I need a new martial art!
July 22, 2007 10:14 PM   Subscribe

I need a new martial art. Help? Not a new place to go, but a new art to take. Only, I'm a wee bit picky, so there's more to it then just trying out any old thing.

A little over three years ago I started taking Tae Kwon Do at a dojang in Burke, VA. It closed, and while I did a month at another place, I never really went back.

Now I've moved to San Diego, CA, and I and my fiance are poking around trying to find a new place to train.

Finding a place is not really the problem. The problem is finding a martial art that meets the following requirements.

1. NOT KRAV MAGA. I put this in allcaps because the last three times I've asked a question like this, people have suggeted Krav at me. Krav is not a martial art, it's a fighting and self-defense style, and it has a brutality to it that I am not interested in. I have seen classes, I have talked to several people who've taken it, it's incompatible with me.

2. No jumping about. No jump kicks, no handstands, no wacky aerial anything. I am a ground based mammal, and both of my feet do not leave the ground at the same time if I can help it. Jumping jacks and suchlike to warm up are fine, but jump kicks are just not gonna happen.

3. It -must- have a sparring component. There are personal and emotional reasons that I need to make myself face that sort of thing once in a while and -not- having sparring is a total deal breaker. By sparring I mean 'punching and kicking." with rules for safety. Sports scoring and points are not really imporant.

4. It should have a kata/form/routine based component. Please don't try to tell me that they don't teach you anything or are useless. If I wanted totally practical, I'd go take Krav Maga. I like forms/kata because they are fun and semi-decent cardio.


Other then these four things, I am open to suggestions. I'm also utterly clueless about what's out there -really-. Wikipedia doesn't help much, and most of my friends are either taking Krav, or judo or TKD, all three of which are eliminated above. Item #4 has some flexibility to it - I won't die without forms, but I'd rather do them then not.

I'm not looking for a martial art to be able to fight/be Bruce-ette Lee, defend myself against any and all circumstances. I'm looking for exercise in a group setting in a goal-oriented structure that lets me face some very personal and ugly demons in a way that I already know works.
posted by FritoKAL to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
posted by rtha at 10:26 PM on July 22, 2007

I think you need to find an old-school teacher of Shotokan.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:27 PM on July 22, 2007

Sorry. Hit post instead of preview. More info here.
posted by rtha at 10:28 PM on July 22, 2007

If 'punching and kicking' are must-haves, I can't honestly see any style of Aikido being your bag. If what you want from sparring is some sort of rules-based combat, then some styles of Aikido might be suitable, namely Tomiki-ryu or Shodokan - two different names for the same style. Shodokan places more emphasis on competition and sparring than many of the other forms. Whether that's for the better is still very much up for debate within the aikido community. But still no punching or kicking.

Your shopping list sounds like a pretty ringing endorsement of karate, IMHO.
posted by tim_in_oz at 10:38 PM on July 22, 2007

You might want to look at Bando (burmese martial arts) which is similar to Thai kickboxing. Few jumping kicks (Unless you want to do them), sparring ('cause y'know, pads don't back.) It's adaptive, but still has forms (depending on the school).

I found this (you might call them if they're too far away and ask for someplace nearer).
posted by filmgeek at 10:43 PM on July 22, 2007

I can't recommend Muay Thai enough. I've been challenged more in the past six months in Muay Thai than in 5 years of TKD ... plus, they actually show you how to punch in Muay Thai.

If you want to get more traditional, see if you can find a practitioner of something like Muay Boran (the fighting style shown in that movie Ong-Bak).

You mentioned that you liked kata/forms. You might find a kru (teacher/master/instructor) who can teach you some traditional forms. I really liked forms in TKD because it was something that you could do yourself and perfect. In place of forms, I found that Muay Thai has hitting the punching bag, practicing footwork, and practicing combos. It's all based on sparring and preparing for sparring.

The traditional stuff has some flying knees and jumping elbow moves, but that's about it for jumping around. It's pretty damn practical. Everything you do in Muay Thai is very direct, within the bounds of what is allowed in the ring - which is a whole hell of a lot more than boxing or even what TKD allows. I mention the ring because you don't really learn joint locks or pokes or things like that.

As for cardio, I was never overweight or anything, but I'm 30 and my body has nonetheless been transformed.

Where do you live? Maybe we can recommend studios for you, too.

Good luck with whatever you decide on.
posted by redteam at 10:56 PM on July 22, 2007

Karate. Absolutely.
posted by flabdablet at 11:42 PM on July 22, 2007

Aikido is a reasonable suggestion for all of the OP's requirements - the weaponry (bokken and jo) in particular are very Kata-oriented, and this directly influences the hand to hand technique, at least in my own style of Iwama.

