So you want to get started in the martial arts, and the question is where and how to start? In this article I hope to share with you some points in finding a good school, sticking with it, and taking your training through the first year. Are you ready, let’s get started!
The first step is to research the martial art you want to get started in. Maybe you already have an idea of what you want to study, maybe all you know is “martial arts”- either way the first step is to do some research on google and wiki reading about some of the more popular styles and traditions. Even if you have your mind set on one in particular, a bit of knowledge to compare and contrast is a big help. No need to become an expert, just read through and spend a few minutes becoming familiar. In case you need it here are a few arts to look into: Aikido, Jujutsu, Mixed Martial Arts, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, Sambo, Systema, Brazilian Jujutsu.
Next step is to find a school in your area- location is KEY since you will be spending a considerable amount of time training in the years to come. Accessibility to the school, teacher, and students is key. I’d recommend a driving distance of no more than thirty minutes from your home to the school.
That’s not to say a longer driving (or travel) distance makes it impossible, if you are really interested in learning a particular art you might have to commute a considerable distance, but it does make things harder when life, work, and family come into the picture. So much of the martial arts of any style is about being physically present for training- you have to be there to get it, so naturally the more classes you can attend the better off you will be- that doesn’t mean you can neglect home training and on your own, but that is a bit out of the scope of this article for now.
Make a list of schools in your area for the style that you want to study as your starting point. Keep in mind that more might exist then just on the internet. Some school, especially the more traditional ones might not have a web site or even advertise (!). If there is no school in your immediate area, contact a few others as close as you can find them, or even email the head school of the style asking about instructors or classes in your area.
So now you have your list of school(s) and are ready for a visit to check it out- contacting the head teacher and setting up an appointment is your big first step. For a large commercial school you might just be able to show up and watch/try out a class- for smaller school or more traditional training environments setting up a time to visit is proper protocol.
Keep in mind that from the moment you email and on, the teacher of the school is sizing you up- will you be a good fit for the school, how will you interact in the group dynamic, what are you motivations for joining- good or bad?
Don’t just ask about the training times and if you can stop by- use it as an opportunity to break the ice and present yourself for that first visit. Examples…
My name is X and after having a chance to view your website regarding martial arts training I would like to inquire about finding out more about your school and visiting a class if you have any openings in the school.
I’m at a point in my life where I really feel like X training can benefit me, and I’d like to take that first step.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Start your letter off with a proper introduction, Mrs. Mr. etc. and not on a first name basis as it could be considered rude. You can also leave out any formal titles like shihan, sensei, etc. since you are not a member of the school and group- it would be considered odd to address somebody like that outside of the school.
Next list where and how you found about the training- be it a web site, personal introduction, friend, association, etc. followed by a reason why you would like to begin pursuing martial training. Be a bit humble and don’t presume anything.
From here, in a day or two an invite to watch a class will probably be extended and when it has follow up with another very brief email telling the teacher you will be stopping by, and thanking them, etc.
This is your first impression.
Don’t be late on your visit- and don’t be early either! Being late is just rude, and being early can disrupt things before class as many times things have to be set up, gear taken out, etc.
When you arrive at the school wait for somebody to approach you just inside the door or at the start of the mat. The teacher will be expecting you, and somebody will be over shortly. Again first impressions, be polite, quiet, and don’t presume anything.
Sometimes a teacher will send over a senior student to greet you as they (the teacher) might be busy at the moment. Don’t be insulted by this, it depends on the protocol of the school and what is going on at the moment.
Most likely you will then be seated to watch a bit of the class followed by talking to a senior student and or the teacher. What you notice and observe during this time is KEY in deciding if the school is right for you.
Of course you are watching techniques being demonstrated, training drills, etc.- all that martial arts stuff and you are judging with you own eyes if it is effective and what you want. But you also need to pay attention to the teacher, students, and the senior students.
Does the teacher treat the students in the class with respect? Do they have compassion and heart in the training? Are they calm and controlled, or an arrogant jerk? Do they serve the tradition or their ego? Would you enjoy studying under this teacher?
Art is important, but teacher is just as important if not more important. Studying the martial art you want under a bad teacher is worse than not studying the art at all.
BOTH need to be a good fit for you to learn.
Pay attention to the other students in the class. Class should be disciplined and serious to some extent, but the students there should look happy and engaged in the training and learning- not afraid or stressed out. They should all be on the same team learning and growing.
Finally look at the senior students- the ones with the black belts or who are asked to come up and demo techniques or explain things from time to time. These are the students who in most cases have been studying with the teacher the longest- sometimes many years. How do they move? Do they look and act capable? They are the product of the teacher and their training and can be a good indicator of where you will be heading.
Often after watching class or even a bit before you will have a chance to speak with the head instructor and ask them any questions. Be respectful, but be honest and frank with them- just as you are sizing the school up to see if it is a good fit, they are sizing you up. Same goes if you are speaking to one of the senior students.
From here if it is a good fit, and if you decide to study at the school you are all set- congratulations! On the other hand if it is not quite what you are looking for, or something just won’t work out- be polite and always follow up with a thank you email- the martial arts community is smaller than you think, and even a teacher or school that isn’t a good fit might know of a similar school that would be a good fit. A polite reference can always help!