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Women in the martial arts

Why Do YOU Want to Start Martial Arts?

“I want to learn to defend myself!”

“I want to get in shape!”

“I want to improve my mental focus!”

Japanese Martial Arts

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I AM JMAC: Amber

Women Fitness Ann Arbor

“It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.” 

Amber began training at JMAC in June 2017 and has earned a green belt in Nihon Jujutsu.  “It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long” she says. “Time flies when you are having fun!”

Amber is a PhD candidate in environmental health sciences at the U of M School of Public Health. Her research revolves around exposures to phthalates, chemicals found in plastics and cosmetics, and adverse birth outcomes. She worked at the CDC for a summer as a Masters student and absolutely loved “being surrounded by so many kind and intelligent people who were so enthusiastic about hearing a young person’s perspective.”  Her goal is to return to the CDC for work once she graduates with her doctorate.  Although she earns a stipend, Amber supplements this income working as a waitress. “I have a self-inflicted busy schedule” she says, and “must be self-motivated in my work.”  

Amber didn’t always want a career in public health. After going through her undergraduate career wanting to become a physician and then failing to reach that goal, she quickly had to reevaluate her path and stumbled upon environmental health. “Public health was a huge accident for me, but I’ve found it’s 100% where I am meant to be. School was always what I was good at so that failure hit my pride really hard, but I’m so much better off now because of it.” 

Experiencing that failure for the first time also made Amber realize how much she valued her academic success, and how much her happiness relied on it. “I realized I didn’t have a lot in my life that I was living for besides school. I was taking 17-18 credits every semester, double majoring, and didn’t have the time or desire, or financial resources to do much else.”  

“Soon after starting the Master’s program I went through some pretty serious personal issues that made me realize that I had to figure out how to be happy, just me, with how my life was.”  She found self-fulfillment in the gym and was able to pull herself out of a funk, which started her down a path of better confidence and self-awareness.  

Self Defense Ann Arbor

What first got you into martial arts? 

Self-defense was always on my radar, but time and money were always obstacles” she said. She’d had previous conversations with people who had suggested jujutsu for smaller women interested in self-defense. Just one google search lead her to JMAC.

“I remember Suino Sensei asking me what my first impressions were after my first lesson. I told him I felt really great about it, and he says ‘yeah I can already tell you’re going to like this, you’ve had a big geeky smile on your face this whole time’”. Just that one private lesson sealed the deal for Amber. She knew this was going to something she’d enjoy.

“Since then, I have found at JMAC the things that made me happy when I started lifting, but to a much greater extent. In the dojo, I can let go of everything else that’s happening in my life. It takes so much more of my mental focus when I’m there and there’s no room for anything else in my head, and I think that’s so therapeutic. I could be having the worst day balling my eyes out on the way here, compose myself, and walk in and everything is better. The people here are so amazing!”

What are your greatest challenges in martial arts?

“I’m not good at not winning” she said. “I’m very competitive and I’m not used to not being the best at something.  When I started I thought that was going to be difficult for me, especially since I was the only white belt in class.  It was very intimidating at first and I wondered if it was going to be a deterrent.” As Amber began to train consistently she became more and more comfortable with all the other students in class, the black belts in particular. She noticed the differences between each of their teaching styles and now takes every opportunity she can get to work with the more advanced students and learn from them. “It’s a new experience for me - very humbling.  All the more advanced people are so accommodating. Students and instructors all have their own way of communicating and teaching and it makes the experience well rounded. I don’t feel uncomfortable when I miserably fail a technique in front of anyone, and that’s something that makes the training atmosphere at JMAC so incredible.”

“It’s a whole lot of stepping out of my comfort zone and I’ve been pleased with the outcomes every single time. I’ve not been disappointed here, not once.”

What about size differences?  You train with some big guys!

“That was definitely intimidating at first! But now it’s just something we joke about in class every time I’m working with a guy who’s a foot taller than me. That’s the beautify of what we do - you don’t have to be big and strong. If you are doing it right you can over power anyone - with the right technique.  Amber goes on to talk about the benefits of working with people of different sizes and how she learns so much simply from working with a variety of people in each class. “You practice a technique with a certain body type in class and you know in your head that you would never try that technique with someone of that body type in a real-world situation. That’s a valuable thing to know.” 

What unexpected benefits have you experienced as a result of your training?

