School, School, School. Dojo!
Martial Arts should be taken as long term activities rather than short term if you are to reap the best benefits from martial arts. Due to the time and money you will put into a training in the Martial Arts it is wise to research several schools; rather than, simply walk into the closest martial arts studio and sign up. Though it may seem like one Martial Arti is the same as another this not true, and not all schools or studios are alike either. Therefore, it is important to really think about what your OWN NEEDS are with respect to martial arts training.
What is your goal for learning Martial Arts?
The discussion of which martial art style to take is too extensive for this article; however, there are differences in the various styles of martial arts. These differences may result in some being more suitable for certain individuals compared to others.
Karate - Kicks and Punches. Can be effective in street, but is primarily tournament focused today.
Judo - Goal is to throw or take down opponent
Kung Fu - Graceful and effective for defense, but uses low stances, high kicks, and flowing motions.
Tae Kwon Do - Tournament oriented and primarily uses kicks.
MMA - Tournament oriented, but also very effective in street fights
Jui-Jitsu - primarily ground based fighting
Krav Maga - Israeli military self-defense. Used to defend against multiple types of attacks. Focuses on striking soft targets; eyes, groin, throat, etc.
Kenpo - Primarily hand strikes with low kicks used for self-defense against multiple types of attacks. Focuses on striking soft targets; eyes, groin, throat, etc.
NOTE: Krav Maga and Tracy's Kenpo are similar in action and effectiveness. Both were developed to survive any attack anywhere.
Do some research on the different styles, and visit the classes of different studios to determine which style fits your needs or your physical ability. Once you determine the style it is extremely important to find the right instructor with the approach to teaching that suits you. Do you need private lessons? Do you only want to do group classes? Is hands on step by step required for you to learn or can you pick it up by just watching? Knowing how you learn and the the training approach of the instructor will make a huge difference in how successful you will be in learning Martial Arts.
Traditional martial arts schools teach techniques and forms specific to a traditional style. These schools follow the ways that the original founders of each martial art style developed and they have continued with minimal variance over the years. While other studios like to borrow techniques from a variety of martial art disciplines and integrate a mix into their training. Some schools are non-traditional and adopt a more open free style system which incorporates traditional martial art techniques with gymnastics and open choreography of forms. There are many clubs that do both traditional and open styles. Each school and instructor will claim that their martial art style and method of teaching is superior to others. The reality is this depends on the reason you want to take Martial Arts. Some styles are more effective at teaching certain aspects. Jui-Jitsu is superior to the other styles in regards to ground fighting, but Kenpo is more effective in overall self-defense. Tae Kwon Do has supreme dominance in the kicking arena. So one style better than the other? Not really, but one style may be more suited to you than another. You may want to take two styles, Kenpo for striking and self-defense and Jui-Jistu for if you get taken to the ground. Choose your styles based on what meets your requirements, and the ones you in which you will most likely succeed.
Does Master of Style Mean Master of Instruction?
You may see many Martial Arts schools advertising the backgrounds of their higher ranking instructors as a way to attract students. You need to realize the the more degrees (or dans) a particular black belt has doesn't necessarily mean the person is a better instructor.
Many great Martial Artist are horrible instructors while many lower rank Black Belts excel at instruction. This is the same with instructors who have very successful competition records. There is no correlation to the number of world championship titles won with how well the person teaches. Just because someone is a master in the style does not mean the person is a master instructor. Each instructor has their own teaching style, and some are better than others. Some use the old Asian masters’ approach where discipline is strictly enforced much like in the military. While general discipline is actually a good attribute to learn from martial arts training, some of the old ways of teaching, particularly reprimanding students vocally or physically for incorrect techniques may be considered a bit harsh for today’s society. This is why it is important to watch classes of prospective martial arts schools. You want to see the teaching style of an instructor to determine if it’s a style that would be compatible with you or not. Ask questions after instructors have finished teaching. If you have the gut feeling that certain instructors will not be right for you, move on to find another school. Most legitimate schools will allow prospective students to witness or even try out a class for free before joining.
Related to teaching styles, some instructors emphasize safety more than others. The use of protective equipment and certain rules while sparring are factors. In addition to asking instructors, also ask other students about injury rates and their general feedback about the classes (ideally when they are outside of their schools). Also, take the time to watch the students. How do they react? How do they treat each other? Some schools attract a certain type of student profile. Observe the other students and decide whether you want to train with these people.
Tournament Or Not To Tournament
Tournament oriented schools are very much into competition with active encouragement of students to participate in tournaments. In fact, some schools even make this a requirement in order to advance through the different levels. Other schools have been known to restrict competition only within a particular circuit. For example, many tae know do clubs only participate in tournaments that are strictly Olympic style tae kwon do and never go to events that are open to all martial arts styles.
There are schools in the complete opposite end where they do not believe in competition at all and pretty well keep to themselves without any interaction with other martial arts clubs. Many Chinese kung fu clubs do not compete and some styles of martial arts such as aikido do not offer any competitive outlet. Many martial arts schools choose to have a relaxed position towards competition where they leave it up to individual students to choose whether they want to participate in tournaments or not. Some schools have special competition teams where additional training is available for those students who wish to compete. So as a prospective student, you should consider what involvement you would like in competition if any. If you know that you never want to compete, you should not get locked into a school that requires tournament competition. If you have a desire for competition, don’t join a studio that shuns competition.
Location, Cost, and Environment are Important Too
Some martial arts schools teach in community centers, school gyms, church basements, or Online. Some have bare bones studios with outdated equipment. Some schools have the latest martial arts and fitness equipment with sparkling clean change rooms and facilities. All of these will factor into the membership fee of each school. You have to determine what you are willing to pay for and the type of environment where you will feel comfortable training. Many schools require annual contracts; while, some are on a month to month basis. Some schools include private lessons in the monthly charge, and others require additional payment for private lessons. There could be initiation fees. There could also be testing or grading fees for advancement. All of these extra costs will add up. Ask what happens if you have to freeze your membership due to extended illness or injury. If one doesn’t really know whether martial arts is an activity for them in the long run, the option of taking short term contracts or no contract training may be a viable alternative to making a full commitment to a dedicated martial arts club until you are sure you have found the right one.
In the End the Results are up to You
Regardless of what style or school you choose, the results belong to you. Be aware that although martial arts can be very enjoyable from the first day you put on a karate uniform, it is a long term activity and one must have patience in order to benefit the most from martial arts. Fortunately, there are many options in the form of different martial art styles and schools to choose from in the market today. Just make sure you do some preliminary research before committing to any particular one.