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Subject: rec.martial-arts Newbie Guide
This article was archived around: 23 May 2006 04:24:27 GMT
Last-Modified: 28 July 2003
Martial Arts Newbie Guide
Subject: 1 - Table of Contents
1 - Table of Contents
2 - Introduction
3 - How To Look
4 - Where To Look
5 - How Much
6 - What To Look For
7 - What Not To Look For
8 - Rank
9 - When You Visit
10 - Should I Study More Than One at a Time
11 - The Dark Side of Martial Arts
12 - What Kind of Martial Art Suits Me
13 - Disclaimer and Copyright Notice
Subject: 2 - Introduction
So you want to be the next Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Helio Gracie, Chuck Norris,
or Master Pan. Congratulations and welcome to the wide world of Martial
Arts. You may be wondering what comes next. Where do you go, what do you
do, and are you going to have a dragon branded onto your forearm as you
lift a red hot brazier to exit the hidden monastery? The Purpose of this
document is to answer a few questions, give you an overview and maybe point
you in the right direction. It is intended as a companion documente for
the rec.martial-arts FAQ. Many of the topics in the Newbie Guide are
covered more in depth in the body of the rec.martial-arts FAQ proper but
we'll touch on them here in an abbreviated form.
Subject: 3 - How To Look
One of the questions asked ad nauseam is, "What is the best art?" or
sometimes its modified form, "I wanna kick butt and don't want fancy-schmancy
stuff, what art should I choose?" Well, the answer is, "We don't know."
There's much debate over what exactly is the "best art" or what is an
"effective art." It comes down to a lot of questions such as, "Best for
what?" and "Best for you or best for me?" In the end, it's a question
you're going to have to answer for yourself through personal exploration
and hard work. Since you're looking for a Martial Art to start, you should
look for the ones that are available to you. Simply put; it doesn't matter
if it's the ultimate kick-butt art, if you can't find a school near enough
to take classes at. With that thought in mind, you should look to see what
schools are available in your area and make your selection from those. If
you are looking for a specific art, you are still restricted to what's in
your area, so go ahead and look anyway.
Subject: 4 - Where To Look
OK, so we've established that you should look at the schools in your area.
All well and good, but how do you _find_ what schools are in your area?
Here are a number of recommendations.
- Recommendation of Friends - Ask your friends and associates. You might
be surprised how many people you work with or shop with are martial artists
themselves or know of reputable schools, particularly hard to find "Garage
Dojos" (see the FAQ).
- Bulletin Boards at MA supply stores - It goes without saying that a local
martial arts supply store would be a good central location, a gathering
spot, for local martial artists. They have to get their equipment from
_somewhere_. Look at the bulletin boards in these supply stores. Don't
rule out general athletic supply stores.
- Bulletin Boards at Asian bookstores - Since many martial arts are Asian in
origin, many martial artists have an interest in Asian culture and books
(particularly books about martial arts).
- Bulletin Boards at Super Markets & the like - Many "Super Stores" such as
Wal-Mart and Meijers have bulletin boards specifically for advertising
within the local community. These advertisements include bicycles for
sale, free puppies, and... martial arts studios.
- Bulletin Boards at Oriental Restaurants - Again, because many martial arts
are Asian in origin, many martial artists embrace Asian culture, including
Asian Cuisine. More then that, it seems a likely place to put up fliers
for martial arts studious looking for a place to put up said fliers. As
has been noted elsewhere, just because people working in these restaurants
are Asian, do not expect them to know anything about martial arts; some may
take offense at these sort of stereotypes.
- Local Colleges - Many colleges have martial arts clubs on campus. Judo is
particularly well known on college campuses, but, by no means, has a lock
on it. Some colleges even offer martial arts course for College Credit as
part of their Physical education curriculum.
- The 'Y', Civic Centers, and Community Centers - The YMCA/YWCA are havens for
martial arts schools. Included in the mix are Civic Centers, including
religious based Community Centers, Park & Rec. programs and Police Athletic
- Classified Adds, free newspaper adds - Another source is in the Classified
Adds of your local news paper or in the classifieds of various "free"
newspapers, typically available in bookstores and groceries.
- Welcome Wagon Baskets - Many martial arts studios will include special
promotions in Welcome Wagon baskets to new members of the community. These
promotions often include free classes, reduced rates, or free uniforms.
- Cultural Heritage Festivals - One of the common misconceptions is that all
martial arts are Asian in origin. Though many of the most well known are,
there are an amazing number that are Occidental (Western) or otherwise
non-Asian. Cultural Heritage Festivals often include a demonstration of
fighting arts from that proud culture, such as the Shillelagh from Ireland
or Gatka from India.
- Cultural Heritage Centers - The people there may know of schools, and in
some cases, might actually be holding classes of some kind in the facility.
- Renaissance and Western History Festivals or Clubs - Many Western Martial
arts such as Renaissance Combat Wrestling, Broadsword, Rapier, Bare Knuckle
Boxing, or Quarterstaff are often taught in clubs celebrating Western
Heritage or associated with such clubs. One example is The Association for
Renaissance Martial Arts (formerly Historical Armed Combat Association)
<http://www.thehaca.com>. The Society for Creative Anachronism
<http://www.sca.org> teaches some of these, typically in a "safe" "sport"
form but the local chapter can be a good place to start or they may be able
to direct you toward a school or instructor that can meet your needs.
- In the park - You might see an individual, or a group, practicing in your
local park. Even if you don't see any martial artists, if you chat to
folks, you might find someone who comes to the park frequently and has seen
a group that does practice there regularly.
