Art of staying in shape:Kalaripayattu includes dynamic leg swings and jumps. Photograph by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Every session involves push-ups, squats, kicks, punches and high-intensity strength training. Classes are only held over the weekends, but most members find these sessions strenuous enough not to opt for additional exercise during the week. Jeeth Devaiah, a former hockey player and fitness trainer for the Delhi Daredevils cricket team of the Indian Premier League, rarely misses these weekend classes. “I have been into sports all my life but have never done anything like this," says Devaiah. “It’s a complete exercise routine that includes cardiovascular exercises and weight training in the form of kicks and spot strengthening."

Get toned

“You will notice that people who have been practising martial arts for years have great bodies. This comes from the fact that often they are working every muscle in their body. It is more holistic as a workout compared with cardio exercises like cycling or running," says Heath Matthews, sports rehabilitation specialist, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital and Medical Research Institute, Mumbai.

Krav Maga combines cardiovascular exercises and weight training in the form of kicks and spot strengthening; trainers at the Kalari Academy of Performing Arts in Bangalore. Photograph by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Wolf says that given the strenuous training plan at the classes, weight loss or strengthening of muscles is only a natural by-product. He says an hour-long session of Krav Maga can help burn up to 800 calories.

Bangalore-based Ashwin Mohan has been training students in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), a combination of several martial art forms, including Vajra Mushti (a martial arts form from south India), kick-boxing, judo, kung fu, and yoga. Though Mohan is not very comfortable with the idea of looking at martial arts as a means for weight loss, he says that if someone is looking for total fitness, then it would be a good option. “I have to say that my body is now more firm and youthful than it used to be when I was 25, when I wasn’t training in martial arts," says Mohan, who has learnt 23 forms of martial arts, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Shaolin Kung Fu in about two decades. Mohan’s class usually begins with a warm-up that is a combination of asanas, Pranayam and Chinese Qigong (a breathing technique). “With the current lives that most of us live, most parts of our body do not function to their fullest capacity," says Mohan, explaining that breathing techniques like Pranayam retrain the cardiovascular valves to pump blood efficiently. “To be able to fight, one needs to be physiologically relaxed, the muscles of the body should not be tense and one needs to train the body to do that," he says. Unlike Wolf’s classes that are intense and have a military method of instruction, Mohan helps his students relax. “Release all your thoughts," he says as they hold their ankles while their legs are stretched out in front of them. “You should train yourself not to think, because if you pause to think, you’ll never fight back."

Mind matters

Mixed Martial Arts is a combination of several martial art forms and yoga. Photograph by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Says Matthews, “You are working a lot of muscles in any martial arts session, but this works towards the health aspect only if you are not in the competitive arena." He adds that people who take part in fights could suffer from dislocated bones, bruises or even a concussion. “That just defeats the very purpose of fitness."