Whilst many styles of Aikido do not emphasise the weapons sparring, some, such as Tomiki Aikido, are great believers of the value of both hand to hand and weaponry sparring, as well as the use of Kata.

Good luck with your search!
posted by mooders at 12:04 AM on July 23, 2007

I agree with Tim in Oz: you have almost exactly described karate. I see no reason why you should bother seeking out something obscure like "Muay Thai" when there are karate dojos everywhere.

The style I studied is called "Ryobu Kai" and it's exactly what you're talking about. But I suspect that any Karate style would satisfy you.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:33 AM on July 23, 2007

How about Wing Chun? It meets all your stated criteria, is reasonably practical, and it's not hard to find schools. It's quite different from karate in style and may suit you better.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:37 AM on July 23, 2007

Kempo is an option.

I'm unsure what Kempo is like where you are (USA?) but at the main school in New Zealand it has evolved from a 'linear' Shotokan-style art into a more fluid, Chinese style.

It still retains 'hard' sparring and forms/katas, but also incorporates more fluid, circular Chinese forms, elements of Tai Chi, and meditation.

I love it.
posted by pivotal at 12:39 AM on July 23, 2007

I studied an offshoot of Shotokan karate; it's very close to what you're looking for. It has a few kicks, but not many, and it's pretty unusual for both your feet to leave the ground at once.

It has kata, most classes offer sparring, and it's a solid, non-flashy art.

The variant of Shotokan I studied added in some moves from aikido and Tae Kwon Do: not all forms of karate are all that 'pure'. You may actually prefer the hybrids, so I'd suggest shopping around a little.

Also note: coming from Tae Kwon Do, you may have a bit of culture shock. From what I've seen, TKD isn't really even a martial art, it's just a sport, and it doesn't teach you guard your face properly. You'll want to drill hard on face defense if you get into another style.
posted by Malor at 2:07 AM on July 23, 2007

Sigh. 'you to guard your face properly.'
posted by Malor at 2:08 AM on July 23, 2007

Since you don't specifically mention a requirement for an Asian martial art, have you considered looking at a boxing gym? Seems to meet all your requirements...
posted by genehack at 3:15 AM on July 23, 2007

Aiki-jutsu (Aiki-jitsu, Aiki-jujutsu, etc.)
Jujitsu (and various spellings)

The sparring component will depend on the dojo.
posted by Alabaster at 3:37 AM on July 23, 2007

Muay thai's a great art, but I don't think it has the forms component you're looking for. Kyokushin karate is supposed to have some hard sparring as well.
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:20 AM on July 23, 2007

Sparring in Aikido? NIMD. (unfortunately)

genehack has an interesting idea. What about straight-up boxing? Great discipline, and if your "personal and emotional reasons" listed in point number 3 have to do with learning to get hit, you'll hardly do better.
posted by dreamsign at 5:29 AM on July 23, 2007

Seido Karate.

(Can't spar right away as a beginner, though.)
posted by The Monkey at 5:58 AM on July 23, 2007

@ Malor

you obviously haven't seen enough TKD.
posted by spacefire at 6:31 AM on July 23, 2007

I take Wing Chun (Ving Tsun) kung fu as mentioned above. While it satisfies all of your other requirements to a T, there is no sparring. Although some of the drills that you learn involve real take-downs (someone comes at you swinging, you dispatch them), you probably won't get to learn them for a while.

The forms are beautiful, elegant and deceptively strenuous on repetition. You stay on the ground. The drills are generally not confrontational, but you train with a mix of more advanced students whose level makes working out with them very challenging. I have had my share of bruises, if that tells you anything. I definitely recommend it.
posted by hermitosis at 6:58 AM on July 23, 2007

I took Tae Kwan Do for a while, but as my joints aged I moved into a Seido Karate class. (Fortunately my TKD instructor is my own age and switched to teaching Seido at that time.) It's lower impact, and the movements - as she taught them, anyway - are designed to be gentler on your joints.
posted by booth at 7:08 AM on July 23, 2007

I should also add that the transition to Seido from TKD was quite easy. Most of the kicks, punches, and blocks were similar, just the stances were modified. Of course, the kata were new, and as The Monkey mentioned, there's no sparring as a beginner.
posted by booth at 7:11 AM on July 23, 2007

Aikido does not traditionally offer any "sparring", but all techniques are practiced with a resisting partner. The degree of resistance differs based on your skill and comfort, but you aren't practicing solo.

