You are walking to your car after a late night at the office, when two men appear in front of you and demand your money. Instead of reaching for your wallet, you lash out with a precisely delivered punch that knocks the wind out of one attacker. A high, whirling kick sends the other sprawling to the sidewalk. You summon the police to mop up and then go calmly on your way.
Fantasy? Probably -- but one that a growing number of Americans are trying to make actual. Today some 3 million men, women and, increasingly, children are training in the martial arts. And if this year is like the last one, 1 million more people, many of them alarmed by five-year statistics that show aggravated assault and rape have risen by 2.4% while the crime rate has declined, will sign up for courses. In theory, this high-kicking enthusiasm for self-defense Asian-style should be making the streets of America unsafe for muggers. In practice, few students stick with their training long enough to achieve even minimum proficiency. Some are deterred by the arduous classwork and the tedious training. Others, enthralled by the cinematic havoc wreaked by the likes of Chuck Norris or the Karate Kid, become disenchanted with the more realistic limits of the martial arts. For whatever reason, instructors estimate that 75% of new students quit within six months.
While that may be enough time to learn a few moves, you need a year or more to acquire a basic level of proficiency -- and three to five for the black belt awarded those who attain expert rank. What's more, truncated training could be worse than none at all. You might perform the right move in an inappropriate situation and cause serious injury without sufficient cause. Many states, including California and New York, decree that you may use only reasonable force to stop an attacker. If you were to cause injury to someone who was merely panhandling for change, for instance, you could face civil or criminal charges.
Experienced practitioners of the martial arts are the first to admit that when it comes to self-defense, your most powerful weapon is still common sense. Far more practical than fighting skill is knowing how to avoid potentially dangerous situations in the first place. (See the box below for tips on everyday safety.) On the other hand, if you're willing to stick with the martial arts for a year or more, your training can augment common sense. ''There are no miracles,'' says Robert Bragg, a karate instructor in Seattle who trains police and municipal employees. ''But if you don't panic and you execute properly just one technique you've been taught, you might block a harmful blow and escape.''
That may be reason enough for those seeking a sense of security in the streets. And, according to University of Illinois sociologist Pauline Bart, co-author of Stopping Rape: Successful Survival Strategies ($27.50, Pergamon Press), contrary to the widely held belief that women should submit to rape rather than risk being injured or killed, resisting may be a more effective strategy. Bart interviewed 94 women who were raped or fended off an attempt. Says she: ''Women who had some self-defense training and fought back -- even just by screaming and yelling -- were about twice as likely to avoid rape. Pleading or trying to talk their way out of it didn't work.''
A year or so of training in the martial arts can pay other dividends as well. Physical conditioning, enhanced self- confidence and the mental discipline required to remain calm in a dire situation may prove more valuable in the long run than the specific blocking or punching techniques you learn. Pat Yanahan, 42, president of the advertising firm U.S.A. Chicago Inc., has been studying judo for seven years at he Chicago Athletic Association and expects to earn his black-belt rank in August. Says he: ''I've lost weight and have muscles I didn't have when I was 20. I'm definitely more confident about self-defense now, but I've found something curious: it has also helped in business. I'm just not intimidated, even in high-powered meetings.''
Developed centuries ago in China, Japan and Korea, the martial arts fall generally into two camps: those that favor retaliation and those that emphasize escape. Karate, which originated in China, and its kindred Korean art, tae kwon do, tend to employ aggressive maneuvers. Evasion and escape are more the province of aikido, from Japan, and judo, which, though derived from the lethal Japanese art of jujitsu, is contested in the Olympic Games. Even the more aggressive arts are commonly taught as sport rather than for no-holds-barred self- defense. In sport karate, for example, potentially deadly moves are blunted by having students wear gloves similar to boxing gloves. Blows to highly vulnerable areas, such as the knees and throat, are forbidden.
Before choosing a martial arts class, you should determine the style best suited to your size and temperament. Then you must carefully evaluate a prospective martial arts school; the quality of instruction is far more important than small differences in cost. This is particularly true of training for children, who make up the fastest-growing segment of the martial arts market. Says David Cohn, manager of East-West Markets Exchange Inc., a Chicago martial arts equipment supplier: ''Based on the uniform sizes we sell, I'd say that 60% of all martial artists are now under 14.''
Lesson costs, roughly equivalent regardless which martial art you study, range from $35 to $70 a month. The price depends more on the rent and the amenities of the training facilities than on the quality of instruction. Many schools offer classes six days a week, but most instructors agree that two or three sessions each week are enough to ensure steady progress. The most popular martial arts now taught in the U.S. are the following:
Karate. Traditional Japanese karate, now well entrenched in the U.S., offers the simplest, most direct approach to self- defense. In its purest form, the aim in karate is to maim or even kill an attacker with one well-placed blow: no fisticuffs, no genteel draws. Strength is a significant factor, though people of slight build can still become formidable adversaries if they concentrate on moves tailored to their size and weight. Most schools teach sport karate, though many are willing to adapt their instruction for use in self- defense.
