I am always looking for a new way to exercise and keep myself healthy. I've always thought about trying martial arts, partly to learn self-defense skills, but more for the mind and body strengthening aspect.
There are many styles including Stand-Up, Ground Fighting, Throwing, and Meditative. And each style has many different kinds within them. Once you get a sense of each, then you'll be able to pick which one might be right for you.
Karate - Originated in Okinawa, it's considered Japanese, but has its roots in China. Karate uses linear footwork and stances that emphasize power in technique. Many women began taking Karate as a form of self-defense.
Kung Fu - A Chinese martial art, it literally means "hard work." There are more than 400 different types of Kung Fu, and each one has its own unique set of characteristics.
Tae Kwon Do (also written as Taekwondo) - A Korean martial art, it's famous for its fast, high spinning kicks.
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Ground Fighting Style
Jujitsu - A Japanese martial art that means "gentle," or "compliant." It's all about yielding to the force provided by an opponent's attack. There's also a lot of throwing, pinning, joint-locking, and strangling (how lovely), kind of like wrestling.
Sambo - A modern martial art developed in Russia. It is an abbreviation that means "self-defense without a weapon." It's also similar to wrestling.
Judo - A modern Japanese martial art that means "gentle way." It's very competitive. The object is to either throw one's opponent to the ground, immobilize or subdue one's opponent with a grappling maneuver, or force an opponent to submit by joint locking the elbow or applying a choke. That doesn't sound very "gentle" to me.
Aikido - A Japanese martial art that's not about punching or kicking opponents. It focuses more on using your own energy to gain control of an opponent or to throw them away from you. It involves a lot of movement.
Qigong (also written Chi Gong) - It's an aspect of Chinese medicine that involves the coordination of different breathing patterns with various physical postures and motions of the body. Wow - that sounds a lot like yoga.
Fit's Tips: To get a better sense of which one you'd like, go and sit in on a class in your area. Since martial arts classes can tend to be mostly men, look for a school that offers women's classes so you'll feel more comfortable. Or better yet, find an all women school, like Seven Star Women's Kung Fu in Seattle - they even offer childcare while you train.