- Local corporations - Many companies, especially larger ones, sponsor or
publicize employee group activities. These are not necessarily restricted
to employees of the company.
- Road Signs and Posted Advertisements - Most martial arts studios will put
up advertisements and fliers on telephone poles or at Mall entrances. They
will also often put up "directions" signs pointing towards their school
from major roads.
- Yellow Pages under "Martial Arts" or "Karate" - As always, the Yellow Pages
has a section for those willing to pay for advertising their phone number.
Subject: 5 - How Much
So how much is all this training going to cost? The short answer is: it
depends. Schools are free to charge whatever they want for their
instruction. How much they charge is a function of how much they think
their instruction is worth, how expensive goods and services are in that
area, and what their expenses are. Small "Garage Dojos" with little
overhead have been known to charge as little as $20 a month per student,
while instruction at other studios in comparatively expensive cities (such
as New York) could cost hundreds of dollars per month. The issue is
further complicated by bringing in differences in national location. In
other words, what is reasonable for a big city in Germany is not
necessarily equal to what would be reasonable in a big U.S. city. Thus, it
is not really possible to accurately predict how much you will be expected
to pay at any give school in any given location. However, currently it is
not seen as unreasonable for schools to charge between $40 and
$75 a month. In some rare cases, instructors will not charge at all. This is
often true for groups that meet in the park, such as some taiji (Tai Chi)
groups. Further, it should be noted that the PRICE of the instruction is not
always a good indicator of the QUALITY of the instruction. More on this in
"What Not To Look For."
Doubtless, you have noted that I've been speaking of monthly charges. This
is the most common way to pay: month by month. However, there are other
options with most schools. Often you may receive a discount for paying
ahead in 3, 6, or 12 month blocks. Some schools offer contracts.
A short discussion of contracts is warranted. Many martial artists are
wary of school contracts. Contracts have been known to be used by scam
artists in the past or, occasionally by legitimate martial artists who will
"stick it to you," enforcing payment terms of the contract should you wish
to be "out" of it for whatever reason. However, there are many legitimate
uses of contracts by martial arts schools. They can reduce costs for the
instructor and free him from tedious billing issues that can distract him
from teaching martial arts. Don't let the option of a contract dissuade
you from any particular school but be wary of schools that _require_ a
contract (and will not give you a month-to-month option) or contracts that
guarantee "black belt" within a given time frame.
You should note that training fees may not be the only fees associated with
your martial arts selection. Other fees often include fees for rank
testing. How much you pay for rank testing varies from art to art and from
school to school. Usually, earlier ranks are less expensive and more
advanced ranks are more expensive. You might be asked to pay $15 for your
first test and work your way up to $100 or more for your "black belt" test.
Some schools charge you the testing fee regardless of whether or not you
pass your test while others only charge you the fee if you actually pass.
Another "hidden cost" often seen in the martial arts is that of equipment.
Some martial arts require you to purchase a uniform (often the "white
pajamas" Gi). Inexpensive uniforms for striking arts such as karate can be
had for $20, heavier-weight uniforms for grappling arts such as judo start at
$50. Prices for the divided skirt and top used for some other arts such as
kendo start at around $100. Advanced students can pay as much as $200 for a
high-quality judo uniform, $400 for a high-quality kendo uniform. Your
instructor should be able to help you find an appropriate uniform or point you
to where you can buy one. But your equipment costs may not end there. You may
be required to purchase safety equipment such as sparring gloves, shin pads,
and head gear, or you may be required to purchase various "weapons" used
during practice such as staffs, swords, or knifes (usually a training "safety"
variety). Take heart though. Most schools have "loaners" available until you
can purchase your own.
You may also be required to join an organization and pay membership fees.
These are typically an umbrella organization that certifies the instructor
in their martial art. They can point you to affiliated schools that will
recognize your hard won rank and continue your training should you be
forced to move or be traveling abroad. These membership fees or dues are
typically on the order of $20 - $50 a year. Some organizations have a
lifetime membership program (or are lifetime memberships by default),
others are variations or only require yearly dues for "black belt" rank and
above. Your instructor will be able to tell you the details of his
organization, should he be a member of one. Be sure to ask about parent
organization dues before you join a martial arts school.
OK, so now you're paying all this money for training, equipment costs,
dues, testing fees, and the like... how do you know you're not getting
ripped off? Well, like everything else, shop around. Find out what other
schools are charging for these goods and services. Some "red flags"
include schools that require you to buy only their branded uniforms and
gear, require you to sign long contracts, have no "move refund" option in
their contract, or high-pressure sales pitches. If it feels like you're
buying a used car and the salesman insists you sign the contract now, smile
politely and head for the door.
Subject: 6 - What To Look For
So what are some of the things you should look for or ask about when
visiting a school? Number one, ask about the class schedule. If classes
only meet when you can't attend, it crosses the school off for you.
Another thing to look for is who is teaching the classes. Often, the
person teaching your class won't be the head instructor. Frequently the
head instructor will have some of his advanced students teaching classes.
This is particularly true if the school you choose has separate classes for
lower ranked and higher ranked students or if they have a "new student"
class. Don't let this dissuade you. Often instructors teaching "new
students" are doing so because they have shown an aptitude for helping new
students learn the basics of an art, perhaps even beyond that of the head
instructor. The ability to _teach_ a physical skill is often dissociated
to some degree from the ability to actually perform that skill at high
levels. Most professional boxers could whip the tar out of their coaches
even though their coaches know how to box. While on the topic, find out if
there is an "introductory" or "getting started" class or course. This can
be a good way to get up to speed quickly with the basics of an art or to
"sample" that school.
