When you think of martial arts, you probably have visions of the Karate Kid learning to “wax on, wax off.” But today there are plenty of ways to participate in martial arts to stay fit and learn these ancient practices at the same time.
Why consider taking part in a form of martial arts? Many of today’s martial arts facilities offer both physical activity and a strong philosophy designed to help you strengthen your body, mind and soul.
Still, if you’re a newbie, you might find navigating the landscape of martial arts a bit confusing. Should you try Karate? Taekwondo? Tai Chi? Capoeira? Each practice is very different, and depending on your goals, choosing the right one can be tough.
To help you learn more about the different types of martial arts, here’s a guide to choosing the one that’s right for you.
What it is: If kung-fu fighting isn’t quite your style, you should definitely check out Aikido, a peaceful form of martial arts. Created by Morihei Ueshiba, (respectfully called O-Sensei by Aikidoka), Aikido evolved from Ueshiba’s many years of profound study in various martial disciplines. The practice blends with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on.
Philosophy: Aikido’s main philosophy is one of personal growth. There is no competition in Aikido, and the goal is not to destroy an enemy, but to improve oneself.
Where to try it: There are a number of dojos all across Canada. Check out the Canadian Aikido Federation’s website to find a dojo near you.
What it is: You may think capoeira is a relatively new form of martial arts because it was only introduced in Canada in the 1990s, but it was actually created in Brazil by African slaves sometime after the 16th century. The practice is an Afro-Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, music, and dance. There are many different styles of capoeira; some are slow and theatrical while others are fast and artistic. Participants take turns sparring in pairs in the centre of a roda (circle), and also create the live music, which consists of playing Afro-Brazilian percussion instruments, clapping and call-and-response singing.
Philosophy: Capoeira does not focus on injuring the opponent, but instead emphasizes skill.
Where to try it: Want to check it out? Try visiting the Capoeirista website to find a school in Canada.
What it is: This dynamic Korean martial art focuses on self-defense using joint locks, techniques of other martial arts, as well as common primitive attacks. You may also use traditional weapons, including a sword, rope, nunchaku, cane, short stick and staff (gun, b?), which vary in emphasis depending on the particular tradition examined.
Philosophy: Hapkido is often described as the art of combining the power of mind, body and spirit. The three principles of Hapkido are nonresistance (“Hwa”), the circle principle (“Won”) and the water/flexible principle (“Yu”).
Where to try it: The World Hapkido Association website has links to a number of schools in Canada.
What it is: The Japanese word “Judo” means the “gentle way.” Balance, timing, strategy and tactics are essential characteristics of this sport and art. The objective in judo is to apply these principles to the many throwing and grappling techniques.
Philosophy: What is learned on the mat through hard judo training transfers at home, at school, at work or at play, including values such as playing by the rules, co-operation, respecting yourself and others, self-discipline, humility, self-confidence, perseverance and concentration.
Where to try it: Check out the Judo Canada website to find a club in your province.
What it is: Also known as Ju-Jitsu, Jiu Jitsu, or Jiu-Jitsu, Jujitsu is a collective name for Japanese martial art styles including unarmed and armed techniques. Japanese jujutsu systems typically place more emphasis on throwing, immobilizing and pinning, joint-locking, choking and strangling techniques as compared with other martial arts systems such as karate.
Philosophy: Jujitsu expresses the philosophy of yielding to an opponent's force rather than trying to oppose force with force. Manipulating an opponent's attack using his force and direction allows jujutsuka (jujitsu practitioners) to control the balance of their opponent and hence prevent the opponent from resisting the counter attack.
Where to try it: Find a list of locations near you on the Jitsu Canada website.
What it is: This well-known Japanese art is a striking art using punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes, and open-handed techniques such as knife-hands (karate chop). Grappling, locks, restraints, throws and vital point strikes are taught in some styles.
Philosophy: Karate is a deeply philosophical practice that teaches ethical principles and can have spiritual significance to its adherents.
Where to try it: Find an association in your province by visiting Karate Canada’s website.
What it is: Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that can be loosely translated as "the art of the foot and fist" or "the art of kicking and punching.” Although there are differences between the two main styles and among the various organizations, the art in general emphasizes kicks thrown from a mobile stance, employing the leg's greater reach and power (compared to the arm).
Philosophy: Since taekwondo developed in several different kwans, there are several expressions of taekwondo philosophy. The aim is to champion justice and freedom and build a better and more peaceful world. Other philosophies are based on yin and yang, or light and dark.
Where to try it: Find a club near you with Taekwondo Canada’s online club finder.
What it is: Unlike other forms of martial arts, Tai Chi is a far gentler, more relaxed practice. Created by Master Moy Lin-shin for the purpose of restoring and maintaining holistic health, Tai Chi Chuan, or taijiquan, is a "soft style" martial art or low impact exercise. People of all ages can learn and benefit from the gentle turning and stretching movements of this art, and the form can be adapted to match any level of ability. It is a self-regulated form of exercise that lends itself to the needs of all participants.
Philosophy: The internal art of taijiquan can improve holistic health. The significant degree of turning and stretching in each of the movements, combined with the adaptability of the form to suit individual needs, are just some of the factors that contribute to its focus on restoring, improving and maintaining health.
Where to try it: Find a class in Canada by visiting the International Taoist Tai Chi Society’s web page.
A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.