Safer and Stronger: Which Self-Defense Class is for You?

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
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My husband has trained in martial arts on and off for years. Still, when he suggested our four-year-old daughter try it, I was hesitant. “Are they going to teach her to fight?” I asked. “They will teach her to defend herself,” he answered.

That’s all I needed to hear to convince me it was a good idea. Fast forward five years, and her Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class is now one of her favorite activities. The class not only teaches her skills needed to defend against an attacker, but it also gives her the confidence to stand up for herself.

Witnessing the mental and physical benefits both my kids and husband experienced, I decided to jump on the bandwagon by enrolling in Muay Thai kickboxing. An avid runner, I was looking for a new kind of workout that would challenge my muscles, but I was also interested in learning tools I could use if ever confronted with a situation where I needed to defend myself or protect my kids. A year later, I can attest that martial arts classes are solid workouts that will get your blood pumping (sparring for 5 minutes sounds easy until you actually do it), and I’ve learned techniques that I can call upon if faced with a dangerous situation.

Protect, Defend and Get Strong

Jeff Robison, head coach and owner of Club MMA in Cincinnati, Ohio, has been teaching self-defense and martial arts classes to people of all ages for more than 13 years. “No one is too young or too old. Martial arts teaches kids life skills, while introducing them to physical activity at the same time. It teaches how to be a good sport, how to win and lose, and how to be tough physically and mentally," he says. "You’re never too old to start. One of my oldest clients is 70. It’s about your mindset. Physically your body can do it; it’s convincing your mind you can do it.” 

Self-defense classes have risen in popularity in recent years. More college students are learning to protect themselves on campus, kids are learning how to defend against bullies and strangers and women are preparing themselves in the event of an emergency.  

For those torn between taking a one-time self-defense seminar or enrolling in martial arts classes, Robison says there are several advantages to taking the leap and fully committing to classes. “The difficulty with self-defense classes is that it’s not easy to practice something like a poke to the eye. It’s much easier to incorporate self-defense techniques into martial arts classes," he explains. "I try to talk about these concepts as much as possible during class to apply what students are learning [in class] to real-world situations.”

One of the biggest differences between martial arts and traditional exercise is that it’s not only a great workout, but students also learn respect and the skills to protect themselves. Most classes offer a belt-ranking system, which provides a visible sign of a student’s progress.
 
While some disciplines such as Karate and Jiu-Jitsu wear a gi, others do not require a specific uniform. If you’re trying a class for the first time, check with the instructor before purchasing any equipment to see what’s expected, since each class is different.

A Mixed Bag of Mixed Martial Arts Options

A wide variety of martial arts classes incorporate self-defense as a cornerstone of the discipline. Each martial art has its own specialty, so finding a class that works for you will depend on your interests and needs. Five common classes are likely to pop up as you research the right class, each of which has its own challenges and pace. Each of the classes below start at a beginner level, so the class you choose is really going to depend on personal preference. The amount of contact (meaning actual kicks and punches) will vary greatly depending on the class and training facility. Consider observing a class before participating to make sure it meets your expectations.
 
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: A form of martial arts focused on ground defense. The premise is that a smaller, weaker person can defend against a larger and stronger attacker by using leverage and proper technique. This is good for someone who doesn’t want a lot of high impact activity, but also isn’t intimidated by close contact with others.

Muay Thai: A combat sport that originated in Thailand, Muay Thai uses stand up striking and clinching techniques. Students are taught diversity in striking, using both hands and feet. If you’re interested in the challenges that boxing provides, the kicks incorporated into Muay Thai take that one step further.  
 
Taekwondo: A Korean martial art that focuses on fast kicking techniques, emphasizing speed and agility. This practice advocates the relax and strike principle, meaning the participant relaxes the body between movements, then tenses the muscles to perform the technique, which simultaneously increases power while conserving energy.  

Karate: Developed in Japan, karate is primarily a striking art which uses punches, kicks and open-handed techniques to defend against an attack. Karate can be practiced as a form of self-defense, as a combat sport or as an art of self-development. Karate focuses more on hand strikes, while Taekwondo focuses more on kicking.
 
Krav Maga: Originally developed for the Israeli military, Krav Maga encourages students to avoid confrontation if possible, but if not, to counter in the quickest and most efficient way. Attacks are aimed at the most vulnerable parts of the body, designed to defend against chokes, strikes and grabs.

Robison offers a few tips when searching for martial arts classes:
  1. Tour the facility and take note of how clean it appears. How well the staff cares for their equipment is an indication of how well they care for their members.

  2. Can they accommodate your needs? Do they have the classes you’re interested in at the times you have available? Do they have experienced staff who can provide workout modifications if you need them? 

  3. Go with your gut. If it feels like a good place, it’s probably right for you. Everyone succeeds when they are in a place of comfort that makes them feel welcome.
Most facilities offer an introductory program to try it out before you sign a contract, which gives you an opportunity to see what the program is like without a long-term commitment.

