What are the best beginner martial arts programs for women?

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Answered by: Renee, An Expert in the Physical Fitness and Health Category
So, you've heard about the advantages of learning a martial art – it's a great workout, you'll learn how to defend yourself, and you'll get a great boost in self-confidence – but you're feeling a little too intimidated to start. After all, big, sweaty macho men do martial arts, right? They're not going to want a woman to train with them, will they?

The answer is ... yes and no. Many martial arts have their fair share of big, sweaty macho men, and some styles definitely have an air of machismo about them – yeah, I'm talking about you, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu! But that's still no reason to be scared off from martial arts! Most studios emphasize respect for all students, and there are a lot of beginner martial arts programs for women, even in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. So don't think that you're going to drown in a sea of testosterone the minute you step foot in a studio or get the stink eye from a bunch of guys wondering why a woman wandered into their class.

There are a few things to consider before choosing the martial arts style that's best for you. Are you only interested in getting a good workout or in better shape before stepping foot in a martial arts studio? If so, then a cardio-kickboxing or kettlebell class might be the right choice for you. Cardio-kickboxing is a great way to introduce yourself to martial arts, and there's probably a class offered at your local gym. You won't learn intricate techniques, but you will build up the musculature and stamina needed for a lot of martial arts. Kettlebell workouts are very intense, and you'll get in tip-top shape fast. And getting in better shape and feeling stronger will definitely give you a huge boost if you decide to try a traditional form of martial arts.

If you really want to learn self-defense and think the great workout is an added plus, then there are still some things to think about. Some martial arts styles are much more physically demanding and "hands on" than others, which means you'll be training and sparring with an opponent right from the start. Since most martial arts schools have a high male-to-female ratio (which might also be a plus!), you'll probably have to train and spar with a man.

You shouldn't worry about getting hurt (besides the occasional bump or bruise), but you still need to consider your comfort level when it comes to getting ‘up close and personal’ with someone you don't know. If you're ready to dive right into some hardcore fighting, then you might want to try Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai kickboxing, or Krav Maga. If you want to learn a martial art at a less aggressive pace, then Tae Kwon Do, Karate, or Wing Chun Kung Fu might be more to your liking.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a streamlined form of grappling designed for maximum impact that includes choke holds and limb locks. It's very intense and not for the faint of heart, but if you're looking for self-defense, it can't be beat. There are belts in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but you won't be learning forms or katas to advance. Advancement in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu depends on how well you spar, which means you’ll have to prove your ability on the mat.

Muay Thai kickboxing will literally kick your butt, and it's one of the best standing fighting styles out there. And like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you'll only advance by actually fighting in the ring. There are a lot of schools offering "mock" Muay Thai that's really just a blend of other fighting styles, so make sure the school you choose has certified Muay Thai instructors.

Krav Maga is the official self-defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces, and it's specifically designed to teach you effective and practical hand-to-hand combat techniques. It's an amazing workout, and most schools have great programs for women.

You'll do a whole lot of kicking in Tae Kwon Do, but you'll also have to learn about the spiritual side of the martial art. Tae Kwon Do is very popular, so you probably won’t have any problem finding a program in your area.

Karate is the term most associated with martial arts, but there are a variety of styles of Karate to choose from. Karate styles are based on striking with both hands and feet, and you can find styles that emphasize either the more philosophical or combative aspects of the art.

Wing Chun Kung Fu is a martial art that emphasizes close-range striking and combat techniques, and legend tells that it was developed by a woman. Bruce Lee originally trained in Wing Chun, and if you've ever seen a martial arts film where the star is practicing on a wooden dummy that has sticks jutting out, he was probably practicing Wing Chun.

In order to advance in Tae Kwon Do, Karate, or Wing Chun, you'll have to learn forms or katas, which are a specific series of complex movements. If the idea of have to actually fight to advance doesn't appeal to you, then you might want to one of those three styles.

Everyone is a beginner at some point, so you shouldn't be nervous if you've never punched or kicked anything before. At the end of the day, a martial arts studio is a business that needs new clientele in order to thrive, and women mean big business. Most studios will offer free or low-cost introductory lessons, programs for beginners, and programs designed specifically for women, so do a little research beforehand and find a studio that has a variety of options that suit your needs.

There are so many great beginner martial arts programs for women, but whatever you do, check out the studio first to get a feel for the class style and instructors. Don't be afraid to listen to your gut when checking out a studio for the first time. Like it or not, there is still a lot of machismo in martial arts, and you don't want to train at a school that doesn't respect its female clientele. Martial arts are not just for macho men anymore, so get out there, girl! Kick some butt!

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