Do you know these five martial arts styles?
Martial arts are a great way to learn self-defense and discipline, but also provide an unparalleled health benefit. Some martial arts are solely for combat, but most take a holistic approach to achieving self-mastery.
It’s not all about punches and kicks. Marital arts demand practice and you can use them to get in the best shape of your life.
Introduction to Fighter Fitness
Training in martial arts can take you further than a regular gym workout. The movements that you learn in martial arts provide fitness benefits that lifting weights or running on a treadmill simply can’t match. You can improve your flexibility, strength, dexterity, and endurance all within the same training discipline.
There are lots of different martial art styles to choose from, but these 5 styles are the most popular and provide some of the best overall fitness benefits. If you’re interested in training in martial arts, be sure to use protective gear and only work under the tutelage of trained professionals.
The Top 5 Martial Arts for Physical Fitness
How it Began
Is it a dance? Is it a game? Or is it a deadly form of fighting? That’s one of the things that makes Capoeira so intriguing. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art form that began in the 1500s. It was originated by African slaves who were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. Although this is the recognized origin of Capoeira, many scholars point to similarities with much older fighting styles from Angola and the Congo.
The roda, or wheel, is the circular assembly where Capoeira is practiced in a group setting. The singing, dancing and ritual practices of Capoeira were used to disguise the deadly fighting techniques that were being put on display and passed down to future generations.
Until 1920, Capoeira was outlawed in Brazil. In 1937, Capoeira schools began opening all over Brazil and it soon became a national treasure.
How it Can Help You
Capoeira is one of the most deceptive martial art forms. The same is true for its many benefits. At times, Capoeira might feel like simply dancing. At other times, it will seem like one of the most physically demanding activities you’ve ever done. It isn’t much of a contact martial art, unless you are competing or participating in a roda at the highest levels. So, don’t expect to kick ass with capoeira. That’s not what modern Capoeira is all about. It’s a social, holistic martial art that also has music and dance as integral parts of the discipline.
The physical emphasis is on flexibility, versatility of movements and simply having fun. There are hundreds of different techniques with varying degrees of difficulty, so the challenge of capoeira lasts a lifetime.
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When done in a group setting, or a roda, there’s lots of standing around, singing and clapping. Capoeira can provide a good cardiovascular exercise, but you need to customize your session for continuous movements in order to truly have an aerobic response. Otherwise, you could miss out on the cardiovascular potential of a Capoeira style workout. Capoeira is better suited to give you a full body calisthenic workout when done in small numbers or even in a solo session.
This is the type of Capoeira workout that especially works your core – the gluteus, obliques, latissimus dorsi, and abdominal muscles. It’s a great way to target muscle groups that typical weightlifting and strength training might miss. Capoeira can increase your range of motion, as well. This martial art is particularly useful for men who are rehabbing an injury because you can train at your own pace and focus solely on increasing your flexibility.
2. Muy Thai Kickboxing
How it Began
Muy Thai is one of the national treasures of Thailand and it was born on the ancient battlefield. An exact date on its creation is unknown. What’s known is that Thailand fought many wars against Cambodia and Burma before the 14th century and Muy Thai was a fighting system developed during that time. A fighting manual called Chupasart detailed the basics of the fighting system. Essentially, the body itself became a weapon of war.
For example, the hands were swords and the legs were hardened to become axes that could chop down opponents. The first official Muy Thai camps began cropping up around the turn of the 18th century. There is a popular legend about a Muy Thai kickboxer named Nai Khanom Dtom. In 1774, he defeated 10 of Burma’s best boxers, one after the other, while he was a prisoner of the Burmese military. In the 1930s, Muy Thai was organized into an official sport and after WW2 it gained worldwide popularity.
How it Can Help You
Muy Thai kickboxing is an aggressive martial art that hardens your body and focuses your power. It’s a structured martial art. There are specific offensive and defensive movements in Muy Thai and the methodology is rather rigid. You can workout alone, with partners, or in a group setting.
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You can progress from shadowboxing to equipment-assisted training (hitting the bag), and from light sparring to full contact matches. However, most people who use Muy Thai kickboxing for fitness purposes rarely advance to the competitive level.
Training in Muy Thai has a high cardiovascular benefit that depends on the intensity of your session. A kickboxing class, for example, will have higher aerobic value because it lasts longer and keeps you in constant motion. Muy Thai can also be anaerobic, as well. A full-on sparring session creates a high energy output demand that can drastically build your cardiovascular endurance.
You will benefit from stronger core muscles – the obliques, latissimus dorsi, and abdominal muscles. You will also see noticeable improvements in your gluteus, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Your hip flexors and abductors will get stronger and even your shin and femur will get stronger and more durable. Your biceps, triceps and deltoids will all see remarkable improvement through regular Muy Thai exercise.
3. Traditional Shaolin Kung Fu
How it Began
Traditional Shaolin kung fu has become popularized by cult classic films such as Return to the 36th Chamber and The Iron-fisted Monk. The real history of this Chinese martial art form dates back centuries. In the year 527 BCE, an Indian Buddhist monk named Bodhidarma visited the Shaolin Temple and taught them martial arts through two sacred fighting manuals. The monks developed the techniques found in those manuals to fight off warlords and aide their political allies.
The various Shaolin temples became universities for the martial arts and helped spread their techniques all over the world. Shaolin kung fu experts have been known to exhibit almost super-human physical feats. In one interesting legend, the Abbott of Shaolin was asked to help rescue the son of Emperor T’ai Tsung. The Abbott only needed to send 13 monks to face off with the enemy’s entire army.
