Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, judo, karate, taekwondo, muay thai, kickboxing — the list of martial arts forms goes on. Though the names are distinctive, the sport's styles share a commonality: self-defense.
According to Black Belt Magazine, martial arts date back to 2600 B.C. in China. Emperors, troops and tribesmen used the defensive movements in battle. The sport evolved across the globe and many popular styles have made their way into fitness gyms and studios across the U.S.
Some people who teach or participate in martial arts say they started and never stopped. Like Robert Goodloe, owner of Gracie Barra Centennial Jiu-Jitsu, 4181 East County Line Road. He was studying for his MBA at Pepperdine University in California when he first tried a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class.
“I started training at the studio and I never left,” said Goodloe, a Highlands Ranch resident. He opened the second Gracie Barra studio in Colorado last July — the first is in Colorado Springs.
Benefits of martial arts are far reaching. From engraining a strong sense of discipline to building muscle, the sport strengthens mind and body.
In an evening class at Gracie Barra Centennial Jiu-Jitsu, a small group of adults wearing white kimonos listen carefully to instructors before gently performing a series of grapples with a partner. Intertwined on the mat, they learn how to defend themselves.
Martial arts use quick movements that build muscle and increase flexibility. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a style for the smaller individual to defend against a larger individual. Taekwando emphasizes kicking. Karate focuses more on hand movements, including punching and knee and elbow strikes.
Although martial arts teach fighting movements, not all forms encourage fighting.
“We teach how to use our body to defend ourselves,” said Irene Bowden, instructor of Shotokan Karate Colorado. “A lot of people will come to train and learn how to kick and punch and they may never in their lifetime get in a fight.”
The Showticon karate style — referred to as an empty-hand method of teaching self defense without weapons — builds body strength, flexibility, stamina and makes participants feel good, said Bowden.
She started training with her sensei, or instructor, Gary Swain, more than 16 years ago to get in shape and learn self defense. Karate has since become a “wonderful addiction,” said Bowden.
She teaches three classes at Lone Tree Recreation Center: Shotokan Tigers for ages 5 to 7, Stars Special Needs for ages 6 and older and Women's Self-Defense for ages 13 and older.
Participants of all ages benefit physically from martial arts.
Nicole Gossett's 9-year-old son has been practicing at ATA Family Martial Arts in Highlands Ranch for the past year. He has become a positive influence for the “not very athletic family,” Gossett said.
“Watching him be so disciplined practicing at home and in the studio,” said Gossett, “we all have done a lot more sit-ups and squats and push-ups in the last year.”
In the same Gracie Barra Centennial Jiu-Jitsu class, participants of all ages follow etiquette guidelines. They bow before getting on and off the mat. Talking is kept to a minimum. Uniforms are worn. Professors, or instructors, are treated with respect.
“I think people start to see the value of discipline,” said Goodloe. “It's really a challenge to yourself. It improves your whole way of living.”
Martial arts have a strong focus on moral values, discipline and character, experts in the sport say. Participants use the mental skills to excel in the sport — recreationally or competitively — and in other areas of life.
Gossett signed her son up more than a year ago to help shift his focus from distractions at school. The goal-oriented nature of martial arts helped him, she said. At ATA Family Martial Arts, participants are tested for belts — which signify a level of experience — every two months.
“The discipline of martial arts was a huge component to give him structure,” Gossett said. “He sees the consequences of positive and negative actions.”
Some studios offer family classes, where parents can practice with their children. One of those is Personal Achievement Martial Arts, 3964 Youngfield Street, in Wheat Ridge. Having parents present increases kids' focus, said founder Korey Stites. Instructors encourage better grades, respect, focus in and out of the classroom and leadership.
“It's also something they can do together,” Stites said of the family class. “You're actually participating and doing everything right alongside the kids.”
Martial arts are a continual learning experience, experts in the sport say. There is always room to grow, physically and mentally.
Karate has changed Bowden's life dramatically, she said. The mother of three and Realtor calls the form of martial arts her passion.
“Martial arts in our view is considered a lifelong training,” Bowden said. “It's something that you learn to love.”