Whether you want to learn self defence or just get in shape and have fun, learning a martial art can be a rewarding hobby that teaches self-discipline but also has a social side and a sense of progression. If you're interested but don't know where to start, check out our breakdown of some of the most popular martial arts... Kung fu
The term kung fu actually refers to the discipline of training and learning any activity in Chinese, and there is a strong focus on the mental side of the martial art in many forms of the hand-to-hand fighting system. Lau gar kung fu, wing chun kung fu and shaolin kung fu are the forms you're most likely to come across in the UK – and each have subtle differences in their approach – however there is plenty of overlap and all focus on physical conditioning, mental strength and personal restraint as well as combat and self-defence.
Created in Japan in the 1880s, Judo is a modern martial art and Olympic sport which has a strong focus on subduing or immobilising opponents rather than punching or kicking. Participants try to pin one another to the ground or to achieve a joint lock or choke hold. Strikes are also taught, but are not allowed in competition or in free practice. The sport is overseen by the British Judo Association in the UK, which makes it easy to find an accredited class.
Another Japanese martial art, Karate developed in the 1400s in what is now Okinawa Province after Chinese settlers moved there. It is now mainly about striking your opponent and includes punches, kicks, elbow and knee blows and open-hand techniques such as palm heel strikes.
As in kung fu, there is a focus on self-discipline, training and mental focus – and the actual fighting varies from full-contact to choreographed sparring to practice moves and blocks.
The Korean martial art of taekwondo bears many similarities to karate, but with a much greater focus on kicking. It was actually originated by Koreans who had lived in Japan. Introduced in the years immediately after the Second World War, it was adopted by the country's military and also quickly became popular with the public. Now an Olympic sport, it is overseen by British Taekwondo in the UK – making it easy to find an accredited club with a structured training programme and offering the prospect of competing.
There are a variety of forms of kickboxing, but Muay Thai has a strong claim to being the most significant – with a history dating back to the 16th century. The modern form of the sport looks for all the world like boxing – being held in a roped ring with participants wearing padded gloves and head protectors – but with the important distinction that kicking is allowed. Training is usually delivered in specialist gyms, focusing on learning the strikes and blocks and developing the strength necessary to deliver them.
Mixed martial arts
While judo or taekwondo have strong youth programmes and a mainstream focus, mixed martial arts is a much more focused on adult combat and is a growing spectator sport. The sport grew out of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the 1990s – which pitted proponents of different martial arts against one another. Striking and grappling are both allowed and rules are more relaxed than in many traditional martial arts. Professional bouts are often held in enclosed pens - leading to the alternative title of "cage fighting". There is no regulatory body in the UK so seek a personal recommendation if you are looking for a club.
Have you recently taken up one of the marital arts? Leave a comment below...