Choosing a martial arts program

Master the young grasshopper in you.
The martial arts are as much a study in mental mastery as they are physical exercise. Whether you're looking for self-defense classes or just a great way to keep in shape, martial arts are both educational and physically demanding.

The first step to finding a martial arts program and instructor is deciding which style is best for you. While each discipline can be sub-divided into specific categories and techniques, here is a list of some of the most popular styles.
  • Aikido. The Japanese art of unarmed self-defense, Aikido encourages discipline and is comprised of moves made of joint twisting, grabbing and bending.

  • Judo. Meaning 'The Gentle Way,' Judo is a method of turning an opponent's strength against him or her through a series of throwing and flipping techniques.

  • Karate. An offensive and defensive art form that contains both hand strikes and kicking techniques, Karate includes a variety of blocks and powerful blows.

  • Kung Fu. A Chinese art form, Kung Fu is divided into several different styles, and is made up of balance and combination techniques. It also incorporates an arsenal of unique weapons.

  • Tae Kwon Do. Perhaps the most popular martial art among American children, Tae Kwon Do is a native Korean art form comprised of mostly kicking.
Karate classes are a great way for kids and adults alike to gain self-confidence, learn self-defense, as well as get a great physical workout. Once you've found a discipline that's right for you, it's time to look for a studio, often called a dojo, and an instructor, or sensei. Unlike most traditional exercise classes, the relationship between sensei and student is very personal.

The relationship is grounded in tradition and should be one built on mutual respect and positive reinforcement. A good instructor is demanding, but never demeaning.

It's a good idea to try out different dojos and instructors. See these profiles of martial arts instructors on While it may take several tries to find the perfect chemistry, trust your instinct and you'll know when you've found the right dojo and instructor.

Colored belts show your progress

The colored belts worn by students in martial arts classes indicate levels of progression. The sequence of colors is white, yellow, orange, green, blue, red, brown and ultimately, the black belt.

Each belt requires examinations (sometimes both physical and written) for advancement; you should expect to spend at least six months studying each level before testing.

While the cost may vary from school to school, your cost will average approximately $100 per month for beginner classes that meet twice a week.

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