There’s Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do, Karate. Oh, how about Brazlian Jiu Jitsu? Or Judo? Or Krav Maga? Aikido? Maybe Silat or Capoeira? Cool! Or maybe Hapkido, or Tai Chi, MMA, Jeet Kune Do, or Kickboxing?
Whoa! There’s a bunch of them! And really, that’s just a start.
With no experience in martial arts, how do you choose a style?
Here’s the thing. You don’t. You chose an instructor. You chose a school.
Why You Should Select an Instructor and School, Not a Style:
- Every martial art is effective if taught well. There isn’t a “best” martial art.
- A competent instructor will tailor your martial arts education to your needs and abilities, regardless of the ‘style’.
- An incompetent instructor is dangerous. Getting involved with the wrong school can damage not only your physical and mental health, but can be financially damaging as well.
- The relationship you build with your instructor and school is critical to your long-term success. If you choose the right instructor, the right school, you can launch a lifetime activity that benefits your physical and mental health.
- A good instructor will encourage and help you explore other styles when the time is right. Once you have an understanding of the basics, and you understand more about different styles, that understanding can be used to explore styles that you find interesting.
What Are Your Goals?
When picking out an instructor and school, start by considering what you want out of your martial arts experience.
Do you want to:
- Compete – go to tournaments, push yourself to improve and be the best through your competitive spirit, win trophies?
- Learn Self Defense – feel more confident, know what to do if threatened, be ready to fight if needed?
- Exercise – develop a stronger, healthier, body?
- Have fun – learn something new, meet new people, enjoy some physical activity?
- Learn the philosophy – become mentally stronger, deeper, develop the spirit of a warrior?
- Most schools will incorporate some or all of the above as part of their curriculum. But each school will prioritize different aspects.
Visiting Martial Arts Schools
After deciding your goals, it’s time to visit schools.
- Take the time to look up schools in your area. Make a list.
- Visit and observe classes.
- Ask if they offer a free trial class or two. If so, take them up on it.
- Ask about their background in martial arts and physical/health education.
- Ask about the school’s philosophy. Does it meet what you want from a school?
- Don’t make an immediate decision after visiting the first school you’ve toured. Take the time to visit several in your area. This will help you narrow your goals and select the right school for you.
- Are you a parent of potential students? Find out if they allow parents to watch classes.
- Contracts – quite a few schools require them up front. Don’t sign it right then and there. Take it home, read it, understand the small print. Carefully consider the school’s reputation and your goals before signing on the dotted line.
- Some schools require students to buy uniforms and equipment up front. Be sure to get all of the initial and ongoing costs before getting started.
- And keep in mind that colorful uniforms with lots of patches, big trophies, impressive facilities, fancy titles, loud boisterous voices and lots of yelling during punches doesn’t necessarily mean the school is ‘better’ for meeting your goals than a quiet, less colorfully uniformed and patched one (unless your goal is to have a colorful uniform and lots of patches!).
Things to Beware of When Visiting Martial Arts Schools
- High pressure sales techniques. If you are feeling pressure to sign up right now – leave.
- ‘Accelerated’ programs, or guarantees to reach a Black Belt by a certain time, or for a certain price.
- Promises that you’ll be a Black Belt in 6 months to 2 years. A school that awards Black Belts in a short time period likely has low standards. Keep in mind that there are no industry standards to earning a Black Belt. The phrase ‘Black Belt’ is practically meaningless unless you know something about the school that awarded it. Heck, you can award yourself a Black Belt with no training at all.
- Understand that it’s an unregulated industry. In most regions, there are no legal requirements that an instructor has to meet to be labeled an instructor, sensei, sifu, master, or grandmaster. It’s up to you to research, observe, and use your best judgement when it comes to the authenticity, safety, value and benefits of the school.
Find Success by Starting With an Empty Cup, an Open Mind
If you start your search with the question “what style should I choose?” you are unnecessarily limiting your choices before you even get going.
By focusing on finding the right instructor and school, instead of a specific style, you will dramatically increase your chances of finding a long-lasting, positive, healthy, educational, experience in martial arts.