My husband and I have been taking Karate from the same instructor since 2008. We started training together before we had children and would attend Karate-related events as romantic dates. We learned a lot, including how to choose a dojo.
Now that we have three kids, it’s difficult for us to train together, but we take turns attending classes at our dojo, or Karate school. We both have black belts.
In addition to it being a wholeso me activity we can do together, it is an important aspect of our overall preparedness strategy. We feel confident that, in an emergency, we would have the training and the presence of mind to come out on top.
The key word here is training. Martial arts is not something you can learn from YouTube instructional videos or helpful internet tutorials. You need a flesh and blood teacher to watch you and correct poor technique. And then you need to practice good technique over, and over, and over again.
In the heat of the moment, when your life is genuinely on the line, the only way you can be assured that you will execute a self defense technique effectively is if you have done it so many times it has become ingrained in your muscle memory.
How to find a good dojo
There are oodles of Martial Arts schools out there, and not all of them are that great. How can you know which one to choose? What should you look for? Here are four points to consider while performing your your search.
1) First, you need to do a little introspection. What is your primary motivation for taking Martial Arts classes?
Knowing what you want will affect what you should look for. If you just want to get into shape but aren’t terribly concerned about actual self defense, it probably doesn’t matter which style you study. Some Martial Arts styles are considered more of a sport, and others are wholly practical.
2) Even though this is listed second, the most important thing to look for in any Martial Arts school is the instructor.
Your ideal Martial Arts instructor is someone with whom you will be able to form a close student/teacher relationship. Is he (or she!) knowledgeable about The Art? Does he make you feel comfortable enough to ask questions? Above all, is this a person from whom you feel you can learn? Notice the use of the word “feel.” It’s kind of like choosing your college major, or who will become your best friend in high school. You’ll know “your” instructor when you meet him, or her.
3) Critically assess any school that requires a contract.
Some schools require that you lock yourself into a contract before you begin classes – often without having so much as a single trial lesson beforehand. At times (but to be fair, not all the time) it is an indicator that the school recognizes that it offers an inferior level of instruction, and that this is the only way they can retain students for more than a week. A school that allows you to pay month-to-month is more confident that their instruction can stand up to scrutiny. Avoid ten-week programs.
4) Finally, the Martial Arts is all about excellence in body, mind, and skill. Whether you are just there for the workout, or want to learn how to actually defend yourself against an attacker, your ideal Martial Arts school will demand excellence from you, and will help you to achieve it.
A school that claims to award you a black belt within two years, regardless of skill or effort required, is not a school that will help you gain excellence. If you consistently see higher ranks punch or kick incorrectly, then you know the rank doesn’t mean anything because it required no work to attain it.
A good Martial Arts school will occasionally fail people when they test for their next rank, and will have rigorous standards for earning a black belt. (I did not earn mine until I had been studying for six years.) A good school will also typically be more expensive; it’s a case of getting what you pay for.
I know these are rather stringent guidelines; it’s just because I am picky. I spent about twelve years trying to find my “dream dojo.” On one hand, I’m glad I didn’t waste my time and money with an inferior product. On the other hand, I did waste a lot of time not doing Karate. In retrospect, it’s probably better to attend a Tae Kwon Do school that’s “just ok,” than to hold out for Wing Chun Kung Fu that is not even offered in your town.
Often when I’ve spoken to friends and acquaintances about the martial arts, they assume it’s not for them, that they are not strong enough or fast enough to be effective against a physical attack. I say, all the more reason to study karate! Karate is for everyone. My instructor has said on multiple occasions that women make the best martial artists, because our smaller body size and slighter builds force us to use superior technique. Good technique will win over brute strength every time. I’m only 5’4″ and I have been known to throw guys twice my size. Children, too, can be effective martial artists.
This short list is by no means all-inclusive. Are any of you currently training? How did you choose where to study, and which style do you practice? What criteria did you use to choose your school?