Western interest in Oriental martial arts has been high ever since the rise to fame of Bruce Lee, the Hong Kong-born American film star whose movies were built around the extensive use of martial arts in fight scenes. From the Karate Kid film series to the current popularity of the UFC, martial arts have never been more popular.

They’re also a great way to keep fit and learn a bit of self-defence (because you never know when some nutter might come at you down a dark alley). There’s no better test of your personal fitness than a few rounds of (refereed and regulated) combat against another competitor, and  now it’s an extremely simple thing to join a martial arts club close to where you live – there are literally hundreds of them operating in leisure centres, village halls and schools around the country.

The first choice you need to make is the type of martial art that you’re going to learn. You could go for the classic karate (emphasis on punching), judo (emphasis on throwing) or taekwondo (emphasis on kicking), but there has been a rise in popularity of full-contact martial arts, where the aim in competition is to knock out or force your opponent to submit, whereas the “classic” martial arts are more concerned with scoring points through accuracy than fighting to injure an opponent. Martial arts like Brazilian jiu jitsu, muay thai and sambo are now popular through their exposure in organisations like the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which is watched in over a hundred countries around the world. With people wanting to emulate the likes of Anderson Silva and Chuck Liddell, martial arts centres have had to adapt the disciplines that they are able to offer new customers.

It’s important, after all, that if people want to learn how to incapacitate someone, they should know how to do it properly – even those who have been trained sometimes get badly injured, so it’s imperative that those who want to learn these techniques are able to use them safely. Most martial arts centres deal in the belt system, where fighters who are at different levels wear different coloured belts. If you want to start learning Brazilian jiu jitsu Chelmsford, you’ll have to begin at the bottom and work your way up, training and honing your techniques before being entered into local and, if you’re lucky and want to make a career out of it, national and international competitions.

Whether you want to be Daniel LaRusso or Rocky Balboa, learning a martial art teaches you discipline, respect for yourself and others and, crucially, how to use self-defence techniques as protection rather than as a means of unprovoked attack. Joining a course also allows you to improve your health and fitness – nothing takes it out of you quite like a few three-minute rounds of hand-to-hand combat! Try combining learning a martial art with a new diet and gym regime, and keep an eye on the way that it improves your mental health as well, as martial arts have long been feted as being therapeutic and almost spiritual when performed correctly, to the point that some disciplines, like tai chi, concentrate solely on that aspect of it.