A typical beginner's karate class is likely to entail vigorous workouts and you may take home a few bruises, but part of the training is learning that you can sustain a punch or two. A good instructor places self-control above proficiency, and some will expel any student known to have used karate skills in a brawl.
Tae kwon do. A Korean variant of karate, tae kwon do is based on the fact
that legs are stronger than arms. A typical maneuver uses a sweeping kick to the head powered by a spin of the body. Says tae kwon do black-belt James Rhee, director of the Jhoon Rhee Institute, a chain of schools in the Washington, D.C. area: ''It's a great equalizer for women because a woman's legs are longer and stronger than a man's arms.'' But, predictably, it's more difficult to learn to fight with your feet than with your hands. Furthermore, the roundhouse kicks many students prize may not help in close-quarters combat -- for example, in a small foyer or an elevator.
Kung fu. The Chinese martial art of kung fu, popularized by the 1970s television series of the same name, also requires several years of study to be effective for self-defense. Its moves, mod- ified for stand-erect humans, mimic those of predatory animals, such as cranes, tigers or snakes.
Judo. Among the defensive martial arts, judo may be best for those who want to learn a few reliable techniques fairly quickly. About 50,000 students are now enrolled in some 1,000 judo schools nationwide, and many health clubs offer judo classes for conditioning as well as self-protection.
Taught only as a sport, judo nevertheless offers much that translates easily into a formidable personal defense. Relying on flips, grips and trips instead of chops and blocks, judo is more akin to wrestling than boxing. If someone grabs you, the right judo move will throw him off balance and let you use your hips and legs to topple him. Once you've floored your foe, you can either run away or apply one of several immobilizing holds.
The drawbacks: you have to be close to your attacker to use judo, and it requires physical strength. A beefy assailant could probably outmuscle a small judo student. And people who don't relish the close contact of a wrestling-style sport may prefer a less chummy discipline, such as aikido.
Aikido. Like judo, aikido employs no punches or kicks. But in aikido you rarely grapple with an opponent. Instead, you learn to slip around your attacker's lunges and then guide him to the ground by applying pressure to his arms or neck. Once he's down, a simple arm hold -- powered by torque and leverage, not strength -- can incapacitate or maim him. Most students need at least a year of training, more likely two or three, before they can use aikido effectively for self-defense. Ai- kido training, however, is far less punishing than other martial arts regimens. In beginner's classes, much of the lesson is devoted to learning to tumble and fall without getting hurt. Says Goleta, Calif. aikido master Ken Ota: ''This is a nonaggressive martial art. You don't need strength. I often find that women are particularly quick to learn some of the graceful, waltzlike moves.''
Whichever martial art you choose, look for a school that has been in business for at least three years. Instructors estimate the first-year failure rate for schools near 75%. You don't want to pay six months' tuition in advance only to discover that the venerable master has skipped town. Membership in a recognized association, while no guarantee of high-quality instruction, is usually a sign of business stability. For information on member schools in your area, you can write to the Professional Karate Association, 2930 Hutton Dr., Beverly Hills, Calif. 90210; the U.S. Aikido Federation, 142 W. 18th St., New York, N.Y. 10011; the U.S. Judo Federation, 21054 Sarah Hills Dr., Saratoga, Calif. 95070; or the Tae Kwon Do Association, 163 E. 86th St., New York, N.Y. 10028.
Before you enlist, visit the school and observe a class; avoid those that deny you this courtesy. Only by watching a session will you be able to get a feel for the character of the school. If it is too aggressive, or if students exchange hurtful blows, move on.
If the school seems right, talk to the instructor. Explain what you hope to gain by the training: a teacher who favors light-contact sport karate, for
example, may be willing to develop a street version for you. The chief instructor should have five years of black-belt experience. Don't be impressed by trophies. They can be bought at any hobby shop. Some schools require you to pay for a long-term contract before you start lessons, because so many students drop out when they dis- cover how demanding some classes can be. For his very reason, however, beginners should look for a school that lets them pay by the month.
When investigating a school for a son or daughter, note whether the young students are enjoying themselves. Talk to parents when they arrive to pick up their children. Ask the instructor what he hopes to teach his younger charges: the best teachers often put extra emphasis on such noncombat virtues as patience, self- confidence and respectful behavior toward other people.
Experienced teachers prefer not to mix adults and children in the same class. The disparity in sizes can impede learning and risk injury to the smaller students. Also, children tend to become bored if the instructor hasn't tailored the training to their diminutive size and attention span.
Ironically, the most important lesson learned by these young students is the art of keeping the peace. Says Los Angeles tae kwon do instructor Hee Il Cho: ''The kids I teach aren't likely to become the bullies of the schoolyard. What the training really seems to give them is the confi- dence to walk away from a fight without being ashamed.'' Cho's student Micah Adler, 13, says he doesn't even think much about having to choose between fight or flight. ''I just started last year, but all my friends know that I take classes,'' says Micah. ''Lately, I just haven't been hassled at school.''
Source Citation:Banks, William C. "Choosing a martial art." Money 15 (June 1986): 195(5). Academic OneFile. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 8 Oct. 2009
Gale Document Number:A4261775
Disclaimer:This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.
United States Judo Association - USJA
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