1. Aikido Defense

Aikido is a Japanese martial art created by Morihei Ueshiba during the early 20th century. Its early incarnation was based on Aiki-Jiu-Jitsu, a samurai-based fighting style incorporating joint locking, hard throws, chokes and bone breaks. As the founder aged and moved toward a more religious frame of mind, he softened this art into what he coined Aikido, the way of harmonious spirit, which uses techniques that control the attacker without causing any permanent damage or injuries.

Aikido is performed by redirecting the force of an oncoming attack. Then, without stopping the initial movement of the attacker, a controlling lock, projection or takedown is completed. Aikido requires very little physical strength, so it is ideal for women, men who don’t “live in the gym” or older people past their physical primes. Men who are highly muscular or big and strong can do Aikido, but more often than not, they tend to use their power to force techniques instead of letting the techniques do the work for them. This, however, can be overcome and all people, regardless of their size and strength levels, can enjoy the art of Aikido. There is no kicking involved with Aikido, so great flexibility is not required. Younger people may find Aikido difficult, not due to the techniques or training, but to the philosophical mentality of controlling your opponent, as opposed to a simpler concept of kicking and punching for self-defense.


2. The Arnis Advantage

Arnis, also commonly interchangeable as Kali or Escrima, is an empty-hand and stick-and-knife-fighting martial art originally created in the Philippines. Arnis was not developed as a structured system, but is rather a final product created from the collected input of native people during times of social and political unrest. As such, interchangeable names, terms and techniques are found throughout this ever-changing martial art. Generally speaking, Arnis is a weapon-based self-defense art. Empty-hand techniques are practiced, but stick offense and defense is its most known characteristic.

Arnis can be practiced by nearly everyone. Men, women and children should have no problem with the physical requirements of this martial art. Footwork drills, wrist and arm stretching and basic single- and double-stick drills are part of nearly all Arnis class exercises and don’t require an overabundance of physical output. There are usually no hard takedowns or intense ground work, although instructors’ class material may vary due to the many variations of Arnis that you may encounter during your search. People who are not comfortable using weapons or those who want more physical contact during a self-defense class may shy away from Arnis as their chosen art.


3. Classic Karate Strikes

Karate, arguably the most well known of all the martial arts, is a Japanese striking art that utilizes a variety of offensive techniques to overcome an opponent. These include punching, kicking, elbow strikes and knee strikes, as well as a variety of specialized hand attacks that include knife-hand, spear-hand, palm-heel and hammer-fist strikes. Karate is a “hard-style” martial art, meaning that there are many varieties of strong blocks that you use to stop your opponent’s oncoming attack. Also, you are taught to generate power with your kicks and punches through consistent practice in the dojo (training facility).

Class material will vary by instructor, but a general Karate class will include warm-ups, stretches, kata (a set series of movements designed to perfect form, speed, balance and power) and sparring. During sparring, you will strap on pads over your head, feet and hands and be able to test your offensive and defensive skills against another practitioner in a controlled, safe setting. Karate is great for younger children as well as adult men and women. Karate teaches and maintains discipline, which helps young people, particularly teenagers, to stay focused and on the right path as they enter adulthood.


4. Kung Fu Versatility

Kung Fu is nearly as diverse as the entire martial arts community. Developed in China and considered the grandfather to nearly all martial arts forms, Kung Fu offers something for everyone. From hard styles to soft, from internal to external systems, the offerings are staggering. Some schools focus on form training, while others concentrate on self-defense. Techniques could involve trapping, striking, high and almost gymnastic-like kicks, joint locking and many more, depending upon the particular system.

It’s crucial to visit several Kung Fu schools to observe exactly what is taught and if you feel comfortable enough to give it a try. Different body types, people with varying flexibility and mobility all can become great Kung Fu practitioners. However, it may take some time to sort out which school works best for you. But when you do, you can enjoy years of practical self-defense training.


5. Mastering Jeet Kune Do

Jeet Kune Do is known by many due to its famous founder, Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee examined numerous martial arts over the years and found them too fixed or too rigid in structure and application. He concluded that martial arts should be spontaneous and always free-flowing to enable a person to react to a spontaneous situation. The underlying principle that he developed was to intercept an attacker’s move before it was completed, thus ending the conflict quickly with simple and direct means. There are no set movements or techniques in Jeet Kune Do that need to be followed, but rather a variety of “tools” to use in different situations. Kicking, punching, trapping, grappling and locking can be used to neutralize your attacker’s initial aggressive movement.