While visiting a school, spend some time talking to the students before or
after class. Talk to both high and low ranking students, they'll have
different perspectives. Spend some time understanding the atmosphere of
the school, it will take more then one brief visit. Some are strict
disciplinarian and some are easy camaraderie. Again, don't assume that the
instructor that runs his school like a drill sergeant produces kick-butt
martial artists while a more easy going school is lax or lackadaisical. They
are simply different teaching styles and one may be more appropriate to
your needs then the other.
Another thing to take note of is injuries. Let's face it, martial arts are
inherently dangerous. They are _martial_ and no matter how safe you train
or what safety equipment is used, there is a risk. There are bound to be
some injuries. However, the nature and frequency of the injuries are what
you should consider. A black eye is far different from an injured joint
and if broken bones occur frequently, that may indicate a problem. You
can't train while recovering from some injuries. Some injuries are
permanent and will affect you the rest of your life.
Finally, though uncommon, some schools have an "enrollment period." They
operate like college classes in that you can only join at certain times of
the month or year.
Subject: 7 - What Not To Look For
Some years ago a movie came out: They Call Me Bruce! In this comedy, an
Asian man made his way through a number of people who thought he was a
great martial arts Master simply because he was Asian, triumphing in the
end. The moral is clear and directly applicable. Do not assume that
because the instructor of a given school is Asian that he is, in some way,
superior to the instructor of another school who is not. Skill in martial
arts is not inherent to any given "race." Likewise, do not make the same
mistake concerning the sex of an instructor. There are many very talented
Don't let yourself be distracted by a fancy school or unrelated goodies
such as weight machines or saunas. A well kept, safe training area is one
thing but extraneous features, though nice, ultimately only add to the
expenses of the school. There are a good number of excellent instructors
teaching out of their garages, basements, and back yards.
Don't get distracted by uniforms either. Many Asian martial arts wear the
traditional "white pajamas" gi while other martial arts have different
uniforms and some, no uniform at all, preferring instead "street clothes" or
comfortable, loose fitting training clothes.
Also, don't pay too much attention to numerous trophies and medals.
Trophies are easy to come by in martial arts competitions. On top of that
they are inexpensive and easily purchased by unscrupulous scam artists from
the local trophy store. Though this practice is uncommon, it has been
known to happen.
Don't judge a school or instructor by how much they charge. It's human
nature to assume that a higher priced product is going to be somehow
better, yet this is not always true in the world of Martial Arts. Some
instructors are simply teaching for the joy of teaching and not trying to
make a living or any real money from it (more on this in the
rec.martial-arts FAQ). Some arts and Organizations discourage their
instructors from trying to make money from instruction and will therefore be
inherently less expensive. Yet other arts are the flavor du jour and suffer
from higher demand than there are available instructors, thus making them more
expensive. As long as the price of instruction falls within the range that
you are willing to pay, don't worry too much about it.
Further, don't pay too much attention to lots of certificates in Asian
script decorating the wall, particularly if you don't read the language
they're written in. Most instructors will display only the rank
certificate of their top rank (or the top rank they hold in each art
they're ranked in if they are ranked in more then one). In general, this
should mean that there aren't many certificates displayed. With the state
of current computer technology, it is easy to produce impressive looking
certificates that say anything you wish them to say, even that the bearer
is a high ranking martial artist.
Finally, don't be overly concerned with the rank of the instructor. While
in the early stages of training in your new art (say the first 10 years)
you probably won't be able to tell the difference between a 3rd Degree
Black Belt and a 9th Degree Black Belt.
Subject: 8 - Rank
One of the most misunderstood things about martial arts is rank. Different
people in the martial arts world have different feelings about the use of
ranking in the martial arts. Some feel it is all important, some that it
is of no import whatsoever, and others that it is a valuable tool not to be
given too much weight outside of its limited context. What you should know
is that most martial arts have a ranking system but many do not and that
rank within one system does not equate to skill within another system even
though the systems may be similar. Just because you know how to drive a
car doesn't mean you know how to operate a back hoe.
The most common ranking systems are the Japanese and the Korean systems.
The Japanese systems start with sub-"Black Belt" or Kyu ranks and work from
highest to lowest as skill increases, typically from 10th Kyu up to 1st Kyu
and then "Black Belt" or Dan rankings, from 1st Dan and going up to 9th
Dan. 9th Dan is typically reserved for the (one) highest ranking
instructor of the art, usually in Japan.
The Korean system works much the same way, simply substitute "Gup" for
You should also know that some Occidental systems have a rank system, but,
when they do, they usually do not follow the 10th-1st sub-black belt then
1st Dan-9th Dan ranking that Asian systems do. Frequently Occidental
systems will rank a practitioner by number of wins in competition or a
combination of skill level rankings and competition wins. Savate schools
will typically operate in this manner. Other Occidental arts use an
archaic ranking system that includes 4 or 5 ranks starting with "Scolaire"
(Scholar) and culminating with "Maestro" (Master).
Be aware that the color of a belt as a rank in one system does not
translate to the same rank in another system. A "Green Belt" in one system
is usually not the same rank as a "Green Belt" in another system. The same
goes for Kyu/Gup ranks. As stated earlier, a Kyu/Gup rank in one system
does not equate to the same skill as an equally numbered Kyu/Gup rank in
another system. Simply put, you can not compare a 5th Kyu in "Karate" with
a 5th Gup in "Taekwondo" and they probably wear different colored belts.
