I know exactly what I think. I’ve been around the block when it comes to martial arts and I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve seen some good things and unfortunately ….a lot of bad things. I have no doubt I could write a bestselling book on exactly what to look for in a martial arts school. While my focus is not going to be on that in this article I’m going to mention a few things that pertain to that.
#1: There is no “best” martial art.
• There are good fighters out there who will be good fighters no matter what art they practice. If you took Steven Lopez (an Olympic Gold Medalist in Taekwondo), and instead of Taekwondo you put him in boxing he would be an Olympic Gold Medalist in boxing. This is not true for every person but very gifted athletes.
• I do believe that some are more effective than others for particular body types. This doesn’t mean someone in an art not particularly geared for their body type won’t do exceptionally well at it. It just doesn’t happen that often.
In the past I would often get angry at the old arguments of “this” is better than “that”. The fad in the 90’s was ground is better than stand up and now in the 00’s its stand up is better than ground. Now I just laugh. Although I will say that I don’t know any fight that starts on the ground. And then there’s the distinction between self-defense (the real street defense… Krav Maga, etc) and sport (MMA, point fighting, grappling, judo, boxing, etc). The real street arts and even the sport arts lack the development of character needed with the acquisition of power and ability. The real Martial Arts develop the person over a lifetime. They stand up for what is right and are proponents of Justice, Strength for the weak, and develop an atmosphere of family and a brother/sisterhood to support one another.
Somewhere along the way it became commercialized…. McDojo’s popped up everywhere and money took the place of honor and sadly the true motive to help humanity. Then the MMA craze took hold. Creating a whole new genre of wanna be gangsters, cowboys, and punks that is now the new face for martial arts just like the Karate Kid was in the past. The truth is those things are entertainment. Through further research I discovered where MMA really got it’s face. The world of professional wrestling…. yes…that’s right… the world of Triple H, Hulk Hogan, and Randy ‘The Macho Man’ Savage. MMA got ‘cage matches’ from pro wrestling. Pro wrestling found that cage matches added a whole new entertainment level…not to mention the chances of getting their fighters extra hurt…but at least for now I haven’t seen any rolled barb wire or razors hidden in tape on fighter’s wrists.
There is one thing all martial art schools have in common…”The Cowboy Element”. MA schools draw it like a moth to a flame. The cowboys = the bullies, jerks, punks, delinquents, criminals, pigs, and sometimes those who boarder a buffet of mental disorders. There’s nothing wrong with drawing in the Cowboy Element but what you do with it when it comes your way does. Most Cowboys end up quitting. There’s several reasons for this but the most common is they find they don’t have the discipline to stick with anything long enough to achieve something. But there are a few who find something they never thought about. They can be humbled in many ways. Finding respect for those around them and themselves. In my time in the martial arts these people are few and far between but when they achieve this they don’t turn back. And it’s even better when they become teachers. Experience is the best teacher. Kids and adults who are Cowboys or exhibiting that trait relate quickest to that instructor.
But that’s not what I’m addressing here… The Truth Is… there are schools out there who promote bullying, being jerks, and even being abusive to wives. I wish I could make this stuff up… because it sounds like a movie…but unfortunately the following stories are a slap in the face truth as to what is out there:
(I will use no actual names)
“There’s something I’ve got to tell you”:
While just barely being a teen a young girl entered into a new school. The instructor, barely out of rehab. Things went well for several years with only minor occurrences until the instructor went of the deep end. He started drinking, smoking, and doing drugs again. One day the instructor calls up the student who is now a little older and says, “I’ve got something to tell you”. The instructor confesses that he’s been in love with the student for many years citing back to days of early teens (13, 14, 15 yrs old and up). Fortunately the student leaves…a very wise decision. As it turns out he had been coming on to other underage girls and requesting they come in for ‘private lessons’.
“He has such a great personality”
Several young children from a family join a local school. The teacher seems knowledgeable and is very charismatic. He keeps children and adults attention well. For the most part things seem relatively fine except when his true side begins to show. The instructor has the students (children as young as 7) jumping over foldout tables the long way in order to teach them break fall rolling. To no surprise there are a couple of broken bones to one child. The instructor periodically goes on tirades telling students not doing well in sparring they are sparring like girls. The instructor occasionally spars with students just to beat them up and sends older stronger students after smaller ones. The matches are uncontrolled and even biting and eye gouging are allowed. Some fights even spill over into the audience and several children and adults are hurt. Soon the family finds out the instructor is into drugs and have put his students and their families in severe danger. It is soon found out that he had lied about previous military training, educational degrees and certifications, and even his martial arts training. He begins to lose control getting deeper into drugs and steroids and even offers them to underage kids and even becomes best friends with a child molester to pay for his rent. He turned many students away from him and unfortunately from martial arts and has damaged many relationships.
“It’s just a formality”
Martial art organizations are notorious for price gouging. One in particular was attended by a man interested in taking a disciplined martial art. After several private lessons and developing a good relationship with the instructor he was asked to sign a contract. The class was about to begin shortly so it was presented hurriedly. “It’s just a formality,” he said, “everyone has to do it.” Even though a bit antsy he quickly skimmed the contract having trust in his instructor. After a few months he changed locations and no longer wanted to train there. Shortly after a notice he was being sued was sent to him. In the contract was a clause that you are paying for your black belt up front and the contract was for 5 years. Unreasonable…yes…but it’s out there.
“Something’s just not right here”
After visiting a school an instructor noticed several red flags. At first they seemed small, lax atmosphere (which in some cases is good), but soon disrespect of instructors and arts popped up. A 2nd in command student began to trash his instructor’s art that his instructor was a master in. He used a lot of profanity and often talked of beating up others in public. He liked to walk around with his shirt off and was constantly harassing and terrorizing others. Students in the school were often praised for bad behavior and shockingly for not doing what the instructor told them to do! The instructor seemed to be very technically knowledgeable but lacked control of his students and class. What kind of martial artists does this school produce?
The Truth Is….
When Scot and I set out to make this school we formed it in a particular way. We took profit motive out. And we did something ground breaking….we actually cared about the students in particular past moves and techniques. I say that somewhat sarcastically because I do believe there are some school owners and instructors out there that are making a difference and genuinely care. But the average martial arts school is nowhere near what we are. We went beyond actually caring and have made the development of the whole person an actual development of the whole person. We want good relationships with friends and family, good academics, respect for others and a respect for self, and helping others. The last one has to be truly one of the most unique characteristics of our school. We want people to be good citizens and when your fellow person falls down you help them up. If something needs done to help your community you do it. When someone is going through a very difficult situation you talk to them and offer the appropriate assistance needed.
It’s hard to find good martial arts instructors. It’s hard to find instructors not on drugs, are alcoholics, have criminal histories (not to mention present criminal activity), or have problems with in appropriateness with children, teens, and adults. Then finding a knowledgeable instructor who knows what they are doing. There are instructors out there who’ve won a lot of championships and are great martial artists in themselves…but it’s a diamond in the rough when you find a champion that can actually teach too. There are also ‘unaccomplished’ martial artists who are great teachers. It’s a great day when you are able to teach your students well enough that they get better than you (the teacher).
The martial arts is its own culture. If you have friends and family out of area and they are looking for a school be sure tell them they should educate themselves as much as possible or find someone you trust with a martial art back ground to help you locate a good school. Often it is about finding someone trustworthy.