Absolutely, If you put forth the effort. The martial arts are what you make it. Simply showing up to class is not enough to reach your goals, you must work hard while you are there. Instructors will motivate you, and teach you all that you need to know to accomplish any goal you may have set for yourself.
My best advice to you is to communicate with your instructor(s) on what your goals are, and what steps you need to take to accomplish those goals. (A 165 lb person can burn nearly 800 calories an hour with intense martial arts training, compared to 500 per hour with aerobics)
There is no one style or school that will be perfect for everyone. Everyone has different needs and different goals. There are many things to consider when looking for a school or martial arts style.
As far as a martial arts style is concerned, first you must askyourself, “What goals am I attempting to achieve through martial arts?” Are you looking to use the martial arts for sport? self defense? getting into shape? reducing stress? When you answer those questions then your choice should be much clearer.
Choosing a school can be difficult. It is best to stop in to each school you might be interested in and ideally participating in a class. Unfortunately not all schools allow you to participate for free, and in some cases, won’t allow you to even watch class without signing up first. If that is the case, make sure to communicate thoroughly with the school representative, as well as speaking with other students (which should be done in all cases).
After visiting each school, ask yourself, “will this school help me reach my goals?”, and “do I feel comfortable in this school?” This should reduce your options dramatically. After that, it’s a matter of location and possibly cost if your budget is tight.
Here is a listing of the most popular arts being taught throughout the world today, as well as a brief and general description. Keep in mind these are general descriptions, a martial arts style in one area may be very different in another area.
- Karate: (Japan) Focuses mainly on kicks and strikes of the hand and foot. Many system include sweeps, take-downs and joint locks as well. Generally geared more toward self development and self defense than sport, but both are practiced.
- Taekwondo: (Korea) Focuses mainly on kicks and strikes of the hand and foot. Some schools focus more on the sport aspect while others focus on self development and/or general self defense.
- Aikido: (Japan) Focuses on joint locks and throws and the use of chi/ki/qi. Most systems teach little to no strikes or kicks.
- Tai Chi / Bagua / Hsing I: (China) Internal martial arts that focus on internal power (chi or ki) for building speed, strength, and improving health. Training methods are much easier on the body and joints than hard style martial arts.
- Hapkido: (Korea) A very eclectic art that teaches nearly every aspect of martial arts; kicks/strikes, joint locks, throws, weapons, ground fighting, pressure points, etc.. Focusing mostly on street self defense (no rules) therefore difficult to make use as a sport, though some competitions are held.
- Jeet Kune Do: (America) Founded by martial artist/actor Bruce Lee. The art was created to remove boundaries many martial arts at the time had, and using anything and everything to defend oneself.
- Judo: (Japan) Similar to Hapkido and Jujutsu, with more focus on throws and, in many schools, geared toward competition.
- Jujutsu: (Japan) Very similar to Hapkido. Largest difference being origin and culture.
- Kung Fu: (China) Many variations of Kung Fu exist, and could be placed under any of these catagories. Best known for it’s forms/patterns both empty hand and weapon. Depending on the style, can include nearly all aspects of martial arts.
- Eskrima/Arnis/Kali: (Philippines) Focuses on stick and knife/sword fighting
- Gumdo: (Korea) Focuses on the use of the jingum (a long slightly curved sword, very similar to a katana). Uses forms, mat cutting, and candle extinguishing, to name a few, to develop skills in the art of the sword.
- Iaido: (Japan) Focuses on the use of the Katana (a long slightly curved sword, very similar to a jingum). The art of unsheathing the sword, cutting or striking, and re-sheathing. Similar to Gumdo.
- Kendo: (Japan) A sword art geared more toward sport than Gumdo and Iaido, making use of bamboo swords.
- Krav Maga: (Israel) A close combat art that was originally used for military use. Many techniques taught are for potentially lethal situations in which there is no regard for the opponents life, doing whatever it takes to defend oneself.
- Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: (Brazil) Focuses mostly on ground grappling, using joint locks, holds and chokes to submit or subdue an opponent.
- Kick-boxing: A general term for sport martial arts geared toward kicking and striking. Used in many traditional schools as a fitness program.
While some arts focus more on self defense than others (such as Krav Maga and Combat Hapkido), it really comes down to the instructor and student. It is my personal feeling that the quickest thing you can do when it comes to self defense, is to get in better shape. Increase endurance, increase strength, eat better, etc.When you get yourself into better physical/mental/spiritual shape, your reflexes, focus, and endurance increase dramatically, which gives you the physical edge over the typical attack on the street. If youare in good shape, then all you need are the basics of self defense that nearly all martial arts teach. Keep in mind though, even if you’re not in the best of shape, you can still learn to defend yourself.