At this point, it should go without saying that a "Black Belt" in one
system isn't really comparable with a "Black Belt" in any other system. It
only represents a certain level of skill obtained within _that_ system;
exactly what skill level that represents is entirely up to the instructors
who define _that_ system.
Again, don't be overly concerned with the rank of the instructor. You
likely will be unable to differentiate between a 3rd Degree Black Belt and
a 9th Degree Black Belt for many years. Further, it is held by many in the
martial arts world that you can learn a lesson from anyone, even the
lowliest practitioner. Learn the lessons that the instructor has to offer.
A final word of warning on the rank of the instructor. Beware claims of
inflated or high rank. It is not unheard of for a martial artist to break
away from his parent organization or instructor and award himself "9th Dan"
and "create" his own art. More then one instructor has made the leap for
3rd Dan to 9th Dan in this way with no real increase in his skill or
teaching ability. Further, some organizations have been known to grant
additional rank to instructors for "services to the art" such as opening a
school in an area previously unreached by that art or for some other notable
promotion of the art.
Beware any school where the instructor seems uneasy about you talking to
the students without the instructor standing right there. It's also not a
good sign if the instructor seems nervous, self-conscious, or hostile,
about you watching him/her teach, or if the students themselves seem
fearful or nervous around the instructor. Caveat emptor.
Finally, the natural question asked is, "How fast?" ...How soon will you
get your coveted Black Belt? How long before you can "defend" yourself?
How much time before you can kill everyone in your neighborhood without
breaking a sweat?
...We don't know...
Or rather, to be more precise, it depends. Each statement is a different
goal, though they all seem to be related. Again, a "Black Belt" means
different things to different martial arts systems. To some it means
"you've got the basics and are now ready for a little bit of a challenge."
To others, "You are competent in the system enough to be let out without a
chaperone." To others still, "you know enough to be able to defend against
the unskilled or moderately skilled." And to others yet, "you're an
'expert' in the same way that a new trade skill grad is an 'expert' but not
the same as a 20 years experience 'expert'." Remember, "Black Belt" is only
meaningful within the context of the system you're studying. That being
said, it is not unreasonable to expect that, with modest effort, the
coveted "Black Belt" may be achieved within 4 to 7 years of practice. Many
systems track, even require minimums of training or "mat" time between
promotions. It is thought to be more meaningful to talk of the number of hours
spent "on the mat" (ie, training), than to speak of the "number of years."
Simply put, if Dick spends 2 hours a day, twice a week, training to achieve
"Black Belt", and Jane spends 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, then Dick
is going to sweat for five long years to rack up 1040 total hours of
training, but Jane will have done that by the end of her first year.
As to the issue of being able to "defend yourself," that all depends upon
the skill level of the person or persons attacking you, your skill level,
weapons involved, and a myriad of other variables. The stories of students
with one class under their belts defending themselves are true, likewise
the stories of "Black Belts" being beaten up. There are just so many
variables involved that the question is near meaningless. However, the
more diligently you train and the more time you put into your training, the
more likely that, if the unhappy time ever comes, you will be able to
successfully "defend" yourself.
Subject: 9 - When You Visit
Here are some general guidelines to consider when visiting the schools you
have an interest in.
First, call ahead. Make sure that visitors are welcome. Some schools are
particular about what classes visitors are allowed to watch. Advanced
classes may be "off limits" to the public as well as "private lessons." It
should be a "red flag" if the school will not allow you to watch _any_
classes before paying money though. Further, some schools feel that simply
watching a few classes can not adequately give you a feel for their art.
They may encourage you to take an "introductory" class (sometimes at no
Next, be aware that most martial arts schools have rules of etiquette.
This almost always includes not wearing shoes inside the school or in
certain areas of the school. They will often provide a rack or shelf for
shoes just outside of the "restricted" areas. Never step onto the mat in
your street shoes. This can track dirt, pebbles, gum, grease, and other
substances onto the area where people may soon be having their faces
Also, be aware that many schools will have beginning and ending ceremonies
that they may ask you to stand during. Some may ask you to bow whenever
crossing the threshold of the school.
When you go to observe a class or visit with the instructor, wear clean,
If you've been invited to join the class for a training session, or think
it's a possibility you might be asked to join once you show up, then bring
a t-shirt, shorts, and loose sweat pants to work out in. If you have
martial arts experience in some other (or even the same) style, and the
uniforms are roughly equivalent shapes, it would probably be acceptable to
wear your uniform, however it may be considered extremely rude, or at least
confusing, to wear any belt colour other than white. Ask the instructor
about what to do on this one. It might be that your red belt is just a
pretty ornament in their school, or it might indicate that you are the
respected founder of an acknowledged style. They may loan you a white belt,
request that you wear none at all, or not care in the least.
As always, be polite. If someone offers a hand to shake, then take it. If
someone bows, return the bow; try to emulate the bow they give you. Be
quiet during the class. Don't make noise or draw unnecessary attention.
If you are visiting the school in the company of a friend, don't converse
with each other. If you must do so, keep conversation to a minimum and in
a hushed tone. The object is to not interrupt the class or distract the
students who have paid good money for their instruction.
Further, show up early, before class starts. This will give you a chance
to observe "pre-class" interactions important to understanding the
atmosphere of the school. It will also give you the opportunity to talk
with the instructor and students. Write down a list of questions you want
to ask and bring it with you. If any other questions occur to you as you
watch the class, write those down so you can remember to ask the instructor
after the class is over.
