Think martial arts aren’t your style? It might be time you took a closer look (celebs like Naomi Watts and Jessica Biel are fans). With varieties ranging from relaxing tai chi to hard-core, high-kicking kung fu, there’s one to help you unwind; net a sleek, strong agile physique; build mental toughness; drop an attacker in his tracks-or all of the above. Whichever form and find that the skills (both mental and physical) you learn in the dojo can benefit your daily life as well.
Martial Arts 101: Use these tips from Guillermo Gomez, a fourth-degree black belt in aikido and the Miami-based creator of Martial Fusion cardio kickboxing, to find your perfect fit.
- Consider your goals
There are huge differences among martial arts styles, so decide what you want. Looking for high-energy exercise involving punches and kicks? Try tae kwon do, kung fu, or karate. For more contact-like holding, grabbing, and grappling – opt for aikido, judo, jujitsu, or mixed martial arts (MMA). Tai chi or qigong are meditative with slow motions and deep breathing (studies have found that tai chi can lower blood pressure and stress).
- Explore the culture
The history of martial arts is fascinating, and you may resonate with one more than another. Most styles originated in Asia (the Chinese created kung fu, for instance, and karate is from Japan), but capoeira and a variation of jujitsu are from Brazil, and krav maga was developed for the Israeli military. Some styles have religious ties as well, such as Taoism and Zen. These underpinnings can make your choice more meaningful.
- Get schooled
Find local dojos or schools at website such as themartialdirectory.com, then spend your first class observing. Ask other students about their experience with the studio and gauge if you like the teacher’s style. There aren’t any universal certifications to look for in an instructor, but ask how long they’ve practiced, plus where and from whom they learned their methods. Note how they interact with students. If people seem to get injured easily under their guidance, seek out another place to study.
Martial arts could be called “mental arts,” as the psychological aspect is crucial. Whether you do tae kwon do or MMA, you need mental toughness, focus, and commitment, says NYC-based trainer and life coach Violet Zaki, a black belt in Seido karate. “When standing in front of my opponent, I have to choose to be the winner or the loser,” says Zaki. “Without being confident and alert and visualising my moves, I can’t win. The mental drives the physical.” There are even styles called ‘internal’ martial arts, which focus on using the mind, versus muscles, to guide the body and cultivating energy (called ‘qi’), so a lot of the work focuses inward; aikido, tai chi and qigong fall into this category.
Block: the action of stopping an opponent’s strike or kick.
Dojo: a training hall where some martial art classes are held.
Gi: the traditional uniform; also called kimono.
Kata: choreographed movements.
Katana: a samurai sword used in artistic classes.
Sensei: the teacher.
Stance: a body position.
Strike: a move directed at an opponent, such as a kick or punch.
Submission: the moment an opponent admits defeat.
Tatami: a mat or floor in the dojo where most training takes place.
Zazen: a form of seated meditation done before and after practice to relax your mind and body.
Zen: the Japanese take on Buddhism; it puts an emphasis on meditation.