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issue 06/15/2000

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"Ai" calligraphy by Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei

Finding the Right Martial Arts School

by Dan Richards

Until the 1960's, martial arts were virtually non-existent and unheard of in the West. In the past 40 years Eastern culture has blossomed the world over. Martial arts training are now widely available, but the trick might be finding the right school.

Since you're reading this online, chances are good you've got an internet connection. The internet is the ultimate bloodhound for finding information. There is also the phone book, usually listed under "karate" in the Yellow Pages. Don't forget to ask friends, too. A combination of all these will generally yield good results. To start with a search on the internet use your favorite search engines. A good, general search would start with: martial arts [ your city ]. For example, type in "martial arts seattle", and instantly many listings appear for martial arts websites in Seattle. To begin your research, I would suggest starting with one of the most important factors in consistent training; proximity. Look for schools that are close to you. It doesn't matter that the ultimate grandmaster is only an hour away if you're at home watching television because you just couldn't get motivated to make the drive that day. A school that is within twenty minutes is ideal, because the trip won't be taxing by taking too much time and energy.

After you've found a few schools in your area, look for the schools that have a number of trainings during the week. Schools that don't have at least five classes available per week are not really schools with any kind of steam behind them. Beware of places that offer "courses" or only have two trainings per week. I've found that the best schools offer several evening classes per week with one or two classes also available in the afternoons, and possibly even morning classes. A school with a flexible and generous class schedule also demonstrates that it is established.

Through the process of elimination, narrow the schools down to a handful. From there, read the information on their websites. You should see information about the school and the teachers. When looking at the information on the instructors, make sure that they list their teachers. This is very important, because you want a qualified teacher that has learned from other teachers and not self-taught from videos and books. Almost all good schools will have an affiliation with larger organizations and more advanced teachers.

Each website will usually contain information about the particular martial art/s taught at the school. There will be some history, philosophy and basic principles. As you read through the site, notice whether what you're reading "clicks" with you. There are generally pictures of instructors and even trainings. Consider when looking at the images, "Do these look like people I could train with for several hours per week? Additionally, if you find a particular martial art that seems interesting to you, do a little research and reading on that particular art. There are lots of sites on the web that have good, general information on particular arts. Just type the name of the art into a search engine, and you'll find an amazing wealth of information.

One thing to consider with martial arts schools is whether they are commercial or non-commerical. Both types can offer excellent training, but will have a decidedly different feel to them. Obviously, non-commercial schools can be harder to locate, and may often not have a website or even a phone listing, but they are out there and can often be worth the time to investigate. There are also some schools that operate as national or local franchises. They can be quite good, but remember Caveat Emptor — "Buyer beware".

When you've found a few schools that are nearby, have flexible classes, and look like they might be interesting based on the material presented — those are the schools you'll want to go visit. Pick four or five schools and call them on the phone to inquire about visiting. Any decent school will be more than happy to let you come and watch a class, and even train gratis one time as a guest.

If you feel you just want to watch, that's fine. However, I would recommend that you try taking an actual class. There is no way to experience a class as an observer — you've got to get in there and try it. A t-shirt and sweatpants are all you'll need to visit a few schools. When you visit for the first time, feel free to ask questions. You should generally get friendly and informed responses from those already training. If you find that anyone is hostile or somehow secretive in a strange way — that's probably not the school for you.

After visiting a few schools, what you've seen will start to make sense. You'll have something to compare at this point. Each school will have its own unique personality based on the arts taught, the teachers and the students. You'll find schools with more aggressive energy and schools with a more relaxed nature. Pick the one that feels best to you. At this point, you'll have enough information to make an educated decision.

Most martial arts schools have a monthly fee for members, ranging from $50 - $120. The school should usually have a policy that will allow for you to pay the first month's dues and start training. I would not recommend schools that try to sway you into lengthy contracts or that require new students to pay several months up-front. The good schools usually offer a discount to members if they pay many months in advance. That's a good incentive for established members, but not for beginners.

You should expect to sign a waiver relieving the school of any responsibility in the case of injury during training. This is quite standard. Also, ask about any special prices they may have on the training uniform — or gi. If not, someone should be able to direct you to a good martial arts supply store in your area.

So, there you have it. Enough information to begin locating a martial arts school that's right for you. Good luck!

b i o :
Dan Richards has trained martial arts since 1988. He has studied Tai Chi Chuan, Chi Kung, Escrima stick fighting, Iaido, acupunture, acupressure and currently holds the rank of 1st degree black belt in Aikido with the Aikikai World Headquarters in Japan.


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