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Health Column: Martial arts is more than self defense


Whenever I tell someone I have a black belt in karate, his or her eyes invariably widen. Seconds later, I’m usually subjected to the following half-joking inquiry: “Could you beat me up?”

Well, maybe. But the martial arts, of which there are more than 140 different styles, encompass more than self-defense. For instance, when I began training in Okinawan Goju-ryu as a naïve 8-year-old, I wasn’t interested in learning how to fight off would-be assailants. I did, however, come to appreciate the superior level of cardiovascular fitness I developed with five and a half years of training. And the discipline and self-confidence my Sensei, or teacher, imparted to me and my peers was invaluable.

As far as I can tell, Okinawan Goju-ryu classes aren’t offered on the North Fork. But the area does provide everything from Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which focuses on grappling and ground fighting, to taekwondo, which emphasizes kicking and striking, to tai chi. Take a look at the following primer to help determine the right style for you.


What it is: A combat sport similar to wrestling that teaches participants how to defend themselves by using grappling, joint lock and choking techniques.

How it helps: Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which arrived in the South American country at the turn of the 20th century via Japanese martial artist Geo Omori, provides myriad benefits to mind and body. In addition to promoting strength and endurance, it teaches students discipline, self-confidence and humility.

Where to do it: Vamos Mixed Martial Arts, 4462 Middle Country Road, Calverton. Call 631-525-4797.


What it is: Developed in the mid-20th century by Korean martial artists, taekwondo emphasizes fast, high kicks. Students also learn forms (known as kata in karate), which are choreographed movements practiced alone or in a group. There is also a focus on sparring and breaking boards and other materials.

“A lot of adults come here for self-defense and stress relief,” said Sung Choi, owner of Expert Martial Arts in Aquebogue. “They want to lose weight and they get in shape really well, too.”

How it helps: In addition to providing a comprehensive cardiovascular workout that promotes stamina and flexibility, taekwondo advocates respect for superiors.

“With class, we teach them manners and bowing, respecting seniors,” Mr. Choi said.

Where to do it: Expert Martial Arts, 1116 Main Road, Aquebogue. Call 631-722-5554.


What it is: A centuries-old Chinese martial art that emphasizes breathing, movement and awareness exercises, response drills and self-defense techniques.

How it helps: According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, tai chi may offer a range of health benefits. For those suffering from heart disease, cancer and chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia, the practice may reduce back and knee pain while improving overall quality of life. In the elderly and those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, tai chi can improve balance and stability.

“It can be a benefit to any age, but it’s particularly available to older people,” said Denise Gillies of Cutchogue, who teaches tai chi through the Riverhead Town Department of Recreation.

Where to do it: Riverhead Town’s next tai chi session begins Thursday, July 7, and runs through August. Classes will take place from 8 to 9 a.m. at Jamesport Beach. Visit riverheadrecreation.com for more information and to register.

Have a health column idea for Rachel Young? Email her at [email protected].

Photo Caption: Expert Martial Arts owner Sung Choi, far left, leads students in kicking drills Thursday evening at the Aquebogue school. (Credit: Rachel Young)