As a general rule of shopping etiquette, don't discuss the other schools
you've been to or heard about. If you must discuss other schools, be sure
to avoid derogatory remarks about them. Avoid discussing the quality of
their instruction, etc. If you are asked about any prior experience in
martial arts you might have, go ahead and tell the instructor what your
experience is. This will help him understand what you know and may give him
a base to start your training from. Avoid comparing the two arts.
Finally, don't try to impress the instructor or students with your
knowledge of martial arts or foreign languages. It usually backfires.
Subject: 10 - Should I Study More Than One at a Time
It is not uncommon for more then one Martial Art to interest a potential
student. The logical question is, "Can I" or "Should I study them both?"
This is a matter of some debate and opinions differ. The prevailing wisdom is
a bit of a compromise. It is generally recommended not to study more then one
art at a time or, failing that, to get a good foundation in one art before
branching out, or "cross training," in another. The feeling is that the two
arts are likely to conflict with each other. They may require differing ways
of moving your body, differing postures, differing positions, and offer
differing solutions to given situations. These differences could serve to
confuse and frustrate the new student as he endeavors to apply what he has
learned in his classes.
After you have developed a good base in one art, you can then explore other
arts without undue confusion or overlap.
There are, however, some noted exceptions to consider. You may want to
consider cross training in arts that have very little overlap, that complement
each other well, or that fill in gaps you may feel are missing.
Another consideration is the instructors. Some instructors encourage cross
training or even teach multiple arts themselves while other instructors
strongly discourage cross training and may be upset to find a student cross
training. If cross training interests you, you should talk with the
instructors of each art to see how they feel about it before you start taking
classes there. They may already have a program in place or may be able to
Further, cross training, even if it is advantageous and encouraged will
usually slow your advancement in each art far more then if you were to
dedicate all of your training time to just one.
Finally, as hinted at earlier, you should consider your personal resources.
Can you afford to pay for two different classes and all the associated
fees for each? Not only money, but, more importantly, your time resource.
You will need to dedicate a certain amount of time to the practice of each
art, both in class and out, in order to see advancement. Do you have the
time to dedicate to each?
Some examples of arts simultaneously trained include Tae Kwon Do with Hapkido,
Muay Thai with Brazillian Ju Jitsu, and Boxing with Judo.
Subject: 11 - The Dark Side of Martial Arts
Though it is touched upon in other portions of this Guide, it's worth spending
some time looking specifically at the dark, seamy underbelly of Martial Arts.
This is the place where people take advantage of you.
First, let's look at the dreaded "McDojo." These are usually schools who's
sole goal is to part you from your money without ever imparting any real
Martial Arts knowledge. These can sometimes be difficult to detect since part
of the successful money-student separation is to convince the student that
useful information is, in fact, being taught while devising ever more ways to
implement the money-student separation.
This separation is often achieved by having fee after fee after fee and
required expenditures on and on and on. For instance, schools that require
you to buy only their branded uniforms and gear, require you to sign long
contracts, have no "move refund" option in their contract, or high-pressure
sales pitches. Another common tactic is to have numerous belt test
requirements and sub-ranks, all with a fee, non-refundable if the student
"flunks" his test. An example would be a school which has students ranked,
"Second Stripe, Decided, Green Belt" or similar. These schools may also
require weekend training trips.
Besides the red flags listed above, a few other's that may indicate a "McDojo"
include: Any school that promises you a Black Belt in under 3 years or
routinely produces Black Belts in 2 years. Any school which seems to have
overly young or inexperienced experts (usually "Black Belts" or "Dan ranks") -
for example a school recently made the news, noteworthy because they had just
promoted a three year old toddler to "Black Belt" and they had a five year old
child as a 2nd Dan (second degree) "Black Belt."
Another variation on the McDojo effect are Scams. The number and variety of
scams are infinite, as any grifter can tell you. However, the same grifter
will also tell you that the most effective usually seem to be variation on a
few basic themes. In the Martial Arts world, one of these themes is the "Study
at Home" scam. One reason this is such an effective scam is that it's very
similar in appearance to legitimate training aids. The scam usually takes the
guise of an advertisement promising to impart vast knowledge and unbeatable
fighting skills with the purchase of a home study system, usually consisting of
Video Tapes or DVDs. The home practitioner then "studies" these videos, takes
a test, sometimes written, sometimes by video taping himself and then mails it
back to the originator for "grading" along with a sum of money. Naturally "rank"
is issued (usually the coveted "Black Belt") as well as a lead in for
additional "training." Of course, the consumers have become somewhat more savvy
and this exact scam takes in fewer marks then it once did. Another variation of
the scam is to simply not offer the "rank by mail," which is a dead give away.
Instead, the same "be an unbeatable killer" advertising is used to sell the
video material. A third variation of this particular scam involves actual "live"
training. A seminar is offered from which the attendees are guaranteed rank
(often teaching rank) in a new and unbeatable system. These seminars are usually
short, only a couple of hours, and often attempt to make some tenuous link to
military combatives such as the Marines or the Special Forces (linking to the
"unbeatable" skill of military groups is another common "hook").
Another variation of martial arts scams are questionable training aids. These
are devices or machines which, through their use, supposedly will confer
awesome capabilities to their users. They frequently take the form of exercise
aids with vastly exaggerated claimed benefits. Occasionally these devices can
take the form of a machine or appliance which will "teach" your body to perform
some devastating "secret" technique.
The reason these scams are so successful is that they so closely mirror
legitimate training aids. Video's, books, and seminars, exercise devices, even
weekend training camps, are all tools used by legitimate martial artists to
enhance their skills and improve their understanding. The critical difference
is that the scams typically promise great gains, impressive skills, or rank
for comparatively little investment of time.
