Martial Arts

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Beginning A Martial Art – Part 1

So you have made the big decision to join a martial arts school. you paid your membership fee, received your white belt & uniform and now you are ready to enter into a whole new world. This world is one where you are usually known by just your first name and for the most part the relationships you make in the dojo usually stay there. For your information the name “dojo” stands for and means the training facility.

It is a fact that the strange thing about many of your fellow students is that they aren’t even recognizable on the street with their regular street clothes and out of the dojo. Another thing that I found and it might just be me but when I have encountered many of the present or past fellow students on the street the conversations seemed short and strained a bit.

Why, I don’t know but it may have to do with the environment that you both know each other in and once out of it there may be a little to talk about when you encounter each other in the real world.

The very first thing you need to do before you train is “leave your ego at the door”. It has no place in the dojo and it will definitely hamper your overall development. That being said you will also need to know the rules of the dojo, basic dojo etiquette, history of the martial art you are studying and have an open mind which is sometimes called the beginners mind.

Usually a senior student will be assigned to you to teach you how to tie your belt, bowing in & off the mat, bowing to your fellow students when training and also bowing in & out of class in a kneeling position. There are various differences in each school and in each particular style of martial art.

Some of the more formal classical styles will have a little more elaborate ceremony or rituals of sorts and I have even been to a school where Zen like statements began and ended the class. Interesting I must say!

Pay attention to what is being taught in the beginning because it is not too difficult to learn but does require that you stay focused which will help you throughout your training. The strange rituals that you initially learn will become so normal after a while it won’t even register that this may be pretty strange after all.

Basically all the bowing is a show of respect to the particular founder, the sensei, the school and to your fellow students. There are variations to bowing and what the hands are doing when bowing in different styles but whatever style the meaning is still the same, respect!

Obviously the gi or uniform that you wear is important since naked martial arts aren’t really too popular so keep it clean and wash it frequently. The first belt you receive will usually be a white belt so you’ll need to learn how to tie it. Practice at home how to make the special knot you are taught so you are not fumbling before class begins and after a short while it will become automatic.

An important point is to be punctual. If class starts at let’s say 7 PM then make it a your business to get there at least fifteen minutes early so that you can change into your gi and warm up on your own. It is disrespectful to come to the class late because it disrupts the rest of the class that is already in progress.

Occasionally it will happen and when it does you should kneel at the edge of the mat until the sensei acknowledges your presence and invites you onto the mat. Oh, I hope everyone knows to never walk onto the mat with street shoes on! This is a big no-no.

A word of advise is; supplement your martial arts classes with other strength, aerobic and cardio workouts such as weight training, running, swimming and anything else that fits this criteria. Even though many of the martial arts that you will train in gives you a great workout you will be able to do more, go longer and not be exhausted and avoid needless injuries if you add other workouts to your weekly schedule.

When you build up you muscles and your cardio you will also increase your enjoyment on the mat and be less prone to injuries. This is a result of building up your muscles so there will be less chance of strains and sprains that can result from sparring and grappling.

I have seen countless people over the years maybe come once a week, give a half ass-ed effort and constantly struggle to keep up with the rest of the class. Their workouts and classes would be so much easier and more enjoyable if they would take physical fitness more seriously and workout on their own.

This may sound a bit over the top but I feel that it takes at least five years of regular training to get a more than basic understanding of the martial art you are studying. This understanding also involves the muscle memory, knowledge of the katas, names of the techniques, the ability to perform the techniques on command and the development of awareness both on and off the mat. There are no shortcuts to true knowledge!

Of course it is possible to absorb this type of understanding in a shorter time period but it would require more classes per week, extra practice at home, possibly private lessons and a a total dedication to the martial art that you are studying. This dedication also involves the mental aspect of learning your martial art.

This is like homework but more enjoyable! Take notes and review the notes and the techniques that are described hopefully in detail if of course you can read your own handwriting. If you are or were a good student and note taker the transition will not be overwhelming and you’ll have lot of reference material. Only one technique is recommended to go over in your mind at a time so you won’t get confused and mix up different techniques.

You can even do the techniques by yourself to practice the body movements and where the hands and feet should be relative to the imaginary opponent. It does take patience and dedication but the rewards are amazing in terms of progress. So take notes, review notes and practice what is in the notes on a regular basis.

Only 20 minutes a day is all you need!

The ranking system is now pretty uniform across the board in the many different martial arts & styles that exist today. Prior to the beginning of Judo as a sport there were really no belt rankings. Way back when there were many different martial arts schools the advanced students did not need a colored belt to indicate to the others how proficient he was. The particular ryu or school was usually very closed to the general public so those who were students knew who was the beginner & who was the expert.

With the advent of Judo by Professor Kano the belt rankings became a standard indication of the students proficiency. Professor Kano was a very skilled jujitsu practitioner along with being an educator. His goal was to incorporate a system of martial arts that builds the body & strengthens the character of the students.

The reason for the belts I believe was the visual reinforcement of where the student stood in relation to the rest of the class. This prompted the student to try to attain a higher rank which would be evident by the color of the belt. Also, this distinguished the beginners from the advanced students so everyone knew who’s who so in competition and the same belt ranked students would fight each other.

Now just about every martial art has belt ranking even the the criteria is different for each type & different styles. My opinion of the belt rankings is rather complicated. On one hand I think it is necessary to separate the beginners from the more advanced students in an open dojo environment where anyone can join. The most obvious way to do it is to have a colored belt that indicates your rank & experience.

The mystique of a black belt still permeates the public consciousness as being the pinnacle of martial arts. The reality is quite different though and can hamper your individual development as a martial artist. We’ll explore this concept in another article in the future.

When there are belts in a dojo what does happen is a class separation even though it is unspoken and the focus sometimes can be on the belt itself and not the individual or the martial art. Different schools, different sensei’s and the individual students will affect this perception of the belts real value in relation to the the experience level & dedication of the students.

The basic truth is a belt is just a belt regardless of the martial art with no mystical properties as is portrayed in the movies. This also pertains to the red belt which signifies the the “master” or “grand master” of a martial art and this is supposed to be the ultimate ranking that can be attained.

