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Fighting fit

In combat Martial art forms do more than teach you how to defend yourself. They work out your core and improve overall fitness levels too

travel Updated: Mar 06, 2010 09:17 IST

Let's face it it is easy to tire of workouts. Running on the treadmill every day or following the same weight-training routine for a few months can become boring. It also ceases being challenging when your body gets used to it. 

To mix things up a bit, take up a martial art. It's a great workout that tones your body, jogs your mind, and also sharpens your reflexes, keeping you safe on the streets. Not only are there plenty of options to choose from, but you'll also never have a dull moment in your workout.

Whether you pick a "soft" martial art like t'ai chi chuan, which focuses less on combat and more on holistic health, or a "harder" martial art like karate that teaches you how to protect yourself in everyday situations, you are certain to reap health benefits.

Apart from offering a vigorous cardiovascular workout, most martial arts also increase your muscle strength, improve flexibility and strengthen the core. Thanks to the complex interplay of muscles involved in a martial art, you get a thorough full-body workout.

As Arjuna Awardee and Olympian judoka Cawas Billimoria says, "A martial art demands so much of you that you can't really get bored of it."

Most of us likely took karate classes in school. One of the most widely practiced martial arts worldwide, karate is not just a way to stay safe, but is also a great overall workout.

While there are slight variations in the katas or sequence of movements taught by the different schools of karate, they all emphasise the use of punches, kicks, locks and throws.

Since karate mainly involves striking and sparring with the hands, it makes for a great upper body workout. "Every punch and lock requires different sets of muscle groups," says Rajeev Sabharwal, founder of the School of Shotokan Karate-Do in Delhi. "With time, your whole body becomes conditioned."

Some styles like the gojuryu incorporate specific weight-training techniques called hojo undo that strengthen the wrists and forearms.

Most styles incorporate stretching exercises and breathing techniques. "You start with stretches and move on to punches and kicks," says Sabharwal. "You don't get bound to one kind of workout."

Interested in learning?
Delhi: Rajeev Sabharwal 9811655488,
Mumbai: Anil Patil 9323976940,

For a martial art that means "the gentle way" in Japanese, judo features a lot of grappling, wrestling and knocking opponents to the ground. But the Olympic sport is safe enough for people of all ages to practice.

Unlike other martial arts which focus on using force to strike or spar with an opponent, judo hinges on using the opponent's own strength to dislodge or topple him.

Naturally, judo both demands and contributes to a high level of physical fitness. "It is one of the most complicated sports to practice because it requires both power and muscular endurance," says Billimoria. "Normally, when your power increases, your endurance decreases and vice versa. This training makes you very strong mentally and physically."

Interested in learning?

Delhi: Visit for contact details of judo clubs
Mumbai: Visit for contact details of judo clubs

T'ai chi
T'ai chi is for those who prefer a steady, unhurried pace of exercise, as it is made up of a slow sequence of movements that emphasise correct posture, better balance and coordination. Infused with balletic grace, these movements are also said to improve lymph and blood circulation. Since the movements focus on using the full range of motion of your joints, you can avoid creaky joints as you age.

Although t'ai chi does have a basis in self-defence, it is mainly practiced for its numerous physical and mental health benefits. "T'ai chi conditions your heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and spleen," says Rakesh Menon, director of Flowing Wheel, an institute that offers training in t'ai chi."It is also a very good stress buster," adds Menon.

Interested in learning?
Delhi: T'ai chi India,
Mumbai: Rakesh Menon, Flowing Wheel 9819459694

At first glance, capoeira looks like an infectious combination of catchy beats and freestyle dance with a bit of football thrown in for good measure. There doesn't seem to be anything aggressive about this fluid martial art that originated in Brazil. But once you start swaying to the rhythm too you simply can't resist you will realise that capoeira is an efficient yet engaging way to stay fit.

All the elements of capoeira are geared towards strengthening your core and making you faster on your feet. Take the basic side to side movement or the ginga. According to Mumbai based capoeira instructor Reza Massah, "That movement itself is like doing a 1000 situps". The 72 basic moves of capoeira incorporate dance moves, stretches and breathing exercises. Since most of these moves are done standing, you're sure to get a great workout for your legs. In addition, the back flips and high kicks will improve your balance.

More than combat, reacting fast and avoiding injury is the focus of capoeira. "Capoeira teaches you to outsmart your opponent. You learn to protect your face, avert blows and fall better, without any strain on your knees and ankles," says Massah.

Interested in learning?
Mumbai: Reza Massah 9869055371,

The Korean martial art taekwondo is one of only two martial art forms that features in the Olympics, the other being judo. In Taekwondo, the leg is the most important weapon of combat. You learn a number of kicks, including jumping, spinning, skipping and sliding kicks.

Apart from being an excellent lower body workout, taekwondo also improves your agility, speed, balance and stamina. It is both an aerobic and anaerobic workout, and stretching exercises on the ground form an important part of the training. Even if you don't want to break wooden boards a test of prowess and mental discipline used in advanced training taekwondo is sure to give your fitness regime a kickstart.

Interested in learning?
Delhi: Delhi Taekwondo Association, 9811053994.
Mumbai: Sardar Shaikh 9819515951

Krav maga
Less a martial art and more a system of hand-to-hand combat devised by the Israeli defence forces, Krav Maga isn't for the weak-willed. The system combines grappling and wrestling techniques with street fighting skills. You learn how to break the stranglehold of an attacker by going for his groin, face or knee. Unlike in martial arts where certain moves are not permissible, the focus of Krav Maga is crystal clear: be aware of threats and deal with them as effectively as possible.

Trust us, this ends up giving you as good a workout as any. "Krav Maga improves your cardiovascular strength to the highest level," says Vicky Kapoor, chief instructor of Krav Maga India. "It also increases your muscular strength." Apart from improving your coordination and flexibility, Krav Maga also helps you burn calories. "Each workout is an hour-long and can help you burn nearly 800 calories," he says. A stress busting workout that makes you think on your feet? Now that's what we'd call a win-win situation.

Interested in learning?
Delhi: Krav Maga India, 011-41764207
Mumbai: National Krav Maga Federation of India, 022-26256044

First Published: Mar 06, 2010 09:17 IST