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

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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!

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CECELW 9/11/2020
my grandson loves going to these classes Report
Taking Martial Arts for self-defense is different from learning it for belts and contests. It's a completely different mind set. Report
NELLJONES 4/23/2020
Well worth the time. Report
Thanks Report
Thanks! Report
Thanks Report
This should be a must for everybody. Report
I been through self defense in kith Heifer's Karate and I graduated as a second degree black belt and I will stay safe for my self until a situation comes up. Report
Interesting. But there are many others (some of them mentioned in the comments). Report
thank you Report
Thanks! Report
my grandson is in karate now Report
great info Report
thanks Report
My husband did Goju-Ryu for 50 years... Report
My Grand kids love these classes---I have never tried them Report
Which martial art will keep you from getting shot, though? Any piece of trash with a gun can kill you before you can even think about defending yourself... Report
Thanks Report
Very informative article!!! Report
Great tips ... thank you! Report
We all have to find the type of movement that works with our bodies! I love Tai Chi. The rest are ok, but I have to modify. Report
Worthless article. You didn't even mention Aikido, which is the best for self-defense, while being gentle enough for both kids and seniors (I am 75, and only started 5 years ago). Report
Great Article Report
I tried martial arts back when I was young. Now, I'n not so sure what form I can use with my walker. Report
Interesting article. Thanks for the good information. Report
Thanks Report
I am in my seventies now and love the idea of martial arts classes, but have not joined because I remember how my shoulder would always get very messed up from the endless tumbling rolls we had to do on the mat. I am afraid of doing permanent damage. But who knows, maybe I will try again. Report
My son took judo and tae kwan do growing up and i always thought if i could get at least a little bit in shape I should do it. Now I am and the thought of getting hit/kicked just doesnt sound fun at all. lol Think I need to pass. Report
Thanks, great article! Report
Great info that makes me want to give it a shot! Report
I want try some of these Report
Well, I've just checked, and there are no martial arts classes of any sort within 10 miles of me, so probably wouldn't stick at it on cold or dark evenings
I took zen karate (the instructor melded several disciplines into his teachings) and absolutely loved it. It does teach you discipline and respect. Its a great heart pumping workout! I had to give it up when my RA came screaming back on me, attacking all of my joints :-( Report
Great article. Report
Training in martial arts changed my life. I started at 37, and am still training at 59. When picking a school, be especially aware of how the head instructors treat kids and female students - make sure they are treated with the same respect and attention as are the older, male students. Good schools abound, but sadly so do "belt factories" eager to take your money in exchange for a meaningless black belt. If a school turns out not to be a good fit, don't hesitate to look for another. You're investing in a whole new lifestyle, so it's worth making the choice carefully! Report
My wife, daughter,son and I all obtained our Black belts in Tae-kwon-do years ago. I had to stop practicing it, once a became gravely ill With Eosinophilia Myalgia syndrome. Report
Skills everyone should know. Report
This is a good idea. Report
Martial Arts is great and it is also suggested for kids with focus problems. Warning though, kids are sometimes limited as to what belts they are allowed to get. My daughter practiced Shotokan first at age three, then progressed to Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. She is scheduled to test for her black belt in Muay Thai in December, and her teacher is pretty confident that she will have it, but she cannot go any higher in her Jiu-Jitsu ranks until she is 16 years old (although this form is perfect for her small frame).

Note: the bo staff can give you a great arm workout too. Report
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! Report
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. Report
I'm too overweight to even consider a martial arts class. Plus I'm about as flexible as a rock. Report
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. Report
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! Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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