How Do I Choose a Martial Art?

Choosing a martial art can be a very confusing task, and indeed it is a decision that is often made quite arbitrarily. Many random factors come into play: what is the easiest place to get to, what is the practice schedule, what does it cost, what have I heard of, what do I like the sound of, what does my friend practice, and so on. And that's fine, because those things certainly do matter. This brief outline is intended to provide some additional information to help you as you consider your options. Ultimately you'll go with your gut feeling, try something, and see if you like it.

Basic Concepts

Within the GWU Exercise Science Program

Currently there are four martial arts taught within the GWU Exercise Science Program (in alphabetical order): Aikido; Shotokan Karate; Taekwondo; and Tai Chi. Following are general descriptions of each:

The essence of Aikido ("The Way of Unity with the Universal Force") technique is spherical motion around a stable, energized center. Aikido is known for its graceful techniques, swift, seemingly effortless movements that throw an attacker or, by means of subtle pressure applied to the joints, immobilize and control the opponent. Either effect is the result of precise timing, leverage, and the instinctive use of centrifugal and centripetal forces.

Shotokan Karate
Karate ("Empty Hand") uses a variety of methods including kicks, punches, blocks, sweeps, and evasions, as well as (to a lesser extent) joint manipulations and throws. Shotokan Karate includes both "hard" and "soft" techniques, and makes approximately equal use of feet and hands. The instructors are affiliated with Tsutomu Ohshima's Shotokan Karate of America, emphasizing realistic fighting techniques and an internal focus ("Mind and technique become one in true karate" according to the style's founder, Gichin Funakoshi). The sport/competition aspect is not heavily emphasized.

Taekwondo ("Way of Kicking and Punching") is a Korean martial art that places primary emphasis on kicking and footwork, with hand techniques and joint manipulations also included in the curriculum. Taekwondo develops flexibility, coordination, and cardiovascular fitness in its practitioners through training in basic techniques, forms, and free sparring. This martial art also has a highly developed competition aspect, and is now an Olympic event. The GWU Taekwondo club also has its own Web page

Tai Chi
The slow movements of Tai Chi Ch'uan ("Yin Yang Boxing") are graceful, powerful, relaxed, balanced, and meditative. Developed in China over a thousand years ago, this form of exercise unites the mind and the body, combining aspects of meditation, exercise, visualization, and martial art. The study focuses on the subtleties of relaxation, breathing, and body alignment.

For more information contact:

Aikido: Jack Susman, email or 202/337-4071
Karate: Laurence Libelo, email
Taekwondo: Brian Wright, email or 202/362-5387
Tai Chi: Ron Luntz, 703/486-1263

A complete schedule of the GWU Exercise and Sports Activities Program is available.

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