Choosing a Martial Art - Beware of the McDojo
Martial Arts Changes Lives
Under normal circumstances, I would say that any activity is better than IN-activity. Any time you are putting forth physical effort, you are lapping someone on a couch. However, beware as to how you part with your hard-earned dollar. There are many out there that have figured out how to make martial arts a full-time business. Their primary goal is student enrollment through what they call "trials". You will also hear the arguments of which style is better than the next.
You must decide early on what you want to accomplish with your training. Are you looking for techniques to help you better defend yourself? Are you looking to train with your child? Are you looking for a long-term and meaningful traditional experience? Other things to consider if you are a younger person. Some want to train in MMA and find themselves either completely out of their depth by joining a well established gym or find themselves in a gym that refrains from regular sparring. Others may be older and find themselves in a physically demanding workout that they are not capable of continuing long term.
So take stock in what your goals are and have a definitive stance as to what you want prior to shopping for a school.
Whatever you decide, know that you are about to embark on a meaningful journey that may change you for the rest of your life.
Trials are not Memberships!
Paid trials work like this... You prepay for 2-6 weeks of lessons at a very small fee. Two weeks prior to the end of the trial, the pressure starts for you to join as a full-time member. At first blush, the deal sounds good - uniforms, equipment, etc are thrown in to get you to sign up. The issue is the term of agreement. Most require you to sign up for an extended period that would carry you through to your Black Belt - which is a multi-year contract. These are much more likely for the Taekwondo style schools (which are generally aimed at youth), however, adults often fall into this trap when wishing to train with their youngster.
Contracts are a necessary evil for schools that wish to stay in business. These are needed to use membership revenue for the facility, instructors and equipment. It is the TERM of agreement that you should be wary. Anything over an annual agreement should be negotiated down.
These are often your best option when deciding how to pay for your membership. If you pre-pay a year in advance, you may be able to save yourself up to 25% in some cases. It goes without saying that anything over a year should be avoided.
Don't confuse motion with efficiency
So you have decided what you want to train in and successfully negotiated your membership. Now the training begins.... or does it?
Your training is often what you make of it. I always tell students that the relationship is 50-50. As an instructor, I need to provide good learning content, structure and deliver it in a consumable fashion. The student must do something with it. Showing up is only part of that equation. Noone expects you to become John Wick - and neither should you. Martial Arts and Combatives is a game of inches. Your progress may seem slow but if you are putting forth the effort and the school is doing their part, your skillsets will be more effective and efficient!
Don't buy a belt
Testing is quite normal in ALL martial arts, regardless of style. I even know people with Black Belts in Kickboxing. Other styles like Combatives and Krav Maga may have a very different philosophy on rank, but there is still a testing regiment.
Testing is a right of passage. It is an opportunity to collectively demonstrate the skills you have accumulated thus far in your training. Good tests are physically demanding and sometimes unpredictable. The length of testing extends as you advance. The higher the rank, the longer the test. The good news is that since you have been training regularly, your body has become more physically fit and conditioned. Once you attain your belt or certificate, it is an important benchmark.
The dark side of this is that some organizations literally train you to test. The testing is SO often, that you find yourself in a constant cycle of training for the next test. Often the motive for this is the "belt fee". No doubt that you should be charged for your test. It takes time, money, resources and energy to facilitate a test. However, the fee should be reasonable. You should ask prior to joining how often the school tests. If it is every 2-3 months, you should take that as a red flag.
Personal protection is a personal responsibility
I often say this to our social media followers as well as to my own students. Again, you will get what you put in to your training. Anyone who is truly proficient in whatever martial art they practice is dangerous. So, whatever you pursue you should take it serious and question the real-life consequences of the techniques and tactics you are learning. It is good to ask questions in the right way and environment. Don't be "that guy" though. You know the one... Who constantly talks about their former military or training background to cover their own inability to either understand or complete the technique. Also be wary of titles. Many schools have instructors that require you to address them as Master or a more formal title. That is fine - especially if you have chosen the traditional route, but outside the school or dojo you are equals.
Enjoy your training and remember that it is a key component to your Pie of Skills. Train Weekly, Lift Daily, Shoot Monthly.
Michael Kramp is the owner of Train Lift Shoot as well as CORE Martial Arts and CORE Combatives. He has over 30 years of martial arts experience including a 5th Degree in Taekwondo, Nidan in Kyokushin Karate and is a Level 3 Krav Maga/Combatives Instructor. He is also a Reserve Police Officer in the state of Oklahoma.