My recommendation is that if you encounter a martial arts school that is headed by a “master” or “grand master” then you should not even consider joining the school because anyone who designates that they are a “master or grand master” don’t have a clue what is the true essence of martial arts. Their ego is off the charts and what they have to teach is tainted with their exaggerated perception of themselves.

Consider this; the highest ranked ever Judo practitioner, Kyuzo Mifune was promoted to a tenth degree black belt at the age of fifty eight. There are martial arts out there that have individuals with 15th degree black belts that have been practicing for maybe ten years. Is something wrong with this picture?

Possibly the holders of 15th degree black belts are so proficient that their abilities surpass all other black belts studying the same or related martial arts. Doubtful at best!

Especially when you realize that belt rankings are big business that can generate lots of money for a sensei and main organization that he or she are affiliated with. Each belt and accompanying certificate will cost the student a certain amount of money based on rank and greed. This might sound a bit cynical but there are many martial art organizations that are in the belt business which is a big money maker.

The money aspect can be perverted and the students can become willing participants quite easily. What sounds better? I have a yellow belt or I have a black belt.

This belt selling can also be found in martial arts magazines and on the internet where a set of tapes or online teaching can be purchased and the student can earn his black belt at home! This probably has to be the hardest thing to do even if the course is totally on the level. I have over twenty five years of experience and I find it hard to pick up techniques on tape. So how hard can it be for a complete novice to learn? Impossible? No! Very, very difficult? Absolutely!

At this point in your reading you would be right to say; who is this guy to talk trash about belts, he probably doesn’t even have one which is why he is against them. Well, I have a yellow belt in karate, a purple one in jujitsu, a brown one in Judo and a black one in Tomiki Aikido. So I think I have most of the colors covered and maybe in the future we’ll add a couple more to the mix even if I really don’t want the belts. It comes with the territory when you train at a school and very hard to avoid.

I think at a certain point in your martial arts life chasing belt rankings should stop and should be replaced with the desire to learn on a much deeper level. Call me a purist but this is what I feel is the most important aspect of learning a martial art. They don’t call it the “way” because there are belts that you can collect! The true spirit of “budo” is not represented by flashy gymnastic techniques with colorful uniforms and lots of loud music as seen many tournaments.

The true spirit of “budo” is quiet but powerful and comes from within!

How to Choose a Martial Arts School – 10 Steps Guaranteed to Save You Time and Money

  • What are the most important things to look for when comparing martial arts schools?
  • What are the tell tale signs of a quality school that you can spot immediately?
  • What are the best questions to ask, and how do you know if they can really deliver?
  • What part of a contract can you negotiate?

These are just some of the important questions you need to know how to answer before shopping around for a martial arts school.

A commitment to martial arts is an investment in time and money, so knowing exactly what to look for in a school, and knowing what questions to ask, will give you the clarity and confidence to make a smart choice.

A bad choice in a martial arts school can be an expensive lesson, so use this guide to educate yourself.

There is a huge variety of martial arts schools out there. Facilities range from expensive health-club-like facilities to open space warehouses. Martial arts schools aren’t regulated to insure quality of instruction or business practice. There is no official governing body and no universal grading standard in martial arts. Almost anyone can open a school and appear to be an expert.

What do you look for beyond price, amenities and convenient schedules? While most people first consider price and the facility, there are more important factors that you need to consider first!

These 10 steps show you how to make the best decision in choosing a martial arts school:

  1. Objective
  2. Instructors
  3. Class Dynamic
  4. Student Results
  5. Curriculum
  6. Style
  7. Facility
  8. Service
  9. Price/Fees
  10. Instinct

1. OBJECTIVE:

Before you start looking into martial arts schools, determine your true goals for martial arts practice. To get the most out of your training, clearly identify your real goals and the specific benefits you want to have.

Ultimately, you just want to feel good about yourself and feel super confident, right?

However, this is usually not enough of a specific emotional motivator for consistent practice.

The majority of people who start martial arts rarely make it past a few months of consistent practice. It’s not just a lack of motivation. Not having clear goals is usually why people don’t follow through in practice.

To determine what you really want from training, start by narrowing down what you wish to focus on.

The focus of your practice can be broken down into several areas. There’s no right or wrong – it comes down to personal preference.

For starters, you can number these in order of importance.

  • Physical Fitness as the main goal, with martial arts aptitude as a secondary benefit.
  • Purely Combative Focus, with fitness and personal growth as added benefits
  • Creative and Artistic Expression, aesthetics, beauty and WOW Factor
  • Competitive Focus, sports aspects such as one on one competition
  • Mental and Emotional Growth, catalyst for self-discovery and spiritual growth, cultural and philosophical interests

Ask yourself clarifying “Why” questions, so you can identify what you’re really going for.

This is the first step in filtering the selection of schools to choose from. Once you’ve identified your goals for martial arts practice and understand why they are your goals, you’re ready to search for a school.

2. INSTRUCTORS:

An instructor plays the key role in how you will achieve your goals.

Finding a good instructor is more important than choosing a style, and is probably the biggest factor in your decision to join a school. It’s nice to have impressive amenities and expensive equipment, but ultimately a martial arts school is only as good as it’s instructors.

Being a black belt doesn’t qualify someone to teach!

  • A competent instructor is knowledgeable, experienced, and has the ability to effectively pass on his craft.
  • A good instructor possesses leadership and communication skills.
  • A great instructor will also display sincere empathy, showing a genuine interest in helping you achieve your goals, bringing out your individual strengths.

Look for other attributes that increase an instructor’s ability to add value to your training:

  • Proven competitive track record, such as World Champion Titles
  • A degree in an area such as psychology, sports medicine, kinesiology or related fields
  • Military, law enforcement, or security experience
  • Involvement in a credible martial arts organization
  • Extensive knowledge of a culture or philosophy that you’re interested in

Although an instructor’s experience and background provides some credibility, don’t be overly impressed with awards and certificates.

Their mindset and level of experience will be apparent through subtleties in character and by their actions.

Quality instructors are sincerely interested in helping You and won’t feel the need to boast about their own credentials or prove themselves. Instead of boosting their own egos, high-level instructors are very attentive on coaching you to achieve your goals.

