It's no secret that the Outer Banks offers countless opportunities to get outside and exercise. Between the beaches, trails, sea and sounds, the options are endless.
For those who may turn to look at more organized fitness opportunities, there has been an increase in options including a number of martial arts-based fitness classes in the area. With roughly half a dozen options available on the Outer Banks, those who are interested in these types of classes have a variety of options available to them, from low impact styles, like tai chi, and more high impact martial arts, like muay Thai.
Regardless of the style you chose to practice, martial arts offer practitioners a way to exercise their physical body while also increasing their mental health from self confidence to clarity of thought. Those individuals on the Outer Banks who want to pursue martial arts training are certainly not without options — regardless of age or ability.
Following is a sampling of how you can get fit, with an Asian-twist, on The Banks:
Tai chi is a Chinese style of martial arts that is based in the principles of controlled movement and breathing, integrating the mind and body while generating internal energy, practicing mindfulness and serenity. Practitioners strive to reach harmony between the body and inner self.
Tai chi has been practiced for at least 700 years. Originally a martial art with roots in Taoism, in the modern era, tai chi is more commonly practiced for its physical and mental benefits.
Aubrey Remige, fitness coordinator for the Thomas A. Baum Senior Center, has been teaching a "Tai Chi for Arthritis" class for six years.
She teaches sun style tai chi, which has less kicking and punching than other styles and places a strong emphasis on qigong, the cultivation of energy and a system practiced for increasing health and vitality.
“'Tai Chi for Arthritis' is an evidence-based program,” Remige says, citing clinical trials that found arthritis symptom improvement was significant when compared to non-tai chi practicing control groups. Studies also show that Tai Chi is also good for fall prevention. “With the particular tai chi I teach, there is a 30 percent reduction in first time falls and a 70 percent reduction in multiple falls versus the control group who did not practice tai chi.”
“Some studies show lowered anxiety and blood pressure and there are some cardiovascular, flexibility, and strength benefits, as well,” she adds.
Remige says she has seen the positive effects of tai chi first-hand, particularly with fall prevention. “Because it is a moving meditation, you can see stress reduction and the calming aspect almost from the first class,” she says.
Classes are free, but it’s not the kind of class you can just drop-in and start at any point because the class is taught in a series of choreographed sequences. Classes include a warm-up followed by repetition of movement.
“You start with the first movement and you practice that movement over and over. Then you add the second movement the next week and you do those two together. By the end of the 20 weeks, you should have the whole thing memorized,” she says. “That’s where you see a whole park full of people doing the same thing at the same time without anybody talking.”
Remige likens the class to learning a slow dance. Movements are slow and linked with the breath allowing for it to be a moving meditation.
“The meditation aspect is unique. I personally like it because it is so gentle that anybody can do it, even seated. It’s accessible,” she says.
Tai chi is suitable for all fitness levels. Similar classes are also taught at the Dare County Center in Manteo.
Muay Thai is a form of martial arts that is practiced in Thailand and Southeast Asia and may date back as far as the 14th century. Historians believe the practice developed over centuries as a form of defense against invading groups moving through Southeast Asia. Muay Thai is known as “The Art of Eight Limbs,” as practitioners are trained to use each part of the body — hands, feet, shins, elbow, legs, knees — to strike.
In April of 2016, Frankie Vincent opened Coastal Muay Thai in Kill Devil Hills. A Virginia native, Vincent relocated to the Outer Banks after years of vacationing here. He began wrestling early in life, later adding training in boxing, jiu-jitsu and muay Thai. He has traveled extensively to further his martial arts training. He lived in Thailand for nearly a year where he continued his muay Thai training while learning the language and competing in the sport.
“Muay Thai is a great hobby for everyone from kids to adults and from those who are coordinated along with those who believe they are not. Muay Thai can be physically demanding,” Vincent says. “It is also team-oriented and great for mental clarity.”
Vincent says the classes combine a great cardiovascular workout with resistance training. Students can expect to spend time hitting heavy bags and hitting pads with a coach. Be prepared to kick, jump rope, throw punches, jab elbows — a real full-body workout — and that’s the idea.
“Being able to pass on knowledge is priceless. Muay Thai is an art; we get to paint a picture with our body,” Vincent say. “Muay Thai offers a sense of empowerment. Knowing how to defend yourself is a bottomless pit of confidence. Our team prides itself on being welcoming and encouraging.”
Karate, a Japanese martial art, has a history extending more than a thousand years. Formalized in Okinawa, the system of unarmed combat was likely influenced by Chinese martial arts. Some practitioners believe karate may have even earlier origins in Central Asia with Daruma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism.
It is a weaponless form of self-defense built on defensive and blocking moves. The technique combines both mental and physical training. Karate strives to tone the body, quicken reflexes, increase stamina and coordination while inspiring self-confidence, insight and composure.
Keith Seal, a seventh degree black belt, opened Bushin Kan Dojo in August of 1989. He practices the classical chishin ryu heiho style of karate and offers training for true beginners and advanced students off all ages.
“Bushin Kan Karate began as a way for students to develop awareness of their bodies and of their ability to protect themselves,” Seal says. “Through training, one can develop clarity of their purpose and move forward with confidence.”
Students abide by a code of conduct that is rooted in respect, tradition and self-discipline. Fighting outside of training is strictly forbidden except as a last resort means of self-defense. Discipline and respect for karate, the training, and the other students ring throughout the Dojo’s code of etiquette. Students work to master precise techniques before testing to move up in rank.
Bushin Kan Karate also offers fitness and conditioning classes, including cardio, kickboxing, and yoga, for all fitness levels. Since 2011, Seals has also operated OBX Body Work, his massage therapy service, in addition karate and fitness classes.
By offering a diversity of classes and services, Seals hops to take a broader approach to wellness and, like karate, to train the body and inspire mental clarity.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu recently made headlines when heads turned to check out the killer abs of the 61-year-old TV host, chef and author Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain was introduced to jiu-jitsu by his now ex-wife Ottavia Busia. The former couple and their 10 year old daughter Ariane train regularly and compete on national and international levels.
Like karate, some historians believe jiu-jitsu has roots in India where Buddhist monks worked to develop a weaponless system of self-defense. The practice then spread to China before crossing into Japan. Brazil saw a massive expansion of immigration at the end of the 19th century, and it was during this time that Japanese masters of jiu-jitsu brought the martial art to Brazil.
Historians of the sport pinpoint the birth of Brazilian jiu-jitsu with its introduction to Gastao Gracie in 1916. Gracie quickly became an enthusiast and introduced his children to the sport. His son, Carlos Gracie, opened a school where he combined physical training with a special diet. He also moved training emphasis from takedowns to ground fighting, creating a distinctly Brazilian version of the sport.
Like other martial arts, jiu-jitsu strives to achieve personal improvement, not just self-defense.
Jiu-jitsu, a combat sport, focuses on ground fighting, or grappling, and it builds core strength, endurance, and flexibility. It’s a full-body workout and defense technique that incorporates learned movements and sparring.
For those interested in trying the sport, Momentum Fitness in Nags Head offers classes during the week. Youth and adult classes are available two days a week, as is a women’s class on Saturdays.