Play Defense at the Gym

Sometimes exercise routines can get boring. Guess that’s why they’re called routines – done over, and over, and… If you seek a workout that’s leagues apart from the step touch-grapevine or seated leg press, try martial arts.

Besides being fun, the benefits of martial arts are tremendous; they include increased self-confidence, energy, strength, stamina and mental capacity. Many forms are no slouch in the calorie and fat-burning department, incinerating as many as 600 calories per one-hour class. Martial artists also report reduced stress levels, fewer physical injuries and illness and a strengthened immune system.

The term martial art encompasses a wide variety of styles, methods and techniques. To find one that matches your health and fitness  goals and personal style, read on.


Sport, art, workout and self-defense training, this popular martial art was created in 1882 and introduced into the Olympics in 1964. Judo, which roughly translated means "the gentle way," teaches you to "give way" rather than use force to overcome an opponent. Its trademark throwing, control holds, arm locks and choking techniques make it the marital arts form of choice for many "chop-chop" movies. But its emphasis on safety and full-body physical conditioning make it the choice for millions of exercisers. For more information, check out the United States Judo Federation.

Kung Fu

Like many other martial arts disciplines, Kung Fu originated in China; its name means "skill with effort." It was first made popular in the U.S. by film star Bruce Lee, who was known for his incredible speed, coordination and physique. There are literally hundreds of Kung Fu variations and sub-styles. All fall roughly into two basic categories: "hard and external" and "soft and internal." Hard styles emphasize strikes and kicks, while soft styles concentrate on staying grounded and balanced. Some use weapons and props. Kung Fu is an excellent choice if you want to improve your quickness and agility as well as your self-defense skills. An added bonus: you'll look really cool wearing the "dai," the sash-like belt that wraps around your "gee" or uniform. Want to know more? Go to Kung Fu Online.


This Japanese form of unarmed self-defense has been around for 1,000 years and is still popular today for all levels of exercisers. It is taught under many different names and involves directed or focused blows of the hands and feet, accompanied by special breathing and shouts. More than a method of combat, karate emphasizes discipline, positive attitude and high moral purpose. It is a great way to get in shape and learn self-defense skills -- if you like you can even pursue it as a competitive sport. For more on karate, check out the USA National Karate-do Federation .

Tai Chi

A Chinese physical art once reserved for the noble mandarins and monastery monks and now performed by millions of people worldwide, Tai Chi aims to move and control your "chi," or energy. It's characterized by slow, flowing movements that look and feel almost as if they're being practiced under water. An entire Tai Chi form can take as little as seven minutes or as long as an hour to practice. Tai Chi revitalizes your body and mind; it makes you feel calm and grounded. It reduces stress, improves flexibility and has even been shown in some studies to lower blood pressure  and cholesterol. This is an excellent choice for new and older exercisers and those with arthritis and mobility issues. For more information, go to T'ai Chi magazine.

Krav Maga

Krav Maga or "contact combat" is the martial art form for the macho and feisty. It's the official self-defense system used by the Israeli Defense Forces, Israeli police and numerous U.S. law enforcement agencies. Developed in Israel in 1948, Krav Maga is a combination of self-defense techniques and hand-to-hand combat practices. The idea is to hone your natural instincts and attack your opponent where he's most vulnerable: the groin, eyes, throat and knees. Krav Maga students learn to defend themselves against hostile actions, avoid injury and quickly overcome an assailant. Check it out if you're serious about self-protection. More information is at Krav Maga Worldwide Enterprises.

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