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By Adriaan Odendaal  |  28 September 2019   

Practicing martial arts in Cape Town, South Africa, the city by the sea, heralds amongst the most beautiful destinations in the world. 

Sitting at the foot of the iconic Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa, the Mother City boasts with white beaches and azure waters, a lively, colorful city center, historic architecture, delectable cuisine, renowned local wines, and a world of coastal fauna and flora to marvel. It also hosts some of the most impressive martial arts.

Cape Town offers old-school boxing clubs, respected dojos and gyms, a burgeoning MMA scene, and even martial arts native to South Africa. 

Boxing Clubs Friendly Neighbors with Artisanal Coffee Shops

Boxing has a rich history in South Africa, dating back to the informal rinks of the 19th-century gold and diamond fields. Since then, South Africa has produced several international title-holding fighters, such as world heavyweight champion Gerrie Coetzee. Boxing became the cornerstone of the national sports scene.

You’ll find some exciting and impressive boxing gyms throughout Cape Town, including East City Boxing, Mojo Boxing & Fitness, and a local favorite called The Armoury.

The Armoury sits in the heart of Woodstock, an old industrial district that is now one of the city’s hippest and most vibrant neighborhood. It’s replete with a repurposed biscuit mill hosting slow-markets on Saturdays, artisanal coffee roasteries along the main road, and colorful murals enlivening every other side-street.

The Armoury itself is an impressive space with its retro posters wall-art, beautiful black and white tiled floors, and boxing library. Despite being relatively new at its heart, this gym is “a good old-fashioned boxing club.” As The Armoury’s Andy Pow makes their motto clear in an interview with Cape Town Magazine: “The focus is on all-round, well-balanced fitness, on  functionality, not just aesthetics.”

Shadow Boxing at the Armory | Fighting Arts Health Lab

 If you are not in the mood to work up a sweat or spar with one of the locals, you can always go out to one of The Armoury’s fight nights that are regularly announced on their Facebook page.

MMA Gym’s Up-and-Coming Boom

Mixed Martial Arts has exploded in the Mother City, with gyms such as Pride Fighting Academy for boxing, Muay-Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and wrestling; or Lethal Edge that trains competitive fighters as part of their “Combat Elite Fight Team.”

MADfit is the rising-star that you will find just up the road from Cape Town’s historic Castle of Good Hope, built in 1666 by Dutch settlers.

Getting fighting fit at The Armoury in Woodstock | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Established in 2015 by professional boxing coach Matthew Leisching and native UFC fighter Don Madge, MADfit describes their MMA classes as “fun and educational” and “intense.” MMA classes as “fun and educational” and “intense.” 

This spacious gym with high open rafters and bare steel columns offers an impressive array of training equipment, as well as an in-house coffee and smoothie bar where you can get your post- or pre-workout fix.

Japanese Arts are Flourishing

Great sushi is not the only taste of Japanese culture you’ll find in this seaside city. Drive just a little bit out of the city center and you will find the Kyokushin SA dojo of Hennie Bosman.

As a former world champion and current chair of Kyokushinkan Africa, Bosman is one of South Africa’s most respected martial artists. Bosman was the first Westerner ever asked to do a demonstration at the Japanese National Tournament.

There are also some renowned Aikido schools operating in Cape Town. Mushindo Aikido Cape Town was founded in 1996 by Sensei Saud Anderson and has been the largest school within the Aikido Federation of South Africa for almost 20 years.

But Mushido is not just about the prestige of tradition, as Sensei Anderson also goes out to teach Aikido, self-defense, and anger management to children from the impoverished local fishing communities around Cape Town.

Kung Fu, Old and New

Si Fu Marco Kavalieratos Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Observatory Cape Town | Fighting Arts Health Lab

As one of the most internationalized Chinese martial arts, it’s no surprise that you will come across well-established Wing Chun schools in Cape Town. The Ip Man Traditional Wing Chun Society traces its lineage directly to the celebrated grandmaster and often hosts seminars by Sifu Samuel Kwok who studied under Ip Man’s sons.

 “Many of the Sifu's at these schools,” writes the Ip Man Traditional Wing Chun Society on their website, “owe a great deal of their understanding of the art to the influence of Samuel Kwok's teaching of traditional Ip Man Wing Chun.”

Older than most Wing Chun schools is The Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre that has been offering traditional Kung Fu, Tai Chi, and Chi Gung classes throughout South Africa since 1986. 

While this school teaches Northern Shaolin and Hong Family Fist Styles, which includes classical barehand and weapon training, they also focus on new applications of old Chinese martial arts. The school’s Tactical Kung Fu Training gives students the chance to learn how Kung Fu can be applied to self-defense tactics.

Shaolin Style Practice Martial Arts and Health Cenre Observatory South Africa

 The Fu Fit classes offered by the school combines “every aspect of physical training in one jam-packed session, targeting the muscular and cardio-respiratory systems, simultaneously for total body stimulation.” It is these innovative practices and holistic approach to martial arts that makes The Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre an endearing institution in Cape Town’s fighting arts scene.  

What Makes Cape Town Unique

From Krav Maga training to Capoeira, special classes are found in Cape Town, as well. Yet, there are also some martial arts that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. One example of this is traditional Nguni stick-fighting that has come to the city’s urban centers from rural Xhosa communities in the countryside. In recent years, a growing trend to modernize this traditional martial art into a competitive sport has grown with weekend tournaments held in Cape Town’s Wineberg suburb.

Cape Town Things To Do At Night | Fighting Arts Health Lab

More than just seeing the schools, styles, gyms, and dojos throughout Cape Town, there is so much more to do in the city. Culture, restaurants, nightlife, museums, and much more await in this historic town. Start your day with your Thai Chi or Taekwondo on one of Cape Town’s beautiful beaches, ready to greet that spectacular African sunrise and start an exciting new day in the Mother City.

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About the author

Adriaan Odendaal is a writer and digital designer from Cape Town, South Africa. He has published a number of short fiction, travel writing, and essays in South African publications, as well as countless websites and blogs. He has been a practitioner of Wing Chun and Tai Chi for a number of years and has a fondness for old Golden Harvest Kung Fu movies. He currently resides and works in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

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