Martial arts has been a great addition to my exercise program, challenging my body to push itself in new ways. Even though I can run six miles without getting winded, I still can’t hit pads for more than a few minutes before I’m gasping for air. It’s been empowering to learn to defend myself over the last year, and my experience continues to give me the confidence in knowing that I’m strong and capable of being tough—even as a mother of four!  

Have you ever tried self-defense or martial arts classes? What was the experience like?


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Comments

  • 14
    I enjoyed zen karate, which was an instructor's mix of various martial arts disciplines with the main focus on karate, and I took kickboxing with one of his students. I absolutely loved it. This was when I was in my early 20's, but unfortunately, I developed severe RA and was unable to continue. I will take a kickboxing fitness class now as that is all I can do with five artificial joints. I would highly recommend it! - 8/27/2017   11:04:16 PM
  • 13
    No everyone is able to do some of these very strenuous activities. I practiced Taekwondo years ago...I would never do it now. But Tai Chi Chuan is a slow moving martial art that can build strength, stamina and balance. I would highly recommend that to anyone at any age or fitness level, providing they have a good instructor. - 8/23/2017   8:22:20 AM
  • 12
    I'm too overweight to even consider a martial arts class. Plus I'm about as flexible as a rock. - 7/27/2016   8:38:26 PM
  • 11
    I also highly recommend HapKiDo. It's Korean Martial art that includes some aspects of Tae Kwon Do, but with some great training on wrist locks and using your opponents strength against them. - 7/27/2016   3:32:49 PM
  • 10
    I totally agree that taking either self-defense classes or some other form of martial arts is a great confidence booster as well as providing awareness and greater safety. I am mid-50's & took a 9-hr course w/ my teen DD. It was very practical and I highly recommend it! - 7/26/2016   11:20:45 PM
  • 9
    I was blessed to find an all-women's kung fu studio when I decided to try it at 57. They assured me they had other students who suffered from PTSD, and sure enough, I got triggered more than once in class. But it was a good fit for me, and something I would like to get back to again. I was able to observe a class first, which helped prepare me. - 7/26/2016   11:09:31 PM
  • 8
    I have a daughter who started at the age of three with Shotokan, then moved on to Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu. She is about to get her red belt. She is only 50 pounds but prevailed over a recommended black belt bigger than her. Her favorite, Jiu Jitsu.

    The confidence that it gives her makes me feel better as a parent. It did wonders for her.

    I hope to take a class so we can do it together. She said she will teach me. - 7/26/2016   9:37:08 PM
  • 7
    This makes me curious to try out Tae Kwon Do. One of these days... I am better at starting things than at following through, so I'm going to sit with this for a while before running out to sign up for a class. - 7/26/2016   9:47:04 AM
  • DJKFDM
    6
    I took a self-defense class years ago in college, and it was tough. The instructor was a martial arts instructor so he had high expectations and requirements. It was helpful, though. My boss just opened his own martial arts school teaching Tang So Do, a Korean form of martial arts. It may not be as well known as the others, but it focuses on self-defense and confidence building. - 7/26/2016   9:37:25 AM
  • 5
    I took karate for several years. It did NOT help with self-defense at all. We pulled punches and followed the proper forms.

    Then we heard about training in "Fightback', which was similar to Model Mugging. Our sensei and a bunch of us went and took the course.

    Now that was self-defense! Not at all like karate. - 7/26/2016   8:17:54 AM
  • 4
    I would like to give martial arts a try. It sounds just like what I need. - 7/26/2016   7:56:18 AM
  • ARCHIMEDESII
    3
    I have always enjoyed the martial arts. I did Kenpo when I was in high school. Really enjoyed it, but got injured and had to stop. I did kickboxing for years. Today I take boxing and Muay Thai classes with a local MMA gym. The instructors are excellent. They don't just teach self defense, they also promote camaraderie and good sportsmanship too. And I've been thinking about trying the Brazilian ju-jitsu. I'd like to learn grappling techniques. Also, you are never too old to learn a martial art. I was 50 when I started taking boxing classes.
    - 7/26/2016   6:49:22 AM
  • 2
    I've done karate, kickboxing and jiu jitsu. I was away from it for years but 9 months ago, got back into kickboxing. I'm so glad I did.

    I love martial arts. It's a great way to get fit and it gives you the confidence to defend yourself if you are ever in a sticky situation. - 7/26/2016   5:23:36 AM
  • 1
    My husband had a black belt in tae kwon do when I met him. However, I was too intimidated to try it out ... Until I saw the variety of ages and body types in the classes. Everyone in the school was so supportive that I soon was hooked on the sport as well. Seven years later, I am training for my 2nd degree black belt. - 7/25/2016   8:53:57 AM

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