martial arts for exercise?
December 28, 2006 9:24 AM   Subscribe

what is the potential of practicing martial arts as form of exercise...and what style?

I like physical fitness, I belong to a gym and work out regularly (4x a week) and also will take a light 3 mile run 3x - 4x a week, but i'm not naturally one of these people that gets real muscular looking or lean or anything, even after a year of this regimen i get in shape, and feel good. But, i get bored going to the gym loaded with people, and since I'm not striving to be a muscle man (nor could I be) I'm interested in trying martial arts. I'm attracted to the potential physical fitness and flexibility aspects of it, as well as to its structure, discpline, and social/interaction attributes.

I'm not looking to become an ultimate fighter or anything, but better self defense skills are a plus too....

so what type of style and structure should I look for if i'm intersted in getting and staying fit, and increasing my flexibility...and maybe brushing up on the 'ole self defense skills....?
posted by Salvatorparadise to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: let me also add that mental attributes - calm, inner peace, focus - are also benefits i'm looking to get more of
posted by Salvatorparadise at 9:27 AM on December 28, 2006

I believe this has been covered numerous times on the green.

Try a tag search and the search box is very useful.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 9:31 AM on December 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Let me throw in an anti-recommendation to akido. I loved the tumbling and martial art, but I was doing it for the same reason, exercise. It wasn't a work out, it was mostly fun and flexibility. I have also done Tae Kwon Do, which was an intense work out, lots of moving around.
posted by cschneid at 9:48 AM on December 28, 2006

I'll second Tae Kwon Do. A good master will include a lot of action during the class. I had one that would spend several minutes explaining a technique, then include that technique (kick or whatever) into a looped "obstacle course" where we would run around the studio doing various kicks and punches on bags and stuff until we were ready to drop dead. He wasn't always that active, but I always worked up a good sweat in less than an hour.

The studio I was with had great, flexible hours. You could come whenever they were teaching lessons at your level, as often as you wanted to.
posted by Doohickie at 9:52 AM on December 28, 2006

Muay Thai kickboxing. It is grueling, and you cannot avoid getting into shape.

As an added bonus, you will gain the ability to kick everyone's ass all of the time.
posted by Darth Fedor at 10:28 AM on December 28, 2006

As far as benefits, this depends entirely on the style of martial art. For example, studies have shown (and no, I can't provide links) that Tai Chi helps with balance, which is why it can be particularly beneficial for older people.

If you're looking for peace and focus, I do recommend Tai Chi or other forms of Kung Fu, which put a focus on Qi Gong. That can be very helpful.

Whatever you do, you need to decide what kind of martial arts you want: do you want the uniforms and hierarchy, or do you just want to learn forms and techniques? In general, different schools and martial art forms will fall into one camp or the other.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:57 AM on December 28, 2006

In general, it's a great workout. When I was taking Tae Kwon Do, I was in the best shape of my life. However, all the one legged kicking, twisting, and bare foot running accelerated my knee problems to the point where I couldn't walk up without pain.

It's important to find a good studio. You want to have fun so train with people of comparable age and outlook if you can. You won't stick with it if it isn't fun.
posted by chairface at 11:35 AM on December 28, 2006

3rding or 4thing or whatever Tae Kwon Do, but the important thing is to find a good, authentic Do Jong (Korean for gym, essentially) at which to study - not a strip mall, bastardized version of the arts.

You'll know the difference because there will be less of a focus on belts and achievement and more on personal growth and learning.

I highly recommend the style that I studied, Moo Duk Kwan TKD. As Wiki will tell you, Moo Duk Kwan means 'School of Martial Virtue' or 'a place to learn the right thing to do to stop conflict'. Essentially, its an ancient Korean martial style of the art. You may not be able to find a school in your area, if not, perhaps try for the similar style of Tang Soo Do.

What I liked about this style was exactly what you are looking for - it was a good mix of aerobic, strength training, and stretching / flexibility workouts, and at the same time I was learning a wealth of information about self-defense, conflict avoidance, and even meditation and personal growth / peace. I never finished a session without being fairly exhausted.

