*How to Choose A Good Martial Arts School*
By: Shorinmonk
26 June 2007

I am writing this in the hopes that some will consider taking up a martial art to learn self defense, self discipline and maybe self confidence. A lot of people wonder what type of martial arts to take up and while anyone can learn any art, it would not behoove someone like William “The Refrigerator” Perry to take up Monkey style Kung Fu. In this article I will try to lay out a few of the styles, the best body types and attitudes to approach these styles and some strengths and weaknesses of what you may learn in these styles. I am an Okinawan Karateka so my taste will lean more toward these arts, but I have some experience with others as well.

Karate/Tae Kwon Do
Karate is a great art. Unfortunately about 1901 a man named Anko Itosu had the idea to put Karate into the school systems of Okinawa. Itosu was a very good martial artist who had studied with Matsumura and was in the employ of the king until 1879. When Itosu reformulated the art to allow it to be taught in the schools it was watered down a great deal. This was the art that was brought by Gichin Funakoshi to Japan years later. Tae Kwon Do, Shorin Ryu and most other systems of Karate are based on his teachings. That is not to say that more pure forms do not exist, they are just much harder to find. Karate in its original form was for life preservation, mainly the preservation of the Okinawan King. While there is a lot of history that you will hear, most is fictitious and was made up for the sales of the art to the public in Japan and here in America. The reason I included Tae Kwon Do with this is that the art was founded by Won Kuk Lee who studied Shotokan under Gichin Funakoshi. My choice if I were to study Karate would be Uechi Ryu or possibly the Okinawan Goju Ryu.

Karate is made up of many ideas and styles, but they are more suited for individuals who are powerful and thickly built. Some styles emphasize tai sabaki, or body shifting. These are also good for thinner individuals and the by product is building of power.

Aikido is the Harmony Power Art as it’s name implies. It is based on old fighting techniques from the Japanese arts, mostly Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu. It was developed by a man named Morihei Ueshiba. It is not realistically a fighting art, but is instead considered a way of life. While it has some very good techniques and some awesome joint locks, it is not very practical for fighting or defending yourself. It concentrates more on becoming the best you can be as a person and bringing peace to things around you. There is a lot you can learn from this art, and if you tend to lean more to the passive side or are a perfectionist this art would do you well.

Aikido is better if studied by people who are of larger build. Guys who have some extra weight seem to excel at Aikido and since it is not very physically demanding it fits much better with the heavier crowd. Large hands are a plus with this art, as they are handy when trying to apply joint locks.

While it may be wrong to lump these arts together, I feel they are similar enough to do just that. Jujutsu is a Japanese art based on joint locking, but also incorporates striking and atemi waza or pressure point techniques. Hapkido, sometimes referred to as Korean Aikido, is a lot more self defense oriented and has strikes and kicks and is much more based on realistic self defense. These arts are good for smaller and larger people and are awesome fight equalizers. Many different styles of these arts exist. Some styles focus more on the joint locking, while others focus on striking and some even on weapons. There are even variations in Hapkido, with some doing more of the joint locking and others more of the kick and punch arts.

Kung Fu
Here is a very interesting classification because it covers such a vast range of arts that to say they were good or bad would be incorrect and short sighted. Wing Chun is perhaps one of the best in fighting styles that exists today. True Shaolin, or to say it more correctly the true Lohan arts are extremely effective. The problem is that many are out there who have learned from people who really didn’t have any idea what they were doing, or were out and out frauds. While some of these people have the best of intentions, what they teach amounts to making many mistakes in a combat situation. Kung Fu is usually better for thin people who have a natural agility. The training is both physically and mentally demanding in true schools.

These are a collection of arts from the Philippines that incorporate the use of knives, small swords and sticks. These arts depend on a flowing motion to allow many strikes, sometimes as many as 20 hits a second. The United States Army currently ranks arnis as the number one deadliest martial art in the world, and incorporates many of its movements in its hand-to-hand knife combat for SEAL teams and other Special Forces. While these arts do teach hand to hand techniques they are taught in reverse order with weapons being taught first, and followed by empty hand. The style originally came from the Spanish outlawing of the Philippine islanders swords and kris knives, after which the islanders soon learned that the techniques would work equally as well with rattan and bamboo sticks.

How to pick a good school
1. Determine your goals.
Why do you want to study? Do you want to learn to kill, maim or injure? Get in shape? Just study a foreign culture? It is good to know what you want before you start to look to deep.

2. Ask around.
If your friend or co working is attending a class and has good things to say about it then it might be a good idea to check them out. Word of mouth is great in that it is not sponsored by the school and gives you a true viewpoint of a student or ex student. You get both good and bad advertisements from word of mouth.

3. Stop by some training halls.
Go in and meet the head instructor. Watch and/or participate in a class. Ask about contracts. Usually I try to shy away from those that want me to sign up for a 2 year contract right away. Ask about rank and affiliation. Is the teacher a 24 year old 10th Degree Black Belt? I prefer to study with the lower ranked belts that have more time in. I would rather train with a guy who has been in the arts for 30 years and is still a 2nd Degree, than a guy who has trained for three years and is a 5th Degree. The fact is, rank doesn’t mean squat in America any more. Is the teacher affiliated with the main school for his style? Is his lineage traceable? This may give you a better set up training regimen and allow you other schools to train at while traveling. If not, standards and methods for advancement may be inconsistent. Asses the quality of instruction you see at the class. Is the teacher respectful and teaching with professionalism? Most martial arts instructors will not feel the need to bully or show off their skill. Lastly, does what is being taught work? Will it work 100% of the time at full power and full speed? If not, I would head down the road.

4. Research the style.
Find out if the style, its precepts and traditions follow your morals and ideals. If you are a Christian and the style forces you to bow to Buddha at the beginning of class, then find another place to train. Martial arts may seem religious, and there are some religious ties to many styles. There are no styles that force a specific religion on anyone. These are called cults and are best left alone.

5. Trust your feelings.
A lot of the people teaching today are truly teaching things that do not make sense. Use common sense to weed out the bad teachers and the frauds as much as possible. Do an internet search on them and find comments from other students and teachers. Ask forum members about the style and the teacher. There are many Martial Arts related forums out there. While sometimes these guys talk about people they have never met, if you find first hand accounts it is best to listen and keep them in mind.

To finish this I would like to bring up some key knowledge that I have gained from Martial Arts. Most important is that Martial Arts do not make you unbeatable. It may help you to recognize and evaluate a threat. Help you to keep a clear mind in dealing with that threat, and may toughen you to better take on that threat. A blind sided brick to the head will still defeat you. We have a saying among our group that goes “Those who sweat more in training, bleed less in battle.”

A little about the author:
I have trained for over 34 years in Okinawan Karate. I spent one tour as a child with my father at Yakota Air Base, Japan where I started training and finished my training with his teacher near Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. I do not hold a belt rank in Karate but I do hold a teaching certificate from Chosuke Sakugawa, my Sensei. We do not give out Dan rank in my style. I have also studied Jujutsu, other systems of Karate and two forms of Kung Fu and became proficient in them before giving them up to continue the practice of my original style. I focus on real world combat in my training and feel that the life preservation arts I do serves me best.

All materials at this site not otherwise credited are Copyright © 1996 - 2007 Trip Williams. All rights reserved. May be reproduced for personal use only. Use of any material contained herein is subject to stated terms or written permission.