If you have never delved into the world of martial arts and unarmed self-defense, it can be pretty intimidating trying to decide what style, school and instructor would be best for you. Today we’re going to go over some key points that you should keep in mind when choosing a martial arts school and some red flags to look out for to keep you from getting ripped off or misled.
Do you want to learn martial arts or do you want to learn REAL self-defense?
This is an important question to ask before even looking at a prospective school. It seems like the two should go hand in hand but I can tell you from experience that the majority of traditional martial arts schools aren’t in the business of teaching you how to actually defend yourself. They’re in the business of teaching martial arts, but you’re not going to ever be thrown into even a somewhat realistic fight or flight defensive situation in your training. You’ll learn technique, you’ll learn speed and you’ll be required to memorize forms for belt testing purposes, and you’ll even do “sparring” with other students but I can tell you from many years of experience, it’s not the same as a real combat situation.
If you’re looking to “study” a martial art style then this type of training may be for you. There are quite a few benefits to it. All martial arts will help you stay in shape, there’s a lot of networking connections available at these schools with other students and instructors and there’s definitely a rich history that goes along with any traditional martial arts.
If you’re looking to train in real-life, unarmed defensive combat, traditional martial arts schools are just going to disappoint you. Yes there are some techniques and training that could be useful in any martial arts, but unless you’re looking to train in a new style year after year, piecing together your own defensive strategies, it’s not worth it. You’ll learn a lot of bad habits and even if the teaching gives you some confidence, stylized martial arts isn’t going to prepare you to actually defend yourself in a survival situation in most cases.
Start asking good questions
If real defensive training is what you are looking for, then you need to start asking questions and doing some research. There are several self-defense instructors and schools out there that are not teaching the same old stylized martial arts. However, the demand for stylized martial arts; the same “teach my 10-year-old to do some kicks and break boards” type of teaching is a lot higher than the demand for realistic self-defense training. Unless you get lucky, you’re going to have to find these schools. They typically don’t advertise very much. The school isn’t going to be a modern, expensive dojo, and you’re probably not going to see white uniforms or colored belts of any kind. These instructors teach what they teach as a labor of love and dedication. They’re not in it for the money. These are the type of people you want to be learning from.
The best way to find a realistic self-defense school and instructor is to ask around to people that would be most likely to know of such classes. Police officers are a great start. Many police officers take practical self-defense courses either through their departments or just on their own time. They may be able to point you in the right direction for what you’re looking for. Obviously Google and Craigslist are other good search tools.
Beware the money trap, leave the kids at home
As someone that was actively involved in a family-run martial arts school, I can tell you from experience that there are more schools out there that are in it for the money than there are for the training. Martial arts can be a very expensive hobby. There are monthly dues, uniform fees, belt fees, testing fees, competition fees, safety gear to buy…the list can go on and on. If you’re focusing on real self-defense, actually learning real ways to defend yourself, you shouldn’t be looking to a school that has all these fees. Realistically all you should be looking for is a school with a reasonable monthly or even per-class fee and that’s it. Despite what a lot of schools might think, a $100 uniform and a $30 cloth belt aren’t necessary to learn self-defense.
Many martial arts schools focus heavily on bringing in children into their classes. I’m kind of torn on this one. I know from growing up in a household that centered on martial arts that it can do some great things for children. Martial arts are great for teaching discipline and self-confidence. Again though, we need to go back to the first question… are we here for martial arts or are we here to learn how to defend ourselves? If you’re looking for a hobby for your children that can teach them some really good life skills, then yeah, a traditional martial arts academy might be a good choice.
On the other hand, I don’t care how many black belts a 12-year-old has, you put them in a real defensive situation with someone much bigger and stronger and all the training in the world isn’t going to be worth a whole lot. So again, if you’re looking to actually learn how to defend yourself, and are looking for a teacher that solely focuses on realistic self-defense keep an eye out for any children in the class. If there are any, that’s probably a queue that this school isn’t for you.
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