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There are a wide variety of reasons individuals decide to learn a martial art. Exercise, self-confidence, discipline, focus, and self-defense are all valid benefits of learning a martial art, but there are many styles from which to choose. With so many different options to choose from, it’s important to learn some of the differences between the various styles. It’s important to note that there are variations even within some styles of martial arts, so let’s take a look at some of the most popular styles.


Karate is a self-defense method that consists of punches, kicks, as well as knee, elbow and open-hand strikes. The word karate itself means “empty hands” in Japanese emphasizing the idea that karate practitioners never strike first. Though karate is designed for self-defense, there are competitions within the sport. The practice of karate emphasizes coordination of mind and body. Karate develops clarity of thought and composure as well as self-confidence. Physical benefits include increasing overall body strength, stamina, and coordination, along with quick reflexes. Karate seeks to emphasize the value of self-control, courtesy, integrity, humility, justice, and honor. 

Tae Kwon Do

Tae kwon do is a Korean martial arts form which focuses on kicks, punches, and blocks rather than joint locks. It is known for its distinctively graceful high powered kicks. The tenets of tae kwon do are integrity, self-control, perseverance, and an indomitable spirit as well as respect for one’s elders or those who are more knowledgeable. The word tae kwon do in Korean means “way of the foot and fist.” Tae kwon do incorporates a non-violent attitude and values unity between body, mind, and spirit and the attainment of peace. 


While rooted in the traditions of Buddhist monks in India, Jiu-Jitsu’s modern form is based on the art of the Japanese Samurai. However, when people refer to jiu-jitsu, they’re often referring to Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu or BJJ. Jiu-jitsu fundamentals consist of boxing moves, stances, guarding, distancing, and head movement. The principles that underlie the practice of jiu-jitsu are a belief that size doesn’t matter, technique trumps strength, a good grip provides better control, never give up, focus, and you get out of it exactly what you put in. As with other martial arts, jiu-jitsu offers a great physical workout. 


In Japanese, the word judo means “gentle way.” Unlike other forms of martial arts, judo does not involve weapons, pressure points, kicking, punching, or any type of strike.  It is specifically designed to be practiced without harming one’s opponent. The basics of judo involve gripping the uniform of one’s opponent with the use of balance, movement, and power to overcome the opponent. Though not designed to injure, judo is a demanding and rigorous practice. Judo can improve physical fitness in a variety of ways including developing flexibility, agility, strength, speed, and balance. It can help to speed up reaction time and coordination as well. Practicing judo can aid in the control of emotions and impulses, develop courage, manners, and a sense of justice.

Tai Chi

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art form that can be used for self-defense, but most people who practice tai chi do so for the health benefits. Tai chi is non-competitive and utilizes specific postures and slow gentle movements with breathing and relaxation. According to the Mayo Clinic, research has shown that tai chi can improve stability and balance which could reduce the risk of falls older adults. It can potentially aid practitioners with pain management, decreased blood pressure, and overall well-being. The mental health benefits of tai chi may include decreased stress, anxiety, and depression. 

Martial arts can be a great form of exercise and stress relief. No matter what form of martial arts you decide on you will find benefits in the practice. Choose the style that best matches your personal goals and values. It will take time to develop your skills so be patient with yourself and keep practicing. You’re sure to learn a great deal along the way.