Which martial art should I do? Which school should I go to?
There is no supreme martial art. Different martial arts suit different people. Find one that suits you and your goals. Look at a few different arts and a few places before signing up.
Often, the instructor's character, teaching style, knowledge of their art and how well you relate to them, will be more important than the actual art you study.
The closest place might not suit you the best. The same goes for the place with the flashiest gym, best advertising and biggest student base. But maybe the close, big, flashy place will suit you perfectly. Check them out.
Word of mouth is the most reliable form of advertising.
There are four main focuses for martial arts instruction (depending on how you slice them):
- Self defence
- Sport fighting
- Physical training, art, and tradition
- Self development, self discovery and self actualisation
All of these are noble and worthwhile pursuits. None is necessarily better than another. Problems arise if a student thinks he is being taught one but is actually getting something different.
Very few practitioners master more than one focus. Those who master more than two are rarer than hen's teeth. Make sure you understand which focuses you are being offered, and whether it/they is what you are looking for. (Marc MacYoung)
Most people start up to learn self defence. If that is you, make sure you are going to get some of that, preferably right at the beginning. Basic self defence should be easy to learn and execute to be effective under duress.
A good instructor enjoys having students that can think for themselves. Each challenges and extends the other. If an instructor's students one day surpass their ability and make martial discoveries of their own, the good instructor will be happy. Loyalty, both ways, is earned, not demanded.
You are joining a club of people pursuing similar goals in a specific area. That is a worthwhile enterprise. But your other pursuits, beliefs and relationships are not the business of the club or instructor.
Some places, regrettably, try to blur the lines. You are hopefully not looking for dependence on a cult leader, or for a quasi-religious order into which to withdraw from the world. Nor should you enlist in a feud with the rival martial arts school across town, or perhaps several thereof, of which you had never heard before you signed up.
If it feels weird, something is wrong and I would urge you to get out of there.
Self defence is about more than fighting. You need to defend yourself against ill health, theft, exploitation, poverty, verbal and psychological abuse, etc.
You are several thousand times more likely to die from lifestyle-related heart disease or cancer than as the victim of a violent assault. The goals of your training and related lifestyle should therefore consider such priorities and be tailored accordingly.
Fighting skill is one of the less important aspects of self defence. Awareness, common sense, and a realistic understanding of human nature are far more important. Avoidance of a fight is the best outcome. Even if you win a fight, there could be potentially serious legal implications if you injure your attacker.
If you find you need to use your fighting skills in the street, it's probably … “bro, you f***ed up a long time ago”. (Kurt Osiander)
No martial art in the world can realistically allow an unarmed person to defend, with any guarantee of success, against:
- multiple skilled unarmed attackers
- a skilled user of a knife or gun
Your best defence in these cases is running away as fast as you possibly can. If you can't run, and have to stay and fight, use everything you have, but you should expect to be injured, perhaps seriously and permanently.
These caveats relate to realistic expectations. They do not make martial arts training a waste of time by any stretch.
I'm too old, I don't have time
You have time. I started Wing Chun at thirty-five, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at forty-four.
I did other martial arts before that, but had a five year break in the mid 1980's which took me back to square one. Well perhaps not all the way back.
I worked full time in IT all my working life. I have taken care of myself and been fortunate with injuries and the like, but I had some physical challenges at the beginning, and was certainly not physically gifted.
I got much, much further in both arts, in terms of grades, competence, understanding and satisfaction, than I could ever have imagined. I overcame a number of physical limitations and drastically changed my self image for the better. I achieved things that I regarded as inconceivable at the beginning, even in my wildest dreams.
At time of writing I am sixty-one, still training about four times a week, and loving it. I'm planning for at least another fifteen years.
How it's going to be
Getting really good will take a long time.
Sometimes you feel like you are getting nowhere. Just keep turning up, that will change. I've sometimes felt like giving training a miss, but never regretted turning up and doing it.
Some will progress faster than you, others slower. Don't compare yourself. The important thing is to be better today than you were before.
You will have interruptions due to injuries, other priorities, and problems along the way. No one is judging or keeping score. Just train as best you can when you can. After a decade or so, the four or six week breaks you took for holidays or issues with the family, injuries, and work hassles will just appear as insignificant blips in your progress.
Your family, close friends, health, and a good career are more important than martial arts. Priorities.
If you aren't training with friends and aren't having fun, you probably aren't going to last. It is a long, challenging road, but it doesn't have to be all hard graft and gloom. Try to make your training enjoyable, and your training partners into friends. Treat it seriously, but don't miss opportunities to make it fun. Sometimes a smile or a friendly word is all it takes to lift a spirit. “Environment trumps will.” (Chris Haueter).
Do your best to help your fellow trainees. If you are in a class of twenty, and everyone is there for themselves, everyone has one person trying to help them improve. If each of you have the goal of helping the others, each of you has nineteen other people trying to help you improve. Do the math. (John Will)
If you are just starting out, or are an experienced martial artist trying something new, start slowly. The temptation to go all in, six days a week, and then burn out, never to return, is omnipresent and happens to too many.
Start twice a week maximum, leave yourself wanting more. If you find you want to ramp it up, do so gradually, change your routine slowly and methodically. Listen to your body. Don't overtrain or go too hard and injure yourself. When you have developed the skills, some full contact sparring is necessary, but not all the time and not even frequently. Even professional fighters do not go all out all the time.
Training in martial arts can make you a better person, but this is not a given. There are too many highly qualified martial artists with huge egos and bad attitudes. Martial arts training alone is not enough. You have to develop yourself in other areas as well. With power comes responsibility. A decent martial art practised diligently with competent partners and instructors will keep you humble, not make you arrogant.
You learn the most by losing to more skilled training partners, not by continually vanquishing your technical inferiors. If you can beat everyone in your academy, you need to find a harder academy.
Feeling the black belt around your waist for the first time is a pivotal moment in most people's lives. (Note: for some styles, the pivotal belt or sash may be another colour. Some martial arts do not use belts or grades).
However, becoming a black belt will not bring adulation, riches, or make you irresistible to romantic partners. Though for some it becomes a highly enjoyable and satisfying, and more rarely, lucrative career, it is not an easy way to make a buck. The black belt does not magically bring better answers to the rich and varied challenges of life.
Enjoy the journey rather than the destination – for there is no destination, only milestones on an endless highway.