Martial Arts hold a nearly unique place in society. They are, at most basic
not related to any social, moral, or religious principles. They are merely
"martial," or "pertaining to war or combat skills." Yet, at the same time,
many are drenched in philosophy and the "mental" benefits cited range from
improved self esteem all the way through metaphysical abilities. Simply put,
mysticism in Martial Arts is not only accepted, but often EXPECTED. Coupled
with the business or organizational structure of many Martial Arts, this
produces a prime candidate for cult like organizations to spring up. All of
the required markers or precepts are easily applied. For instance, the
required attitude to "trust without question" a leader or central authority
is readily accepted behavior in many Martial Arts. Simply put, the instructor
knows what he's talking about, you should listen to what he says even if you
do not understand why. Most often this is a safety or training issue. The
experienced instructor knows that a certain way is safest or most likely to
produce results. That alone is no more proof that a certain Martial Art is a
cult than the requirement to follow orders instantly and without question is
evidence that the Army is a cult. However, it does place an instructor in a
position of power to abuse emotionally vulnerable people. Though fortunately
rare, cult like indicators have been seen including: 1) Complete emotional
dependence upon a central authority figure 2) Accepting without question
directives from a central authority figure 3) Isolation of group members and
restriction of their association to other group members exclusively, including
communal living and breaking ties with family and close friends 4) Single
minded recruitment into the group 5) Relinquishing control of personal assets
to the central authority figure. Of course, this is a short and perforce
slightly vague list. If you suspect someone may be becoming involved in a cult
of any sort, whether Martial Arts or otherwise, research the organization
thoroughly and consult a licensed mental health care professional.
Two examples of Martial Arts organizations that closely match cult profiles
are: Chung Moo Do, and Kanzen Kenpo
Sexual Predators - Pedophiles and Power Abusers
Another area of concern for many people is that of sexual abusers. This is
generally of greatest concern to parents. How can you know that the Instructor
is not a Pedophile? The Martial Arts world frequently generate exactly the
recipe needed for a Pedophile to successfully engage in his preferred
perversion: unsupervised access to children. In fact, it's gone one better.
The instructor is, by default, placed in a position of authority and trust for
the child. This danger can be doublely compounded by some standard activities
associated with Martial Arts such as weekend seminars in remote or isolated
areas and out of town, over-night, competitions. Fortunately the safe-guards
for children in the Martial Arts are the same as for any other activity.
Check the background of a potential instructor. You can check with the local
Police Department for complaints or criminal history (a wise idea whatever the
case) as well as consulting databases (many of them "on-line") listing Sexual
Predators. Ensure that the child is never alone and unsupervised. Go with
your child to his classes (be sure to sit quietly to the side; take reading
material or a quiet hobby). Many schools even have a special area where
parents can sit and watch the class. Whenever your child has an out of town or
over-night function, accompany them or have a trusted adult accompany them.
Go with your child to watch his competitions. It's an enjoyable spectator
event and will show your child that you support his interests. Finally, pay
attention to your child. Observe changes in behavior that might indicate
emotional trauma such as withdrawing from friends and family, hostility, or
depression. Listen to your child and talk with them about the dangers of the
world and what is and is not acceptable conduct from others. For further
tips and advice consult your local Police Department.
Sexual Power Abusers are not generally thought of in the context of a Martial
Arts instructor. While the idea of a Boss at a work place or a Professor at
a University being a sexual power abuser is fairly well accepted, often the
idea of applying the same context to other authority figures is overlooked.
Unfortunately some Martial Arts instructors have used their positions as an
authority figure to prey sexually on their students. This is a difficult
subject. On the one hand, most would agree that it is unethical for an
instructor to use his position to influence or compel a student into a
relationship with him. On the other hand, if a student is an adult and is
consenting, what harm? The Martial Arts world is replete with stories of
couples who met as Martial Arts instructor and student and then pursued a
romantic relationship successfully outside of the school. Further, some
students are actually attracted to the power and authority of a Martial Arts
instructor, much as some are attracted to athletes or politicians. The best
advice for adults is to be very careful and use common sense. Naturally, if
an instructor (or even a fellow student) is making unwanted advances, tell
them that you are not interested. Be polite but clear and firm. You're not
interested in pursuing a relationship beyond mutual adherents of a Martial
Art. If the unwanted advances continue, your road narrows somewhat. If the
advances are from a fellow student or Assistant Instructor, go to the Primary
Instructor and explain the situation. Ask him to help you and to talk to the
offending person. Chances are this has happened before and the instructor may
not have known about it. Regardless, most instructors are wary of law suits.
If, on the other hand, the unwelcome advances are from the Chief Instructor or
Owner then your only recourse may be to simply leave that school and seek
instruction elsewhere. You may be able to file a complaint if the school is a
member of a larger national or international organization but do not count on
this curing anything. Some organizations may take steps to chastise or even
revoke the instructor's membership, other organizations may do nothing. Unless
a crime, such as rape has occurred, the legal system will probably be little
help. Over all, your best option may simply be to seek instruction elsewhere.
Subject: 12 - What Kind of Martial Art Suits Me
So you still don't know quite what martial art might suit your desires
best. Won't take 'no' for an answer huh? OK. Well here are some ideas
that may help you narrow your search.
What are you looking for in a Martial Art? If you know what you want out
of it, you'll have a better idea of what "kind" of art to look for.
