Kicking up your fitness

Before people waged warfare using planes, tanks, guns and drones, it was fought person to person, one on one. The ancient practice of hand-to-hand combat developed into a set of disciplines known as martial arts, which have evolved from military methods used to train soldiers and warriors into practices that are more like sports, said Nick Wolak, a third dan judo (a black belt) from Ronin Training Center and the Columbus Youth Guild.

If you’re looking to find your niche or hoping to mix up your weekly workout routine, you’ve come to the right place. We dove into the world of martial arts as newbies and emerged as, well, more informed newbies, white belts if you will … but we’ve got more than enough to get you started.

The two main categories of martial arts are grappling arts and stand-up/striking arts. Grappling refers to groundwork with the goal of subduing an opponent while striking styles focus on using kicks, punches, elbows and other attacks.

Grappling arts such as Brazilian jiu jitsu, judo and wrestling utilize a great deal of pushing and force; they’re often great disciplines for smaller or shorter individuals, explained Tom Bright, a second-degree black belt in Shotokan karate who has taught stand-up martial arts at Tara Dojo and the Springfield Racket Club. Brazilian jiu jitsu, or BJJ as those in the know call it, offers one of the best cardio workouts around, explained Cory Minton, general manager of Ronin Training Center, assistant MMA coach under Luke Zachrich and assistant Muay Thai coach under Aaron Boggs. Practitioners of different ages, weights and sizes can find and customize their own style within BJJ more so than in some other forms of martial arts.

Judo is another popular grappling art, featuring more impact. Perhaps a step up as far as physicality goes, judo involves a great deal of throwing, Wolak said. “I don’t want to dissuade anyone from trying judo, but there does come a certain age where it doesn’t feel so good to get thrown on your head.”

With such a wide variety of disciplines, it might take a few tries to settle on the right fit. A lot of centers will allow you to take a few different classes during your first week.

Striking arts offer an equally great workout while sometimes isolating more fast-twitch muscles, Bright said. Some of the most popular striking forms are Muay Thai, boxing, Tae Kwon Do, kung fu, karate and kickboxing.

Muay Thai uses almost every part of the body in an intense workout of kicks, punches and elbows.  It is challenging yet manageable for all body types, according to Minton. “There is this misconception that you have to be some cardio guy or in perfect shape, and that is in no way true,” Minton said.

Western-style boxing is also growing in popularity among newcomers. Places like Title Boxing are attracting practitioners more focused on exercise. “Title Boxing is good because it’s a lot like cardio boxing or aerobic boxing, but you still get that impact, which is good: one, to teach you how to throw a punch with conviction; and two, how to brace yourself off the recoil of the punch,” Bright said.

In most forms of martial arts, instructors will pull you aside and work with you until you get the experience needed to be with the group, Minton explained.

Private lessons are usually an option and allow for more one-on-one instruction. These classes focus on important aspects of the practice, Bright explained, while group settings can become a part of your social life and give you the opportunity to spar against various body types and fighting styles.

With such a wide variety of disciplines, it might take a few tries to settle on the right fit. A lot of centers will allow you to take a few different classes during your first week, Wolak said. With almost all forms of martial arts, you will start in a beginner class and work your way up with time. “I’d encourage everyone to have an open mind, but really, the learning curve is pretty nice,” Wolak said. “You can learn a lot pretty quickly.”

Finally, any previous or existing injuries may factor into your decision to pursue martial arts. Knee injuries and back injuries might cause the most problems when engaging in stand-up styles, Bright said. Those who aren’t interested person-to-person contact or are limited by an injury should consider their comfort level with certain classes and styles. Something like tai chi offers a low-impact alternative while still in the martial arts world.

Across the board, martial arts offer a well-rounded aerobic and anaerobic workout, while also providing benefits beyond fitness for those who choose to pursue it.

Across the board, martial arts offer a well-rounded aerobic and anaerobic workout, while also providing benefits beyond fitness for those who choose to pursue it. “They develop your mind, body, spirit, and it keeps you active,” Wolak said.

Minton said he’s watched clients find better health and better lives through practice and persistence. He began his own journey at 288 pounds with bad knees and limited physical ability. “I’m sitting here at 177 pounds … if you go in there with an empty mind and just great determination, you’ll get one of the greatest workouts you’ve ever had.” You just have to take that first step. Or kick. Or punch.