You can often measure an instructor more accurately by their students’ results and satisfaction than by credentials alone. The students themselves may be the greatest indication of the quality of instruction.

Just like a good business is constantly researching and developing, high-level instructors research and develop methodologies in order to continually improve. A lifetime training in martial arts isn’t enough to reach human potential!

A high level instructor portrays noble characteristics of a role model and leader.

Confident instructors welcome feedback and respond to your questions with patience and insight. They are usually very humble, and rarely speak negatively about any other school or style.

Also, find out if the school’s head instructor is actively teaching. Some schools have classes primarily taught by an assistant or senior students, while the head instructor only makes an occasional appearance.

While assistant instructors may be totally capable of teaching, watch out for schools that “sell” you on the instructor but have someone else teaching.

3. CLASS DYNAMIC:

Make sure you know how to evaluate a school in two parts, the content and the context.

The context of a martial arts school is made up of the training methods and environment. What kind of setting is the school providing?

A supportive learning environment is crucial to maximize the assimilation and retention of material. The context of training can be more important than the content, (or material), intended to be learned.

Look for context such as:

  • The collective mood or energy of the instructors and students
  • The class dynamic – structure and flow
  • How the amenities and equipment are used
  • The training methodologies
  • How the ranking system is structured
  • The quality of service

One of the best ways to evaluate a school is to watch or participate in a class.

You can watch videos, visit a website and read all about the credentials and features of a school. However, you can only get a true feel by “test driving” the actual group classes. Many schools offer free consultations or introductory private lessons.

If a school allows you to watch, or better yet, participate in a class without obligation it speaks highly of their confidence and transparency.

The class dynamic is the best demonstration of the instructor’s martial arts aptitude and ability to teach. It reveals how the students interact with each other and the instructor. It’s also the perfect opportunity to see how their curriculum is implemented into training.

Consider the size of the classes and how that may effect your training. The make up and flow of the classes will either help your learning experience or hurt it.

Look for the following:

  • Is there a significant age difference among students that may restrict your practice?
  • Is there a significant difference in the students’ experiences or physical abilities?
  • How formal or informal are the classes? And, how does that effect your practice?
  • How much supportive individual attention do the students receive?
  • Is there anything about the facility that’ll hinder your practice? such as cleanliness, stale air, too cold or hot, distracting noises, etc.

Many beginners prefer large classes. It can be easier to follow along with the examples of many other students. There’s also less intimidation as the collective group dynamic can conceal individual insecurities and lessons the pressure to keep up.

On the flip side, there is a key benefit to smaller classes that’s important to consider. There is more opportunity to receive personal attention from instructors that can greatly accelerate your learning curve.

Again, instructors are the backbone of a martial arts school. The instructor consciously, or unconsciously, dictates the energy of the entire class.

Here are some other things to look for:

  • Does the instructor facilitate class with control and safety? (Notice if the students are enjoying themselves or seem uncomfortable and hesitant).
  • Is the instructor passionate and actively teaching or seemingly going through the motions and mechanically calling out commands?
  • Do the students seem inspired?

A martial arts school provides the setting of a controlled environment where you’ll train to overcome future or potential challenges. In order to maximize results, good schools teach in a context that anticipates and matches the actual environment of those future and potential challenges.

The classes must simulate the intended environment and must provide the necessary emotional stress in order to engrain instinctual trained responses.

For example:

  • If you’re seeking a combative style for self-defense, look for schools that safely facilitate reality based, high-stress scenario exercises.
  • If you’re training to fight in a ring or cage, look for a school that teaches you how to maneuver in the confines of a ring/cage under the same guidelines of the competition.
  • If you’re goal is to perform in tournaments, look for a school that can facilitate your training in a loud, distracting environment with large mirrors and an audience.
  • If your goal is to have fun getting in shape, look for classes that use good training equipment, have high energy, exciting exercises and a social atmosphere

Pay attention to the flow of the class and notice how much of the class time is instructional. Some schools implement a lot of conditioning drills while others teach with a lot of verbal explanations. Notice if they have a lot of unnecessary “filler time”.

It’s also a good idea to inquire about the school’s ranking system. Most traditional schools use some modification of a belt system, but what’s required to earn each belt can vary drastically from school to school.

Is there a clear standard for aptitude and execution of techniques at each level? Or are the requirements based on time and the amount of classes taken?

Many schools test for promotions after a set number of classes. This gives the perception of building capable intermediate and advanced students, which can be an important aspect of a school’s perceived value. Not to mention, belt promotions are a crucial source of income for some schools.

Remember that there’s no official governing body in martial arts, so belt levels may not be valid outside of that school or organization.

4. STUDENT RESULTS:

The students provide tremendous insight as to the quality of instruction. You can often tell more about a school by the students’ results than anything else.

The students are the products of the school’s training system and methodologies. If the advanced students don’t model your martial arts goals go find another school!

When observing the students, pay attention to the ratio of beginner to advanced students. It’s a good sign if there are a lot of intermediate and advanced students. That means the school is able to retain their students, and usually equates to student satisfaction.

Just as you probably don’t want to eat at a restaurant that’s always empty, be cautious of a school with a few students. What’s considered a small student base? Depending on the size of the facility and how long they’ve been in business, classes that have less than 10 students is a pretty strong sign that there’s something lacking in the school.

Consider the characteristics and personalities of the students as well. It’s important that you are comfortable with your classmates cause you may be spending a lot of time with them.

  • Are they the types of people you’d like to be around and train with?
  • Would you feel comfortable and safe training with them?
  • Are the students supportive of one another or are they highly competitive and trying to outdo each other?

The student dynamic may also reveal how the instructor instills leadership and other life skills that you may wish to develop. Watch how the advanced students handle both challenges and successes.

Take the initiative to speak to some of the students. Getting insight from existing students can make all the difference in your decision to join.

5. CURRICULUM:

Remember that a martial arts school can be evaluated in two parts, content and contextThe curriculum and style of a school make up the content.

Whether they call themselves a martial arts school, studio, academy, gym, or dojo, they are still businesses. They will promote themselves in creative ways to gain an edge over the competition. You can expect them to entice you with price incentives, boast their credentials, amenities and equipment, or make claims to get you results in the shortest amount of time possible.

