I get a lot of questions about picking a martial arts school, because, well, I'm the "martial arts" guy for a lot of my friends (the ones that aren't martial artists already). And, on rare occasions, I cruise the internet and see people asking the same questions. And I hate most of the answers I see. They're usually too simplistic, too style-centric, and frankly, rarely take into account anything other than the respondents love of their particular training method.
Plus, I keep writing stuff like this over and over again, and I'd like to have a place to point to and say "here, read this."
I'm not sure how long this series is going to be. Like a lot of things, choosing a martial arts school can be really simple, or really complicated. I'm going for depth here, because simple answers are, well, simple, but not always helpful.
I realize a number of readers here already have a martial art or arts they pursue, and probably have their own thoughts on this process. I welcome other peoples input.
Why This Process Is Important
I used to teach a lot of introductory lessons at Sityodtong. These were lessons with first-time students with no prior experience in the art, and often no experience in the martial arts at all.
On one day in particular, I was working with two younger guys; I did my brief intro, and then asked my usual set of questions.
“What do you guys do for a living?”
“Oh,” said one. “We’re students at Tufts University. He’s doing his Master’s. I’m doing a Ph.D.”
“Really,” I smiled. “You guys seem pretty smart. What brings a couple of smart guys like you down to this place?” I laugh to show that I’m joking.
“Well,” said the Ph.D. candidate, “we looked at a map online, and figured that this place was about the right distance so that we could run here, train for an hour, and run home. We figured it would be a good workout.”
I want you to take a minute and think about that story. Here are two apparently very intelligent men.
One of them is pursuing a doctoral degree at a very competitive political science program. They are, by the standards which our society generally uses, smart people.
In choosing to attend Tufts, they probably spent hours looking at different universities, deciding which offered the best programs, which professors they wanted to study under, and where they would find the best career opportunities.
They selected a martial arts school
1. Without knowing what we teach there
2. Without any clear plan of what they wanted to get out of it.
3. Based on an examination of geographical data without any understanding of the demographics of the areas they were looking at.
If they had taken a small fraction of the time they spent looking at grad schools, they would have realized that Muay Thai is a sport where you get kicked in the legs a lot, and that trying to run several miles along with that training was likely to be unpleasant at best. They would have realized that running to the gym would leave them in a fatigued state that would probably worsen their performance, and that running home might not be option some nights. And they would have realized that their run was taking them right over Winter Hill, a neighborhood in the Greater Boston Area that is famous for its high crime rate. And nothing says “easy target” like a pair of exhausted college kids stumbling through a bad neighborhood.
I wish stories like this were less common. But they are not. In all the years I’ve been doing martial arts, I’ve seen more people start, train, and stop, for all of the wrong reasons. My goal with this series is to try and help change that.
Let's get started.