Finding a Good Instructor and Dojo in Martial Arts

It might be something very new and unfamiliar to you, but somehow your interest in martial arts has been sparked. Maybe you’ve been excited by the graceful and intricate fight choreography of a Jackie Chan movie or the raw physicality of Jason Statham or Jason Bourne; possibly you’ve caught the fever of the Ultimate Fighting Championships and other Mixed Martial Arts venues. Possibly you had something happen that shook you up and you want to learn proper self-defense, or you’re just practical and would like to prepare for the worst. You want to learn martial arts but you’re still uncertain how people go about on the search for good instructors and good martial arts dojos (schools, gyms, or whatever else name given to the training hall).

Here I present to you a general guide to choosing good instructors and good schools in your martial arts search. Itgood-dojo is important to note that you must be clear on what it is you want in your martial arts training in terms of the many benefits such training provides. While what I am giving to you in this article is inevitably subjective, it does come from decades of martial arts training and observation. I am assuming certain things in terms of quality, value, and desire in the training sought. However, these assumptions are logical and rooted in observable facts and common sense, with very practical considerations. I assume you want to learn practical self defense from a highly skilled instructor and that your budget is also a factor. These are common considerations so they are included in this examination.


Good Instructors

You have entered the school and are welcomed by the Head Instructor. Immediately you will pick up on certain good-dojo1cues, his demeanor, his tone, what he says; in addition, you have a feeling, sense a certain energy from the instructor and the environment of the school itself. To go further, you witness how the instructor interacts with his students, how he treats them physically, psychologically, and in verbal interactions. Remember, this does not mean that what he addresses is always “nice” or that he candy-coats the issues that are inevitably addressed in the context of self defense. You are better off with an instructor that is willing to expose you to the realities of violence than one who shelters and coddles you. This does not mean to tolerate abusive treatment, but means that a caring and honest instructor will address the realities of real combat so that you will be sufficiently prepared if you ever must use self defense.

The other thing to be mindful about an instructor is his training: How many years of experience does he have, what was the quality of his instruction (and who was his instructor), does he still train and what can you see in his own performance? This becomes evident when you observe him. A good instructor still trains and trains with his or her students. The simple and applicable adage for this is: The proof is in the pudding.


Style or System

Each system or style of martial arts is different. The word that applies here is “longevity”. Is the school “fly by good-dojo2night”, cashing in on a new craze, purely commercial and offering black belts in 6 months for the right price, with 9 year old black belts running around on the mat looking flashy but obviously not qualified as a black belt either in capability in performance or capability in instruction? That is another issue: A school with children as black belts, to put it simply, is a scam. Children are not physically capable of performing self defense at expert level nor mentally capable of teaching it (which is what a black belt does). Nor are they capable of deeply comprehending the complexities and meanings of true and effective self defense. Giving a small child a black belt is the equivalent of giving him or her a college degree.

Another consideration in terms of style or system of martial arts is whether it suits your body type and inclinations. If you are stocky, you might want a system that uses low kicks and quick hands; if you are long and lean, you might prefer systems with high kicks; if you are big and strong you might want a system which emphasizes grappling. You want a system that uses techniques, movement, and rationale that suits your mind and body and your own tendencies. This part is up to you and how well you know yourself.

It is also possible that you want to develop a certain quality. If you are quiet and reserved and need an extra boost to get you into the self defense frame of mind, you might want a style that emphasizes aggressive techniques; on the other hand, if you are of a hotter temperament, you might want a more fluid style that emphasizes going with the flow. Then again, you might feel that you are mellow and need to keep it that way, so go with the more fluid style; same with the more aggressive style: If you are more aggressive, you might want an aggressive style that allows you to capitalize on your natural inclinations and tendencies. This, again, is a matter of your needs, understanding of yourself, and your perception.

Price: Why is Martial Arts So Expensive

This is an unavoidable issue for most people. And the fact is, most martial arts schools charge expensive dues. It is one-69528_640difficult for martial arts instructors to earn sufficient money to survive and also pay rent on the building or space they use. This is a fact. It is not unusual for schools to charge more than 100 dollars a month. It is very common for instructors to charge between 80 and 100 dollars a month for classes. There are good quality non-profit schools with dedicated instructors that truly want people to learn their art. Typically, these days, such schools charge around 50 dollars a month, so they are relatively inexpensive schools to join; not many years ago, I’d seen monthly dues at such schools as low as 30 or 40 dollars monthly, but that was also when regular schools were charging around 60 to 75 dollars a month. That was about 5 years ago, so economics (inflation) is always a factor. Also, often, your local community center will offer martial arts classes at reasonable rates, but remember the training is limited by policies of the community center which, of course, has insurance, liability, and funding issues.

Realistic Training

By realistic training, I mean whether the instructor and system address real fighting and real violent street self good-dojo3defense situations: What it is that actually happens and what realistically works. Are multiple attackers addressed? Are moves reasonable and even physically possible in a real situation when adrenaline is pumping and you have milliseconds to respond? The list goes on.

But it is particularly relevant how well-rounded the training is to sufficiently train your mind and body for self defense.

This means you will train basics. Without basics you won’t be able to perform the art at all, won’t be able to piece together moves to pull off techniques: Basics are fundamentals, like the alphabet is to words and words to sentences; they are stances, strikes, kicks, foot maneuvers, locks, throws. They are drilled in some way to burn them into the brain and muscle memory.

You will also train self defense techniques. These techniques you learn and practice them on a partner. They are, if the training is realistic, not just fixed ideas; but they are starting points to understanding positioning, angles, and what can be done to defend yourself: They consider many variables.

Finally, there should be some kind of spontaneous training, in the form of sparring. This is a training method in which two (sometimes more) people kick, punch, and strike at each other, and defend, and also wrestle each other, to train spontaneously coming up with techniques. One school might train striking and grappling, while others might emphasize one over the other. It is advantageous to train all ranges of combat: Kicking range, striking range, close quarters, and grappling. You might need all of that knowledge and be in various predicaments in which any of that knowledge might be tested. Grappling is not good against multiple attackers, yet you will still want to know what to do if you end up getting grabbed or end up fighting on the ground grappling. At any rate, sparring is important for training because then you can see how you can use what you’ve learned spontaneously, not from fixed patterns, but as things actually happen against a resistant partner.


So, in choosing a good school of martial arts, it is important to understand what it is you want, to trust your feelings, and to be very observant of what you witness of the instructor and environment of the school. Be wise but have fun.


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