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A martial arts primer for beginners

Kyle Antonelli, 24, executes a

Kyle Antonelli, 24, executes a "flying ambar" during the 5:30 adult class at a Brazilian jiu jitsu class held at Budokan Martial Arts in Valley Stream. (October 25, 2010) Photo Credit: Nancy Borowick

Kung fu, jujitsu, tae kwon do . . . when it comes to martial arts, there's a dizzying array of disciplines.

"I love karate," says 6-year-old Rebecca Epstein of Merrick. Wearing a gi, the traditional karate uniform, she points enthusiastically to the yellow stripe on her white kenpo karate belt. "Yellow means that I have good behavior, good moves, strong kicks and strong hits."

Suzanne Kalten, Rebecca's mother, says she chose kenpo karate over other martial arts forms because she likes its combined focus on "empowerment, self-confidence and concentration."

For Marcos Montenegro, tae kwon do is a passion. "I have tried many other forms of martial arts, but this is the one for me," says Montenegro, 26, of Elmhurst, who favors the speed, exercise and versatility of the sport. Whether you're considering martial arts for fun, self-defense or deeper spiritual significance, you can use this guide to four of the more popular forms.

Brazilian jujitsu

ORIGIN Derived from the Japanese martial art of kodokan judo in the early 1900s.

WHAT IT IS A grappling-based martial art, jujitsu emphasizes leverage - using the opponent's attacking energy against him. Similar to wrestling, fighting is done on the floor. "It's a physical chess match," says Nardu Debrah, co-owner of Budokan Martial Arts in Valley Stream. "You are constantly thinking and trying your technique versus your opponent's."

TYPICAL LESSON Group classes at the Emerson Souza Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Baldwin start with a 15-minute warm-up followed by a demonstration of a technique such as joint lock (hyperextending the arm) or sweep (reversing a position when someone is on top of you). Classes end with one-on-one sparring (from $100 a month for one-hour group lessons, 516-868-5000, emersonsouzabjj.com).

Tae kwon do

ORIGIN A Korean martial art that began 2,000 years ago as a form of military training; introduced in the Olympics in 2000.

WHAT IT IS Resembling karate, tae kwon do has an emphasis on kicking rather than hand techniques, says Sooyong Jeon, owner of US Tae Kwon Do School in Mineola. Other elements include mental (self-discipline), physical (self-defense) and spiritual development (goal-setting).

TYPICAL CLASS At Professional Tae Kwon Do in Hicksville, classes start with a 10-minute warm-up of crunches, push-ups, hand-blocking and high- kick drills. Students learn sparring techniques and, depending on their training level, use of weapons such as nunchaku, which is two sticks connected with a short chain or rope ($150 a month for one-hour classes, 516-931-5425, p-tkd.com).

Wing chun kung fu

ORIGIN A system of kung fu thought to be founded by Ng Mui, a nun of the Shaolin Temple in China.

WHAT IT IS This is the martial arts form made popular by Bruce Lee. Movements are simple and direct - focused on using punching, blocking, low kicks and good balance. The idea, says Dan Regan, owner of Regan's Martial Arts in Lindenhurst, is to use the opponents' force against them.

TYPICAL CLASS At Black Belt Academy in Ronkonkoma, classes start with calisthenics and hand techniques (strikes, blocks), then walking, kicking and punching drills. Classes end with sensitivity training - responding instinctively to your opponent ($90 a month for two classes a week, 631-580-0686, bbeltacademy.com).

Kenpo karate (American kenpo) 

ORIGIN Originally a Chinese art, American kenpo was brought to the continental United States from Hawaii in the '50s as a means of self-defense, says Christopher Babel, owner of Red Dragon Karate Studio in Bellmore.

WHAT IT IS Emphasizes quick moves in rapid-fire succession.

TYPICAL CLASS Red Dragon Studio students work in small groups as three instructors teach self-defense techniques involving strikes, kicks and blocks. Classes end with a brief meditation ($55 a month for weekly one-hour classes, 516-785-8800, reddragonstudio.com).

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