Written By Simon Hayes, BJJ black belt and instructor at Carlson Gracie London, UK.
This is a common statement and after a lifetime of Martial Arts and 14 years teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, in my experience the people that say this never turn up to start their martial arts training.
The reality is that whatever martial art you are thinking of starting will have a number of other beginners in the class you attend. They will be of different ages, different genders, different body shapes, different fitness levels and different athletic abilities.
Martial Arts classes are a place of learning, they are not a boot camp. You will not be shouted at and pushed harder than your fitness level can cope with.
Martial Arts will get you fit, in a gradual and completely achievable way. Each class will consist of a warm up, which will be specific exercises and drills to help your body begin to become proficient at the movements common in the martial art you have chosen to practise. This warm up will generally get you mildly out of breath and sweaty. In other words, it will gently challenge your cardio system and burn calories. The great thing is that while your cardio system is becoming more efficient and you are burning calories, because your brain will be concentrating on the movements you won’t notice or become bored with the cardio workout, in the way a beginner potentially finds running unacceptably boring and difficult, because when we start out running it is difficult to think about anything else beyond how hard it is and how bored we are.
The more classes you attend the easier the warm up becomes.
The easier the warm up becomes the fitter you are becoming and the more calories you can burn in the warm up as your work rate increases.
After the warm up you will generally concentrate on skill based techniques which will be challenging for your mind and co-ordination but less challenging on your cardio system. In other words, the technique portion of the class will feel like a rest when you are a beginner. As you become more proficient at the techniques you will perform the techniques faster which again will tax your cardio system and make you fitter.
Do you see how this works? Martial Arts slowly and systematically build up your cardio system and endurance without you even noticing you’re getting fitter. And generally, as you get fitter you’ll also be getting lighter due to the calories you are burning in class, especially if you are being sensible about your diet.
Finally sparring- At first you will be paired up with other beginners and sparring will generally be positional, using positions that have been explained to you in class. Instructors will be aware when you need to rest and limit your sparring to the amount your fitness can cope with. As you progress and your fitness increases so will the amount of sparring you do.
If you really don’t want to spar then make sure you choose a soft art that does not include sparring but please be aware these arts have almost zero self defence usefulness.
I hope this clears up the age old question of whether we need to get fit before starting martial arts? The answer is a resounding no and the question itself is usually the ego trying to find an excuse to back out of walking through the door at the martial arts club and training in your first class, which could potentially change your life for the better.
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