Typical answers include:
Better Physical Fitness
Street Useful Self Defense
Striking Techniques (Punching/Kicking)
Joint Lock Techniques
Grappling Techniques (some similarities to wrestling)
Pressure Point Techniques
Mental & Emotional/Spiritual Development
Attractiveness/Fluidity of Movements (this is very subjective)
Speed of Advancement/Ease of Learning Techniques
Brief Descriptions of these:
Better Physical Fitness:
Some people's primary motivation in a Martial Art (MA) is improving their
Physical Fitness. To them, if they can learn a MA while getting fit, so
much the better.
Street Useful Self Defense:
A primary motivation for many is the ability to truly be able to defend
themselves in a street confrontation against typical street techniques and
Many arts contain a greater or lesser degree of competition and some will
encourage their students to compete in local and national MA sporting
events in competition restricted to that particular MA and in various open
competitions. Awards and medals are sometimes given. Arts that emphasize
competition too much are thought by some to sacrifice some of the self
defense value to ingrained competition safeties. Arts that are well known
for their sport value include Tae Kwon Do (TKD), Judo and Kendo.
This is more a facet of a MA and typically describes punching and kicking
techniques. Some arts emphasize this to a greater or lesser degree with
some focusing on it almost to the exclusion of all other techniques and
with some teaching nearly none of it. Arts that are well known for their
striking techniques include most Korean arts like Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon
Do, and Okinawan/Japanese Karate.
Joint Lock Techniques:
This is more a facet of a MA and typically describes techniques that lock,
restrict, manipulate, or sometimes break and dislocate the joints of the
aggressor. Some arts emphasize this, to a greater or lesser degree, with
some focusing on it almost to the exclusion of all other techniques and
with some teaching nearly none of it. In arts that teach a variety of
other techniques, joint lock techniques are typically thought of as an
"advanced" teaching and are typically reserved for higher ranks. Arts that
are well known for their joint lock techniques include Aikido, Pencak
Silat, and Japanese Jui Jitsu (such as Aikijitsu and others).
This is more a facet of a MA and typically describes techniques that are
similar to wresting in many ways and include throws and groundfighting
techniques (what to do when one or more combatants are at least partially
on the ground and not standing). Some arts emphasize this to a greater or
lesser degree with some focusing on it almost to the exclusion of all other
techniques and with some teaching nearly none of it. Arts that are well
known for their Grappling/Groundfighting are Judo, Brazilian Jui Jitsu, and
some other types of Jui Jitsu.
Pressure Point Techniques:
This is more a facet of a MA and typically describes techniques that
manipulate pressure points on the human body. These "points" can in some
cases cause a great deal of pain and some practitioner say that Pressure
Point manipulation can slow down the aggressor, cause limbs to go numb,
stun or even kill an aggressor outright (though this is an extremely
advanced technique not taught to everyone and is still open to controversy
in the MA and Medical world). Some arts emphasize this to a greater or
lesser degree with some focusing on it almost to the exclusion of all other
techniques and with some teaching nearly none of it. Arts that are well
known for their Pressure Point techniques include some types of Kung Fu
(there are over 50 well know Kung Fu forms), and some types of Jui Jitsu.
This is more a facet of a MA and typically describes techniques with
weapons not considered to be militarily effective, or street convenient by
today's standards. These weapons would include sword, spear, bow, and
staff. Some arts emphasize this to a greater or lesser degree with some
focusing on it almost to the exclusion of all other techniques and with
some teaching nearly none of it. Arts that are well known for their
Traditional/Oriental Weapons techniques include many forms of Kung Fu, many
Okinawan Karate forms, and some Japanese forms such as Kendo, Kenjutsu, and
This is more a facet of a MA and typically describes techniques with
weapons considered to still be militarily effective, or street convenient
by today's standards. These weapons would include knife, club,
cane/half-staff. Some arts emphasize this to a greater or lesser degree
with some focusing on it almost to the exclusion of all other techniques
and with some teaching nearly none of it. Arts that are well known for
their Street/Common Weapons techniques include many forms of Kung Fu, many
Okinawan Karate forms, and some Japanese forms, and especially Indonesian
forms such as Pencak Silat, and Philippines forms such as Kali, Arnis, and
Mental & Emotional/Spiritual Development:
This is often considered a strong benefit of taking MA's. Many instructors
advertise their MA directly to parents as a way of increasing children's
Self Confidence, Socialization Skills, and Personal Well Being. Spiritual
development is a strong component of many but not all MA's. The Japanese
word "Do" (when applied to a MA) is considered to mean "way" or "path" to
Spiritual Enlightenment or personal understanding (Koreans arts ending in
"Do" have a similar meaning). In general, any Japanese art ending in Do
will have to a greater or lesser degree a Spiritual or Self Improvement
aspect, while Japanese arts ending in Jitsu are primarily concerned with
martial abilities and will have little or no concept of Spiritual
Enlightenment or Self Development, except as is important and added by the
instructor. This is largely dependent upon the instructor in any system.
Arts known for their emphasis on Spiritual Development include many forms
of Kung Fu, especially Shaolin Kung Fu, taiji and certain Japanese "Zen"
martial arts such as the Aikikai form of Aikido. (note: lots of
Attractiveness/Fluidity of Movements:
This is one that's as hard to pin down as the Spiritual aspect. Suffice it
to say that some arts just look prettier than others. A master in most any
MA is going to have a fluidity and grace of movement, however that is not
always true of the students. As a gross generalization, typically,
"circular" arts will appear more fluid and graceful than "linear" arts. A
simplistic definition of circular vs. linear is that each variation tends
to have a greater emphasis on movements and techniques in its "category."
