The question of the "best" martial art for weight loss is subjective at best. Factors such as intensity, accessibility, fun factor, availability and price all come in to play-and everybody has different ideas of how important any given factor might be. Still, each martial art places emphasis on different aspects of training, making some arts stand out for any given set of priorities.
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Caloric burn is an important factor in any weight loss effort, notes black belt and martial arts instructor Ben Cohn. Although individual teachers and schools will vary, some martial arts require more intense training than others. Some arts make physical training part of the tradition, for example taekwondo, tang soo do and some forms of karate. Sport fighting arts, such as kickboxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu, are especially good in this regard since participants are conditioning to get a competitive advantage.
Lack of access can stymie your efforts to get involved in a particular martial art. Some forms of kung fu, for example, are highly rigorous but only available in large cities with a significant Chinese population. Taekwondo is the most widely available oriental martial art in the US, says martial arts historian Dave Coffman. Another good choice in this department would be cardio kickboxing, a popular group fitness offering at many health clubs.
Everybody has a different idea of what "best" means; some people may believe fun martial arts are the best for them. Capoeira, a highly rigorous Brazilian art that incorporates music and dance, entices athletes and music lovers. Kenpo, a karate variant, rarely incorporates heavy workouts, but presents a challenging curriculum that will keep some intellectually interested. Sport fight arts add a level of competition, which might draw people who enjoy competing to boxing, wrestling and mixed martial arts.
Tai chi instructor Kerry Collette notes that not everybody who wants to lose weight is physically ready for a standard martial arts class. For people who need to get into shape first, tai chi, bagua and qigong are martial arts that strengthen and tone muscles with little stress on the knees and back. For some, this could be a starting point on the way to more vigorous styles. For others, it can be an art to study for its own sake.