Don’t allow marketing tactics to distract you from determining if the school can actually support your training goals.

Whatever a school claims to provide in your martial arts training, their students, classes and curriculum will give you a good indication of the school’s quality and true emphasis.

The martial arts curriculum, (content)is made up of the techniques and material you will be learning at a school.

The focus of your training must be supported by the curriculum and training methods.

There are key points to look for in determining the quality of a curriculum. Begin by identifying the school’s emphasis. Take into consideration that when there is more focus on one aspect of martial arts, other areas are compromised to some degree.

  • Forms and jump spinning kicks in the curriculum? You’ve most likely found a school with an artistic or traditional focus that may participate in tournaments. If this is what you’re after, the curriculum should consist of aesthetic techniques that have dynamic kicks and beautiful forms with and without weapons.
  • Are the techniques based on kickboxing and wrestling? A lot of sparring and no weapons in the curriculum? This is probably a school that focuses on one-on-one sport competition. Schools that build towards competition usually emphasize physical conditioning to reach peak performance.

Although physical fitness may not be the primary goal in many styles, fitness is generally a by-product of training. You get in shape by default in martial arts practice.

The majority of schools have a curriculum designed to provide a general overall perspective on fitness, sport competition and self-defense. For most people who are just beginning martial arts, a school’s curriculum and interpretation of martial concepts should be comprehensive enough to support you through many years of practice. If this is the case, start to look into other components of the school like their class dynamic.

For those who have martial arts experience, or seeking a specific area of focus, determine if the school’s curriculum actually supports the emphasis you’re looking for.

It’s not uncommon for a school’s true emphasis to be different from how they market themselves. Take note of the techniques in their curriculum and their applications.

For examplelet’s say your primary reason for martial arts training is purely for self-defense on the streets. You visit a school that claims to be proficient in teaching self-defense. Yet, they teach fixed stances and forms and only implement weapons training in advanced levels.

This is a big red flag! This doesn’t mean it’s not a good school. It only reveals that their true emphasis is not truly combative.

70% of assaults on the street involve some sort of weapon and over 90% of attacks go to the ground. Any school that claims to teach true self-defense while neglecting weapons training and ground fighting is just plain negligent.

You should seek elsewhere if this is your focus. Modern combative styles will implement training in weapons and ground fighting right from the beginning.

Training methods also implement high stress scenario drills with multiple attackers. You won’t find fancy acrobatics in the curriculum.

Remember the old adage, “A jack of all trades is master of none.” Be cautious of a school that claims to deliver health and fitness AND teach you culture and philosophy AND turn you into a professional fighter AND prepare you for the streets AND promise personal or spiritual growth.

6. STYLE:

Martial arts can be compared to a huge tree with many branches or styles. All “styles” are based on the mechanics of the human body. Every style has strengths and weaknesses as they each focus on different aspects of the arts.

The true measure of a martial art lies in the practitioner, not the style.

Having a general understanding of the different types of styles and their focus will help you in achieving your goals. In martial arts there are hard styles and soft styles.

  • Hard Styles focus on striking techniques where the body is used as a weapon for attacking and defending – force against force. Much of the training is external, based on physical conditioning for strength and agility.
  • Soft Styles focus on redirection and physical manipulation through leverage and positioning – using an opponent’s force against him. There is often more focus on internal training, training of the mind as well as developing the body’s sensitivity to energy.
  • Blended Styles incorporate concepts from both hard and soft styles in a complimentary method, flowing and transitioning from hard to soft and vice versa.

Depending on the area of focus, each style differs in philosophy and training methods. Applications obviously differ as well.

Among styles the emphasis of training will primarily focus on one of the following areas:

Artistic Expression – Schools with an artistic focus emphasize creative physical expression – the “art” aspect of “martial arts”. Artistic styles implement forms or choreographed techniques in training. They typically have more aesthetic beauty, as movements are fluid and graceful like a gymnast or dancer.

Tradition – Traditional styles are rooted with Eastern culture and philosophy. Traditional schools implement both external and internal training for the development of the mind-body-spirit relationship. With this emphasis, martial arts practice serves as lessons for life skills. Practice may also encompass elements of spiritualism.

Competition – Competitive styles generally focus on the sports aspect of martial arts. Competitions can range by category including weight class, level of experience, geographic region and specific style. The emphasis is on winning recognition such as rankings, awards, and trophies that is based on a fixed set of rules.

Combat – Combative styles focus on street defense or military application, including law enforcement. It’s the “martial” part of “martial arts”. The emphasis is on practical application over aesthetic form or physical conditioning. Training includes weapons and reality based scenario exercises.

Fitness – Schools that focus on fitness use martial arts as a catalyst for holistic health. Classes usually consist of fun, energetic physical exercises based on martial arts techniques. Classes will typically implement a broad and general combination of styles and areas of focus.

There are also Modern Styles, which are evolved blended styles that are the result of further researched and developed methodologies. Their focus can be artistic, competitive, combative, or emphasize physical fitness.

While it may be a good idea to blend styles, it can be counter productive to combine your area of focus. Be clear on which area you wish to predominantly focus on.

Again, there’s no right or wrong style. It’s a matter of personal goals and preference.

7. FACILITY:

The first thing to consider is the school’s location in relation to your home or workplace.

Creating a new habit can be challenging, so convenience plays a big role in supporting consistency. You may be commuting several times a week for training, so make sure the facility is close enough so it doesn’t become an excuse for you not to go.

Martial arts schools come in many forms. They can be part of a franchise, belong to an organization, or be a one man show run by a single instructor. They may resemble a fitness gym, yoga studio, gymnasium or warehouse.

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, and don’t judge a martial arts school by it’s facility.

Although you can’t measure the quality of a school by the facility alone, it does reveal a lot about the owners mindset, aptitude, emphasis of the style and curriculum, as well as the school’s level of professionalism.

The degree of cleanliness may reflect the standard of service. You can get a good idea of the school’s style and emphasis by the school’s design.

A school should have the amenities and equipment that support the context of it’s curriculum, such as a cage or ring for MMA or kickboxing, proper mats for Jiu Jitsu, etc.

