30, 2022 5:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in learning/participating in a martial art, but want to pick one that will be a good fit for me. More details inside.

I am a 43 year old woman, and have been practicing yoga pretty intensively for over 10 years. I enjoy dancing too. I think I'm interested in something with more of a focus on form and "choreography" than competition and brute force (I recently tried muay thai and while I enjoyed the classes and the workout, I think it's a bit too- for lack of a better word- masculine for me). I'm in reasonably good shape for my age, and willing to commit to something I like. My goals are to learn something new, increase physical fitness, meet new people, and feel more confident with self-defense. I live in a large city where I can probably find classes in most or all types of martial arts.
posted by bearette to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Many years ago I tried aikido; which involved no hitting or kicking, and where the point is to focus on one's own balance and body position, and use the other person's unbalance against them. It seemed an attractively peaceful kind of thing and it sounds a good fit for your requirements.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:34 PM on June 30 [10 favorites]

Sounds like Tai Chi would be a good fit. It's in theory a martial art, but with more of a focus on balance, slow precision, and choreography.
And like Fiasco above I too tried aikido and liked it. It's more "martial artsy" than Tai Chi. But both are much less aggressive than Muay Thai.
posted by mono blanco at 5:35 PM on June 30 [3 favorites]

I've been thinking somewhat along your lines and if I ever take the plunge, it'll be aikido.
posted by praemunire at 5:38 PM on June 30 [2 favorites]

I think it all depends on the facility and the instructor.

The style of karate I study has a lot of kata, which I enjoy because each kata is a particular set of moves, but it also includes drills, self-defense, sparring drills (on a bag or with someone holding a pad that you hit or kick), and sparring. Students don't spar till they've reached a certain level, and even then, it's usually to practice moves, we rarely do sparring for points (and we are all padded up).

Drive around, check out what's in the neighborhood, drop in and talk to the person in charge. Most places should offer a free or low-cost trial class.
posted by mogget at 6:35 PM on June 30

It's highly unlikely to come in handy as actual self defense, but capoeira (and particularly capoeira angola, if you're somewhere that you have the option) otherwise fits the bill.
posted by dr. boludo at 6:40 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]

From what you write, Judo, absolutely.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 6:44 PM on June 30

Tai chi would be a great fit. Find somewhere that also teaches kung-fu, they will also be able to teach you the martial applications of each movement. Also consider capoeira. Angola style will be slower and less aggro than the regional style.
posted by gnutron at 6:49 PM on June 30

Tai chi would be a great fit. Find somewhere that also teaches kung-fu, they will also be able to teach you the martial applications of each movement.

I was going to say something similar - years ago I attended a school that taught tai chi, but also taught hsing-i (or xingyi, depending on the romanization), and I lived near a school recently that taught tai chi and jow ga. Other forms of kung fu may have more of the fighting aspects mixed in, but a lot of the practice is still centered on learning solitary movement forms (at least that's how you moved up the belt rankings early on where I went) and the kung fu classes included some more tai chi kind of meditational movement periods as well. At the school I went to, you paid a monthly fee and then attended whichever classes you wanted, so it wasn't like you had to sign up for two different things.
posted by LionIndex at 6:59 PM on June 30

posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:03 PM on June 30

Aikido. The really martial form is aiki-jitsu, or more formally aiki-ju-jitsu. Judo is the nice form of the ju-jitsu part and has more grappling and on the ground things. Aikido is standing Zen that ends up with pretty much the same on the ground pins. Most schools have no real sort of competition. There are branches like Tomiki? which do but because they wanted it to be like Judo as a score-able college sport. It's a lot of dancing around (and throwing), but like mentioned not really kick/punch for the most part. It's really fun to toss somebody ass over elbows. It's also way on the non-violent and restrain axis vs hurting somebody, the whole point is to not injure. Hold them down and make them squeal, sure, don't break them.

I took tomiki in university and seidokan mid-20's. It's fast and meditative at the same time and scratches an itch that karate or tai-chi or judo just wouldn't.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:17 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]

I enjoy dancing too. I think I'm interested in something with more of a focus on form and "choreography" than competition and brute force

This is what drew me to capoeira! However: it is like, a LOT of weight on your wrists. I still have issues with one of mine due to an injury when I was only a few weeks in and a substitute instructor had us working on thick gym pads (not enough support, bent too far). If you've got lots of yoga experience it probably won't be an issue for you, but if you have any RSI problems it might be something you want to be very careful with.
posted by curious nu at 7:20 PM on June 30

Mogget already said what I came to say .. it *totally* depends on the instructor. If you find an instructor who you find useful then that's the art you'll enjoy and do well in.
posted by anadem at 8:56 PM on June 30

I concur that the most important thing is the school/ instructor and not the style*. That being said different martial arts styles will vary in how useful they will be for self defense (particularly for beginners). Moreover even within a given style there can be a great difference on how much emphasis there is on competition.

*A sign of many "traditional" martial arts schools is pride in their school's lineage of teachers. But it can be quite common for instructors to have studied (and sometimes teach) multiple styles. Moreover, there can be multiple styles under a single umbrella (e.g. karate).

I would encourage you to check out several schools each from Chinese, Korean, and Japanese tradition. I would also seek out city specific information.
posted by oceano at 10:10 PM on June 30

Coming in from a very different angle and maybe not what you're after because the self-defense applications are less obvious unless you're in the habit of carrying a cane or other long stick, but I started kendo a few months ago and it's so much fun. I don't feel like strength really matters as much as being quick and alert, and the kata look like weird modern dance. And you can't beat the outfits for the cool factor.

