With wealth of options, here’s how to pick the martial art for you

|    Julian Hilgers    |

GERMANY (dpa) – People practise martial arts for all sorts of reasons, be it to bolster self-defence, develop self-discipline or work off aggression.

There are more than 100 forms of martial arts, so it may be difficult for potential practitioners to find the right one for them.

What all the forms have in common is their combination of fitness, artistry, self-defence and an element of meditation, according to Klaus Haertel, director of the Yawara sports school in the northern German city of Kiel. However, they differ in their focus.

“It’s what you want to get out of (a martial art) that’s important,” says Kai Kirbschus, from the Institute of Professional Sport Education and Sport Qualifications at the German Sport University in Cologne.

Kirbschus divides martial arts into four groups: combat sports, martial artistry, self-defence and weapon-based sports.

Among the sports purely for self-defence is krav maga, which has become very popular in recent years. – PHOTOS: DPA
Mixed martial arts, shown here at Fight Lounge in the German city of Dortmund, combines various forms of the sport: judo, wrestling, grappling, boxing, jiu jitsu, kickboxing and muay thai

Combat sports are those in which an opponent is punched, kicked or thrown – for example boxing, wrestling, judo, karate and taekwondo. Among the most popular martial arts, they’re suited to people who are unafraid of physical contact with an opponent and want to take part in competitions.

There’s much less physical contact in the martial artistry group. Tai chi, aikido and kung fu focus on choreography, not competition. They require a high level of technical skill and coordination.

Among the sports purely for self-defence are krav maga and jiu jitsu. They’ve become very popular in recent years, and “practitioners make quick progress”, Haertel says.

Fencing and kendo are examples of weapon-based sports. They generally involve competing against an opponent with hand weapons such as swords. Quick movements and tactics play a large role. The weapons and special clothing make these sports rather expensive.

All martial arts teach disci-pline and self-control to some extent.

As Kirbschus says, they’re “more than merely competition on a mat”.

Having an educational component, they impart important values too.

Martial arts also condition the body, of course. They typically make use of muscles in all parts of the body, though to varying degrees. Wrestlers and judokas, for instance, train their upper body in particular.

You’re never too old to start, and “almost every martial art has courses for beginners of all ages”, notes Mark Buchholz, a trainer at Fight Lounge in Dortmund, Germany, a martial arts school.

But in competitive martial arts such as judo or wrestling, hol-ding your own in tournaments usually means you started in childhood.

Exceptional physical fitness isn’t necessary for most martial arts.

“If you’re healthy, you can choose the one you like best,” says Buchholz. People with physical problems can also find a martial art that suits them.

No matter which martial art you select, “you need a good school and a good instructor”, Haertel says, stressing that learning a martial art is not a “do-it-yourself” activity.

Since the various techniques are difficult, it’s important to start with the basics, and in a group. You can hurt yourself badly by trying to learn judo or karate on your own.

He advises people interested in practising a martial art to first inform themselves about their various forms and the martial arts schools in their vicinity.

A trial session is also a good idea.