What is it? This ground-based grappling technique broke off from Judo in the early 1900s. It really started to come to prominence when master Royce Gracie used it to dominate the early UFC tournaments. The object is to put your opponent in a submission hold that either knocks them out or inflicts so much pain that they have to submit.
Where you've seen it: If you've ever watched a UFC event, you've definitely seen BJJ in action. What to expect: At the core of most jiu jitsu training is what's called "rolling," which is basically wrestling. You'll either be rolling gi—in which you wear a traditional uniform—or no gi, which usually just involves a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. And while some of it may look like they're "just laying there," it's extremely fatiguing on just about every muscle in the body. Think Pilates in attack mode. It'll also give you an iron grip. Is it for you? If your primary goal is self-defense, this isn't the best choice since taking a guy to the ground on the street is a bad strategy. Also, if you have personal space issue, this is your worst nightmare. But, if you're in it for sport, this might be the best. BJJ tournaments are getting easier to find all the time and you won't end up with a broken nose (most of the time) if you lose. Be prepared to wear headgear, though, to avoid cauliflower ear.
What is it? The literal Hebrew translation of Krav Maga is "battle contact" and we can't think of a better description. It was developed by the Israeli Defense Force to be used in real-life combat situations. In addition to punches, kicks and throws, it teaches real-life scenarios like how to disarm an attacker. Rubber knives and guns will make appearances.
Where you've seen it: Again, elements of Krav Maga have made their way into movies, especially ones about spies. Discovery's Fight Science series also has some great demonstrations of exactly how burly Krav Maga practitioners can be. What to expect: Most Krav Maga programs thrive on intense workouts with lots of drills. Fighting when your tired is a key skill and most Krav Maga programs are extremely adept at getting you to that point. Also, some of the main techniques involve stuff that's flat out banned in other arts. Kicks to the groin? Eye pokes? Throat rakes? Joint breaks? All part of the game. A big part. Is it for you? If you crave contact, this is for you. There's a lot of twisting and striking, so it's great for your core and requires strong joints. But, all of that contact means you'll be leaving classes with bruises. And when you get to the higher levels, the tests get to be fights. But, on the list, it's the most practical and involves very little ground game if that's not your thing. Just don't expect to find any Krav Maga tournaments to participate in.
TAE KWON DO
What is it? Hailing from Korea, Tae Kwon Do is one of the broadest forms of study. Statistically speaking, it has more followers than any other martial art and it's even an Olympic sport. Attacks include punches, kicks and throws.
Where you've seen it: It's one of the most entertaining events at each summer Olympics. There are also probably plenty of gyms in your area that teach the techniques. The flying kicks make their way into may video games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, too. What to expect: Most Tae Kwon Do programs include a wide variety of activities. You'll do a lot of drills and a fair bit of sparring, but there are also other things like relaxation techniques, standard cardiovascular exercises and the ever-popular act of breaking crap like boards and bricks with your hands and feet. Is it right for you? Because the programs can vary so much, it's important to really check out the gym and observe a bit before committing. Since much of the sparring is done in full gear, there's often a lot of stuff to buy. That means more protection for you, though. And because of its Olympic status, finding opportunities for competition shouldn't be tough.