Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How to Pick A Martial Arts School in Arizona

Think of martial arts as a life-long path or goal. If practiced correctly, it should lead to life-long
health & self-confidence. Gichin Funakoshi, a master of Shorin-Ryu karate from Okinawa,
& father of modern karate, probably summed it up best, "The purpose of karate lies not in victory
or defeat, but in perfection of its participants".
The day has come to learn martial arts. You, your son, daughter, wife, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother or friend are stressed out because of a bully, or a friend was mugged while jogging in the park, you want to be part of the next generation of Ninja Turtles, or you are a senior citizen and you want to learn karate but don't want to end up in classes with teenagers or pre-school kids. So how do you pick a martial arts school?

First, you need to know what is martial art? There are many schools that teach MMA and kick boxing,  but, kickboxing and MMA are not martial arts. But if you like to punch, wrestle and choke people, MMA may be for you. 

There are many different styles and systems of martial arts that include karate, kobudo, aikido, judo, jujutsu, toide, kenpo, taekwondo, kungfu, iaido, ninjutsu, taichi, tai ki, kendo, kenjutsu, sojutsu, kyudo, hapkido, kijutsu, karatejutsu, hojojutsu, etc. Then on top of all of this, each martial art has many associations and even styles known as Ryu (i.e., Shorin-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, Shito Ryu and so on). So where do you start looking?

Here are my suggestions to find a martial arts school - and you must BE SELECTIVE as there are many questionable schools and instructors known as McDojo and McSensei: Phoenix is filled with McDojos - so be careful you are not persuaded by all of the brightly colored uniforms.

Whether you live in Phoenix, New York, Denver, Los Angeles, or Atlantic City, Wyoming get on your computer and search for a martial arts school in your area. Personally, I've found Bing leads to better results because Google is filled with ads when it comes to martial arts schools. For other things, Google is a good search engine such as searching instructor names, lineages, etc. After you find a school that sounds interesting, follow the  following 12 steps.

  1. Write down the name of the martial arts instructor - Google and Bing his or hers name. If they are a pervert, it will show up.
  2. Write down the name of the martial arts school - You've got the idea, Google and Bing the name of the School.
  3. Write down the martial arts association and/or style of martial art and hit the internet again. Hopefully after you've done these first three steps, you've found many positive things about the instructor, school and style.
  4. Now check to see how long the school has been in business
  5. Decide if want to train for tournaments? If yes, find a Chinese, Japanese or Korean martial arts school - then you should be off to winning trophies. You don't need a Chinese, Japanese or Korean instructor, there are many excellent instructors who are not oriental - take a look at Chuck Norris, Rod Sacharnoski, and the late Ed Parker, for example.
  6. Do you want to learn martial arts for self-defense and avoid tournaments? Pick an Okinawan school. When karate was invented on Okinawa centuries ago, it was considered a deadly weapon - not sport - and in most traditional Okinawan schools, it still is. In the early 20th century, karate was introduced to mainland Japan, and the Japanese converted karate to sport in the mid 20th century, so most Japanese schools teach sport, and most traditional Okinawan schools teach karate as a weapon and do not compete. 
  7. If this is for kids, does the school have a good affordable kids program without contracts. Contracts don't bother some parents, but remember, you will be paying for your kids to take martial arts classes while they are out playing basketball. Martial arts for kids provide good social benefits, particularly if the school is safety conscience. Kids are fragile: it is questionable if they should even be in classes that emphasize join manipulation - such as aikido, hapkido, judo and jujutsu.
  8. If you want to train with other adults, be sure to search for an adult classotherwise you will have to defend against 5-year olds. I know one lady who signed up for classes in taekwondo and ended up being the only adult. She was often required to teach the class because of her age. At the end of the class, she had to stand with all of her classmates and pay respect to martial arts by chanting the following dojo kun: "I will obey my mommy and my daddy". 
  9. Does the instructor have legitimate rank? This is not easy to figure out if you are not well versed in martial arts. Even so, search the internet for information about the instructor, his or hers rank, his or hers instructor, and search the lineage of the instructor. Lineage is very important in martial arts and typically one of the few ways we have to trace a person's legitimacy.
  10. Watch a class before you sign up - but don't think the school is obliged to let you attend a free class. Hopefully you can pick out positive attributes and any potential problems by watching a class. After the class is over, talk to some students. If anything seems out of the ordinary, check the internet. If you see things like a little, pimple-faced kid teaching a kid's class, I would look elsewhere. Black belt (yudansha) implies man (or adult). So if you have a 12-year old yudansha teaching a class while the owner is leaning against a wall drinking a coke wearing shoes and sunglasses, you are in a McDojo. If the uniform is multi-colored, you are in a McDojo. If the obi (belt) has dozens of colored tabs so that it looks like a Buddhist prayer flag, you're in a McDojo
  11. There are many good instructors out there and just as many who are not qualified. One person we know who has been teaching for decades suggests 85% of martial arts instructors in the West are not qualified. This may be a bit high. If the owner offers your kid a contract for a 1st or 2nd degree black belt, this is a McDojo because you cannot pay for a rank, it's something that must be earned. It typically takes highly motivated people 3 years to earn a black belt, while others may take as much as 7 to 10 years. We've found the best instructors charge the least amount and do not have contracts. If they are teaching because they love to teach - money is usually not important. Even so, there are some good instructors who charge high prices because they not only love to teach, but they also have to make a living.
  12. If you are interested in martial arts weapons, check out the weapons. If they are brightly colored, made out of plastic with sparkles, or light up at night, you are looking at the tools of a McDojo. Watch a weapons class. If the students use the weapons like high school cheer leaders with batons, that's what you are going to learn. There are many Okinawan weapons, so do more internet searching of the school you are interested in. This also applies to samurai arts.

Remember, there are no government agencies that certify rank (thank God!) - so you'll have to do a little digging.  I recommend to search for information about the organization that issued any certificates and look to see if it is written in English. If it is completely in English, be cautious. If it looks more like a comic book, it probably is.

Look to see if the diploma has Chinese characters (kanji)? Most legitimate certificates will be completely written in kanji (Chinese characters). But then there are many legitimate diplomas outside of China, Japan and Korea that are written half English and half in kanji. Also look to see if there is a couple of red hanko on the diploma. These stamps are personal seals of an instructor and a certifying organization.

A few years ago, I was issued a 10th dan (judan) certificate in jujutsu from a German martial arts organization. The certificate looked more like a comic book, had no kanji, and no hanko. As far as I was concerned, the certificate was about as valid as getting a Congressman to tell the truth about anything. I hung it on my wall to show my students an example of what to look out for.

All the best in finding a martial arts school. And remember, martial arts are for life, not for a month, or year.