Choose a System
There are many
things to consider when seeking instruction in any style of martial
art. First and foremost is which of the thousands of styles is right
for you -- and unless, you want to travel across the planet, which
has a school that is accessible to you.
Think about why you
want to study and what you want to get out of that study. Do you
want only to learn to fight, as in No Holds Barred? Are you
interested only in street self-defense, traditional- based styles or
some combination thereof?
If your primary interest is to
learn how to fight and you have no interest in forms/kata or
the traditional ways, you have narrowed your choices considerably.
And, similarly, if you want traditional training you can forget
about the street-oriented systems.
|Now you have to
choose from the subset of systems. Do you go with
Korean, Okinawan, Japanese,
Chinese, Muy Thai or one of the many others? The
choices are endless.
The main thing to remember is to
choose a style that suits you physically and mentally. If the
animal styles catch your eye, look into the various systems of
Kung Fu. Like to kick? Try Tae Kwon Do.
linear systems? Investigate Japanese styles such
as Ishinryu, or Hsing-Ie, a Chinese style. If
you want to do NHB, then Brazilian Jujitsu,
Vale Tudo and other grappling arts may fit the bill.
Krav Maga (Israeli) or Systema (Russian) for those
interested solely in self-defense.
Gather Preliminary Information
narrowed your choice to a system, you must seek out the schools in
your area and pay them a visit. You can gather preliminary
information from a phone call or by visiting their web site but
going to the schools, watching their classes and talking to both
instructors and students is the only way to make an informed
Making the first visit
||Now that you
are ready to visit the school or schools of your choice, make
a list of questions to ask.|
These Should Include:
- Who teaches
- How many
are in the class?
- What is the
instructor to student ratio?
- How often
does the class meet?
- Ask about
the head instructor's qualifications.
- Who was his
or her teacher?
- Are they
still studying, learning new techniques?
- How long
have they been teaching?
- How does he
or she develop new instructors?
Watch at least
one beginner class and one intermediate to advanced class including
their sparring sessions. Observe the instructor-student interactions
to see how the students receive the instructions from the teacher
and how he or she responds to questions and handles students who may
be struggling to learn a movement or concept.
close attention to the sparring. Do the students appear to
practice control? Are they using techniques or are they just
flailing with random punches and kicks? Does the instructor or
assistant watch the sparring and help the students as they are
sparring? Do the better students try and dominate the weaker
ones or do they try to help their classmates?
allow contact and if so how much and to what parts of the
body? Make sure their sparring style suits you; some people
like full contact, others don't. Do the students wear pads
when they spar? Headgear? Handpads? Footpads? Whether they do
or don't, ask why.
Pay attention to the
facilities as well. Is it reasonably clean and free from clutter in
the main workout area? Is the equipment in safe working order? Are
the restrooms clean?
Don't expect a pristine place but on
the other hand you should expect a school to be presentable and
fall for the "We promise you'll be a Black belt in XX years"
line. Obtaining your black belt requires nothing but hard work
and sweat, maybe a little blood and a few tears. Some people
learn faster than others, and it may take you extra time to
gain rank or you may be one of those naturally-gifted people
who learn very quickly. Regardless of the amount of time it
takes, you will get out of it what you put in. Depending on
the system, it could take 5 years to obtain a first degree
black belt, in others a little as two years.
Be sure to
check a prospective school's rank advancement requirements. Even
though you may not know how difficult the curriculum is you should
be able to get an idea of how much you'll be expected to learn and
the average time frame involved in moving up through the ranks. Belt
levels vary widely so one school's Red Belt may be another's brown
belt. In some systems a Red Belt holder indicates the Grandmaster.
Get a full explanation of how their ranking system works.
|After you've sat
through a class or two, it's time to see if this style and
school suits you. Does this school offer a free trial class or
some sort of introductory package? Don't let them suck you
into a long term contract until you are sure you are ready to
make that commitment; you will pay the full amount on the
contract whether you show up for class or not, although the
exact laws on getting out of a contract vary from state to
Assuming you can try the style for a week or a
month, come to every scheduled class and ask all the questions
Talk with the other students and see what
their likes and dislikes are about the classes.
sure that you get along with the instructor(s) and that they are
knowledgeable, helpful, courteous, encouraging and patient.
Now is the
time to make sure that personalities don't clash. What do they teach
the very first class? Do they throw you in with everyone else or are
all the first-timers grouped together? If you are the only newbie,
do they give you one-on-one instruction?
Contracts, Fees and Related Expenses
consideration in your decision to join a school should be the price.
Of course it must be affordable, but even if it is, if you don't get
along with the teachers or don't like other aspects you won't enjoy
it and will probably drop out.
||Does the school
offer a variety of contract terms? Do they offer a
non-contractual pay as you go plan? If you elect to sign a
contract, read it first and know for how long you are
committing; it can be very difficult to get out of a contract
down the road if you decide you don't like the style or school
Also make sure
to get the costs of thing such as test fees, uniforms and any
weapons you may need and any other "hidden" costs such as any
get locked into a long term contract if you aren't sure. Don't let
them pressure you. Don't sign anything if you aren't 100 percent
sure and always read the contract before signing.
to study the martial arts can be difficult. Studying a martial art
can be very rewarding both mentally and physically, but you must ask
many questions -- both of yourself and the prospective schools -- so
that you get all that you want from your studies.
Listen to your
instincts in addition to all of the other factors mentioned and you
should find a school/system that you can stick with for a long time
Good luck on your journey.
Dave Randolph is a 4th degree
Black Belt in ShaolinDo Chinese Martial Arts in Louisville, KY and has
been instructor for over 13 years. He is also a certified Russian Kettlebell