Choosing a Martial Art

Choosing a Martial Art or Dojo

So you're looking around at different martial arts with an eye for which one suits you the best. Don't worry, you are not going to get the hard sell here. The truth is that we are not looking for every potential martial arts student out there to join us. We are an excellent fit for some and a poor fit for others. This is the same with any dojo. The goal is to find the best fit for YOU.

Let's get started!

A couple of basic concepts to take in right away. First, the art itself is less important than the people. There are superb martial artists in nearly every martial art. Some are outstanding, even phenomenal, as practitioners but may not be good teachers or mentors. It is common for ego or attitude problems to plague experienced martial artists. This is something to be on the watch for when you meet instructors.

What you should be looking for is competence, respect, and a healthy attitude. When you go in, observe class. If you get a chance to train with the students, do that as well. Talk with the senior students and get a feel for their attitudes and behavior. They are what that school is building. If they are the kind of people you want yourself to be, then it is a positive indication you will be a good fit in their school. Surround yourself with quality people and you will improve yourself.

Along with having good people, make sure you get access to them. The classes should be small enough or run well enough that you get to work with senior students and get focused time from the instructor. Some dojos make the new people work together and the instructors only spend time with one another or senior students. You will learn most and have the best time learning from quality instruction, which means attention and mentoring from instructors and experienced students.

Second, the martial art itself is less important than the people but worth considering. You must assess whether your body and mind are ready for what you are going to learn, rather than the capabilities of the art itself. There are certain arts which require a great deal of athleticism. If that is the case, and you are older or have restrictions on your movement, then that art might not be a good fit for you.

Practicing any martial art will improve your strength, balance, flexibility and conditioning, but some require a high level of these to be effective. Therefore, some martial arts are limited to students who are young and physically fit. Also realize that if you practice an art that relies on a lot of striking, understand that striking can do as much damage to the striker as it does to the target. You can condition your body to withstand striking impact but this kind of conditioning takes a lot of time, is remarkably painful, and can even result in body deformity. Boxers always tape up their hands and wrists for training and sparring. There are many instances of boxers breaking their hands when landing even a single punch without being taped up. Just something to keep in mind as you look at striking arts as a possible options for your training.

Every martial art says that it offers self defense, which is often the main selling point to get students to sign up. The honest truth is that self defense is not really a part of the curriculum of many dojos, although they hesitate to admit it. So how can you tell? Real self defense training needs to prepare you to deal with all kinds of real world attacks. It isn't enough to train only to deal with punches or kicks. Real world attacks include grabs, tackles, wrestling and attacks from multiple people at the same time. Real attacks will involve an attacker making body contact with you.

A warning: there are some martial arts, mostly franchise, that are designed and operated to extract as much money from students as possible. They do this by promising black belt rank in a short time and offering attractive monthly rates, only to reveal an abundance of hidden costs that spring up on you after you've signed up. Beware of any organization that is hesitant to outline all of the costs up front and has a lot of extra charges along the way. Be on the lookout for high belt test costs, patches, uniforms, weapons, training accessories, mandatory seminar attendance, and most of all contracts. Be particularly wary of a dojo which demands you enter into a contract without letting you try it out for a month or more.

It is pretty easy to get a feel for whether a dojo or instructor is more interested in making money than improving their students' abilities.

If it is real self defense you are looking for, then make sure the dojo you join trains for it. If you observe or participate in a class that involves no body contact, then you will not learn about what it takes to deal with a real self defense situation. Kicking and punching in the air is not sufficient training to deal with a real attacker.

These are the tangible things to look for. Next, let's talk about the philosophical goal. Is your desire to learn a martial art to protect yourself from harm and keep you safe? Or, are you interested in learning how to win fights and hurt people? If you are interested in the latter, then your interest is in sport fighting or more military style training. The strategy of such training is to deal the most damage possible in the shortest amount of time, with the intent of inflicting maximum damage upon your attacker as quickly as possible.

A common question that comes up from people shopping around for a martial art is about weaponry. The belief is that learning weaponry is valuable as a self defense skill. It can be, for sure. However, there are a few practical things to think through before deciding that weapon training is for you, whether it is handgun, knife, stick or sword training. First, are you prepared to have your weapon on hand all the time? If not, then your weapon training will be of limited use to you. Second, are you truly prepared to deal with all that goes along with what weapons are specifically designed to do: kill?

This may seem like a good approach, and it is - in a military setting where there is no regard for the enemy, nor is there any penalty for maiming or killing someone. If we desire for peace, then this approach is not a very good fit for us civilians.

According to police statistics, approximately 80% of violence happens with someone you know. Are you willing to use a dangerous or deadly level of violence against an acquaintance, friend or family member? Are you willing to face potential criminal charges of assault or murder? If the goal is to lessen or remove the influence of violence from your life, why train to be ultra violent?

It may seem that we are critical of weapon training, but that is not true. Weapon training has it’s place and no martial artist or self-defense student is complete unless their training has included weapon situations. Just be careful not to believe a common myth that weapon training is the one and only training you need to secure your safety. There simply is no one tool for every job, and that includes weapons.

These are some of the choices you make in what type of training you do, and many students of martial arts get started training without ever thinking these through. It is very common to change your path as you learn more.

In regards to our dojo: if your interest is in learning merely to hurt people, either with weaponry or otherwise, then our dojo is not a good fit for you.

Aikido offers the option of using as much or as little as necessary for you to protect yourself, which includes protecting your attacker if need be. Make no mistake, aikido is a dangerous and extremely effective art and can cause immense injury depending on how it is applied. We teach you to apply as much as is necessary to protect yourself, which is the choice you have to make based on the circumstance. There is much more to this philosophy, but suffice to say that we focus on an appropriate response to the situation.

Aikido can be applied effectively without needing athleticism. No extraordinary strength, flexibility, or speed are needed. Movements are efficient and based on solid strategy. Practicing aikido will improve your balance, body control, coordination, timing, and posture.

Included in our curriculum is also what most dojos do not teach at all: techniques and practices of street survival - self protection. These skills are far more mental than physical. Important skills such as observation, strategic decision making, spotting body language, and positioning are critical to keeping yourself safe. If these are done correctly, you may never need your martial art. Peace is the goal here - not winning fights, right?

Lastly, you may have heard the concept that martial arts training is a waste of time because you can just hand your wallet to a mugger and the money inside is worth a lot less than the cost of your training. Although the simple math equation seems valid, what if the mugger wants more than your wallet? What if he is there to harm you or take your life?

Step beyond even this oversimplified concept and realize that martial arts training is beneficial to your body and mind, even though you may never be attacked. Our training sessions are all fun experiences which challenge both the mind and the body. Building confidence and learning what you are really capable of is a tremendous experience. You get a workout and get to improve yourself, all while having a fun time and enjoying the company. As we said earlier, it is really about the people.

A final bit of advice: After you visit a dojo and try training there, ask yourself - did you enjoy the experience? Were the students enjoying themselves? If the answers were no, then realize that if you sign up you won't be there long. If you are not enjoying what you are doing, you will stop doing it. If you stop training, you will get no benefit and be no better for your experience.

Train with joy, and the benefits will come. You know you have found the right place when you are excited to go every time.

Here is a great podcast, in two short segments, on choosing a dojo. Have a listen, as there is some great advice here:
AikiCast - How to Choose a Dojo - Part 1
AikiCast - How to Choose a Dojo - Part 2

We look forward to seeing you come in for a visit!