(NYC, Japanese) Martial arts recommendations, please!
July 15, 2006 7:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for martial arts instruction in the New York City area, with an emphasis on those of Japanese origin; and/or recommendations for which such art(s) to consider.

I've read all the other AskMe martial arts threads I could find, please don't reply just to link to them :)

I work in NYC and live in northern NJ, and am seriously considering picking up martial arts again. My previous experience is a semester each of TKD and aikido during college (taught by traditional, non-"McDojo" instructors, however), and a healthy dose of "reading about it online because I find it interesting".

My immediate goal is to get into better shape, but assuming I can find a style that really clicks with me, I'd ideally like to make it a long-term habit (complete with all the mental disciplines that accompany it, which I am also in sore need of). I'm also interested in Japanese language/culture and so am looking primarily at arts originating from there. Finally, I'm short and not of terrific build (and currently out of shape).

I'm looking for both specific school/dojo recommendations in my local area, as well as general recommendations for which arts I might want to consider. I'd prefer something other than aikido, partly because I want to try something new, partly because all the rolling made me dizzy :)

Other than that I'm fairly open--kendo, iaido, kempo, karate (I know it's an umbrella term, and am hoping for specific -ryu's), even the more classically oriented "koryu"s, doesn't really matter. Bonus points if it's something well suited to someone with my build.
posted by cyrusdogstar to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not familiar with the specific dojo in New York, but I'm always eager to recommend kendo, with some qualifications. First, I've heard good things from the kendo-world.com forums about several dojo in New York City, but you would do well to ask around there if you were interested in finding a good spot, especially as far as places to be a beginner. Second, it's a great deal of fun and good exercise as you get more advanced, but it can start off very tedious. You spend most of your time early on learning the footwork and getting a basic grasp of a strike. It depends on the dojo, but usually after 4-6 months you are in armor and actually beginning to learn sparring. I enjoyed the tedious stuff, too, but it really picks up once you get into armor. Third, the equipment isn't horribly expensive, but it isn't cheap either. You will need to buy shinai, the bamboo practice swords, every few months and they run ~$30 each. The hakama and gi (your aikido ones may work at first, but ask a sensei) are another ~$100. Most dojo have loaner/rental armor, but if you decide to buy some, that's another $600 on the lowest end you'd want. Totally worth it, in my opinion, but it's worth noting before you commit.

On the plus side for you, it is good for people of almost any build and stature. Being short makes your wrists a harder target, which can be very useful. And I've watched with amazement as women barely over five foot hit the top of the head of a guy with ten inches on them. I've seen builds of all types in kendo on people of all levels, too. Obviously, being athletic is useful when learning how to move your body, but totally not required. So much is learning proper technique gets you much farther than just being in shape. Many kendoka also study iaido, so they are very much not exclusive.
posted by Schismatic at 9:48 PM on July 15, 2006

The style almost doesn't matter. Programming your hands and feet with how to fight is something that applies across all disciplines. If you have a good or a great teacher, you can become very good indeed. It's more who you are than what you study.

The best advice I've heard: find a teacher who moves like you want to move, and study with him or her. If you don't know how you want to move, go watch a lot of teachers until you do.

That said, if you want to maximize your strengths as a short person, and if you're willing to go the long way, aikido might be well suited. It is a very difficult and slow art, but your size will be relatively unimportant. Being a bit heavy will give you a lower center of gravity, which might be useful.

There are, however, a lot of bad aikido teachers out there. Our karate dojo shared space with an aikido class. They were all about flowers and focus and slow movements, with no real experience at all, and almost no sparring. When we (very occasionally) practiced a bit with them, it seemed completely obvious to me that the weakest of our students would have steamrolled the strongest of theirs... and in working with their instructor, as a green belt I was pretty confident she wouldn't be able to do much with me. Her moves appeared to require me to do stupid things, and by then I didn't do stupid stuff too much anymore.

I had a (distant) friend who was actually good at aikido, and he could give my third-degree black belt karate instructor a hell of a time. Each spoke very highly of the other. I don't think either one knew who would win a real fight, and I am absolutely certain that neither wanted to find out.

