If there is a single consistent mistake I have seen people make in choosing a martial arts school, it would be this: people don't put time into thinking about what they want out of the training before they start training. I believe this single mistake probably leads to more lost students than any other issue in the martial arts. And while martial arts instructors like to grumble about how modern people simply don't have the discipline to stick with training, I think the larger problem is that modern people jump into training without thinking about what they are doing. After a few months to a year, they look up, realize the aren't getting what they thought they were promised, and move on.
Broadly speaking, there are five reasons to train in the martial arts:
One: 9-1-1 Training
This is "self-defense" training. Learning how to deal with a violent assault. It assumes that you are being attacked by a criminal, and often assumes that you've run out of non-violent options for dealing with the bad guy. Combatives training (hand-to-hand for the military), and Defensive Tactics (hand-to-hand for law enforcement), fall under here.
There are certain professions where pursuing this kind of training is either a requirement, or at least, a very good idea. If you are a cop or a solider, having some kind of close-quarters combat (CQC) training makes sense. But there are other professions that can put you in harms way. I have one client whose work takes her to "conflict areas" overseas. A psychiatrist who works with violent felons might want this sort of training. Basically, if you are regularly exposed to violence, or the potential for violence, as part of your job, seeking this kind of training makes sense.
Of course, you can seek out self-defense training without having any professional need for it. Many people take up martial arts (or even just basic self-defense courses) simply out of a desire to feel safer in their daily lives. That's a perfectly valid reason as well.
Two: Personal Development
This is training in the martial arts to somehow make yourself a better person. The specifics of this can vary, and not everyone's concerns about personal development will be the same. Possible avenues of personal development through the martial arts include
- Fitness: weight loss, flexibility, strength, etc.
- Spiritual Development: a quest for some kind of enlightenment or higher understanding
- Discipline: A quest for a better ability to focus or concentrate
- Self-esteem: Feel better about yourself
- Fun/Fantasy: Sometimes, you just want to dress up and play Samurai/Kung Fu Master/Ninja/MMA fighter. (That is NOT a bad reason, btw. As long as you know you're playing)
This is martial arts done as competition: everything from kata competitions and point karate tournaments all the way up to MMA and Dog Brother's Gatherings. Sometimes it's about actually getting out there and entering tournaments or matches. Sometimes it's about just "brawling with friends" as Rory likes to say.
Four: Heirloom / Preservation
This is martial arts done with the goal of preserving or recreating an historical tradition. The modern Historical European Martial Arts movement is a good example of this, as are the folks out there working to try and pass down the various Japanese Koryu.
Take a few minutes, grab a piece of paper, and write down what you would like to get out of your martial arts training. Think carefully. Be specific. Do you want to be the next UFC heavyweight champion? Do you want to achieve a perfect zen state? To be able to keep yourself and your family safe? Drop ten pounds?
Once you have a list of goals, prioritize them a bit.What is the single most important thing on your list? What things will you compromise a bit on? While the goals I listed are not mutually exclusive, trying to reach all of them at a high level can be very challenging (we'll talk more about that in the Timeline-in-Training and Sacrifice sections).
for there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so. - Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 239–251
Finally, don't judge your goals. There is a temptation to think that if you're doing martial arts, you must want to learn self-defense, or you have to want to compete, or whatever. None of those things are true. I know plenty of people who train martial arts without a single thought to self-defense, and live perfectly happy lives.
Figure out what you want, and then you can start working on how to get it.
[Credit where it's due: Wes and Maija helped me clarify this model quite a bit. Thank you!]