I've been surprised by HOW hard it is for me, at 37, to learn to hit people (even knowing they're wearing armor and padding) with a bamboo sword on purpose. It is absolutely a mindfuck to be expected to whack an eight-year-old boy on the head with a wooden sword even if the dude IS better at kendo than I am. It's taking me way out of my comfort zone and I'm really enjoying it.
posted by potrzebie at 10:23 PM on June 30

Capoeira angola. NB, the angola part is important, although other kinds of capoeira might appeal too. Capoeira angola is the older, traditional form of capoeira. Less popular, but arguably deeper and richer. Emphasises deliberate movement, will make good use of your yoga flexibility and core strength, has many older practitioners. Is always done to percussion music and song, which informs the game between the players, so there is a dance aspect too.

In this video, Mestra Gegê would be about 40? Or check out Mestra Janja. Or Mestra Colette.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:03 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]

Our dojo teaches karate, akido, modern arnis, and tai chi. Every student can take three private lessons in any discipline before they sign up - my daughter is a second degree jr black belt in karate and just signed up for her intro arnis classes. This helps the instructor evaluate which class is appropriate for each student but also allows the students to figure out if the discipline is right for them.

I do tai chi and it sounds like it would be a good fit for you. So would karate if you don’t mind sparring. But find somewhere with a similar intro program and see whatcha like!
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:13 PM on June 30

if you're at all interested in sword martial arts but don't want the sparring, might i suggest iaido?
posted by emmling at 4:02 AM on July 1

I tend to the view that semi-contact martial arts make you over confident about your self defence abilities. This is because they inevitably teach you how to win sparring contests within certain rules. But those rules don't apply in self defence situations. So, I'd probably drop the self defence requirement and go with the martial art that looks most interesting to you. Maybe watch a few youtube videos of different styles that are available near you? They all look quite different so some will be more appealing than others.
posted by plonkee at 4:49 AM on July 1

I agree that the specific school’s culture matters a lot. I and/or my household have done a few styles of karate, taekwondo, and capoeira angola. I loved capoeira angola, for example, for the reasons i_am_joe’s_spleen outlined above, but then I moved and the school in the new place had an attitude I didn’t care for.

I think a useful shorthand is how many older and/or female and/or imperfect physical specimens seem to be training. If everyone is a jacked 23 year old, they’re less likely to have the sorts of values you look to be cultivating. I train at a karate dojo right now that is majority women, which is super unusual, and it informs all sorts of small details that make me appreciate the community aspect.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:10 AM on July 1 [1 favorite]

I echo that a lot of finding a martial arts 'home' is about the feel of the place and the manner of instruction, so definitely take your time to try things out (as you have!) I would look at the other students - if there are people who seem to have similar goals to yours, that might be your place!

I think a lot of the suggestions above are sound. In addition to those, if you want a kind of middle ground, an art like Shotokan Karate can be good because of the combination of kata and sparring. (My academy teaches a mixed martial art but a chunk of it comes from that tradition.)

Self-defence is kinda complicated. I agree that a lot of martial arts won't help as directly as something like muay thai in terms of like "I will end up victorious if attacked." But martial arts training can help with a lot of situations that are ambiguous. I've gotten people to stop yelling at me by quietly moving into a fighting stance; it spoke to their back brain, I think.

You can also look for somewhere that teaches a self-defence camp on top of their regular program.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:14 AM on July 1

Seconding warriorqueen’s post.

For fitness and form, a lot of traditional Chinese martial arts fit the bill. I took part in Northern Shaolin Kung Fu years ago and it was one of the hardest yet rewarding physical activities of my life. Got a bonus of lifelong friendships too. That being said, the term "flowery fists” often gets bandied about regarding these styles because they often emphasize forms and choreography over practicality. Consider what is more important for you.

I’ve also done Tai Chi which, while not an explosive workout, has its own demands of how you are balance and where you are sending and receiving energy (in this case, physical force). There is a meditative aspect that you may find appealing.
posted by Eikonaut at 9:06 AM on July 1

Aikido ("The art of assisting your opponent gently to the ground“) fits the bill. You might want to do a beginners session in each of these.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:57 PM on July 1

Aikido has shite/uke switch, where half the time you’re performing the kata and half the time you’re receiving it. A good sensei will match you with good people, different people. On different days.

There’s no striking, so you’ll never get broken or bruised, just really tired (Although Aikido did come from swordwork (“iai”) and they can show you how the initial strike of the kata works. It’s a good lesson. If you start feeling good about knowing a kata you’ll find (“shite/uke change) where you’re now being thrown with the same amount of vigor you were just displaying. Great fun! It was a big lesson to me to discover that putting most of my heart in a throw resulted in the same resounding thud at a distance when my uke became shite.

Even better is when you get matched with someone well above your skill level and they *don’t* give you the throw. “Why aren’t you on the ground over there???” You never got me off balance. Or, “You never had a lock on my wrist, this isn't dancing.” I learned so much from that short farrier. And when he threw me it was tight and awesome. You learn a lot about aggressor/recipient balance that’s useful in normal life.

When aikido is done soft or looks like dance, it is slow or may be dance. Those folks have skills too, but you might hear more “ouch” and “heeey” if they work out martial aikido. The founder of aikido changed his view and style towards the reciprocation of two people working together as he got older.

Regardless, look at a few dojos (of any kind) in your area and go to the one the invites you.
posted by lothar at 3:12 PM on July 2

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