Consider what the school puts money into and determine if it actually adds value to your training.

Also notice the subtle details of the facility that may effect on your training. Does the air stink? Does the lighting or colors of the facility effect your energy and mood? How’s the parking? Is it noisy?

Remember, expensive equipment, and other luxuries equals higher tuition fees. Be aware of the costs of extra rooms and large offices that don’t directly add value to your training.

With a good instructor and some basic equipment you can practice anywhere!

8.SERVICE:

Some schools have great sales and marketing techniques to get you to join. But, it’s the quality of ongoing customer service that really counts.

Choosing a school that’s skilled in customer service will potentially save you from a lot of unnecessary headache. Poor customer service can ruin your martial arts experience at any level.

Make sure that there are open lines of communication and that staff members are readily accessible to answer questions to your satisfaction.You may be with a school for many months or even years. Choose a school that cares enough to build a relationship with you.

Know how to distinguish sales techniques from service.

As mentioned, some schools are great at getting you in the door with attractive features and promotions. The question is, once you have signed up are you just another enrollment?

A good comparison is the large franchised fitness gyms. Their amenities, equipment and low monthly fees are hard to pass up. However, once you join there’s virtually no service whatsoever. There are too many people who have gym memberships and don’t use them. They already have your financial commitment – a contract. Rest assured their service will pick up when it’s time for renewal. But is that service or just another sales technique?

The level of transparency is the greatest measure of a school’s integrity. It’s a reflection of their standards of service.

  • Does the school fully disclose all the costs involved in your training? Some schools have additional fees, like mandatory programs or association fees, that they don’t mention until you reach a certain point in your training.
  • When you have questions, do you get a clear answer right away or do you get an evasive response? The response you get is a good sign of what kind of service you can expect.
  • Many schools require you to sign a contract in order to take classes. Some schools offer a trial period where you can pay for a number of classes before you agree to a contract. A contract is simply a written agreement between you and the school, and it can always be negotiated. They should be willing to explain the details of the contract to your full understanding and agree to make any changes you feel are important, as long as it’s mutually beneficial.

9. Price and Fees:

How important is price to you? For many people, it’s the only real limiting factor.

Since most people don’t know how to compare value to price, martial arts schools generally don’t advertise their prices – unless they’re promotional.

Be honest. Before you read this guide, what’s one of the first thing you wanted to know about a martial arts school?

Fees are usually priced by:

  • Term period – specified time period with flexibility of the amount of classes taken, usually monthly or yearly
  • Number of classes – specified amount of classes taken
  • Combination of term and number of classes – usually a monthly fee based on the number of classes taken per week
  • Specific Programs – packaged programs such as Black Belt Clubs, Instructor Programs, Certification Programs, Seminars, etc.

Tuition can range anywhere from $50 per month to $500 per month, depending on the school. Nowadays, the average tuition is about $150 per month for 2-3 classes per week.

Tuition isn’t the only cost to consider. You will eventually be investing in training equipment, to some extent. Keep in mind that some styles require more equipment.

While price is important, a common mistake is to compare price without comparing value.

Consider the previous steps and the benefits before you focus on price. This way you can place some sort of dollar value on each component of a school and then shop around.

Think of the convenience of schedule and location, the suitability of teaching style, class dynamic and level of instruction in relation to your personality and goals – can you put a price on that?

With the knowledge you gained by reading this guide, you can make an educated choice in “how to invest” in your training instead of “being sold” a membership.

Most schools require annual contracts. The contract should clearly explain the details of your membership. Generally, schools don’t offer any refunds on tuition.

In most cases, a school will agree to make reasonable changes to the contract if you ask them.

If you’re committed to your practice and have found a school following this guide, signing a contract is usually not an issue. However, knowing potential costs and understanding school policies will help you negotiate any changes, if necessary. What you’re really after is “peace of mind”, isn’t it?

A contract should be mutually beneficial, so you want to insure that the contract also benefits you. This can mean discounted rates, as an example. A contract is also an incentive for you to get your money’s worth by coming to class regularly.

Ask about:

  • Price incentives for paying in full
  • Discounts for family members
  • Training equipment – and if they have to be purchased directly from the school
  • Belt testing fees
  • Any federation or association member fees
  • Cost for programs such as Black Belt Clubs and any other mandatory programs
  • Membership freezes in case of travel, injury, or maternity
  • Policy for relocation or moving
  • Fees for early cancellation

It’s also a good idea to ask whether the billing is managed directly by the school or if they use a billing company. Many schools use a billing company to help manage your tuition payments.

If the school out-sources their billing, you will be dealing with the billing company for the payment of your tuition fees. The billing company will generally only contact you if you are late on your payment. If you ever have to deal with the billing company you can expect the type of service you get from a collection agency. They can also make negative reports on your credit.

A high-quality school has the confidence to earn your business without requiring a contract. But they are rare. These schools are clear about their role. They focus on their core responsibility of providing quality instruction and guidance in your martial arts practice. Schools of this caliber don’t need to use creative sales and marketing techniques. Their business is built by their reputation, word-of-mouth.

10. INSTINCT:

Pay attention to your intuition when visiting a school. While going through the 10 steps outlined in this guide, you’ll instinctively know when you’ve found the right school.

  • How long the school has been in business? Are they stable?
  • Are you confident in the instructor?
  • Do you like the instructor’s teaching style and personality?
  • Are the students friendly?
  • Did you have fun? Did you feel inspired?

Ultimately, we make decisions based on our emotions and we justify them with logic.

Your decision should be instant and definite. If you find yourself thinking too much or having to convince yourself, something is out of whack. Go back to step 1 or keep looking.

Congratulations! If you’ve read this far, martial arts is obviously for you!

Martial Arts Master

What does it mean to be a true Martial Arts Master? We often have visions of a small Japanese master who lives high on a misty mountain. Only he has the real secrets of self defense. He is a magical man, impervious to pain, and unbeatable in combat. Though frail he has the strength of 10 men. The words he tells you answer all of life’s questions. But that is the movies my friends! I have met many true martial arts masters, and am considered to be one by some. I can tell you – the movie version is fiction! There are no Martial Arts Masters! But there ARE Master Instructors.