“The relationships I’ve built with the people here, with the instructors in particular, they’re all amazing.  In my life I’ve had a significant lack of good male role models. Having some awesome people to look up to here is really valuable to me.”

How has your training carried over into your professional or personal life?

“Part of me is always in a JMAC mindset. I think about it all the time. I think about how I’m standing in the hallway or waiting for the bus to come by. ‘My knees are locked. My knees shouldn’t be locked.’ It’s continual physical awareness. I used to never think anything of walking down the street with my headphones in and now I think if I was doing that and ran into Gage Sensei or Suino Sensei, they might say, ‘What are you doing? You know better than that!’ This training really forces you to be more present and aware of how you could be vulnerable.”

“More so than anything, my mental health has improved so much by being here. This is my escape, something that allows me to step away from everything so that I can go home better prepared to tackle the next day. I think what it boils down to is that it’s something that makes me happy.  There are so many people that fill their lives with things they are unhappy with, and I’m so grateful that I’ve found such happiness with JMAC.”

Do you have ideas/thoughts about the experience of training at JMAC?

“It’s a family.  It’s a JMAC Family. It’s not just a gym. We all come from different walks of life. We are all different ages and have different life experiences, but we come here and that all goes away.  We’re here together.” 

“My big message is that it’s not about the physical benefits I get from JMAC. That’s obviously a benefit.  It’s more mental.  “It’s one of the most unexpected best decisions I’ve ever made. I feel like part of a family here and I wasn’t expecting to gain anything close to what I’ve found.”

Women Fitness Ann Arbor
Women Fitness Ann Arbor
Women Fitness Ann Arbor

Serving Southeast Michigan:

JMAC students come to practice from throughout Southeast Michigan, from such areas as:

  • Ann Arbor
  • Birmingham
  • Bloomfield
  • Brighton
  • Canton
  • Chelsea
  • Clinton Township
  • Detroit
  • Dexter
  • Dundee
  • Fenton
  • Fowlerville
  • Grass Lake
  • Howell
  • Inkster
  • Jackson
  • Lansing
  • Livonia
  • Manchester
  • Milan
  • Milford
  • Monroe
  • Novi
  • Okemos
  • Pinckney
  • Plymouth
  • Rochester
  • Romulus
  • Saline
  • Southfield
  • Tecumseh
  • Troy
  • Whitmore Lake
  • Wixom
  • Ypsilanti
  • University of Michigan
  • Eastern Michigan University
  • Michigan State University
  • Washtenaw Community College
  • Oakland Community College
Directions to JMAC

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Ann Arbor - Martial Arts Mecca

For the prospective martial arts student, Ann Arbor is a mecca in the Midwest. More than any other location in Michigan, Ann Arbor has a wide variety of martial arts styles taught by many well respected sensei (teachers). You can find training opportunities at community centers, college and university gyms, health clubs, fitness centers and dojos (training halls). Among the styles available are: aikido, iaido, judo, jiu-jitsu (also called jujutsu), karate, kendo, kung fu, MMA (mixed martial arts, sometimes called BJJ) tae kwon do, tai chi, and many westernized martial arts systems. At JMAC, we offer world class instruction in judo, jiu-jitsu, iaido (Japanese swordsmanship), and karate for kids.


Aikido is a martial arts descended from jiu-jitsu. It includes joint locks, throws, takedowns, and pins. The philosophy of aikido is a peaceful one - to use the attacker’s energy to neutralize his or her attack without causing injury. Aikido is taught in several forms, such as Aikikai, Ki Society, and Yoshinkan. Aikido was founded by Ueshiba Morihei, who studied with Takeda Sokaku, the most famous practitioner of Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu. Its principles can be found in almost every Japanese martial art, especially jiu-jitsu and judo. Read more about the physical and philosophical principles of Nihon Jujutsu.

Iaido in Ann Arbor

Iaido is Japanese sword drawing. It was created by the Samurai to defend against surprise attacks by an armed opponent. Most iaido involves the practice of pre-arranged forms, which are excellent tools for training the body, improving concentration, and entering into a meditative state. Finding a talented instructor in iaido with legitimate credentials is rare … in the Midwest it’s practically unheard of. For those with a desire to compete in swordsmanship for sport, kendo is the activity of choice. Those who are willing to endure an occasional whack on the head may pursue bokken kumite (sparring with wooden swords) with our director’s authorization once they reach black belt at JMAC. Read more about iaido at JMAC.

