Martial Arts in DC
August 2, 2004 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be moving back to Washington, DC in late August to go back to college. I want to begin taking martial arts classes -- but what should I take? (more inside)

I took aikido for a while at the beginning of fall semester last year. It was good, and learning the basics was valuable, but I quickly discovered it was a bit too rigid for me (and the instructor's teaching method wasn't much my style). I've been searching high and low for other styles, schools, and teachers. The two problems I keep encountering are high cost and poor availability. So here's what I want to know: What programs/schools/styles are there that (1) cost less than $50/month, (2) are accessible by Metro (bus/rail combo is fine, as long as it doesn't take more than an hour to get there each way from Georgetown), (3) don't emphasize kata as much as self-development, and (4) are relatively quick to become proficient in after about 3-6 months. I've been looking closely at krav maga and wing chun kung fu, if that helps anyone get a idea of what I'm thinking. I'm open to anything -- especially if it's not going to make a sizable dent in this student's wallet.
posted by armage to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total)
Response by poster: One thing I should mention -- the krav maga school I found locally costs $99/month -- if you sign up for 12 months. Otherwise it's $129/month. A bit on the steep side...
posted by armage at 9:38 AM on August 2, 2004

Some dojos have classes that are specifically about "street self defense", ask around for something like that. The downside is they may not teach them as a course but just as a class or two.
posted by tommasz at 10:00 AM on August 2, 2004

I can't believe that Georgetown doesn't have several martial arts clubs for you to participate in--almost every college has a tae kwon do/karate club, as well as a judo club. I did judo at the club level for 4 years in college, and at the tournaments, there were tons of different schools.

In general, the clubs aren't limited to undergraduates, either--as long as you're associated with the university, as a grad student or employee, you're usually welcome to join, and it's pretty much free, after you buy the gi.
posted by LairBob at 10:35 AM on August 2, 2004

Response by poster: LairBob: Georgetown does indeed have an aikido club (it is associated with Aikido Shobukan, the local dojo) and a judo club. Judo is a possibility -- I reckoned it similar to aikido in that you're always doing a fair amount of throws/rolls/etc. I'd prefer something a bit lower impact, but it's not necessary.

(As for tae kwon do, I'm afraid of some of those high kicks! And like I mentioned, most Japanese/Korean arts tend to be heavily kata-based, which I'm shying away from.)

College clubs would be great -- I'm just having a hard time finding out much about them since it's the summer and there's no one really "in charge" at the moment.
posted by armage at 11:24 AM on August 2, 2004

Kendo has always looked really fun. Next best thing to being a Jedi knight.
posted by mecran01 at 11:26 AM on August 2, 2004

Kendo is a lot of fun, but it's probably the least practical of the martial arts, unless you're usually carrying a sword.

My dojo offers jujitsu, which is ground fighting for the most part. Not much emphasis on kata and no kicking. They seem to work pretty hard from the looks of things.
posted by tommasz at 11:40 AM on August 2, 2004

Let me say that there is a large T'ai Chi Community in the DC area. Look at their website ( for course info. I'm an instructor in the school here in Jacksonville and it's a wonderful martial art to study.

Good luck at college!

(oh, and if you really want to learn a sword form, nothing beats Iaido! Drawing and killing in one movement is totally bada$$. Kendo looks cumbersome in contrast.)
posted by Dantien at 11:53 AM on August 2, 2004

Well, you're definitely going to do a lot of throws and rolls if you study judo--especially if you want to stay away from the kata (which I totally understand). It's not "high-impact" like tae kwon do can be, if your class spars, but there's a fair amount of give-and-take in a good session.

It's not really clear what you're looking for--for example, you mentioned "low-impact", but then you talked about studying krav manga. Are you basically looking for a good cardio workout, or do you want to be able to hold your own in a scuffle, or do you want to compete?

Dojos, even in the same "school", vary greatly from one to another. The characteristics you're looking for really seem more a function of the specific sensei, more than a specific martial art. I'd just try to canvass the various dojos you can find that meet your criteria on geography and price (if there are any that cheap), and see whose teaching style you like.

Oh yeah, just forgot--try the Y! They often have martial arts program, and they tend to be a lot more affordable. (Plus, you can probably hit weights, swim, etc.)
posted by LairBob at 11:58 AM on August 2, 2004

Response by poster: mecran01: Yeah, I've always wanted to do kendo. There's actually a club at a nearby university (GWU, if anyone is curious.) But the equipment costs have made me wary...

tommasz: Jujitsu sounds like a good idea. I'll see if there are any good places to learn around DC.

Dantien: One of my floormates last year took Iaido -- it does indeed look badass, but it seems very stylized and kata-based. Also, I've heard those swords can be addicting and wallet-draining (said floormate spent lots--LOTS--of money on swords in only a few months...)

