Hey Mods! I didn't know if this Martial Arts Newbie Guide should be posted here or in the training forum. Put it where you think is best. And just so you know, it's OK to have this article copied and posted as long as it is not for profit.
Playground. Sorry for such a long read but I found it to be very informative.
Martial Arts Newbie Guide
Author: Kirk Lawson
Subject: 1 - Table of Contents
Table of Contents
How To Look
Where To Look
What To Look For
What Not To Look For
When You Visit
What Kind of Martial Art Suits Me
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. 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 and Park & Rec. programs.
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.
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). The Society for Creative Anachronism 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.
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 low, 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 female instructors.
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 then 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 "Kyu."
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 that 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, there is a theory 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. 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 other 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 year's 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 number of hours "on the mat" then to speak of "number of years." Simply put, it is reasonable for a person who is spending 4 hours a day, 5 days a week training to achieve "Black Belt" far sooner then a person spending 2 hours, twice a week. In 5 years, 2 day a week training would amount to 1040 hours. The person training 5 days a week, 4 hours a day would hit that number of training hours in only one 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 charge).
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 smooshed.
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 thresh-hold of the school.
During your first visit, wear casual clothes. Work clothes or what you wear on an evening out to the movies should be fine.
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 quite 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 - 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 Sport Competition Striking Techniques (Punching/Kicking) Joint Lock Techniques Grappling Techniques (some similarities to wrestling) Pressure Point Techniques Traditional/Oriental Weapons Street/Common Weapons Mental & Emotional/Spiritual Development Attractiveness/Fluidity of Movements (important to some) Traditional "Feel" 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 weapons.
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.
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 some forms of Jui Jitsu (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 Iaido.
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 Escrima.
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 generalizations here)
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 it's "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 Okinawan 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 minuet 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 are 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 they 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: 11 - 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 hereafter.
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