Ann Arbor Judo

Judo was founded by Professor Jigoro Kano. It is both a martial art and an Olympic sport. It includes throws, pins, joint locks, and chokes. It is among the most vigorous of martial arts and is very popular with children as well as adults. The Japanese Martial Arts Center offers classes in judo for children as young as 6 years old, and for adults (starting at age 16). One fact not widely known is that sport judo is a narrow cross section of the complete art of judo. Proponents of the entire art, such as Satoh Tadayuki Sensei of Waseda University in Tokyo, recognize that the founder’s vision encompassed not only “judo” throws, but joint locks, takedowns, redirection, strikes, vital points, dynamic ukemi, kata, and weapons. Judo training at JMAC includes many of these opportunities. Read more about Judo at JMAC.

Ann Arbor Jiu-Jitsu (Jujitsu / Jujutsu)

Jujutsu - which is also written "jujitsu" and "jiu jitsu" - is the ancestor martial art of aikido and judo. Although it includes many of the techniques found in aikido, as well as many more combative techniques that did not find their way into aikido, the philosophy of jujutsu is more practical. Techniques are applied more directly, with a greater emphasis on pain compliance. Those who study jiu-jitsu over the long term improve their fitness, concentration, and ability to defend themselves. The Japanese Martial Arts Center offers serious jiu-jitsu classes for adults starting at age 16. You can learn more about the differences between Japanese jujutsu and Brazilian jiujitsu.

Karate – Kids Karate in Ann Arbor

Karate involves mainly strikes, kicks, and blocks. It was originally developed in the Ryukyu Islands (now Okinawa), and was later exported to Japan before finding its way around the world. Karate is an excellent martial art for those who prefer striking, and helps develop physical strength, stamina, and confidence. There are many forms of karate taught around the world today, including Shotokan, Shorin-ryu, Chito-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, and Kyokushinkai. If you’re looking for a way to help your child learn enthusiasm, fitness, discipline, and manners while having a lot of fun, consider the kids karate program at JMAC. We have an incredible core of talented instructors who have made it their business to inspire kids to be their best. Read more about our karate program for kids.


Kendo is a sport descended from Japanese swordsmanship. In Kendo, participants wear padded armor and attempt to score points by striking vital points with bamboo swords called "shinai." Practice is fast paced, involves much spirited shouting, and is a lot of fun. The Japanese Martial Arts Center does not offer kendo, but can refer you to a reputable kendo instructor in the area.

Kung Fu

Kung Fu is a Chinese martial art that actually includes many sub-styles. Like karate, kung fu involves strikes, kicks, and blocks, but also includes many esoteric motions that can be applied to take down or otherwise defeat an opponent. Kung fu often appeals to imaginative people because of the many references to animal forms, but it is also a very challenging and practical martial art.

MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)

MMA (mixed martial arts) to a modern competition-based collection of techniques. Most MMA schools teach striking as well as grappling. Although not a traditional martial art - and thus lacking many of the character development and spiritual aspects of ancient Asian arts - MMA is nevertheless a fantastic form of exercise and a lot of fun. Because many MMA fighters have employed judo and jujutsu successfully, the Japanese Martial Arts Center offers private instruction to top-level competitors as well as occasional workshops for our members.

Tae Kwon Do

Tae Kwon Do is the Korean counterpart to Japanese karate. As a striking art, it includes punches, kicks, and blocks, but typically Tae Kwon Do emphasizes more kicking than does karate. Competition (usually for points rather than full contact) is very common among Tae Kwon Do practitioners. It is an excellent form of exercise, but seems more susceptible to commercialization than more traditional arts such as aikido and iaido.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is another form of Chinese martial art. It is usually taught with slow, controlled movements and deep stances. There are many health benefits associated with Tai Chi, including strong bones, cardiovascular health, and calmness.

Getting Started in Martial Arts in Ann Arbor

If you are considering taking up martial arts, you will find many superb opportunities in and around Ann Arbor, including outlying cities such as Brighton, Canton, Howell, Northville, and Plymouth. Students from the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College, Cleary College, and even Michigan State University have supplemented their education with martial arts and found that the physical activity helps them concentrate on their studies. We think the Japanese Martial Arts Center offers the best programs in Michigan, but we’re interested in people who are willing to work hard and do what it takes to become truly accomplished. We encourage you to look around to find the martial arts club or school that best meets your needs.