It is unfortunate that most of our knowledge of the martial arts comes from martial arts movies. Works of fiction, that show us the story we want to be reality, but simply isn’t. The truth about martial arts masters is that they are not magical men, who are impervious to pain and unbeatable in combat. They tend to be older gentlemen, who have aching joints, old injuries, scars, and will avoid combat or any type of violence if they have the choice. But that doesn’t really make for a good story. We don’t want martial arts masters to be just like us – or our grandfathers. We want them to have overcome aging, found the magic diet, able to stomp a 300 lb man with a lightning fast ridge hand to the groin. They never had to work, because with their monk like demeanor, and amazing combat skills, they gleaned riches from their days as wealthy samurai and then retired to a life in a bamboo cabin in the hills, eating what they grow, and living on the gifts of those students who make the trek to learn his secrets.

That is truly a shame – because we miss the actual importance to the martial arts of someone who has dedicated most of their lives to a combat art.

What we fail to embrace in our lack of understanding of martial arts mastery – is exactly what has been mastered – and how.

Let me first address the how. How does one become a martial arts master? Training. Endless, painful training. Week after week, month after month, year after year for decades. From this training comes the technical skills necessary to be a martial arts master. He had to march the same road as all students under the watchful eye of a sensei to learn the basic, intermediate, and advanced techniques of one or more systems of self defense. Once receiving the blackbelt (if the system uses that ranking), he must now spend years honing those skills. Practicing, fighting, contesting, training. After a decade or so, the curriculum that makes up his basic set of skills will have been mastered pretty well. But he is still not a master.

After a decade or so of training comes the “seasoning” period where the practitioner becomes aware of his place in the dojo and in the lineage of the dojo. He begins to understand the role and responsibility of first being a Sempai and then a Sensei. There will begin to come the understanding of how to impart knowledge to others. Up until this point there has been an inward focus – which now must be pointed outward. There was taking, where now there must be giving. There also comes an understanding of what it takes to run a class and perhaps a dojo. There are business aspects and safety aspects. One learns how to deal with the many types of personalities that come with new students and not so new students. All the while, this man must maintain control of his own life outside of the dojo. In this modern world we cannot recede into prior centuries – we live here and now. We have to deal with insurance and bills and jobs and family and automobiles and laws and permits and children. We have responsibilities to our physical genetic families and our martial arts families. On the way to mastery this sensei will need to learn to juggle all of those responsibilities. Sometimes he will and sometimes he wont.

As the greatest secret to mastery comes in the fact that the master is a simple human, like all around them, with the same successes and failures, with similar worries and concerns, with normal everyday responsibilities – he has to gladly sacrifice a huge amount of his private time to the teaching of students. While a martial arts practitioner may train a few times a week, go to the gym, enjoy family time, etc. The sensei devotes all of his spare time – and some not so spare to the dojo and the improvement of others. He spends most of his time giving and coaching and training others – and THAT is what makes his special. He is just like you and everyone else – except that besides his regular life – he gives his heart and soul to the dojo and the students. But this still does not make him a master.

So what makes one a martial arts master? Nothing! Nobody ever masters the martial arts. Nobody will ever be perfect and perform flawlessly all the time in every self defense circumstance. The reality is that it takes so long to truly become a technical master, that the physical body begins to lose its edge by the time the technical edge arrives.

Then why do people get ranked or called a master? Here is your answer. Because a master is ranked as a Master Instructor. Being a martial arts master means that you are a martial arts master instructor! You have the technical ability and the years of teaching experience to know how to pass on the knowledge to others. And this is no easy feat. Every student learns in a different way, has a different background, has different physical and mental skills and training needs. A true master can see the path that each student needs to take in order to succeed in the martial arts. The strong may need technical proficiency. The weak may need toughness. The young may need patience. The old may need motivation. The skilled may need coaching. The not so skilled may need reassurance. The true master knows the history of the system, the teachers of the past, the history of each technique. He know how the entire system fits together to bring students along the path. A master knows every technical nuance, even if he may not be able to perfectly execute every nuance himself every day. A master instructor feels the “on” or duty to those who have passed down the knowledge through the ages and knows he must not only pass on the knowledge, but improve upon it. A martial arts master’s goal is to ensure his students become better than him!

Being a martial arts Master (instructor) also means that other instructors come to you to learn. There are nuances in technique and teaching that they wish to glean and impart to their own students. They wish to use the master’s knowledge to improve themselves and their students.

The final secret to being a Martial Arts Master is knowing that you also have a martial arts master – living or dead – that you look to for your own training and motivation.

Finally – humility is key. Thinking you are a master makes you feel like you want to show and tell the world that you are one. BEING a martial arts master makes you feel like you are a worthless – unless you can make your students and other instructors be the best that they can be. You wouldn’t think of calling yourself a master, and feel somewhat embarrassed when others do. This is what it means to be a Martial Arts Master!

Martial Arts Equipment – Progress in Martial Arts

The first and last thing you need to remember about martial arts is that it is a field of discipline that is supposed to prepare you for combat. It is not simply a set of movements that look great to spectators. Every movement, every breath done by the martial artist is meant to accomplish something during a combat encounter. If you are ready for the idea of using your martial arts skills for combat situations, then you are ready to train and progress in martial arts.

Inasmuch as the term “Martial Arts” literally means “the art of Mars” (Mars being the god of war in Roman mythology), you should be prepared to invest in martial arts equipment to train for highly combative situations. Though some cultures frown upon women taking part in martial arts, there are other cultures that expect women to learn martial arts too – like in ancient Japan, wives of samurai warriors were expected to defend the home if attacked in the absence of their husbands.

Martial arts can be subdivided as to what skills they seem to prioritize – this will tell you what types of martial arts equipment you need to use. For striking, you may need the “wooden dummy” that is used as Chinese martial arts equipment – this type of Chinese martial arts equipment tries to train your mind to anticipate where angles of attack would come from. For kicking sports like Taekwondo, the necessary martial arts equipment to use would be a mouth-guard and a head-guard (for both male and female jins or fighters.) Male jins need other martial arts equipment like a crotch guard or sport cup so that their groin is not exposed to injury. Chest protectors are standard martial arts equipment for amateur matches and Olympic-level matches. However, in real life you should expect such protective martial arts equipment to be absent so some sparring matches involve absence of any protective gear, so you get used to being in real-life combat situations.