How it Can Help You
Traditional Shaolin kung fu is the most comprehensive martial art style on the planet. Its discipline incorporates a holistic training of mind, body and spirit. Traditional Chinese medicine is also an integral part of this martial art practice and can help improve your diet and recovery while optimizing your stamina, endurance, and energy levels.
It’s a lifetime martial art that can be done from childhood on into your elderly years. It is a highly structured martial art with a rigorous set of offensive, defensive and meditative moves. So, don’t expect to skip right to drunken master. You start small and work your way up to the higher levels and that could take years.
At the initial training stages of Shaolin kung fu, you learn chi kung – a kung fu style that primarily focuses on general fitness and physical ability through the manipulation of your inner energy field. You also learn the Five Animal Styles that are often featured in the movies.
Contact is minimal, but you will be training your body to perform certain repetitive movements that you’ll find challenging, such as horse stance and extreme feats of flexibility. Shaolin kung fu works your whole body through repetitive strength training movements and provides a high level of cardiovascular response, both aerobic and anaerobic.
Most schools of shaolin kung fu will eventually move you on to what’s called “72 Styles”. This is where you need to make some serious decisions about your fitness and martial arts goals. 72 Styles is the pursuit of invincibility. The training is extreme. At this level, shaolin kung fu is only for people who seek to go beyond physical fitness.
How it Began
Jiu-jitsu has one of the most interesting histories of any martial arts style. It was born during Japan’s feudal period when samurais trained with various weapons and learned how to fight effectively even when they were unarmed. After feudalism fell out of favor, the first official Jiu-jitsu school was opened in 1532 by unemployed samurai. At the dawn of the Edo Period, weapons were banned and fighting forms that didn’t require weapons grew in popularity.
Three Ronin samurai learned striking techniques from a Chinese priest during this time and incorporated all these techniques into Jiu-jitsu. Another important branch to mention is Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, the style most commonly seen in mixed martial arts fighting (MMA). BJJ was first developed around 1904 as an offshoot of Judo by Mitsuyo Maeda, the original teacher of the infamous Gracie family.
What makes BJJ different from the Japanese version is the inclusion of street fighting tactics that have worked their way out of Jiu-jitsu sport fighting.
How it Can Help You
Jiu-jitsu is a combat martial art style that is heavily focused on sparring and grappling. Practitioners wear a gi and use a number of different throws, holds, and body locks to immobilize their opponents. Although there are set rules, Jiu-jitsu is less formalized than other martial arts.
You can utilize a great deal of strategy and creativity to find unique ways to defeat your opponents. Jiu-jitsu is a physically demanding martial art and you will experience lots of anaerobic style cardiovascular exercise. The movements are explosive and intense.
A typical session will include aerobic exercise to warmup, resistance training, and stretching. Then, you will face several practice bouts with other opponents of a similar skillset.
To prevent injury, beginners focus primarily on simply falling and landing on the mat. This can be frustrating for new initiates because you’re taking a great deal of physical stress to build your stamina, endurance and toughness. Jiu-jitsu provides a total body workout. You will especially develop stronger core muscles – the latissimus dorsi, obliques, and abdominal muscles.
Additionally, you will also strengthen your glutes, your hamstrings, quadriceps, and hips. You’re struggling against the strength and will power of another human being. All that pushing and pulling will affect muscle groups you didn’t even know you had. For that reason, Jiu-jitsu is one of the best martial arts styles for physical fitness.
How it Began
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art form that means “way of the foot and fist”. There’s a great deal of debate about the difference between Taekwondo the martial art and Taekwondo the sport. The fighting system was first developed over 2,000 years ago.
There are paintings found on the ceiling of a royal tomb that date back to the Koguryo dynasty in Korea around the time of 50 BCE. These paintings show fighters using combat techniques that form the basis for Taekwondo. The modern sport of Taekwondo began in 1955. Modern Taekwondo borrows a bit from other martial art forms. There are some movements from the Japanese styles of Karate and Judo.
There are also around 50 different hand movements that most likely came from traditional Shaolin kung fu. Today, there are over 60 million practitioners spanning 184 different countries.
How it Can Help You
Taekwondo will put you through your paces with its fast kicks, punches, jumps and spins. It’s a combat-oriented martial art style with set forms for offense and defense. Moving through the forms is called poomsae and demonstrating your mastery with the different forms is how you advance ranks. Just performing the poomsae forms requires a high level of athleticism.
You’re in an almost perpetual state of motion when practicing Taekwondo because you’re bouncing on the balls of your feet the entire time. This gives you lightning fast reaction time to switch stances and launch quick attacks. You can practice Taekwondo by yourself or with other practitioners in a formal class setting. Your progression ranges from shadowboxing and footwork to sparring with a partner and competition matches.
There is a huge worldwide sport built around Taekwondo that features an individual’s artistic style as well as tournament level bouts.
Taekwondo delivers a huge cardiovascular benefit because it requires both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Punches in Taekwondo are short and snappy. Most of the strikes are kicks. You develop your flexibility and range of motion as Taekwondo challenges you to perform many difficult high kicks, jumping kicks and spinning kicks.
You will gain agility, speed, and endurance. If having a well-defined backside ranks high on your fitness goals, then Taekwondo is certainly the martial art for you. The movements of Taekwondo will heavily tax your hip flexors and abductors, as well as your glutes.
One of the best things you can do for your body and mind is to become active in martial arts. If you are new to this form of fitness, consider picking up a copy of Martial Arts for Dummies. Inside, you’ll find page after page of helpful insight.
If you are looking to challenge yourself and pick up some self-defense skills in the process – martial arts is where it’s at.