As for martial arts styles, the difference in many traditional arts is simply philosophy and region in which it was developed. The best art for self defense is the art you feel most confortable with. Do you prefer keeping the attacker away with kicks and strikes, or do you prefer close combat with joint locks, throws and holds? Refer to the previous question/answer for the style you may be looking for.
Hard styles refer to arts such as Taekwondo and Karate that use force against force in most cases. Example: When an opponent throws a punch, a “Hard” style practitioner would throw a forceful block in attempt to not only stop the punch from making contact, but also possibly cause injury to the arm throwing the punch.
Soft styles refer to arts such as Aikido and Hapkido which attempt to either deflect force or use the opponents force against them. Example: When an opponent throws a punch, a “Soft” style practitioner would either avoid or follow the force of the punch allowing them to enter a joint lock or throw while using the opponents force to help create the throw or joint lock.
Ki/Qi/Chi has no direct translation into English, but is typically referred to as “life force” or “spiritual energy”. The difference in the spelling has to do with the location of the art (Korean, Japan, China). Traditional eastern medicine believes chi flows through the bodyand can be used to heal, and that many illnesses come from interruption of chi.
As the martial arts are concerned, it is believed that chi can be developed to increase strength/damage. Internal arts such as Tai Chi and Bagua make heavy use of chi to heal and strengthen the body. Many other martial arts make use of this as well, but to a much lesser extent.
Generally speaking, a pressure point is a highly sensitive point on the body. Acupuncturist’s use these points to heal, martial artistsuse these points to inflict pain. More specifically a pressure point is where a nerve splits, two nerves cross, or a nerve comes to an end. These points can be touched, gouged, or struck to inflict a jolt of pain to an opponent.
While some arts have created an entire system out of the use of just pressure points, most arts use pressure points to supplement their techniques. Example: Striking a pressure point behind the elbow will generally cause the arm to straighten, making it much easier to apply an arm-bar joint lock.
This type of training was done to build stronger bones and create calluses on the skin, allowing the practitioner to repeatedly kick and strike without injuring themselves, as well as making their kicks/strikes more powerful and devastating. Most schools nowadays do not train this way. Wars are no longer fought with your hands and feet like they were in the earlier days of martial arts, therefore most schools have removed or reduced this style of training due to lack of necessity.
Typically the only training done anymore to toughen the striking areas are done through striking heavy bags and doing push ups on the knuckles rather than the palms, though some sport oriented schools go further due to the amount of striking they may do during competition.
It is worth while to note that extensive training in this fashion can be detrimental to ones health and can lead to deformation of bones, and is believed to be linked to bone cancer, though not proven.
The biggest difference between a sport oriented art and a traditional or self defense oriented art is simply rules. Sports have rules that can lead to warnings/loss of points/disqualification if broken, where as self defense/traditional arts tend not to have rules (see “Example 1” below).
Self defense does however have moral and legal issue one must think about. Generally speaking, all the techniques taught in both sport and self defense/traditional arts are the same, with the same philosophy. However the thought process and usage of some techniques may be different (see “Example 2” below)
- Example 1: In sport Taekwondo, kicking/striking to the back or below the belt is an illegal technique, in traditional Taekwondo, it is not only perfectly fine, but in some cases preferred to kick/strike to these areas if it’s warranted.
- Example 2: In sport Brazilian Jiujitsu, escaping a reclining arm-bar may involve maneuvering you’re arm and body into a position to bend and leverage your arm out of the joint lock. When it comes to self defense, escaping the arm-bar is much more simplistic due to the lack of rules, the defender can swing his leg around and kick the attacker in the face for distraction and then remove the arm from the joint lock with little to no resistance.
Traditionally most arts wore white uniforms. However, many schools practiced on dirt floors, so the arts that spent most of their time on the ground due to throws, takedowns, and ground fighting, such as Hapkido and Jujutsu, got their uniforms dirty, turning them black, while stand up arts such as Taekwondo and Karate remained clean (white).
Therefore, generally speaking, schools who practice the stand up arts tend to wear white uniforms, while schools that practice takedowns and ground fighting tend to wear black or brown uniforms. This isn’t the case in every school though, many schools nowadays wear different colors either as a personal preference, or to separate students from instructors, or one program from another.
All styles are potentially different, some don’t even have belt ranks. Generally speaking, all styles start with the lightest color (white) to the darkest color (black), the number and order of colors in between vary from style to style.