Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How to Pick A Martial Arts School

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! You, your son, daughter, wife, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother or friend are stressed out because of a road rage incident. Or a friend was mugged while jogging in the park, so you want to be part of the next generation of Ninja Turtles.

Maybe you are a senior citizen and you want to learn self-defense but don't want to end up in a class with teenagers or pre-school kids because your shins already hurt from years of misuse. So how do you pick a martial arts school?

You first need to know what a  martial art is, as it is more than apparent that few, including the media, have little understanding of martial arts or what a martial art is. According to media outlets, essentially anyone who kicks, is a martial artist - so does this include horses and kangaroos? If you kick at the wall in your room, are you magically transformed into a martial artist? Martial arts requires considerably more than what is taught in your aerobic kick boxing class down the street at the gym, and it requires a lot more than schools that advertise classes in MMA. According to Soke Hausel, former professor of martial arts at the University of Wyoming, martial art requires much more than just kicking and punching, and MMA and kickboxing do not meet the necessary criteria. But if you like to punch, wrestle and choke, 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 some suggestions to help you find a martial arts school - but BE SELECTIVE as there are many questionable schools and many more questionable 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 and belts that look like Tibetan prayer flags.

Whether you live in Phoenix, New York, Denver, Los Angeles, or Atlantic City, Wyoming, get on your computer and search for martial arts schools in your area. After you find a school that sounds interesting, consider the steps below.
  1. Write down the name of the martial arts instructor - Google and Bing his or hers name. If there is something suspicious, it may show up on the Internet.
  2. Write down the name of the martial arts school - You've got the idea, Google it.
  3. Write down the martial arts association and/or style of martial art and search again. After you've done these first three steps, hopefully you've found positive things about the instructor.
  4. How long has the school been in business
Now decide if want to train for tournaments? If yes, find a Chinese, Japanese or Korean martial arts school with a good instructor - then you may be off to winning trophies. You don't need a Chinese, Japanese or Korean instructor. 

If you want good communication between you and your sensei, find someone who speaks your language. There are many excellent instructors who are not oriental - such as Chuck Norris, Rod Sacharnoski, and the late Ed Parker. But if you want that Mr. Miyagi experience, look for a good oriental instructor - such as Tadashi Yamashita

It should be obvious, but look for the best rated schools and
instructors to see if any of them appear to be a good fit for
you and your family.
If you want to learn martial arts for self-defense and have no interest in tournaments, pick a traditional Okinawan school. When karate was created on Okinawa centuries ago, it was considered a deadly weapon - not sport - and in many traditional Okinawan schools, it still is. In the early 20th century, karate was introduced to mainland Japan, and the Japanese converted karate to sport, so most Japanese schools teach sport, and most traditional Okinawan schools teach karate as self-defense. 
If you are looking for a school for your kids, does the school have an affordable kids program without contracts. Contracts don't bother some, but remember, you will be paying for your kids to take martial arts classes after they quit in a week and star playing soccer. Martial arts for kids provide good social benefits, particularly if the school is safety conscience. Kids are fragile: and it is questionable if they should even be in classes that emphasize join manipulation - such as aikido, hapkido, judo and jujutsu.

If you want to train with other adults, search for an adult classotherwise you will be defending against 5-year olds. We 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, and even though she was at the time, only a white belt, she was teaching 4 and 5-year old black belts. At the end class, she had to stand with all of her classmates and chant the following dojo kun: "I will obey my mommy and my daddy". 
Does the instructor have legitimate rank? This is not easy to determine if you are not well versed in martial arts. Even so, search the Internet for information about the instructor, and search for lineage. Lineage is very important in martial arts and one of the few ways we have to trace a person's legitimacy.
Watch a class. Hopefully you can pick out positive attributes and any potential problems by watching. 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 class - 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
Be careful of contracts! One person we know who trained in Okinawan and Japanese schools and has been teaching for decades reports 85% of martial arts instructors operating commercial martial arts schools in the West are not qualified - and most are self-promoted. If you are offered 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 takes highly motivated people 3 years to earn a black belt, while others may take 4 to 10 years for many others. It is also a known fact in martial arts the best instructors charge the least amount and do not require contracts. If they are teaching because they love to teach - money is not important. But it is unfortunate that many if these outstanding instructors go out of business because they cannot pay for their leases, unless they are teaching at a community college, university, etc.  But be aware - we've seen questionable instructors at some universities.
If you are interested in martial arts weapons, known as kobudocheck 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. If the students use the weapons like high school cheer leaders, that's what you will learn. This also applies to samurai arts and training with the Japanese sword and similar weapons.

Remember, there are no government agencies that certify rank (thank God!).

Check the instructors rank certificate on the wall.  If it looks like a comic book, it probably is. Look for Chinese characters (kanji)? Most legitimate certificates will be completely written in kanji (Chinese characters). But there are also many legitimate diplomas outside of China, Japan and Korea. These are typically are half English and half 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.

All the best in finding a martial arts school. And remember, martial arts are for life, not for a month, a year, they are for life, even after you retire - keep kicking!