What are Martial Arts?

A Martial art is a combination of self-defense and combative skills, practiced similar to a sport. There are numerous different styles from around the world, each with their own methods and techniques. Though it would be easy to write an entire encyclopedia covering each individual style, we'll briefly examine two of the most-popular styles: Taekwondo and mixed martial arts (MMA).

Simply translated, Taekwondo means "the way of the hand and foot." The meaning is very appropriate as all of the techniques involve the hands and feet. Taekwondo is a Korean martial art practiced worldwide, and since 2000, has been a full medal Olympic sport. A typical Taekwondo student learns a variety of different kicks, punches, strikes and blocks. Students practice their techniques by doing "poomse" (floor patterns), "kyorugi" (free sparring), "hosinsool" (self-defense), and "kyuk-pa" (board breaking). There are numerous Taekwondo organizations, each with their own curriculum and varying styles.

The American Taekwondo Association is one of the largest martial arts organizations in the world, with over 1,500 associated schools and clubs. One of the unique programs the ATA offers is a complete competition for students with various physical and mental disabilities. In addition, the ATA offers a child safety program endorsed by AmberAlert.com and a bullying prevention program that was developed with Olweus (the #1 curriculum in the country). In addition to traditional Taekwondo, the ATA also offers Protech weapons training and ATA Xtreme martial arts (modern Taekwondo/gymnastics hybrid).

Within Taekwondo, students earn belts that signify their rank. All students start at white belt and progress through a range of colored belts before reaching the esteemed rank of "black belt." There is also a hierarchy of degrees (ranks) within black belt itself. Each organization's rank structure differs slightly, but on average, it takes three to five years for most students to achieve their first degree of black belt. Once a black belt, students must then meet a time-in-rank requirement in years equal to their degree. For example, a second-degree black belt must wait two years before being eligible to test for their third-degree black belt. This waiting period is in addition to a challenging set of physical and mental requirements. A Taekwondo black belt should be proficient at using their hands and feet to deliver kicks and strikes in addition to possessing solid skills in self-defense tactics. While Taekwondo has its strengths and weaknesses, a mixed martial artist ("jack-of-all-trades") can arguably be the most effective.

In recent years, there has been a surge of popularity in mixed martial arts. Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has become a popular event to watch on TV. Fighters that train in a variety of martial arts styles are pitted against each other in a boxing-like atmosphere. To win the match, a fighter must knock out their opponent, and force them into "submission," or render them physically unable to continue the match.

Since there is such a wide range of backgrounds amongst the competitors, fighters must train in multiple disciplines. An experienced background in both a grappling/throwing and striking/kicking martial art is essential for mixed martial arts. Most UFC fighters possess knowledge in wrestling or Jujitsu as well as Taekwondo or Karate.

While mixed martial arts caters more towards younger men looking to bloody someone up, Taekwondo is widely practiced by both men and women of every age and physical ability. Anyone interested in martial arts training should research the different schools in their area and try a few classes before deciding which style is best suited for them. Be wary of schools that require you to sign contracts, as they can lock you into monthly payments, even if you decide that you want to stop training. Also, use discretion with schools that promise that, for a certain dollar amount, they will "guarantee" reaching your black belt. Many times, these schools will just promote students for the sake of making money instead of actually awarding rank based on merit.

Above all, remember to have fun and try to get the most out of training. Think of it as an investment in yourself!

About The Author

Nick Zorn is a leading martial arts instructor who has helped hundreds of his students succeed in martial arts. You will find more information about his school at ATA Martial Arts Oswego.

Published: February 14, 2012

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