Which Martial Arts Class
is Right for You?
More than 18 million Americans participated in a martial art in the last year, including 3.2 million kids. For newbies, though, the available options can feel overwhelming, so we put together a quick primer on the most popular martial arts stateside.
Modern karate is only a few hundred years old, but the martial art evolved from a Japanese practice. It’s considered primarily a self-defense art.
TKD (as the cool kids call it) is a Korean martial art that puts an emphasis on legwork: After all, the leg is the strongest and longest limb we humans have, so it’s a powerful tool for self-defense. The sport’s catalog of moves includes fast hand movements and high kicks, and it’s known to be an especially tough workout.
Kids benefit in many ways from participating in a martial arts program. Photo: Vladimir Godnik / fStop / Offset.com
The term “kickboxing” can mean different things to different people, but in general, it’s a hybrid martial art (most popular in America and Japan) that involves both hands and feet. Agility and speed are the focus.
Judo was founded in 19th-century Japan as a mind-body discipline for disarming an opponent without causing injury. It evolved into a competitive sport, but it still focuses on that minimum-effort-maximum-effect principle. It lacks striking training and instead focuses on throwing techniques, careful arm locks and good balance.
This modern Japanese martial art was a synthesis of its creator’s spiritual beliefs, philosophy and training. It’s a fluid, self-defense style based on the idea of using an opponent’s momentum against him or her instead of fighting back.
Non-contact martial arts are recommended by the American Academy of Martial Arts. Photo: Blue Jean Images / Offset.com
Invented in Israel in the 20th century, this self-defense-focused martial art, which teaches a blend of boxing, jiu-jitsu and karate moves, is practiced by both the police and army forces there.
This Thai martial art is known as the Art of Eight Limbs because Muay Thai practitioners use their two shins, knees, elbows and hands. Muay Thai also emphasizes clinching your arms around an opponent.