Kata in weapons work are integral to Aikido, but there is somewhat limited room to do a joint lock or throw as a kata.

While I have been practicing for a relatively short amount of time (~4 years), I have found that my overall confidence, balance, and approach to martial situations has been altered by studying Aikido. That said, I have had difficulty finding sensei who incorporate more than cursory striking techniques.

No single martial art does it all. Aikido will develop your awareness, provide you with reasonably effective techniques, and build a strong foundation for learning other arts if you choose to go that route.
posted by ellF at 7:11 AM on July 23, 2007

If you're at all ok with a weapons style, you may want to look into Kendo. Sparring is not kicking and punching, but certainly the kata are a great workout.
posted by korej at 8:06 AM on July 23, 2007

WRT sparring and Aikido - at my dojo, we practiced with a partner, though that is "sparring" as you may be used to in other martial arts. However, the more advanced students would usually take part in free play (sparring, for lack of a better term) with Sensei at the end of the session. Beautiful to watch.
posted by rtha at 10:20 AM on July 23, 2007

I'll also chime in with Kendo. I take Kumdo (basically Kendo in Korean) and enjoy it immensely and it seems to generally meet your criteria. First, it absolutely fits the "no jumping" rule. In fact, leaving the floor at all is discouraged, as it makes you quite vulnerable. Second, a key component of Kendo is sparring. At my dojang, roughly half the time is spent sparring/full contact. Although beginners don't actively spar, they do actively face and hit (full speed) in a simulated spar like environment and after about 9 months are able to fully spar. Third, are the forms and katas, you learn to draw, sheath your sword, plus various forms. I like the forms class because there's a story with each form and why it's performed in that particular way.
Some other key things that may factor into your decision. Kendo is a mental sport more than a physical one. Sparring successfully requires out thinking and being tuned into your opponent. That said, the sparring matches can be physically exhausting (as well as the belt tests). Also, Kendo seems to favor the older and wiser. Finally, there is a fincancial factor to consider in that it can be somewhat expensive, with the equipment and armor that's required.

Good luck in finding the right Martial Art for you.
posted by forforf at 10:35 AM on July 23, 2007

I studied Wing Tsun in my teens/twenties, and recommend it highly. I have a nine yr-old daughter who showed an interest in the martial arts but was a little intimidated, so I enrolled us both in Tai Chi (Yang style, but I think that's irrelevant). My daughter seems to be getting a lot from it, and I'm having to widen my horizons, which benefits me also. I'm surprised at how much she enjoys the "push hands" and sparring. She's seems a natural with the staff forms, and I like using a staff that is only as tall as I am, rather than twice that.

I also have friends who have studied Aikido for reasons very similar to yours.
posted by willconsult4food at 10:49 AM on July 23, 2007

I have some experience with Aikido, and with San Diego. Sparring in Aikido depends on your definition of sparring. Some schools do a fair amount of Randori (which is essentially sparring, usually with multiple attackers). All Aikido schools in my experience practice techniques with another person--so there's always someone "attacking" and you're used to another person in your space, etc.

The weakest component in your list WRT Aikido is the forms component. They're there, but they tend to be more for weapons stuff, which is usually (again, in my experience) taught to people once they've had a bit more experience.

It definitely seems to fit in with the "anti-brutality" mentality; the goal is often to not injure the attacker if possible. Not all arts have that option.

You appear to be more northern. I know some good places in central San Diego to check out, but I am sadly deficient in knowledge about places further north. Shoot me an email if you want info, or to pick my brain about other arts/dojos.

I do suggest visiting the school of anything you get interested in; visitors are generally very welcome and you'll get a pretty good idea by watching the class.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:52 AM on July 23, 2007

n-thing Wing Tsun.
posted by juva at 11:47 AM on July 23, 2007

Re what hermitosis said about Wing Chun not having sparring: the crowd I trained with did.

Which brings up the next point, namely check out a few classes before you commit to a school, and realise that in any style, there are still big differences from school to school. Don't write off a whole art because this one class you saw sucked -- there may be another teacher in the same town whose methods are completely different.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:00 PM on July 23, 2007

Good point, I_A_J_S. For example, in my Ving Tsun school, we don't have belts or sashes at all to mark levels. You should definitely keep an open mind as to which types of martial arts, and instead reserve your heavy criticism for the individual schools themselves that you visit.

(Curious to know how sparring works for WC. The basic kick is a strong front-kick to the kneecap. How do they spar safely?)
posted by hermitosis at 1:14 PM on July 23, 2007

How about Wing Chun? It meets all your stated criteria, is reasonably practical, and it's not hard to find schools.

