Q: What are martial arts?
A: They are various systems of combat training that adhere to a particular philosophy. One goal all these systems have in common is preparing students to defend themselves against physical threats and subdue their attackers. Mars was the god of war in Roman mythology, hence the word “martial”.
It is generally believed that what we today call the martial arts originated in the Far East around 600 BC. India and China exchanged information about martial arts through their trading contacts. One big event was when the famous Indian monk, Bodhidharma, went to China and founded Zen Buddhism. He imbued the extant martial arts practices with a philosophy of restrain and humility that have continued to the current era.
Today, experts categorize the martial arts into five different styles:
- Stand-up and striking
- Low impact
- Hybrid styles such as mixed martial arts (MMA), also known as ultimate fighting
Q: How does one choose which martial art to pursue?
A: It’s a multi-step process:
- Establish a budget – Some styles require expensive equipment. Kendo armor can set you back $1,000. In contrast, Karate requires a simple cotton uniform. Of course, you have to factor in the cost of instruction no matter which style you choose.
- Determine your goal – For instance, are you interested in health and fitness, martial skills, cultural enhancement or winning trophies?
- Pick a style – some styles are considered “hard”, like Thai Boxing and Tae Kwon Do. “Soft” styles include Kung Fu and Aikido. Or you can gravitate to the grappling styles such as Jiu Jitsu. Do you want to fight in real life or focus mainly on training?
- Inventory you physical limitations — If you are old or infirm, try Tai Chi. If you are small in stature, avoid the striking styles. Instead, consider the styles that emphasize leverage and technique rather than strength or acrobatic ability.
- Consider the cultural implications – select a martial art style that is congruent with your cultural interests and philosophy.
- Do you favor “martial” or “art” – some styles are best used by soldiers and policemen. If the artistic aspects do not interest you, consider getting a can of mace or a handgun.
- Sample different settings – sit in on different classes and see which ones really speak to you.
- Select a teaching style – do you prefer public classes or private instruction? Some places, like Fredericksburg Martial Arts, allow you to choose between individual or group instruction.
- Check out potential teachers – what is there reputation and personality? Can you learn from them?