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Where to go for martial arts

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Martial Arts first really impressed themselves on the public consciousness with the rise of the Kung Fu movie in the early seventies — what person has not heard of the legendary Bruce Lee? Indeed, for many people, understanding of the martial arts comes from these selfsame films.

However, certainly for the last few years, more and more martial arts clubs have been springing up and a vast number of people have discovered that not only do the films produce a combination of adrenalin pumping fisticuff action and side-splitting weirdly subtitled one-liners but that actually practising any of the (myriad) disciplines proves to be one of the healthiest pastimes a person can have.

(As an aside, any of the quotes that follow are not only genuine Kung Fu film lines but can be checked in a book called Sex And Zen & A Bullet in the Head by Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins)

It's true you know! Practising any of the arts (and we're not just talking the Orient here — there are disciplines from all over the world, as you'll see) helps increase muscle-tone (obviously), aids circulation, drops stress levels, teaches meditation techniques and, of course, turns you into a double hard bastard.

With that in mind here's our take on where to go for martial arts! Please note that with the thousands of choices available we just went for the stuff that a) took our fancy, b) looks ultra-cool or c) must be for insane people.

“Noodles? Forget it! Try my fist!”

We thought we'd start with the incredibly gentle art of Tai Chi (meaning “supreme ultimate fist”). Originating over 2,000 years ago, Tai Chi is best described as a system of physical exercise that employs 18 (or 37, depending on the style) slow, gentle and difficult to master movements that improve and maintain health whilst also strengthening the cardiovascular system.

Don't be fooled by its gentleness though, when employed martially it is used to direct the opponents strength and momentum against themselves — with devastating consequences. To find out more about where you can learn try logging on to www.taichifinder.co.uk.

“Fatty, you with your thick face have hurt my instep.”
Judo (“the way of yielding”) is perhaps the most widely practised martial art in the world. Based around the notion that softness overcomes hardness and emphasising grappling techniques it was originally codified in 1882 by Professor Jigoro Kano. Clubs in London are so numerous (as with Tai Chi) that we'll send you to www.britishjudo.org.uk so you can search for the one nearest you.

“This is not Taiwan. This is Hong Kong! How can you go around hitting people on the head all the time?”
Jujitsu (from “ju” — “weakness” and “Jutsu” — “skill”) is a system of weaponless self-defence developed in Japan that uses throws, holds and paralysing blows (deriving additional power from the opponents weight and strength) to subdue or disable. Originally it evolved amongst the bushi (Samurai or Warrior Class) and was designed to complement a warrior's swordsmanship in combat. Unsurprisingly, given its origins, it is utterly ruthless. It is not so widely practiced as other skills but you can find an excellent club here www.cityjitsu.org

“That may disarray my intestines.”
One of the most recognisable forms of martial art is Kung Fu — or one of its many branches as, interestingly enough, there are over 1,000 recognised styles (including Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee's style which, in itself, is a derivative of Wing Chun). What is a constant is that all styles are effective and devastating, incorporating, as they do, a diverse range of punches and kicks as well as throws. We suggest you check out www.martialartsinstitute.com and their classes in Wimbledon.

“I got knife scars more than the number of your leg's hair!”
Some of you will be keen on learning arts involving a weapon. We think those types will be interested in Kendo, which means “Way of the Sword” (a clue). Derived from medieval Samurai techniques it teaches mental strength as well as physical mastery of the blade. There are some rather fine classes held in Charlton. Have a look at www.hizen.org to find out how to sign up.

“You bastard! Try this melon!”
Moving away from the Orient we come to the incredibly graceful technique known as Capoeria (pictured above). It's Brazilian (with African roots) and is a dance that can be used as an awesome fighting style. It's the fastest growing martial art in Britain at the moment — so classes are springing up all over the place. Have a look at the original London school at www.londonschoolofcapoeira.co.uk.

“Beat him out of recognisable shape!”
Finally on our little odyssey we come to one of the most hardcore disciplines on the planet — Krav Maga. The fact that it was developed in the occupied Palestine of the 1940s for specific use on the invaders should tell you that it's totally uncompromising. Unusually for most martial arts (and because of its “recent” development) it teaches you how to deal with people brandishing modern weapons (guns in particular).

If you're still not convinced then we should tell you this — no competitions are held for the simple reason that there is no rigid method of employment or, to put it in the words of one instructor — “Rule one is that there are no rules.” There is only one class available in London. If you're convinced you can learn to be utterly lethal then you should look at www.krav-maga.com

We'll finish there for two reasons. In the first place we've given you plenty to choose from. Secondly… we've run out of space. Enjoy!

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