Thus circular arts will tend to have a lot of sweeping circular and rounded
movements, while linear arts will tend to move in more direct lines. Also
as a gross oversimplification, linear arts tend to be "hard" (direct and
force/impact oriented) while circular arts tend to be much more "soft"
(redirect and control oriented). One more gross oversimplification,
circular techniques tend to be more difficult to master than linear.
Striking arts tend to be more linear and Joint Lock & Grappling arts tend
to be more circular. Examples of largely circular arts are Aikido and
certain Kung Fu forms (Baguazhang / Pa Kua Chang). Examples of largely
linear arts include Tae Kwon Do and Karate. An example of a very exciting
and fluid art is Chinese Wu Shu.
This describes the feel of the "weight of tradition" that is attractive to
some Martial Artists. Some MA players like to feel like they are
participating in a tradition thousands of years old and readily accept
ancillary aspects of MA study such as bowing and foreign terminology. Most
MA's have an aspect of "tradition" to them, especially the Asian arts
(i.e., Chinese, Korean, Okinawan, Japanese) and almost all MA's have a code
of etiquette to follow while in the training hall. Frequently there are
rituals involved, some with religious significance, some merely as a show of
respect for the founder or the instructor. Some MA's require a uniform and
some (such as Capoeira or Pencak Silat) may not, at the instructor's
discretion. In general, how "traditional" an art feels is almost entirely
dependent upon the local instructor. Any given art has instructors who
prefer an informal environment or a more formal one. Generally, the
further back the roots of the art stretch, the more instructors there are
that will prefer a formal or semi-formal environment though this is
anything but a hard rule. Further, societal origins will tend to have an
effect on the formality of the training environment. Japanese arts for
instance tend to be more formal in nature as the Japanese society has a
long standing history of formality in the minutia whereas arts that are
American in inception (there are a few) will tend to be very informal since
the American society is a largely informal society.
Speed of Advancement/Ease of Learning Techniques:
There are really two separate issues here, though many people equate them.
A common question is "how long must I study before I know the art?" or
alternately "how long must I study before I get a Black Belt?" Whereas,
another common question is "how long must I study before I can defend
myself?" The nature of these two questions is different. Most people
equate Black Belt with having achieved Martial Arts godhood. This couldn't
be further from the truth. The actuality is, typically, Black Belt (or
First Dan) is where a student is finally gaining a base level of competency
and understanding in his art. One description that I recently read was to
think of a Black Belt as if it were a Bachelors degree from college. It is
an expert level, but not a Doctorate level, or even a Master's Degree.
Those are more typically associated with higher Dan ranks. This is an apt
description since in most reputable MA's, it should take between 3 and 5
years practice to be awarded a Black Belt. It is not unheard of for a
reputable school to produce an occasional black belt in 2 to 3 years,
however, this person is either unusually dedicated and practices on a
nearly daily basis or is a Martial Arts Prodigy. Any school that promises
you a Black Belt in under 3 years or routinely produces Black Belts in 2
years is what's sometimes referred to as a "Black Belt Factory" or a school
that "Sells Black Belts" (McDojo) and should be avoided. That being said,
the question still remains "how long must I study before I can defend
myself?" If home defense is your only goal, buy a gun and learn to safely
use it. You can become proficient in the safe use of firearms in a far shorter
time than a MA, and firearms are typically much more effective. Why do
you think the Military uses them? Or perhaps you should buy a dog.
Statistics show that less than 5% of homes that own _any_ sort of dog will
_ever_ be burglarized (this includes those hairless rat-dogs the
Chihuahua). If this is not an alternative for you or if you are also
concerned about protecting yourself where you can not, for various reasons,
take your gun or your dog, then perhaps a MA is for you. How much study it
takes for you to become effective at defending yourself is a component of
many different things, including the art its self, your aptitude at
learning it, and the abilities of the person attacking you. The stories of
Black Belts being beat up by untrained drunks are true. And also, the
stories of new students using the MA to successfully defend themselves
against rapists and murderers are also true. Whatever the case for your
aptitude, the more effort and practice you put into learning your chosen
MA, the better you will be at defending yourself and your family.
Subject: 13 - Disclaimer and Copyright Notice
Some answers given may reflect personal biases of the author and
contributors. The answers contained herein pertain to discussions on the
rec.martial-arts group, and are by no means exhaustive.
The martial arts Newbie Guide was created from an outline of an earlier
document, also titled "The Newbie Guide" by Jeff D. Pipkins as well as
information from the creator of this document, Kirk Lawson (additional
contributors listed at end). It is the intention that this document be a
companion document to the current rec.martial-arts FAQ. The author, Kirk
Lawson, grants rights to update, maintain, modify, and distribute this
document provided that you abide by the "no profit" restrictions detailed
You are specifically granted the right to distribute this document in any
storage or display format including, but not limited to, HTML, RTF, .DOC,
PDF, or direct telepathic transfer.
You are granted the right to copy, store, modify, and distribute this
document provided that a) This Disclaimer, Copyright, and any version
history or creator/contributor attributions are included. b) That you
charge no monies for the distribution of this document, excepting a nominal
charge for the cost of media upon which it may be distributed. If you wish
to include this document in any for-profit publication or to include it in
any pay-per or price metered medium or delivery, you may only do so with
the express permission of the original document author, Kirk Lawson.
Basically, if you want to modify or distribute this document for free,
fine, go ahead and do it, but if you want to make money off of it, I want
Kirk Lawson: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Lauren Radner - firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Gombosi - email@example.com
Kevin Hill - Kevin.Hill@jdsu.com
Matthew Weigel - firstname.lastname@example.org
Ted Bennett - email@example.com
Neil Gendzwill - firstname.lastname@example.org