But it *is* hard to find good schools. My boyfriend shopped around a few years back for a class, and doesn't rate any of the schools he found as being worth the money they charge. One of them (I forget which) actually makes you give them money before they'll allow you to view a class.

He ended up settling for (what sounds like) a pretty solid, quality school and is currently taking iaijutsu (swords!) lessons.

His comment (he doesn't have a Mefi account):

The karate my school does fits all the criteria he/she lists.

Also, the Choy Le Fut school that I elected not to go to probably fills all those criteria, except for the jumping. I'm not sure if they jump around or not. If they're a Southern style kung fu, there is probably no jumping or jump-kicking involved.

I would suggest iaijutsu, but it doesn't really have a sparring component like he/she wants, because people could get hurt sparring with swords.

But the Boyfriend has also mentioned a few times in the past that he doesn't have many people to practice with, especially on the Saturday afternoon class. Not sure if that's the case now, but overall it seems like a lot of fun. I know that if I was going to pursue martial arts in San Diego, I'd be leaning towards the karate classes at that school.
posted by saturnine at 2:02 PM on July 23, 2007

Wow. I go away for 8 hours and then comment explosion. Lesee. From the top.

Aikido is out, mostly because as I understand it, it's formless and reactive and there's not a lot of the contact I like. (IE: You do a lot more flipping and rolling then hitting.)

Culture shock's not too much of a worry - Our TKD dojang wasn't 'pure' TKD, and we did a metric ton of face guarding. "Keep your hands up!" was pretty much par for the course. And we were about as un-sport oriented as you can get and still be TKD.

I am in San Diego - technically Escondido.

Boxing is out because it's a sport, not a martial art and has no kata/forms. Kick boxing is out for the same reasons. while I am flexible on the forms/kata thing, boxing is too far into left field away from what I like to do. (Also I have an irrational hate of boxing gloves.)

and last, Saturnine - I think your boyfriend's karate school might be close to where I work - googlemaps puts it just off the 805 - I'm down by Mirimar for work.
posted by FritoKAL at 2:43 PM on July 23, 2007

Oh, and kicking is fine - I like kicking. It's the jumping AND kicking together that makes me Unhappy - and more importantly, makes me knees laugh at me and tell me how much they hatehatehate me.
posted by FritoKAL at 2:49 PM on July 23, 2007

(Curious to know how sparring works for WC. The basic kick is a strong front-kick to the kneecap. How do they spar safely?)

To be honest, hermitosis, I can't say. I only did three months before I had to leave town (for unrelated reasons) so I didn't get a good handle on what the advanced students were doing :(
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:08 PM on July 23, 2007

hermitosis - There's a lot more than kicking to the use of WC footwork: establishing contact, closing in and keeping the opponent closed up, off-center, off-balance and unable to react or maneuver in a useful manner.

Most of the kicks are at intimate range, so it's obvious when a pulled kick to the knee would otherwise have resulted in major joint damage. When I wanted to go all-out, used the big target pad and wooden dummy; when I wanted to kick something with the capability of making it challenging, I worked with a person.

I don't think senior students ever pulled anything else in my class, my share of bad bruises to the shins, calves, etc. attested.

It's vital check out the school before committing to any style. Teaching methods and classroom structure can vary wildly.
posted by willconsult4food at 4:44 PM on July 23, 2007

Your reasons for declining Muay Thai are fair enough. I've noticed a lot of Wing Chun recommendations. If you go with that, you might want to see this video. It's very impressive. Naturally, I would like to see him go up against a better kickboxer.

Good luck!
posted by redteam at 5:42 PM on July 23, 2007

I would highly suggest Seido or Kyokushin karate. Meets all of your requirements, and the sparring will be hardcore and realistic. So many traditional martial arts miss the 'realistic sparring' thing completely. I think one of these two would meet your requirements best, honestly.

I'd also like to recommend that you reconsider Judo. The sparring is not 'punch each other in the face', but randori, or free-grappling practice, is a huge part of judo. You try and throw, pin, and submit your partner, while they try and do the same to you. Competitive, difficult, and should make you a bit nervous, at least at first.

Good luck! Let us know what you decide.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 6:17 PM on July 23, 2007

Update, in case anyone is watching. Ironyfilter, I ended up finding a TKD place that's okay with the fact that I can't do jump kicks about a mile from my apartment in Escondido.

They've been there for years, I just never got the right combination of google search words until a month or so ago.
posted by FritoKAL at 2:39 PM on February 27, 2008

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