So You Want to Learn a Martial Art //
January 9, 2017
Written by Richard Block
I have some good news for you and some bad news. The good news is, there has never been a better time in history to access the martial arts. The bad news is, with so many choices available it's easy to choose the wrong martial art for you.
At this time of year thousands of people make the decision to start learning a martial art. This is wonderful as the martial arts offer so many positive benefits for people, from improved fitness and self-defence skills, to self-confidence and self-discipline.
But there are as many martial arts styles as there are countries in the world (in fact more) and even within styles there are different systems and then within those systems one school can be vastly different to another.
So how is a beginner supposed to choose a school?
Firstly, start with something that you’ve seen that interests you. After all, if you’re not interested you’re not very likely to stick at it. So maybe it’s the flexibility and athleticism of Taekwondo that appeals to you or the direct and powerful techniques of Karate or possibly the grace and acrobatics of Wushu or the slick locks and submissions of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Most schools will allow you to do a trial class or introductory course. These are an excellent way to get a taste for a system and at the same time a feel for a school. And there is no reason why you can’t try a few different schools out before you settle on one (in fact I highly recommend it).
When you start visiting schools, this is where you start to think about what you’re really looking for in a martial arts system.
Is your primary goal improved fitness or weight loss? Is it to meet people and be social? Is it to learn practical self-defence skills? Or maybe win trophies in a highly competitive sport? There are no right or wrong answers, it purely depends on what your main motivations are. And each system or school will have a different emphasis on each of these.
Let’s have a closer look at each of these elements.
The approach to fitness at each school can be very different. Some will do an intensive physical training routine as part of their warm up. Others will roll their physical training into the skills section of their class. Still, some other schools won’t put any emphasis on fitness at all, apart from some light stretching or meditative poses.
It might come as a surprise but not all schools have a focus on practical self-defence skills. Some schools are more focused on competitions and executing stylistic movements to score points, while others are more interested in the spiritual or meditative aspects of their art. There is also the ‘practical gradient’ of skills, where some moves that are taught are just not practical to execute in the pressure situation of combat. A basic rule of thumb here is: the more complicated a move the less likely it will be successful in a fight.
In recent years the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has elevated the profile of martial arts competition to a whole new level. However, MMA is only one type of competitive environment. Many styles and systems will have their own tournaments and competitions and the standard can vary wildly. If competition is your thing then I recommend watching as many different tournaments as you can, of varying styles, to identify the one that appeals the most to you. Be aware that some schools and systems don’t compete at all.
Some schools will be run like a close family group and have regular outings and social events, while others are more like a military training yard where you can’t even speak to the person next to you. In the early days martial arts training was quite ad hoc and not as well regimented as it is now. Students would often wander in at all times of the day and sit and chat for hours before doing some training. In the busy world we live in today things have changed, however, some schools still maintain the social atmosphere.
So, after visiting schools and considering all these aspects and how they relate to you, it is important to remember that every school is different and like yourself they will put a different emphasis on each element. It is also likely that your emphasis on each of these will change over time as well. But don’t stress about your choice of school. There is no problem with staying with a school for a while and then leaving to try something else. It happens all the time. It’s also possible that you will outgrow your school and instructors and have to move on (I personally think this should be the goal of every instructor).
The most important thing is to get started. Once you begin training you will be exposed to a whole new world of knowledge and insights and opportunities that at this time you have no idea even exist. Get involved and enjoy this amazing journey through the martial arts.