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Eight Martial Arts You Likely Never Heard of That You May Want to Try for Exceptional Fitness

"It's the new trendy, cool kind of sport and way to get fit," says Adrianne Fekete, president of Xtreme Couture Canada Inc., a new type of gym that is catering to people interested in mixed martial arts (MMA), in The Canadian Press.

Fekete is referring to mixed martial arts (MMA), which encompasses a wide range of traditional and more modern martial arts. But while MMA may be new, the discipline itself has existed since ancient times. Many of the martial arts styles originated in East Asian cultures, and had Indian influences that combined self-defense, physical health, spiritual enlightenment and emotional well-being.

martial arts lessons

Looking for a martial arts school near you? Visit, enter the type of martial arts you're interested in, along with your location, and you'll get a directory of listings in your area.

Today, their popularity has remained strong among people looking to get in shape both physically and mentally. If you are interested in taking up martial arts, however, there are countless styles to choose from that vary from slow and meditative to intense and very physical.

How can you choose? Take a look through the martial arts styles below to see what appeals to you -- they range from popular to more obscure, yet they all offer exceptional fitness, and emotional, benefits.

1. Krav Maga

Krav Maga is the official combat system of the Israeli Defense force, which has been adapted as a form of self-defense. This is a hand-to-hand combat system that teaches you how to escape from common chokes, grabs, bearhugs and other attacks, and how to disarm an assailant. It also incorporates cardio classes, heavy bag work and sports conditioning designed to burn fat and tone muscle.

2. Muay Thai

martial arts

Many people are drawn to martial arts because it improves both your physical stamina and your emotional well-being.

Muay Thai means "Thai Boxing," and it evolved from the hand-to-hand tactics of the Thai army. It involves kickboxing, punches and other moves to knock out an opponent. Muay Thai helps you develop cardiovascular endurance, speed, strength and a "fighting spirit."

3. Brazilian Jujutsu

If you want to know how to break out of a hold while on the ground, Brazilian jujutsu is for you. This is a ground-fighting art, typically performed on a mat, that teaches you to overcome an opponent.

4. Tai Ji

Tai Ji is an "internal" style of self-defense that focuses on blending in with, and yielding to, the opposing force, rather than attempting to meet it. Tai Ji addresses three areas -- health, meditation and martial art (though some styles focus more heavily on the health and meditation aspects). It focuses on physical health by teaching the student to release stress in the mind and body. The meditative focus comes from the calm and repetition necessary to learn this ancient art.

Boost Your Martial Arts Techniques With Stretching

Proper stretching is one of the most widely recommended methods to help you look and feel younger, live longer, and avoid -- and even overcome -- serious health issues. It is also a must if you engage in any type of physical activity.

No matter which martial art you enjoy, the Stretching Toward a Healthier Life DVD by Jacques Gauthier is a necessary partner.

  • It presents 15 stretches that stretch all the key muscles groups throughout your entire body (something we did not see with several other guides we reviewed)

  • It only takes about 15-20 minutes per day total to do the complete stretching

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5. Fanzi Quan (Tumbling Chuan)

Fanzi Quan is a Chinese martial art that focuses on the combination of internal and external strength and energy. It includes a series of tumbling boxing moves that include jabbing, elbowing, lifting, and turning. The movements are performed in a rhythmic manner, with slow and fast, continuous and intermittent actions.

6. Pancrase

The goal of pancrase is the completion of "total fight," which refers to knowing the best of all the martial arts styles in the world. Pancrase fighters are allowed to use techniques from Karate, Judo, Sambo, Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, wrestling, Kempo, and Thai boxing, and are trained to quickly switch from one to the other.

7. Cuong Nhu

Cuong Nhu is a relatively new (founded in 1965) martial art from Vietnam. It involves both "hard" techniques, such as those from Karate, and "soft" techniques, such as those from Tai Chi. Students focus not only on the physical moves but also on a Code of Ethics that teaches self-control, modesty and a non-defeatist attitude.

8. Aikido

Aikido originated in Japan in 1942. Rather than focusing on punches and kicks, Aikido focuses on evasion and "circular redirection" of an aggressive force by moving into a position away from the attack, gaining control by means of leverage and timing, or by immobilizing the attacker with a wrist/arm lock or other move. Students focus on the principles of movement, distancing and timing.

Recommended Reading

The Health Benefits of the Ancient (and Enjoyable) Art of Tai Ji

The Health Benefits of Dancing -- Including Specific Benefits of Different Dances


The Canadian Press January 23, 2008

Atlanta Martial Arts Directory

Krav Maga Worldwide

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