Just get a good teacher, not a flower and frou-frou lady. :)
posted by Malor at 9:48 PM on July 15, 2006

Oh, a quick warning... I'd suggest avoiding taekwondo. They have absolutely devastating kicks, but their dojo rules generally don't allow strikes to the face. This means their defenses in that area never develop. In my opinion, it makes the style much less useful... flashy moves don't win fights. Basics win fights, and American taekwondo is weak on basics.
posted by Malor at 9:51 PM on July 15, 2006

Are you looking for the exercise/artistic component? Or the self-defense component? Both? While there are many valid "both" options, available, for pure self-defense, I recommend Krav Maga.
posted by frogan at 10:36 PM on July 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

If you're restricitng yourself to Japanese arts, then i'd recommend either Kyokushin Karate or Judo. Both these styles consistently turn out good fighters.

I study BJJ and can vouch for its effectiveness, but perhaps it isn't Japanese enough for your tastes.

Don't fret over your build or lack of conditioning - your body will adapt to the training.
posted by the cuban at 3:15 AM on July 16, 2006

I second kendo, though if you have bad knees you should probably avoid it. I started with kendo in university, and even though hitting the targets on taller opponents was difficult to start with (I'm about 5'2"), once I learned more I didn't have any problems. Unfortunately, my knees are incredibly bad, and kendo only made them worse, so I've had to quit. I miss it almost daily, though.

Here are some kendo federations that cover your area.
posted by emmling at 6:55 AM on July 16, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies thus far!

Schismatic: thanks for the kendo details, it's one of the arts I've heard the least first-hand accounts of.

Malor: yea, the aikidoka I practiced with in school were fairly energetic, and boy howdy did the sensei throw his second-in-command around a lot during class! But I know the art's reputation for being slow, so if I were to pick it up again I'd definitely be looking for a place closer to what I've done before.

frogan: More emphasis on the former, with some on the latter. I'm well acquainted with the concept that the purest form of self-defense is either handing over your wallet or running away, so it's not as big a priority as enjoying myself in class and just doing something physical.

the cuban: Why Kyokushin over, say, Shotokai or Wado-ryu karate?

emmling: My knees are mostly okay up to this point, so I'm not too worried, but thanks for the warning (and the links).
posted by cyrusdogstar at 7:51 AM on July 16, 2006

I'm not a fan of TMAs and as I see it, Kyokushin is the closest Karate gets to the JKD/crosstraining mindset. Also, I always liked Andy Hug's fighting style.
posted by the cuban at 8:09 AM on July 16, 2006

Kendo isn't as hard on the knees as Iaido, but you'll definitely feel it in your legs at the beginning. I'm in my late forties and I've been practicing it for a couple of years, so I'm used to it now. Most of Kendo is practiced standing up anyway, but the ability to crouch and stand up is required in both training and in match play.
posted by tommasz at 10:03 AM on July 16, 2006

Being short, and perhaps having a low center of gravity - have you consider Judo? I took a year of Kodokan Judo and it was fantastic. It really help me develop base and how to do break falls.
posted by bleucube at 6:54 AM on July 17, 2006

My brother really enjoyed Shorinjii Kenpo. He liked the mix of hard and soft in the art. Well, that, and I think they had all of 3 belt levels. From what I saw of it, most of the martial part of it seemed to make sense (blocking at an angle to deflect a strike as opposed to blocking at right angles to DESTROY THE OPPONENTS ARM!!).

posted by eurasian at 7:54 AM on July 17, 2006

Response by poster: eurasian -- yea, Shorinji Ke[n|m]po is one of the styles I'm looking into, and yea, one of the draws is that it mixes hard and soft, something I'm ideally looking for. I'm told that Wado-ryu and Uechi-ryu also have elements of this (forget which, but one of them is descended from a form of kung-fu whose name literally means "half-soft, half-hard").

bleucube, I've considered Judo, but with hand-to-hand styles, I'm looking for something that includes striking and kicking, whereas Judo seems to be almost entirely locks, throws and grappling. Plus it seems to be fairly competition-based, another thing I'm sort of looking to avoid, although I realize my interest in Kendo conflicts with this, and that any style can be practiced without competition.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 9:09 AM on July 17, 2006

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