This style of martial art is ideal for those people that want a more freestyle type of self-defense system. A gi (martial arts uniform) is not used and a more casual approach to discipline and structure is not enforced, though respect to the art should always be given. A belt or ranking system is not emphasized, although some schools do use it for motivational purposes and/or for categorizing students based on progress. Jeet Kune Do is a hands on approach to self-defense.

Jeet Kune Do will be beneficial to both men and women for self-defense purposes. Physical contact occurs during training and a moderate level of physical ability is required to perform the variety of moves needed to stop an assailant’s initial attack. Teens or children may not be suited for Jeet Kune Do because of its “difficult to explain to kids” philosophy and self-defense principles. Also, children tend to enjoy and depend upon ranking and belt systems to illustrate their progress and growth with their chosen martial art style.


6. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Without a doubt, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is one of the most recognized martial arts today. With mixed martial arts tournaments visible nearly everywhere you turn, either on television or your local gym or even community center, you can’t help but take notice of this popular grappling art. Taking the best takedown and ground-fighting techniques from Judo and Japanese Jiu-jitsu, respectively, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu focuses primarily on joint locks, submissions and chokes all executed on the ground. The art emphasizes the use of proper technique to compensate for inequality between you and your opponent’s body size and strength.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is both competition based as well as self-defense applicable. Learning some grappling techniques can be beneficial for everyone whenever an attack or fight goes to the ground (which can be quite often!). However, you need to understand that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is meant as a one-on-one fighting system. In a sanctioned, controlled fight, this would be no problem, but when attacked on the street you have a very real chance of being overwhelmed by your attacker’s buddies, who will not hesitate to throw crippling punches or kicks in while you deal with your primary adversary.

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is a very close-contact martial art and constantly works on takedown throws and repetitive ground submission techniques. Training is intense and geared toward those who can endure constant break-falling (the act of falling without injury) and extremely physical interaction with your training partner. Older teen boys and men in their twenties are the characteristic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu students, however the learning of ground fighting is encouraged for everyone (though not at this intensity level) to add this important aspect to their self-defense repertoire.


7. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu can be translated to mean “the gentle art,” but don’t let this fool you. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu is an all-encompassing self-defense system that uses whatever means possible to take down your attacker. It is so called “the gentle art” because practitioners do not react to the attacker’s energy, movement and strength with hard resistance. Instead, they use the oncoming force to then apply a variety of techniques, including throwing, trapping, joint locking, holds, eye gouging, strikes, bites, sweeps, among others.

Because there is extensive variety as to what techniques can be performed on a single attack, this martial art offers something for everyone to learn and continually practice, regardless of age, size, strength and athletic ability. If you can’t strike well for instance, joint locking could be your primary focus. If you are not able to perform a sweep, maybe a throw may be better suited to your body type. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu gives you options and versatility when in various self-defense situations. The warm-ups and exercises you do when taking Jiu-Jitsu lessons are not extremely intense. Break falling is practiced, as well as stretching the joints, along with some rollouts and simple calisthenics. Training also involves disarming attackers with weapons, so real-life scenarios can be practiced regularly.


8. Judo Takedowns

The martial art of Judo was created in 1882 by Jigoro Kano. It is a Japanese-based martial art that emphasizes throwing and takedown techniques to overcome an opponent. Most people know it as a sport featured prominently in the Olympics and other competitions throughout the world. However, it does have self-defense applications that people can learn to help protect them if attacked on the streets. Since a great majority of attacks are initially grabs, and not a punch or kick, Judo techniques can come into play very early during a confrontation. In fact, a quick throw can send your attacker hard to the ground and end the fight before it escalates or others join in.

The techniques of Judo are based on timing, off-balanced opponents, proper distance and “feeling” your opponents slight movements that you can exploit to your advantage. Judo is a very physical martial art. Size and strength are not a factor in successfully becoming a proficient Judoka (practitioner of Judo), but constant hard throws to the mat, intense warm-up exercises, constant grabbing at each other’s uniforms and very close physical contact with each other during training is the norm. For those people who enjoy rigorous workout sessions, Judo may be for you. Accent your Judo training with some striking techniques and you will have a well-balanced self-defense martial art.


This article was originally published in SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Winter 2015 magazine. Print and Digital Subscriptions available here.

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