Hi Miss E,
I am currently doing Taekwondo which I love. Prior to TKD I did karate for a number of years but the requirements of the club were so demanding that I lost the passion for it (learning Japanese, doing nationally accredited coaching and first aid courses, taking tests on the history of our style *yawn* when all I wanted to do was kick and punch!)
I also have a teeny bit of experience doing Kung Fu and Kickboxing (the later I loved but only ever did the training for it - not actual ring fighting stuff, the former I felt like an elephant in ballet slippers clomping around all these graceful, elegant lithe creatures).
A lot of people argue the benefits of one martial art over another but I'll never get drawn into that - there's good and bad about them all. In my opinion, a particular martial arts style is only as good as the club and your instructors. And a good one will mix up and teach you a variety of techniques, from holds and arm & wrist locks, to wrestling and throws, weapons disarming etc, on top of your regular syllabus.
It sounds like you're more like me and interested in doing it for fun and fitness and to get rid of stress at the same time. Works for me! I would also like to think I've picked up some pretty damn good self defence skills along the way that would serve me well if I ever needed it to.
What i like best about Taekwondo is that it's universal - that means that the techniques and patterns (or 'forms') as they're called are the same here in Australia from club to club as they are in the States, Europe and Korea etc. That's also why it's an Olympic sport. I started learning TKD when I lived in Korea (when in Rome, as they say) and it's great that the techniques etc. are the same just up the road from my home in Melbourne
Karate on the other hand has 4 different systems and then literally 1000's of styles within each system, each influenced by the current sensai's who create their own spin off style. But also loved learning that for the 4+ years I did it.
So ultimately, it's probably more a matter of convenience and finding a club and a teacher that's right for you. Any good school will let you come down and watch a class or join in at no cost so you can work out if it 'feels right'. Walk away from anyone that demands up front fees and that you buy their club uniform straight away - they should let you train in your trackies until you work out if it's worth the investment... then later comes the mouth guard, the gloves, the shin guards, the breast protector etc.
But be prepared to have to pay a bit at the start - uniform, insurance, membership etc. can all add up to $200+ but then it's just monthly fees and grading fees every three months or so, depending on how often they're offered.
And contrary to what some people might think, there's not that many 'meathead' clubs around either full of mucho blokey blokes who just want to beat people up. It's always been a pretty balanced mix of men and women when I've trained and there's never been anyone I was scared to spar with (oh, except one nutter girl who had no self control and never pulled her punches... but she didn't last long...)
Any questions, just let me know and I'll do my best to answer them - I'm far from an expert - it's just a hobby of mine that I've done on and off for 9+ years.
Just keep moving! And don't be lazy...
SW: 74.3kg - 1/1/09
CW: 71.1kg - 3/5/09