When it comes to getting fit, working out your entire body to the limit of endurance, and simultaneously enriching yourself spiritually and emotionally, nothing is more effective than studying a martial art. And ‘study’ is the right word, as there is much more to martial arts than learning to swing a fist or a leg at an opponent. There is discipline involved, a serious dedication to perfect moves and techniques, extremely high levels of concentration, and yes, fiercely challenging physical fitness drills. In fact, most people who practice a martial art never throw a punch in anger – the health benefits are enough on their own. Let’s have a closer look at some popular options from the incredibly varied array of martial arts out there.
Practiced as far back as Ancient Greece in its organized form, and with roots stretching even further back in time, boxing is one of the most widely practiced martial arts globally. Anyone who has stepped into a ring will be able to tell you just how physically demanding the sport is, requiring footwork, timing, strength, stamina, and willpower. The usual training regimen for a boxer is renowned as one of the toughest, fullest workouts there is – which is why more and more people are flocking to give it a go. There is no need to fight or spar, and many regular gyms offer a boxercise program, focused on using training techniques purely for physical fitness. Boxing is also noted for giving structure and guidance to those who practice it, and for having a phenomenal transformative effect on people’s lives outside the gym.
Mixed martial arts (MMA) has absolutely soared in popularity in the last 25 years, with the massive pay per view turnover for UFC shows (to rival the biggest boxing prizefights) a testament to its appeal. It is also a great sport to get involved in on a grassroots level for those coming from all backgrounds and different weight classes. Many of those who take part have a background in kickboxing or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which are striking and grappling disciplines, respectively. However, some come into the sport via boxing, wrestling, karate, judo and a host of others. In fact, more and more people are flocking to gyms with no martial art experience, and are instructed in MMA itself, with equal focus on punches, kicks, throws, and groundwork. And if you want to have a go and need to know where you weigh-in, you can use WSN to check for both the men’s and women’s divisions. As with boxing, it really benefits cardiovascular health, encourages weight loss and healthy living.
A style of grappling brought to South America by Judo master Geo Omori in the 1920s, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ) rapidly developed into a unique fighting style, becoming popular nationwide before spreading north to the USA. BJJ is great because, like Judo, it encourages the technique of neutralizing the size advantage of an opponent (usually by bringing them to the ground). This means that anyone of any shape and size can excel at it. Great for fitness, as it requires concentrated strength all over the body, and the training naturally builds muscle. The style is defensive in nature, often using the force of an attack to both subdue it and reverse the outcome. For this reason, it is often taught in conjunction with other techniques for general self-defense. Any fan of televised MMA will be familiar with BJJ – it was the dominant style in early UFC shows and continues to form part of the MMA backbone of styles.
Developed by the Israeli army to train its soldiers in hand to hand combat in any situation, Krav Maga (literally ‘battle contact’) is a workout as tough as they come. With an emphasis on being able to fight whilst exhausted, the training regime is all about heavy, repetitive drills and routines, and moves that are flat out illegal in most martial arts. This is the ultimate streetfighting style, so expect to learn how to knee someone to the groin or gouge at someone’s eye. This is fighting for survival! However, the emphasis on hard work pays massive dividends for those who want to get fit and teak tough. One of the most intense cardio workouts you can imagine, and great for self-defense – in fact, most classes will teach you how to deal with potential real-life scenarios. Not for the faint-hearted!
Every village in Thailand has a ring for Muay Thai and there are many opportunities to take up this discipline, that represents, pretty much, the ultimate kickboxing variant. It is fast, intense and can be, in full force, be brutal. The training will teach you not just kicks and punches, but the art of perfect balance, sublime focus and supreme fitness. Muay Thai and kickboxing in general also provide many MMA fighters with their basic striking training. The athletic nature of the sport encourages weight loss, muscle building, and healthy living.
All martial arts are tough. They require something, some part of us which other sports or training regimes don’t. What that actually is, depends on who you ask, but many feel a deep, spiritual connection with the martial art they train in and feel benefits to physical and mental health that extend throughout their lives. Most martial arts provide an incredibly intense cardio work out, and many encourage healthy weight loss and muscle building and toning. If you’re after a body builder’s physique though you’ll be disappointed.
Of course, healthy living and eating help with training, and conversely training encourages healthy living. Being successful in martial arts takes dedication and discipline, but the benefits most practitioners feel makes it easily worth it.