7 Best Martial Arts For Fitness

Your working hard to stay fit and you’ve decided that taking up a martial art can help you reach and maintain your fitness goals. The question is, which form of martial arts provides the best physical exercise to help keep you fit? The answer depends on your individual abilities.

Capoeira or Escrima may provide the best workout, but if you’re older or, perhaps not as agile as you once were, Tai Chi or even Kung Fu may be your best option. The truth is that all forms of martial arts lend themselves to maintaining good physical fitness, you just have to find the martial art that’s best for you and your lifestyle. Here’s a look a several martial arts, their origins and workout potential that you’ll need to consider.

The 7 Best Martial Arts For Fitness Are:


This Afro-Brazilian fighting style known as Capoeira, Portuguese for “short grass,” was first developed in 14th Century Brazil by African slaves who had been captured by Portuguese slave traders to work on the South American sugarcane plantations. As would be expected, the moment these people were enslaved, they began thinking of and devising ways to escape. But it wasn’t easy. They needed to sharpen their fighting skills, using now weapons and build up their physical endurance to cope with the unforgiving jungle around them.

The rhythmic Capoeira, with its fluid footwork, high-impact kicks and quick hand movements helped conceal the slaves’ combat training within their traditional dance moves, while building their physical endurance needed for escaping the Brazilian jungles.

Today it is still performed to the pulsating music of a Brazilian pandeiro, berimbau or atabaque. More importantly, this artform provide an exceptional workout. Advanced students of the discipline are well known around the world for their incredible leaps, high kicks and acrobatics, all of which naturally burn calories at a very high rate, enhance flexibility and stimulate the cardiovascular system.

Tai Chi

At the other end of the workout spectrum is Tai Chi. Many of the rudimentary elements of Tai Chi date back thousands of years to ancient China with some even predating Kung Fu. Tai Chi is said to have originated with Ming Dynasty general Chen Wangting in the mid-15th Century, though many will argue that Tai Chi as we know it today began with the Taoist monk, Zhang San Feng in the 12th Century.

It’s often referred to as Chinese “Shadow Boxing” or “Meditation in Motion” and usually consists of slow, almost meditative movements resulting in a low impact workout that leaves the practitioner in a peaceful state of mind. While there are other, faster movements within the Tai Chi discipline, its generally smooth, fluid and more graceful elements make it an excellent workout choice for older people or those who are not as agile as they may have been in the past.


Karate is, without a doubt, the best known of all of the martial arts. Developed in 1868 by Okinawan, Gichin Funakoshi, whose family traced its lineage back through the era of the samurai. In keeping with his family heritage, the young martial artist had already mastered the Ryukyu-style of martial arts by age 11. The word ‘karate” is Japanese for “Empty Hand” because the fighting style uses no weapons. At the time, weapons among the citizens of Okinawa had been banned by their Japanese overlords for centuries.

After World War Two, Okinawa became the strategic location of one of the United States military’s major Pacific Rim bases and Karate caught on with American servicemen, who promptly brought both word and demonstrations of the artform back home to the U.S. By the 1960s and into the 1970s, Karate became extremely popular in the West and eventually the name, thanks to mass media, was used interchangeably for virtually any Asian based martial arts discipline.

Its workout routines can be very beneficial in maintaining good physical as well as mental fitness because of its emphasis on the melding of both mind and body while utilizing powerful punches and kicks in combination with a strong mental determination. This philosophy is at the very core of the discipline.

Almost everyone has seen demonstrations of Karate masters breaking boards, bricks and anything else they desired using just their hands, feet, elbows or head with the explanation that one had to not merely hit the object, but actually think past the object, then visualize his or her hand, foot, elbow or head breaking through the object to the opposite side as the strike is delivered.

Over the decades, the “mysticism” of Karate was enhanced through countless motion pictures and television shows, using martial arts masters such as Bruce Lee. Such promotion resulted in astronomically higher levels of interest across the country and around the world. Soon the interest in martial arts expanded not only for Karate, but for all forms of martial arts such as Taekwondo.


Originating in Korea, Taekwondo became the flavor of the decade in the 1980s. This was the decade of “the workout.” It became fashionable to sign up for and to attend classes in aerobics and weight lifting, though in many cases just showing up to be seen in designer workout gear was the main objective of some. But most martial arts student were serious and Taekwondo classes seemed to pop up everywhere, providing the opportunity and the social outlet they needed to be with other, serious minded practitioners.

