Today someone shared a video with me of a woman leading a group “cardio” class in what looked like a horribly choreographed parody of Japanese swordsmanship. A group of mostly women with wooden practice swords tried to follow along as the instructor sloppily hopped around punching, kicking, and striking with the bokken. As both an exercise professional and a martial arts student nonsense like this pisses me off because it is a mockery of both.
It’s not effective exercise
So-called “cardio” is a relatively ineffective, inefficient, and unsafe choice for exercise to begin with. Contrary to the exaggerated marketing claims “cardio” classes do not burn enough calories to cause significant fat loss, and the same or better cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning benefits can be achieved more safely and efficiently through proper strength training. Flailing around attempting to mimic movements from martial arts like boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, or Kenjutsu without proper training does not improve “cardio’s” limited effectiveness and can increase the already significant risk of acute and overuse injuries.
It’s neither effective martial arts nor effective self defense
Most of what passes for punching, kicking, and footwork in so-called “cardio boxing” and “cardio kickboxing” classes is technically very poor and ineffective for actually fighting or protecting yourself. Even if these techniques were being taught effectively there is far more to martial arts than learning a collection of techniques, and far more to self defense than martial arts (awareness, avoidance, de-escalation, knowing the laws, etc.). Going to a dance aerobics class to learn to protect yourself makes about as much sense as going to a carpentry class to learn to play the drums. They both involve pounding on things, but anybody who is not a complete idiot can see they have little else in common.
But it’s fun!
If you enjoy hopping around with a group of people pretending to do martial arts to music that’s fine. People do all sorts of things for recreation and socialization and there is nothing wrong with that. I’m not telling anyone they shouldn’t do something if they enjoy it. However, don’t expect to get much out of it other than fun. These kinds of classes are very poor options for both exercise and for learning martial arts and if those are things you are interested in (and if you value your health and safety you should be) you should follow a proper exercise program and proper martial arts training as well.
Although proper exercise is not (if it is you’re not doing it right) many people find they enjoy real martial arts training. There is a lot of personal satisfaction in learning and mastering a difficult set of skills and knowing you are capable of better protecting yourself can greatly improve your self-confidence (as opposed to the dangerous false sense of security some people get from fake martial arts training like “cardio kickboxing” and “samurai cardio”).
If you want effective, efficient, and safe exercise a proper strength training program can provide the same or better cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning benefits while also stimulating improvements in muscular strength and size, flexibility, bone and connective tissue strength. If you’re trying to lose fat strength training is an even better option, not because it’s going to burn a lot more calories in the short term, but because it helps to prevent you from losing muscle along with fat.
If you want real, effective martial arts and/or self-defense training look for a school that teaches these specifically. I strongly recommend reading Marc MacYoung’s article The Four Focuses of Martial Arts and the late Bob Orlando’s book Martial Arts America before looking for a school to help you better determine exactly what you want out of it and what to look for. There are a lot of great martial arts and self defense instructors out there but also a lot of frauds so shop around and do your homework before joining a school.