Uniforms are standard martial arts equipment for nearly all martial arts nowadays. Often, you can distinguish what type of martial arts is being done based on what the fighters are wearing. But uniforms are not just pleasant to look at – since they are made of thick material, they are pretty durable so that they can withstand constant strikes and friction during combat situations. Uniforms nowadays are also made of breathable material like thick cotton so that fighters don’t overheat or feel too uncomfortable in the heat of a match.

Since martial arts were developed for combat, often fighters or martial artists might be members of the military. In the Western context then, it may be necessary to have access to important martial arts equipment such as strength training equipment. Though in the past, the weight of your opponent may have been enough to workout with, nowadays many martial arts recognize that strength training is quite important too. So if you can find a way to buy your own gym equipment (as your investment into necessary martial arts equipment) or at least rent them by the hour, that would help you develop strength and power for your matches.

In many Chinese martial arts, there are other forms of martial arts equipment that Western martial arts do not require. Some Chinese disciplines will require you to break wooden blocks or planks with your fist. This simple yet staple among Chinese martial arts equipment tests your power, focus, and ability to marshal your chi (energy) into your fist where it meets the wood. Another type of necessary martial arts equipment for the Chinese martial arts would be concrete blocks. Some instructors may ask you to break these concrete blocks with your fist, feet, or even your head.

As you can see, the Chinese martial arts require a different set of martial arts equipment compared to the Western type of martial arts. Do invest in the type of martial arts equipment appropriate for your discipline. Martial arts equipment will help you be a stronger, better and more confident fighter in the end.

Which Martial Art Is For Me?

Those of us old enough will remember trying to find a martial art club was almost impossible. Many clubs trained in backstreet gyms and halls, were often just a small group of friends. If you knew someone training already, it was easy to get in, if you didn’t, well, it was virtually impossible. Fast forward to the early 70’s. It was at this time that the ‘Bruce Lee Phenomenon’ hit the West. Enter The Dragon, a major Hollywood backed film, hit the silver screens. It was explosive, here was a guy who could do almost magical things, at blistering speeds, and so, as a direct result of that film, so was born the modern age of martial arts in the West.

Clubs began to spring up everywhere, people flocked to be trained so they could be like Bruce Lee! The reality of that was somewhat harsher! Soon, may realised that to reach even a fraction of Lee’s ability required years of painstaking practise!

The first martial art to really explode as a result of Lee’s film was Karate. With schools already well established in the UK, they capitalised on the phenomenon by coming out of the back streets and into the school and church halls etc. Adverts sprang up, and all of a sudden, you could find a club to train at! Karate is perhaps one of the most well known of all the martial arts, with a rich history and tradition spanning centuries. And so Karate clubs began to boom, along with other martial art styles, which began to gain interest from a Western culture suddenly smitten with the lure of Eastern mysticism and legends.

Inevitably, this boom faded, people left because it was too hard, that to get anywhere was a lifelong commitment, not something achieved in a matter of weeks or months, but years of hard graft. And so, clubs lost members, but not to the extreme levels that they disappeared back into the dingy training halls of earlier years. Many thrived with a steady increase in students, losing others along the way, but retaining sufficient to keep going.

Then, as with the Bruce Lee films, along came another Hollywood Blockbuster that was to push martial arts back into the public domain…Karate Kid. The film was simple, a young lad being picked on by a group of Karate school bullies, boy comes across a Japanese janitor, who just happens to be a master in Karate….Mr Myagi. It was a wonderfully simplistic film, where, I am sure we all remember, the young lad, ‘Daniel san’ was taught the rudimentaries of Karate through washing a car! ‘Wax on, wax off’…..marvelously clever analogy, from which he learnt everything he needed to do Karate! Of course, it is not that easy in reality, but here we had a film, which spawned 2 sequels, that suddenly showed that training was not only hard work, but could be fun as well!

And, what this film did that no other film before it had done, it attracted Children to the martial arts! It was truly a catalyst in the meteoric rise of martial arts clubs across the world, with parents rushing to sign up their kids to learn about this wonderful way of looking after yourself, of learning respect and discipline, and making their children better people for when they finally enter the world as Adults. Karate was the main benefactor of this boom, obviously I guess given the film’s title, but the knock on effects were felt right across the various martial art styles. Popularity rose through more films, with stars such as Jackie Chan, who, with his unique blend of undoubted skills and comedy, made Chinese martial arts seem fun to learn. And so there we have it, a very brief history of the rise in popularity…But! Here we are in 2008, and despite all the publicity, do you know which martial art is which? I hope the following will give you some guidance:

Karate – Probably one the most recognised. There are several styles, which I will not elaborate too much on here, suffice to say that each does have it’s differences, but each also has many of the same characteristics, namely a focus on traditional etiquette, discipline and hard work. Karate (meaning Empty Hand) is a very traditional martial art, where you will certainly learn respect for others. The main styles are Shotokan, Wado Ryu, Goju Ryu, and Shitu Ryu, though there are a great many more. Karate has also become one of the most ‘bastardised’ styles. There are a great many schools and organisations whose Chief Instructors have studied many of the styles, and have combined this knowledge to develop their own systems. These Organisations have developed their own curriculums and grading syllabus. Essentially they are still Karate, and, with the right club or organisation, you will learn a great deal about yourself.

Taekwondo (or Tae Kwon Do) – This is a Korean martial art, thousands of years old, but only really becoming popular in the past 20 or 30 years. The modern concept of Taekwondo was developed by General Choi in Korea during the 1950’s. Today, there are two styles, ITF (International Taekwondo Federation) and WTF (World Taekwondo Federation). Both teach the same basic ideals. Taekwondo (meaning the way of hand and foot) is, predominantly, a martial art based around kicking techniques. Very spectacular and effective techniques, but those learning Taekwondo will also learn valuable hand techniques, and self defense. ITF Taekwondo is much closer to the original concept of General Choi. The WTF style has developed more into a Sport, and is, in fact, a recognised Olympic Sport. ITF sparring is semi contact, whereas, if you fancy your chances, the WTF style concentrates on full contact.

