Strap in boys and girls, this is going to be a long one…
As I discussed in Balancing Gaming and Healthy Living – You Can Do It! one of the ways I suggested that gamers geeks find a healthy activity, that melds well with their gaming interests, was to take up a martial art – especially if fighting games were their thing. I spent a little time discussing how to overcome one of the major hurdles to breaking out of your basement from in front of your TV or monitor – laziness. What I didn’t address was the other major obstacle that many people struggle with, which is how exactly do you get started?
After reading this, you will be armed with the tools to find the right martial arts school that is the perfect fit for you!
For the last 25 years, martial arts have been a constant positive influence on my life and health. Over the years I have run the gamut; I have:
- Owned a commercial school
- Taught out of my house and Rec centers
- Studied privately and been a student at both small, recreational clubs and highly successful schools.
And through the years I can honestly say I have seen it all. Good, bad and comical (I once walked into a school in Ft Lauderdale teaching “I Kick Your Ass Do”, I shit you not.)
The seeds of being a jerd were planted when, around 8 years old, I found my particular jock and my first geek around the same time. I fondly remember every weekend going to the neighborhood pool and learning to play D&D with a few of the older kids on Saturday and then being glued to the TV on Sunday watching Kung-Fu theater and being absolutely fascinated by the athletic feats. I spent that entire summer rolling dice and watching Bruce Lee movies, imitating what I saw. From there, my path was pretty much set; all I had to do was find the right martial arts school for me, which unfortunately took me a lot of attempts.
So you want to be the next Jet Li. How do you find the right martial arts school and get started?
If you want to see a geek argument of epic proportions, put a few serious martial artists in a room and get them to
argue about discuss what style is superior. The debate will get hotter than a Kirk vs Picard panel at a Star Trek convention in no time! Since our goal is more than likely to get in better shape, improve our flexibility and to get out from behind our computer desk; the actual style you ultimately settle on isn’t a big deal. How the school is run and how you feel you fit in is much more important.
“The main factors in choosing a recreational martial arts school should be instructor personality, professionalism and overall gym culture.”
The first step to find the right martial arts school is to canvas the area. Unless you live in the sticks, your town will more than likely have a plethora of options available. They will run from tiny groups at the local YMCA to large academies with multiple programs available. Being the geeks we are, our Google-fu should be strong enough to find out a little bit online about each of your prospective schools.
From this, weed out the schools who:
- Market their kids program much more aggressively than their adult program – While any school owner trying to make a solid living at teaching knows that kids are where the money is, we are looking for a quality program that suits your learning needs. So unless you are planning on making this a family endeavor with your children, this is probably not going to be the school for you.
- Make a big deal out of belt/rank progression – While rank is an important part of training as it helps you gauge where you are and how you have progressed, an overtly belt-centric program generally means lots of out-of-pocket expenses over time and a focus on passing tests for the sake of the test itself rather than natural skill progression.
- Promise deadly elite killing skills – Stay away from schools marketing themselves with Special Forces/Anti-Terrorist/Law Enforcement lingo and descriptions. They are almost always full of crap.
Now, you should probably have 3, maybe 4, schools left on your list. Hopefully they are all different disciplines, but even if they aren’t we are going to visit them all and watch a class.
Since you don’t know much about what you are watching, you aren’t trying to base your impression on what is being taught you are going to look at how it is being taught. As a side note – don’t get scared or intimidated thinking to yourself “I can never do that” when seeing something that looks outside what you perceive as your physical limits. The human body is amazing and you can do anything with enough practice. I promise.
After you have watched a class at all your prospective schools, which one struck you as the most interesting? This is the first major hurdle to finding the right martial arts school for you… The decision will be gut based, as there will be so many factors contributing to your decision – Did you like the instructor’s manner, did the students all seem friendly and to enjoy themselves, did everyone look like they got a good workout, was what was being taught interesting to you, etc…
After deciding what school you want to further look into it is time to set up an Intro class. Almost all school’s will offer some form of introductory program; some are simply just joining the regular class for free for a session to try it out, some will have set aside time for private intro classes to familiarize you with the basics and terminology and some will be a series of classes. Regardless, the intro should be free. Any school that does not have an intro program, or wants you to pay for them to essentially give you a sales pitch on why you should join their school, should be avoided. If that is the case simply revisit your mental checklist and move on to the next school.
If your intro looked anything like this, walk away slowly.
After your intro if you are still interested, it is time to decide whether or not to sign up. Now, depending on the level of professionalism at the gym this might go down any number of ways. Just remember that at the end of the day, they are trying to get you to join and pay them money and in return you are expecting quality instruction and assistance in helping meet your goals. This is the time, if you didn’t already during the intro process, to discuss what you are looking for out of this. This is about you, you are the consumer, so you want to make sure that the product you are about to buy meets your needs or at the bare minimum can be tailored to do so. Don’t be shy, be 100% honest… This is your time and money being invested! As I said, there will be a million methods a school will use to get you to sign up, but I want to offer one piece of advice here:
Do not sign a contract for anything longer than 6 months!
School’s will probably want you to enroll for a year at a time, but they will almost always have a 6 month option in their back-pocket should you balk at the commitment. They will do their damnedest to convince you to go for the longer option, citing all sorts of success metrics and cost benefits. Ignore it all and go for the 6 month deal even if it costs a little more. That is a solid amount of time to commit to life changes, and something new, without biting off more of a commitment than you should with a hobby you are completely new to.
Once your sign that name on the dotted line, get out there on the mats and getting to sweating and learning. Remember that you are new, and that everyone else there was in your spot at one point or another. No-one will judge you for being a spaz. Martial arts students tend to be the nicest and most compassionate people you will ever meet, and they are almost always willing to help!
So, to recap:
Step 1 – Google-Fu
Step 2 – Weed out bullshit
Step 3 – Watch some classes
Step 4 – Take an intro
Step 5 – Sign up
Step 6 –
Profit Start learning how to fight bears
Now get out there, find the right martial arts school, and give it a shot! Make sure to let me know what you decided on trying!