Whether you are a beginner wondering where to start or an accomplished martial artist looking to expand your horizons, you need decide what you are trying to accomplish before choosing a martial art style to study. Do you want to learn self-defense; do you want to get fit; are you looking to explore the spiritual side or any number of different goals. There are many martial arts styles from many counties around the world. There are systems that teach blocks and strikes, joint manipulation, ground fighting, throws, chokes and combinations of those which can be traditional, modern defense, or sport karate schools. After you have decided what your goals are, you need to look at availability in your area. If you are looking to learn Mantis Style Kung Fu and you live off the beaten path, you may have trouble finding a school.
As a beginner you should look to build a solid foundation in martial arts and avoid the flash. As with any worthwhile pursuit, you need to build a solid foundation before you can properly learn more advanced techniques. Jump spin hook kicks are great to look at, but you can’t learn the proper technique until you have mastered the standard hook kick. You need to go to a school that teaches you to walk before you are taught how to run. Teachers that teach flash and push you through belts are not helping you build a strong foundation. An experienced martial artist may want to expand their martial arts knowledge by studying at multiple schools. If you are a beginner, I do not recommend studying at multiple schools. Building a foundation requires focus and it’s difficult to focus on two styles at once.
If you are not sure which style you would like to pursue, a good opportunity to sample different martial arts styles is a seminar. Seminars offer a snapshot of a style and an introduction to the teacher for relatively little money. You have the opportunity to meet the teacher and ask questions. There are a lot of seminars available. It can take some work to find them at first but if you join martial arts groups on social media, you will get information on seminars all over the country. Seminars can range from a couple of hours to several days. Bring a notebook and if you can, a partner. To fully benefit from a seminar you need to record what you’ve learned and drill it soon after so you don’t forget the techniques. In addition to getting a sample of different martial arts styles, seminars are good places to network with other martial artists, make friends and expand your understanding of other styles and how they relate to your style.
An annual seminar that I recommend is the Gathering of the Styles (GOS). GOS offers multiple seminars in one day that gives you a taste of each style. This seminar is perfect for the undecided or curious martial artist. You get the opportunity to see many styles. Then there are opportunities to network with the teachers and fellow students.
After you have decided on a style, you should also look at the reputation of the school. If a teacher has a really good reputation but does not offer exactly what you want, you may want to choose that school over one with a poor reputation that may appear to have what you want. You will have trouble reaching your goals if you have a teacher that focuses on belts rather than good technique, allows students to get injured often or will be out of business in a year.
For an experienced martial artist, exploring other styles can keep you fresh. As a respectful student, you need to be cognizant of your teacher’s feelings. Some instructors are very sensitive about their student’s pursuing side studies. There are teachers that believe that a student should choose one art and stick with it. The pursuit of studying and mastering one style is a solid path and can lead to great satisfaction. A friend of mine has studied one art for several decades and studies in Okinawa every couple of years. He is accomplished, satisfied and continues to learn new things about his art.
Whether you are a beginner or a master you need to put thought into what you want to achieve before choosing a style to study. Do your research, choose a school and stick with your studies until you build a solid foundation, then decide how deep or wide you want your martial arts experience to be. Now go train!
For more information on Gathering of the Styles go to the information page on http://www.dauntlessfightclub.net. While you are there, like us on Facebook. GOS is also producing a martial arts news show that will be debuting in a couple of weeks. Make sure to check it out.