Thanks for the ideas, though, folks -- that's what AskMe is for! ;-)
posted by armage at 12:01 PM on August 2, 2004

Response by poster: LairBob, you're quite right as far as dojos & teachers go -- it does vary depending on whom you train with. I think I'm just trying to get some ideas about that without having to spend a lot of money ($20 for an intro session can add up after a few sessions....). And thanks for the tip on going to the Y -- I'll take a look at those, definitely.

(And I think what I mean by low-impact is basically NOT muay thai or kickboxing-style martial arts. Maybe it shows my ignorance of krav maga if I think that is comparatively low impact... I'm willing to strike a balance, though -- I just don't want to be put out of commission by an accident on the mat.)
posted by armage at 12:04 PM on August 2, 2004

Well, you should definitely be able to go in and observe a class at a dojo without shelling out the bucks to actually participate. Once you start narrowing down the choices, it might make sense to pay for a single session before you join somewhere, but anyplace that wouldn't let you look in and see how they operate probably isn't worth looking at.

If you're looking not to get smacked around, then you should definitely be OK with judo...that's not to say you can't get hurt at all, but the only times I've ever gotten more than a bruise is during the heat of competition, when you're pushing the limits to try and win a match. Workouts can be challenging, but a good sensei is going to make sure you know how to break a fall well enough for any given move you're learning.
posted by LairBob at 12:32 PM on August 2, 2004

armage, could you clarify whether you're looking for practical self-defense or not?

I personally am hugely enjoying capoeira. Because of its game-like aspects, it tends be social and friendly. It also makes you very fit, and is just plain more fun than anything else I've done in this line (Tae Kwon Do, Shaolin boxing, Tai Chi). However, I wouldn't advocate it as a practical self-defense style, other than that being fast, fit and knowing how to dodge is good for you.

I also like capoeira because now I'm older I have some ethical problems with devoting a lot of effort into practicing hurting people. Capoeira offers the usual benefits of martial arts physically but doesn't have the emphasis on combat.

OTOH, capoeira has also brought me into contact with Brazilian Jujitsu. If I ever did feel the need to be competitive against any style, or in a real fight, BJJ would be my choice.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:25 PM on August 2, 2004

Response by poster: i_am_joe's_spleen: Not particularly. I'm looking more to learn a particular style/styles rather than a general self-defense course.

Thanks for the info on capoeira -- I've been reading a bit about it, and it looks interesting.
posted by armage at 3:31 PM on August 2, 2004

"I am Very Interested in Kendo Because I just saw..(select movie).. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill or The Last Samurai. When will we be working on fancy swordwork like that? Will Kendo be just as exciting as the movie?

SJ Dojo is a traditional Kendo Dojo strictly focusing on the fundamentals of Kendo. As a beginner, you will be performing the same fundamental drills to learn etiquette, footwork, and how to correctly swing the shinai over and over...Please be advised that You will not be wearing bogu (armor) for at least 4-6 months. Please note that YOU WILL NOT BE practicing in a field or practicing forms against a sunset background. Additionally, THERE WILL NOT BE flashy Sword work such as spinning the sword, two sword techniques or flying kicks taught. We do not teach that type of swordmanship like you see on the movie screen. It is entertaining and we enjoy those movies too, but that type of swordsmanship is based on cinematic stunt choreography and has little to do with the actual practice and lifelong study in the art of Kendo."
posted by mecran01 at 3:54 PM on August 2, 2004

Previous discussions here, here, here, and here. I've got some longish comments in those threads.

Price is not usually related to the style of martial art taught. The location of the dojo (upscale vs poor neighborhood) and the type of dojo (commercial business vs club) are usually the determining factor for cost. I second the suggestions to check out the university clubs and the Y.

Judo training has a very different feel from aikido training because you get to practice grappling/throwing with a non-cooperative partner. In my experience, that makes judo much more effective training for self-defence, as well as a better conditioning workout. Unless you're naturally talented, though, it will take longer than 3-6 months to become really effective with it - judo requires a degree of balance and timing that takes a while to develop.

In fact, "...quick to become proficient in after about 3-6 months..." is probably not a realistic goal for any martial art unless you're a fantastically talented athlete who's prepared to train constantly for that entire time. A more realistic goal might be to find a martial art where 3-6 months of regular practice will produce a noticeable improvement in the fighting abilities you had before. Boxing and muay thai would fit that bill, but it sounds like you're not prepared for the heavy-contact training. A good jujutsu club would work. Krav maga might be okay. The techniques look okay from what I've seen, but a lot depends on the actual training methods. I've never been to a krav maga school, so I'm not sure what their training is like.

In any case, visit the school/club and get a feel for how they run classes before you pay out any money.
posted by tdismukes at 3:57 PM on August 2, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Will do, tdismukes -- thanks very much for the advice.

Thanks again, folks, for the help. I'll check out some clubs / dojos around the area and see what works best for me.
posted by armage at 7:49 AM on August 3, 2004

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