Getting Fit with Martial Arts

With the rising popularity of women in mixed martial arts, more and more women are trooping to dojos to pick up fighting skills. But instead of training just for the self-defense skills, today’s martial arts practitioners are in it for the mental training, intense workout, and sheer enjoyment these sports provide.

Credit: Steve Janosik /
Credit: Steve Janosik /

Martial arts moves are proven calorie burners. A 130-pound woman can burn up to 590 calories from an hour of karate. Compare that to the same woman burning 360 calories from an hour of dancing, or 420 calories from an hour on the ski machine. Add to that the mental boost from training and the practical kick-ass moves you can pick up to defend yourself and it’s easy to see why more women are training in the art of fight.


Choosing the Martial Art for You

Choosing the martial art that suits you isn’t a matter of picking what’s popular or what your friends are into. Martial arts is a serious commitment so it’s best to explore your options and do lots of research.


Start with a quick background research on the martial arts that interest you, then make a checklist of what you like, what you’re capable of, and what your limitations are. If you have weak knees, low impact martial arts like tai chi would be good for you. If you like dancing and acrobatics, capoiera is an exciting option. If you like going with the flow, aikido is your thing.

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It is also important to consider what you’re looking for in your martial art. Are you in it for the fitness aspect only? Are you looking for a more practical functionality for self-defense? Or are you particularly interested in the martial art’s culture and background? Knowing what you want can spell the difference between choosing muay thai, krav maga, or kung fu.

Getting to Know the Martial Arts

Not sure where to begin? The following martial arts are an excellent way for women to keep fit, both physically and mentally:

Credit: WBUR Boston's NPR /
Credit: WBUR Boston’s NPR /

Mixed Martial Arts is an amalgamation of various martial arts styles, but it is quickly becoming its own style. It features a combination of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, wrestling, Judo, Muay Thai, and Taekwondo. MMA is a very demanding sport and sparring is almost always a requisite activity.
Women in MMA: UFC women’s champion Ronda Rousey is the poster girl for MMA. She is undefeated and holds a streak of first round submission wins via armbar.

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If you’ve seen a Bruce Lee movie, you’ve seen Wing Chun. Wing Chun is a kind of kung fu that relies on close-range striking and combat techniques It’s stance is commonly compared to the bamboo, firm but flexible. Wing Chun is said to be created by Ng Mui, a buddhist nun who taught Yim Wing Chun, whose name was used for the style.
Women in Wing Chun: A female superhero who draws from Wing Chun is Sara Lance aka Canary from the TV show Arrow. Remember watching her strike a wooden dummy with protruding sticks? Wing Chun.


Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that focuses heavily on kicks and striking. It’s popular because of its impressive style, featuring kicks that target the opponents head, or kicks that are combined with special moves like turns and jumps. Taekwondo usually has three areas of practice, so the athlete is exposed to differing kinds of activities. These include practicing forms, an activity that focuses on training your muscles to execute moves correctly, sparring, and breaking boards or blocks to test strength, speed, or special techniques.
Women in Taekwondo: British taekwondo athlete Jade Jones isn’t only an olympic gold medalist in taekwondo, she was also awarded the Order of the British Empire to honor her services to the sport.

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Credit: Shreyan Bhansali /
Credit: Shreyan Bhansali /

Martial arts isn’t limited to just using the body. While the Chinese martial art wushu can be practiced barehanded, it is also known for its use of weapons, ranging from short weapons like knives and long weapons like staves. As a sport, wushu has two main disciplines: taolu or forms, and sanda or sparring.
Women in Wushu: While there are a lot of popular real-life wushu practioners, a particularly breathtaking example to watch would be the wushu featured in wuxia films like Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi’s scenes in Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon.