The martial arts hearken back to ancient times in China, India and Japan, but it was not until after World War II that a handful of American and British veterans brought the sport to the western world. It really took hold, though, in the 1970s with actor Bruce Lee, and in the last decade with mixed martial arts and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Today, martial arts studios abound in Philadelphia, teaching not just self-defense but helping to improve balance, strength, flexibility and concentration in adults and children. These are Philly’s best.

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Action Karate
12320 Academy Rd.
Philadelphia, PA 19154
(215) 637-6701

Price: $29 first three lessons
Hours: Mon to Fri – 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Sat and Sun – 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Founded in 1994, this popular, family-friendly studio welcomes students as young as 3 years old. Through their practice, children’s self-esteem grows to help them resist peer pressure and prevent bullying. Birthday parties here include informal martial arts instruction and a Samurai-sword cake cutting. Adult programs keep participants fit and strong, inviting novices in with camaraderie and confidence-building fitness.

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Amerikick Martial Arts
8500 Henry Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19128
(215) 483-1800

Price: contact for pricing by program
Hours: Mon to Fri – 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Sat – 9 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.; Sun – 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Amerikick teaches the fundamentals of martial arts, offering programs for children as young as 3 right up to teens and adults. It has been in business since the 1950s, with courses that combine both the Chinese and Japanese arts including kenpo, tae kwon do and jiu jitsu. Students’ concentration, self-discipline and confidence improve as they progress through the program. Summer camps, pizza parties and sleepovers make this an all-around great studio for kids.

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Balance Studios
109 S. 24th St., 115
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 636-9661

Price: $22 per week
Hours: Click here for hours

Balance Studios boasts the top team in the northeast and one of the oldest Gracie-affiliated facilities in the United States. This premiere studio, as countless students will attest, offers everything martial arts athletes need to thrive. All of the center’s programs promote self-defense and preparedness, including Gracie black belt jiu jitsu, MMA, Thai boxing, women’s BJJ/self-defense, children’s martial arts, law enforcement training, ashtanga yoga and yoga for fighters.

Related: Top Yoga Studios in Philadelphia

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Daddis Mixed Martial Arts 
1719 Washington Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19146
(215) 467-1008

Price: 30 days free/prices vary by program
Hours: daily – 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Also known as Philly MMA, Daddis has locations in Cherry Hill and Hamilton, NJ as well. While it enjoys an unbeatable competitive team, Daddis takes the time to cater to each individual’s needs. Its energized programs relieve stress and build strength, and they’re also a lot of fun. Students get in shape, become adept practitioners quickly and enjoy a boost in self-confidence and concentration, no matter their age or skill level.

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DeStolfo’s Premier Marital Arts and Karate
1950 E. Main St.
Conshohocken, PA 19428
(610) 834-8533

Price: varies by program
Click here for hours

DeStolfo’s programs don’t just help athletes shape-up and learn to defend themselves, they also build character, respect and self-control. These life skills exemplify the true martial artist and help students improve relationships, workplace performance and academics. Take classes with devoted instructors teaching krav maga, karate, tae kwon do, MMA, kickboxing, yoga and zumba at this more than 30-year-old studio.

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Maxercise MMA Academy
707 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 928-1374

Price: first 30 days free/contact for pricing options
Hours: Mon to Fri – 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sat – 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Maxercise has been in the mixed martial arts training and sports fitness business for more than 20 years. Located in Center City, it is dedicated to teaching a variety of martial arts and building locals’ health and strength. Classes include Brazilian jiu jitsu, muay Thai and MMA, along with kids martial arts, to promote physical fitness, hard work and academic achievement. Try 30 days for free, or host the kids’ next birthday party right in the academy.

Related: The Parents’ Guide to Raising a Happy Child

Carol Josel, a Blue Bell, PA resident, is a learning specialist, author of three books, and contributor. Her work can be found here