In many ways, Taekwondo is similar to Capoeira when it comes to its emphasis on kicking. In addition, it provides an excellent workout, particularly when it comes to its muscle building leg strengthening techniques that also produce an improvement in the practitioner’s overall dexterity. Its focus on fast, light-on-the-feet techniques, very similar to the almost constant movement found in boxing, provides an excellent cardiovascular workout as well.

As it has gained in popularity in America with the proliferation of schools in countless cities, it also gained in popularity among the parents of school aged children.

All Taekwondo schools require the participants, young and old alike, to refer to each other with respect. Like most all of the martial arts, bowing to their instructors and higher ranked participants and addressing them as “Sir” and “Ma’am” at all times during class are Cardinal Rules, in as much as the failure to adhere to the rules by a student will momentarily stop the entire class until the student corrects him or herself.

The fact that students bow and say “Sir” or “Ma’am” dozens of times in a one hour class has an overall positive effect on everyone. Parents notice not only the increased level of confidence in the their children, but the respect their children show in general, even outside of class.


Escrima, also known as Kali, is an excellent workout that incorporates wooden fighting sticks, bladed weapons and knives as well as open hands. This discipline is another very good workout, fine tuning one’s motor skills and providing for a heathy cardiovascular workout because it tends to work the upper body extensively.

Recognized as the national martial art of the Philippines, Esacrima comes from both the Spanish word for fencing and the French word escrime, which is related to the English translation of the term to mean “skirmish.”

The exact origins of the martial art are still debated to this day because the earliest practitioners of Escrima came from the ranks of the peasants of the country and, be less educated, kept few written records to give future practigtioners and historical researchers an accurate accounting of who first utilized the Escrima-style of fighting.

Like many of the martial arts, it’s believed that Escrima may have evolved over the years following the 14th Century exploration of Ferdinand Magellan, who was killed in Cebu, the former capitol of the Phillipines in 1521. Many of the techniques or slight variations witnessed by his entourage were chronicled in the diaries of his travels.

Kung Fu

Yes, “Grasshopper,” Kung Fu was not just the name of a popular TV show in the 1970s, it is an actual martial artform. Like most of the martial arts, it integrates the physical with the mental or spiritual. Great muscular coordination is key in the art of Kung Fu, hence, the translation of the name which means “skill.”

It can be traced back to before the Zhou Dynasty of China which began in 1111B.C. The various movements of Kung Fu incorporate the movements of animals, with its four basic foot stances derived from horse riding, the frog, the snake and the dragon – a creature of great mystic power in the ancient Chinese culture. It tends to be a low impact workout, similar to Tau Chi, though, like Tai Chi, some techniques and movements are very quick.

Wing Chun

Wing Chun, also known as Ving Tsun, is considered a “child” of the art of Kung Fu, particularly in the southern China Kung Fu region. It focuses on fast, unpredictable punching techniques which can quickly overwhelm an opponent. Practitioners of Wing Chun are well known for their almost lightening fast, direct attacks involving extremely quick hand moves. Many of those techniques have been incorporated in other forms of martial arts over the centuries, as well as in today’s action packed motion pictures and TV shows.

The exact origins of Wing Chun remain virtually unknown, primarily because of the opposition to the Qing Dynasty between its start in 1636 in Manchuria and the end of the era in 1912. It was the last of the imperial Chinese dynasties and that opposition was widespread. So, anti-Qing rebels kept the development of Wing Chun a secret during that era. The fact is, there are believed to be up to eight different Wing Chun lineages, which vary in specific techniques.

Though it may sound more advanced in some ways, Wing Chun is a great martial art for beginners, because it doesn’t require an advanced level of fitness. It is also a great workout.


Again, any of the martial arts can provide an excellent workout and help maintain peak physical fitness. The question is, which one fits your lifestyle and physical limits? The best course of action is to, first and foremost, consult your doctor before taking up any martial artform. Actually, your doctor may be able to help guide you toward the discipline that’s right for you.

The second thing to do is to pick the martial art that you’ll enjoy best and the one to which you’ll most likely practice on a regular basis. Also, consider the “community” or group of practitioners – students of the martial art you pick. Chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time with them, so, having things in common, other than the martial art itself, may be a factor to keep in mind.

Finally, always remember to warm up and cool down before and after each workout. Your body will thank you for it.

Now, just have fun.

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