Judo – Judo means ‘The Gentle Way’. It is a very modern art, and, in fact, is not really a martial art, but a sport. Judo is, however, a very effective self defense art, teaching you how to put locks and holds on an opponent, and how to throw. There are no kicks or punches in Judo. A well established Olympic sport, it offers an alternative to more traditional ‘combat’ style martial arts.

Kung Fu – A Chinese martial art. There are hundreds of styles available, the most popular today being Wing Chun. Bruce Lee was a famous exponent of Kung Fu, but he also studied many of it’s various styles and developed his own Jeet Kune DO (JKD), a method of fighting that used real life street situations to develop an effective method of attack and defense.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – This is the fastest growing martial art style in the world today. Japanese Judo and Ju Jitsu masters exported their martial arts to Brazil around the 1940’s and 50’s, where it quickly gained popularity. A Brazilian family, the Gracies, took this knowledge and developed it into one of the most effective ground fighting systems known today. Although similar to Judo and Ju Jitsu, the Brazilian art concentrates much more on getting your opponent into a submission by locks, holds and chokes. It is, to many, a much more realistic method for the street, where rules do not exist.

MMA – Not really a martial art as such. MMA means ‘Mixed Martial Arts’. It’s origins are again Brazil, where it is known as Vale Tudo. Today, MMA, or perhaps you would know it better as ‘cage fighting’ is a huge sport, dominated by the UFC, Pride and Cage Rage. It has, for many, become an alternative to boxing. MMA is a ‘no holds barred’ sport, whereby opponents can punch, kick, elbow, knee and wrestle each other into submission, or, get a knockout. Very explosive, and certainly not for the faint hearted! Those in MMA will have also trained in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, as well as Karate, Taekwondo or other martial art style, hence the term Mixed Martial Arts.

Kickboxing – Probably the second largest participant club sport in the world. Developed by the Americans as an alternative to Boxing, Kickboxing is, as the name suggests, a Boxing sport, but you are also allowed to kick. Training is hard but rewarding. As well as traditional boxing techniques (jabs, hooks, crosses, ducking and weaving etc), you will also learn a variety of kicks, most of which derive from Taekwondo in style. In fact, many Taekwondo clubs will also run their own Kickboxing clubs, as the two styles compliment each other extremely well.

Choi Kwang Do – Another Korean art, this concentrates mostly on the practical side of ‘what works in reality’. Kicks, generally, are not above the waist, and you will learn a variety of hand techniques, all designed to work ‘on the street’.

Tai Chi – Another Chinese art. Often thought of as an ‘old people’s’ martial art. Whilst it certainly lends itself well to the older generation, in my personal opinion, it should not be overlooked. It teaches meditation and relaxation, but also it teaches you to focus your inner energy, or Chi, very effectively.

In some ways, it is sad that, as a result of the modern age, there are also some excellent, but increasingly forgotten martial arts worth investigating. Aikido and Hapkido (Japanese and Korean respectively) have become victims of the increase in popularity of the more explosive martial arts. These are predominantly self defense systems, but incredibly effective. If you aren’t sure, watch some of Steve Segal’s early films. Segal is a world recognised master of Aikido, it is one of the single most effective martial arts for self defense, but, sadly, it receives little publicity nowadays. It’s principles are the teaching of using your opponents own momentum for your own gain, it also teaches pressure points and restraints. Even if you study one of the more popular styles, Aikido or Hapkido are definitely worth considering as a second martial art.

Today, choosing which martial art you want to do is actually much easier than you think. A great many clubs will offer you a first lesson free, so take advantage of that fact, and go and try as many as you can. In this way, you can find out which one suits you best.

I will give a couple of words of caution!!

1. Do not be tempted to sign up to a membership or any payment plan on your first lesson, or even in the first 3 or 4 lessons. Make sure it is right for you first!

2. Avoid buying any uniform for the same period. Otherwise, if you decide it’s not for you, you will have wasted your money.

3. Go along and watch a few classes first, before actually trying. Most clubs will let you watch. You will get a different perspective on the class teachings this way.

4. Talk to other members, or even the Instructors. Nobody will mind you asking questions. Believe it or not, the vast majority of clubs are not interested in just taking your money only to see you leave. They want you longterm, because they genuinely want to teach you and see you develop.

There are, unfortunately, plenty of organisations out there who will happily take your money. The ‘McDojo’ as they are derogatorily referred to by our American friends are out there, waiting for the unsuspecting student or parent. These will try the hard sell, some even go cold canvassing onto the streets! Don’t be easily tempted by promises of a Black Belt in a few weeks or months, it simply doesn’t happen that way.

So, how long will it take to get a Black Belt? Well, on average, you should allow a minimum of 3 years, and that is based upon a lot of hard work, and regular weekly training, at least twice a week! And remember also, a Black Belt does not mean you are an expert! On the contrary, getting your Black Belt is merely akin to completing your apprenticeship of learning…Once you get your Black Belt, the real learning starts, it is your doorway to a wealth of knowledge and experience that awaits you on the other side.

Too many people look at trying to grade every 3 months, which is fine. But, it is not how quick you get your Black Belt that counts, it is EARNING your Black Belt that will make it most satisfying.

Learning to defend yourself, and others, is only one aspect of Martial Arts, but Martial Arts is not about learning violence. It is, and remains, one of the most effective methods of fitness in the World. It will teach you confidence, respect, both for yourself and others, you will learn discipline and above all, you will learn how to become a respected and well rounded individual.

And when you do decide which martial art to practice, don’t be afraid to check out just where you can get your equipment. Often your Instructors can supply you the equipment you need, but if you feel their prices are too high, check out the Internet of a Martial Arts Magazine for guidance. Instructors do, on the whole sell to you at the same price, but unfortunately some like to try and make a fair nit more if they can. Fortunately, the boom in Martial Arts has also seen a boom in the choice of Martial Arts Supplies available. So, whatever you do decide to practice, you will also be spoil for choice as to where you can go to kit yourself out!

So go on, give it a try, and you will never look back!

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