It was also great for discipline and social interaction - some of my best friends from there are still guys/gals that I spent hours being beaten and ordered around by.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:13 PM on December 28, 2006

judo. the answer is always judo.
posted by ewkpates at 12:20 PM on December 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ditto ewkpates. Judo is great for this.
posted by limeonaire at 12:24 PM on December 28, 2006

Western boxing, Muay Thai or BJJ.

Judo is good too.
posted by the cuban at 1:25 PM on December 28, 2006

Nthing taekwondo and to echo chairface, I've been doing TKD for seven months and am in the best shape of my life. I'm 26, and I attend a class for women. What's cool is that I actually live in Korea and so it will also be a neat souvenir for when I move home.

What works for me about TKD is that every class I go to we do something different. One day might be kick work and another day might be fighting and another day might be yoga-like stretching or resistance bands or ab work. I never get bored. Being in an all-female class also makes it more fun because I have a lot of camaraderie with my classmates. But seriously, I'm sweating by the first 10 minutes of class.

I used to swim competitively as a teenager and even then I wasn't in as good shape as I am now.
posted by Brittanie at 3:35 PM on December 28, 2006

Krav Maga is marketed as a exercise too.
posted by CCK at 4:11 PM on December 28, 2006

Darth Fedor, ewkpates, limeonaire, and the cuban are correct.

If your only concern was fitness, then some form of cardio kickboxing might be enough. However, given that you want some self defense along with your workout, you have a shorter list of martial arts to choose from. You'll want something in which there is frequent sparring with simple, effective techniques. I think Western boxing, Muay Thai kickboxing, Judo, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitus are your best bets. I've trained in all four arts at least a bit, and they all offer both a strenuous workout, and simple, effective self defense techniques. If you're looking for self defense, I would avoid most TMA's (traditional martial arts). Most of them miss the mark for self defense, as the techniques are impractically complicated, and the training methods outdated.

Personally, I stay away from Western Boxing, because the repetitive head trauma just scares me. Of the two striking arts, I much prefer Muay Thai. You can mitigate the head trauma a bit, as the legs become a big target as well as the head. Muay Thai will teach you Western Boxing basics, as well as kicks, knees, and elbows, so you get a wider arsenal for self defense. Also, the clinch work is just nasty.

Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are grappling arts, and thus the risk of head trauma is much, much lower. They are harder on the joints, however. The two arts are closely related, but their focus differs. Judo has better stand up grappling (throws and takedowns) while Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has better ground grappling (submissions/joint locks/chokes). I'm mostly a BJJ player (6 years) with a bit of Judo (1.5 years). I really like both arts, and feel they've dramatically increased my ability to defend myself.

I don't want to ramble, so I'll finish for now. If you have more questions, my e-mail is in my profile.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 1:48 PM on December 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

BJJ and Muay Thai definitely, go to a couple of schools and sit in on their classes, you want to try and find a place that trains people who do fight competitively, but isn't totally focused on pushing all their students into the ring. You can do Muay Thai strictly for the exercise and avoid the sparring part if you really want to, but BJJ you're gonna have to roll if you want to get anything out of it. You might not be interested in fighting (in the streets or the ring) but it's worth mentioning that professional fighters (UFC, K1, etc...) everybody who steps into the ring these days has studied more muay thai and bjj than any martial art. If you want to be in the best shape, train like the best do.
posted by youthenrage at 2:54 PM on December 29, 2006

Oh! The last post reminds me of one thing I wanted to mention. Make sure you actually try out a class each place you go, get a feel for the other students and the instructor, as well as the art itself. Most places will offer a free trial class.

And I'm going to disagree with youthenrage, and say that whatever art you pick, you're going to have to spar a bit to get good. In a striking art you may not have to spar much-once every two weeks, once a month, but sparring is the part of training that brings it all together and gives you the timing to actually use the techniques you've learned. You don't have to become any kind of fighter or competitor, but if you want to defend yourself, you need to spar at least a little bit. Without the sparring, any martial art is just funky looking calisthenics, in my opinion.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 3:16 PM on December 29, 2006

The martial art that gives you the best exercise workout is the martial art that you attend regularly. Pick a MA school that you can get to easily, has classes at convenient hours, and has a good feel. The aikido classes that you DO attend (for example) are a better workout than the taekwondo classes that you never get to.
posted by Joleta at 8:40 PM on December 29, 2006

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