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The best martial arts schools in New York


Welcome to Fight Club


by Ken Mondschein



One of the most insidious effects of our 9-to-5 world is what I like to call "desk spread." In other words, pushing pixels all day, with only a break to load up on high-carb corporate cafeteria food, tends to make one's ass expand at an exponential rate. There's nothing anyone can do about becoming old and bald, and we can't pick your clothes for you, but you do have some control over your physical condition.

Besides, regular exercise just gives you an entire attitude adjustment. There's a certain sense of superiority in looking at your pale, pudgy boss and knowing that, if it came down to it, you could easily beat him at arm wrestling. Think of Kevin Spacey working out in his garage in American Beauty, finding suburban empowerment, and telling that human resources consultant to fuck off. Think of that scene in Fight Club where Ed Norton kicks his own ass. That's balls, ladies and gentlemen, and you don't get them sitting on the couch eating Doritos and drinking bad American beer.

Unfortunately, the most common options for exercise are somewhat, pardon the pun, run of the mill—nothing a true CORPORATE MOFO reader would be caught dead doing. Jogging outdoors can be fun, if you don't mind the taxi cabs, bicycle messengers, January blizzards, repetitive stress injuries from pounding on asphalt, and occasional serial rapist. You can join a gym, where you can make like a hamster on an exercise wheel on some machine designed by the Spanish Inquisition. Besides, why pay someone to imprison you in a cage for even more hours out of the day? You can join a sports club, where you can be made to feel small one more time in your fun-packed day by some jerk yelling things he heard NBA players say, like "in your face!" or "All your base are belong to us!" as he sends a squash ball hurtling towards your gonads. Or, you can join the Y, where you can bathe in other people's intestinal parasites in the over-chlorinated pool.

The subversive solution? Make a choice for body and mind, where you can make friends, learn to kick ass, and live out your Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fantasies. Learn a martial art. Unlike pointless activity on the treadmill, in a martial art you actually learn to do something. It's a skill, and one that could save your life.

Martial arts are a particularly wise choice for women: Our society encourages women to be shallow, dependent, fearful, and weak. Martial arts teach spirituality, self-reliance, courage, and strength. Plus, no one can tell how big your ass is in those unflattering uniforms.

Therefore, out of a list of hundreds of potential candidates, here's what we consider to be the cream of the crop of martial arts schools in New York. There are others, such as the New York aikikai aikido dojo, several excellent kung fu schools, and various boxing or kickboxing gyms we could mention, but we chose these based on personal experience. If you have an addition, e-mail us their information and why you think we should include it.

World Seido Karate
61 West 23 Street
(other branches around the city and worldwide)

Perhaps the finest karate school to be found anywhere, Seido was founded by 9th-degree black belt and Japanese national hero Tadashi Nakamura back in the 1970s. The main branch on 23rd street is a two-story dream dojo, the instructors are top-notch, and Senpai Angel's Thursday night conditioning class will get your ass into shape faster than anything else on earth. Despite the fact that the top people in the dojo are really frightening, beginners are given a fairly slow, compassionate introduction into the Way of the Empty Hand. Also, there are no contracts, and tuition is quite reasonable.

The biggest pro, as well as the biggest detriment, is that Seido is very much a traditional Japanese budo, or martial way. This means that huge emphasis is placed on ethics, rightful conduct, and spiritual development. It also means that the school is highly structured, and the teaching style is geared to large classes. However, you won't find a better karate school anywhere.

Martinez Academy of Arms
330 Broome Street
(201) 330-8670

Fencing may conjure up the Three Musketeers more than it does Bruce Lee, but European swordsmanship is a martial art, too. Never mind those fanboys in costume in Union Square Park: This is the real deal. Maestro Ramon Martinez and his wife Maestro Jeanette Acosta-Martinez teach the sword in the tradition and spirit of the days when an angry Frenchman might smack you with a glove and challenge you to cold steel at dawn. Plus, they also teach rapier and other almost-forgotten historical weapons as they have come down to us in the twenty-first century.

If you ever saw yourself in Zorro's mask, just can't give up those swashbuckling fantasies, or simply want to learn a really cool and esoteric martial art in a relaxed yet disciplined environment, the Martinez Academy is for you.

C.K. Chu Tai Chi
156 West. 44th Street
(212) 221-6110

Just as fencing may make you think of Renaissance faires, tai chi may make you think of old fogeys in the park. Not so-just check out Jet Li in "The Tai Chi Master." Tai Chi is a dynamic and effective martial art that places emphasis on economical, relaxed movements. Plus, you get to give that ol' chi a workout.

Master Chu comes highly recommended. He teaches the flowing Yang style of tai chi, and his school has classes ranging from basic forms to advanced sparring.

New York Naginata Club
White Street Fitness Center
43 White Street
(Sundays 1 to 3)

Speaking of rare and wonderful martial arts, New Yorkers also have a unique opportunity to train in naginata with Kyoshi Yamauchi Sachiko. What's a naginata you ask? Well, basically, it's a sword blade at the end of a long pole. Traditionally a woman's martial art, naginata is ideal for anyone looking for something new and unique to study, or who just likes large sharp objects.

Yamauchi Sensei has an impressive bio. She teaches both atarashi naginata, a new style designed for teaching in public schools, and old-style tendo ryu, which is a battlefield art. (For more on the difference between old- and new- style Japanese martial arts, see Koryu Books' Web page. It's run by Diane Skoss, one of the foremost authorities in the field.)

Daito Ryu

Sherlock Holmes knew jujitsu; so should you. Daito ryu is another one of those old-tradition Japanese martial arts, albeit one that's getting quite popular these days. A grappling art, it involves throws, locks, twists, and a little swordsmanship. It somewhat resembles a hardcore version of aikido, and rightfully so, since the founder of aikido was a noted daito ryu exponent, as well.

The New York daito ryu dojo meets Saturday mornings and Monday evenings in the Korean church on the south side of St. Mark's Place, between first and second. For more information, see


About the writer: Ken Mondschein is out of bubble gum.

Posted January 1, 2002 1:49 AM






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