*Choosing a Martial Art School*
By: Goshin
20 June 2003

If you've recognized that hand-to-hand skills are one weapon that cannot be taken away, left in the car, forgotten, lost, detected or searched out, or "forbidden to carry", and constitute an essential component of any well-rounded protective strategy...congratulations! Now, what are you going to do about it?

Obviously, you need training. Reading books on the subject is all very well, but it isn't remotely the same; to be able to use HTH skills under high stress and adrenaline-rush conditions, you must commit them to "muscle memory".

Most people intrested in HTH self-defense choose a local martial arts school for training. MA training has many good points, but here are some things you need to carefully consider when "shopping" for a school:

1) Many, if not most, Martial Arts schools are NOT teaching self-defense. These days, most are teaching sport competition; classical styles with the emphasis on the traditional rather than the practical; or martial "health club" aerobics. A majority are oriented to kids and teens, because that's where they make their money.

Classical systems may actually have more real-world application than sport-styles, because the roots of martial arts were usually in HTH combat...but many such styles were watered down when popularized.

ASK the instructor what the prime focus of the school is; if he says "self-defense", that is a good sign. If he says "sport", or "preserving XYZ art in its traditional form", or "spiritual enlightenment" or "health", that would go in the "minus column".

2) Some styles or systems are better for self-defense than others, but NONE have a monopoly on effective techniques and tactics. Systems that I personally would recommend, or which have been recommended to me by trusted associates, would include: American Kenpo Karate (founded by the late Ed Parker), Aikido (Yoshinkan, Tejutsu, Nihon Goshin, or Daito-Ryu, but NOT "Hombu" or Shin-toitsu Aikido), Arnis/Kali/Escrima and most other Philipino systems (primarily weapon-oriented), Jujitsu/Jujutsu (Japanese or Brazilian), Karate-jutsu (such as older Okinawan systems), Jeet Kune Do/Progressive Fighting Systems (Bruce Lee/Dan Inosanto), the "Dog Brothers" if you're on the West Coast (stick and knife), Silat (pentjak Silat or other), some Wing Chun schools, Muay Thai (if you're young and tough;), American Combat Karate/American Freestyle, Vale Tudo, Shootfighting (see Muay Thai advisory;), some "Mixed Martial Art" schools.

However, be aware that it is less the *style* itself, than the school's instructor. His attitude, competence (or lack thereof), and orientation (ie sport/art/defense) will set the tone and quality of the school itself. Look for someone who isn't closed minded, doesn't think he "knows it all" or has a monopoly on martial wisdom. In particular, I'd be wary of anyone exhibiting "tough guy attitude": Real tough guys don't have to *act* it, because they *are* "it".

3) No school you train at is THE ULTIMATE FIGHTING SYSTEM, or the "one true art", and be wary of anyone who tells you otherwise. In any school you study at, odds are not all techniques you are taught will be street-effective; in fact, only about 10-30% will be both real-world-practical AND "work well for *you*". You'll have to put in some skull-sweat, as well as regular sweat, to get the most out of your training.

Here are some hints: under stress, fine motor skills suffer the most, and complex motor skills nearly as much. Gross motor skills (large, simple movements) tend to stay the same or even be enhanced by stress. This means that techniques that require very precise, pinpoint accuracy of movement will be difficult to execute under street-assault stress; also, techniques that depend on an extended sequence of moves coming together *just so* are less likely to work than simpler methods.

Low kicks (groin, thigh, knee, shin, footstomp) are much more practical than high kicks. Spinning/jumping kicks are strictly for show, don't try them on a mugger.

It is better to strike hard targets, like the head, with palm-heel or edge-of-hand strikes; bare-knuckle head punching is a good way to break your hand.

If the students train wearing shoes, this is a very good sign; bare feet are thought "traditional", but there's a difference in balance and footwork and you'll probably be in shoes or boots when attacked.

Elbows and knees are devastating "unarmed" weapons. So are head butts.

Whatever you learn, try to understand both HOW and WHY a technique or tactic works. Instead of simply doing it by rote, try to extract and absorb the concept or principle *behind* the technique: this will make your skills far more effective and versatile.

For example, a simple arm-bar: by "rote", you see that you are holding the wrist to your hip and pushing down on the elbow, to do a takedown or joint-break. From a *conceptual* level, realize that you are using a "fulcrum" and "lever" against a hinge-joint, and realize that any time you can apply any fulcrum, and any lever, against any hinge joint (such as a finger joint), you have an "arm bar concept".

From another, still more-generalized level of understanding, the whole concept of joint locks can be summed up "control a joint with leverage, and twist/turn/push it in a direction it isn't supposed to go".

Never forget that the purpose of ANY technique is to hurt the bad-guy, or prevent him from hurting you; there is no other purpose, where self-defense is concerned. You'd think this was a no-brainer, but get ten martial artists into a discussion of the finer points of their styles and you might wonder if they need that reminder...

4) Commercial vs NonCommercial schools: this refers mainly to whether the school is the owner/instructor's primary source of income or not. Size and aggresiveness of marketing/advertising is a good indicator of this;)

There is nothing really wrong with either, and good training can be had at specific examples of each type. Having said that...keep in mind that a large commercial school, which is the instructor's full-time job and primary income, MUST focus on the "bottom line": money. If the instructor doesn't "market his product" to make as much money as he can, commercial-level expenses will run him out of business. It is not uncommon for these kinds of pressures to lead an otherwise-good instructor to give in to popular trends and orient the training toward "getting and keeping paying students" rather than "providing top-notch practical training".

Non-Commercial schools are often located in the instructor's garage or even in his home, or a has-seen-better-days-storefront in a low-rent part of town. Don't be put off by outward appearances, sometimes the best self-defense training in town can be had in a "dojo" that no health-club-soccer-mom would be caught dead in;) The bonus here is that usually the school is NOT the instructor's prime or only source of income, and his motivation is more often a love of teaching MA's rather than making a buck.

Be advised that these are generalizations, and there are always exceptions.

Now, about the time (a couple years from now) that you finish your final test and finally tie the "coveted black-belt" around your waist, remind yourself of these words: If you don't stay aware and ready, and practice crime-preventive behaviors and good tactics, you (black belt and all) will be flattened by some street punk who asked you what time it was and sucker punched you.

Martial Arts training can enhance your skills, coordination, balance, speed, strength, flexibility, health, discipline, and confidence. From a self-defense perspective, never forget that it is better to "extract" five or ten of the art's best techniques/concepts as your "pocket" technique (to commit to muscle memory by intense practice), rather than to become a "hundred-technique collector", and freeze when attacked from an embarassing overabundance of options;)

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