Want to get in shape for the new year, but you're tired of traditional workouts?

Try Brazilian jujitsu, a form of martial arts designed not only to tone your muscles but also to teach you self-defense.

Although it can fit seamlessly into any modern exercise routine, jujitsu has a long and rich history.

Even before the samurai warriors of ancient Japan, jujitsulike forms were being developed in Asia and used in combat; the very first records of combative grappling can be traced back several centuries.

There are no weapons used in jujitsu. The whole idea is to gain superior positioning and then to apply various holds, locks and joint manipulations on your opponent.

The primary goal of this type of martial arts is not to cause physical damage to your opponents but rather for them to submit (via joint lock or choke), or to hold them in a position in which they can do no harm.

In jujitsu, there is a great amount of emphasis on position strategy -- which fighter is on top and where each person's legs are.

Wide Appeal

In the early 1900s, Japanese jujitsu master Mitsuyo Maeda stopped in Brazil during a judo tour, and local politician Gastao Gracie befriended him.

In exchange for Gracie's kindness, Maeda went against the tradition of training only the Japanese in jujitsu and taught Gracie's teenage son Carlos. Carlos in turn showed his younger brothers Osvaldo, Gasto Jr., Jorge and Helio.

In 1925, Carlos and his brothers became so absorbed in the techniques that they opened the first jujitsu academy in Brazil.

The martial art has since spread worldwide, and with good reason.

"If you train three times a week for six months, you can probably beat up most karate instructors," says Adam Golden, a doctor who has been practicing jujitsu for 12 years and has attained a black belt.

There are several levels of jujitsu, all of which are represented by various colored belts.

The levels progress from white to blue to purple to brown to black.

Within a year, if a person trains three times a week, it's possible to advance from a white belt to a blue belt. It takes approximately 10 years to reach the highly respected black-belt status.

But even after six months, you can learn how to defend yourself effectively.

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