Get in shape with these 6 styles of martial arts

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There is plenty of good that can come from an exercise program — weight loss, increasing overall health, living longer and looking better.

It also can mean increasing your ability to physically defend yourself if the need arises, especially for those who decide to get in shape through martial arts.

Ed Monaghan is a UCLA professor and martial arts instructor who holds a black belt, or an equivalent rank, in several techniques, including muay Thai, jujitsu, karate and kung fu. He is also the co-founder of Ekata, a martial arts center in Valencia that combines techniques like muay Thai, jujitsu and jeet kune do with yoga, tai chi, capoeira and health classes.

He believes martial arts can help people gain both mental and physical strength.

“When you’re oriented mentally toward learning something that’s a new skill you tend to forget that you’re doing all that physical work,” he said. “You get this great workout at the same time you learn a valuable skill as you occupy your mind.”

With that in mind, here are a few other martial art forms that can help you get in shape inside and out.


This style of martial arts was developed for the Israeli military as a form of self-defense that focuses on stopping the threat and getting away as quickly as possible by mixing different disciplines in real-world scenarios. Practitioners have to be fast and confident with a lot of endurance.

“It’s not thought of as a sport, but more of a realistic skill. It’s a full-body workout that requires your body to deliver a lot of power,” said Kyle Lemburg, lead instructor at 360 Krav Maga & Kickboxing in Long Beach. The company’s other locations include Los Angeles and Manhattan Beach.

The warm-up includes things like sit-ups, squats and lunges to prepare the muscles for the twisting, turning and punching that’s required to get out of sticky situations. Lemburg works his students hard, incorporating punching, kicking, wrestling and grappling into a workout that can burn about 700 calories per hour.

“Learning self-defense keeps students going and focused and is way more motivating than a regular gym,” he said.


Learning how to throw a few punches has been good for Long Beach resident Lisa Steele. Since the 48-year-old took up boxing about two years ago, she has lost nearly 100 pounds thanks to the fast footwork, punching bags and mental toughness that’s part of the sport.

“It’s a great exercise without realizing you’re exercising and you’re learning strategy, so you’re actually thinking as well,” said Steele, who works out in Long Beach at Pine Avenue DG Boxing.

The exercise routine for Steele and others at the boxing gym includes jumping rope and footwork drills that are a bit like running on sand. A boxing workout also obviously involves hitting punching bags and speed bags while wearing heavy gloves that act as weights.

“Believe it or not, keeping your hands up for a few minutes is pretty difficult,” said Anthony Skalberg, owner of DG Boxing. “It builds muscle endurance, it helps strengthen the muscles too and the jump-roping is the boxer’s No. 1 thing, which works your entire body from your head to toe.”

Skalberg estimates that during a tough workout, a boxer can burn more than 1,000 calories per hour.


The kicking and punching combinations make kickboxing a very good aerobic workout that burns fat and calories while teaching students to kick their way out of trouble if the need arises.

“You’re doing combos, you got the boxing gloves on most of the time with upper-body punching mixed in with throwing knees upward, kicks, roundhouses, using your shin as weapons and side kicks,” said David Kerr, owner of Kerr MMA in Pasadena, which teaches kickboxing and other martial arts techniques. “One of the best ways to burn the most calories is kickboxing. It’s up there as one of most intense cardio workouts.”

His students train about three times a week and can burn about 1,000 calories during an intense hourlong workout that also hits the core of the body, including the abs and lower back muscles.


There’s no need to kick and punch to learn a little self-defense while getting in shape with judo. The martial art involves several holds, locks and throws. It’s ideal for helping smaller people defend themselves against bigger attackers, since the opponent’s own weight and momentum are used against him or her in a tussle. But it’s not for the small-willed.

“It’s a tough sport, either you love it or you’re going to quit,” said Bill Matsubara, president of Norwalk Judo Dojo, which teaches children and adults the martial art. Besides learning balance, coordination and the ability to take down someone way bigger, judo students also can expect a good cardio workout.

“It’s one of the best cardio exercises of any of the martial arts related sports. You’re pulling, pushing, throwing people around,” said Kenji Osugi, head instructor at Sawtelle Judo Dojo in Los Angeles. But Osugi warns judo students shouldn’t always expect to lose weight when taking on the sport because throwing bodies around is a bit like weight lifting, so many students gain weight in muscle as they’re losing fat.


Like judo, jujitsu is a grappling and throwing fighting style. The physical benefits are similar to judo and other forms of martial arts with lots of cardio, stretching and resistance workouts involved in the art. Strength and muscles are built up thanks to throwing opponents around and pinning them down.

Don Kim, owner of Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu in Redlands, teaches Brazilian jujitsu techniques that incorporate judo and wrestling moves. He said a good workout — which can include squats, push-ups and even carrying other students on your back — can burn about 1,100 calories per hour. Since the training involves an opponent, his students tend to motivate each other while getting in shape and learning how to defend themselves, Kim said.

“I always recommend that people explore the academy to make sure it’s the right fit, since it becomes like a second family,” he said.


The full-contact combat sport is a popular form of martial arts thanks to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which promotes televised events with the top-ranked fighters in the world. The often bloody battles include a violent but regulated mix of martial arts that incorporate judo, jujitsu, wrestling, boxing, kickboxing and muay Thai. It’s a great workout that can be bloodless and safe, say instructors like Josh Exter, general manager of UFC Gym in Long Beach.

“You can learn all the techniques in any UFC fight in a class format. Anyone can do it and they won’t leave with a black eye and broken nose,” he said.

Workouts include spending time on punching bags, arm-building drills with heavy ropes and pushing sleds similar to those in football workouts, which strengthens the entire body while burning up to 1,500 calories per hour, Exter said.

At True Warrior Fitness in Los Angeles, MMA skills are taught by gym owner and professional MMA fighter Toby Grear.

“Here you test your body and your mind and learn real-life defense techniques,” he said. His students learn these skills by taking on exercise routines that make them sweat, including burpees, lifting kettlebells and throwing a few punches, knee and elbow combinations to burn calories and bring down opponents.

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