The Best Martial Arts for Fitness

People sign up for martial arts lessons for a variety of reasons. Self defense, anger management and being able to say “I Know Kung Fu” like Neo in The Matrix are just a few. Although there is no such thing as a superior martial art, some arts are better than others for accomplishing specific goals. If fitness is your main reason for getting your karate on, these styles can get you where you want to be.

Capoeira

This style comes from Brazil and is as much a form of dance as a style of fighting. Practitioners play in an intense dance circle called a roda and practice gymnastics, static postures and flexibility exercises. In some ways, it’s like doing yoga to music while somebody tries to kick you in the head.

Pros: intense workout, fun atmosphere

Cons: can feel intimidating during the first few classes, not appropriate for people with disabilities or health problems

MMA

“Mixed Martial Arts” is what you see in the cage on UFC night, but most MMA training doesn’t involve that kind of fighting. At your typical MMA gym, class will be an intense combination of free weight and bodyweight exercises, calisthenics, light sparring, grappling and hitting various bags or pads. It’s a highly athletic sport with a highly athletic culture.

Pros: bonus stress relief from hitting things, higher-than-average self-defense value

Cons: culture can be overly aggressive at some gyms

Traditional Karate and Tae Kwon Do

The workout your kids do at their weekly karate class is fun, but traditionally taught “hard styles” like karate and tae kwon do condition your body until other bodies will literally break when they slam into it. You can expect isometric exercises, long periods in demanding stances and lots of calisthenics. You’ll train for flexibility and strength using a combination of traditional methods and modern exercise science.

Pros: interesting training methods, focused instruction

Cons: hard to determine traditional programs from less demanding training without a guide

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Remember how hard you worked to reach a point where you could lift your body weight? Now, imagine something that heavy is actively resisting your attempts to lift it, using a combination of dirty tricks and leverage. That’s what BJJ feels like. A 60- to 90-minute class will include a demanding warmup, practicing several moves on a partner your size, then several rounds of “rolling” — light competitive wrestling against a skilled opponent.

Pros: full-body workout like none other, very common — available in most towns

Cons: not everybody is comfortable grappling

Tai Chi

The above choices are for able-bodied, already active people who want to up their fitness games. Tai Chi is a slower art, focused on balance and gently building strength around your joints and stabilizing muscles. If you’re injured, elderly, severely overweight or simply way out of shape, Tai Chi can either get you in good enough shape for something more aggressive or simply help you prevent your condition from deteriorating further.

Pros: gentle, safe, focus on wellness

Cons: not effective for weight loss