Starting a martial art can be very daunting – after all, there is plenty of choice amidst so many disciplines and styles. It can also be off-putting when seeing the level of skill and competency exhibited by seasoned experts. You might wonder if you will ever be able to attain such skills: with time, effort, and practice, it is very possible indeed. Another factor is that taking up a martial art can also be inconvenient, or even awkward, to fit into a busy schedule or lifestyle.
Choosing and starting a martial art need not be so daunting though. Martial arts are surprisingly accessible, welcoming, and easy to start. The challenge is staying the course, improving your ability, and moving up the grades – until you yourself are passing on your knowledge and experience.
When considering taking up a martial art, first assess exactly what you are looking for in a martial art. There are so many different disciplines, all of which focus on different areas. The choice of a martial art really depends on your needs and personal requirements, and you can then decide what martial art is the most relevant to you. It is important to research different styles and disciplines at this stage, to be better informed.
The question really is what is important? Why are you considering taking up a martial art and dedicating a great deal of time and commitment? Is it for personal development or to improve your fitness? Do the mental and meditation aspects of many martial arts appeal to you or is it more the social aspect of being part of a vibrant club? Regardless of reason, there is almost certain to be a martial art to suit your purpose and to fulfill your requirements and reasons.
Some martial arts encompass different skills and areas. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is well known for its mixture of styles and techniques. Others are much less flexible: Karate, for example, relies heavily on a variety of kicks delivered in a set routine. Whether flexible or not, all martial arts require a degree of discipline to fully master them.
Many turn to martial arts to improve their fitness and health. Styles such as boxing are very good for cardiovascular health, and many martial arts are not only a great source of activity but also end up being quite the workout. Some styles focus on agility and flexibility, such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). Others will develop greater core strength, such as Taiji.
The underlying theory and principle behind many martial arts is a mixture of attack and defence. Some styles are more offensive than others, such as Wing Chun Kung Fu and Taekwondo. Others rely more on reacting to an opponent and countering their moves – a good example being Judo. Similarly, there are some disciplines which are quite subtle, Aikido in particular. Aikido’s core philosophy is returning harmony and stability to the environment and a particular situation. With Aikido and martial arts such as Taiji, there is a great emphasis put on mental training and development. Some styles actively encourage meditation. Some people are drawn to martial arts for the mental, spiritual, and meditation aspects. If that is you – choose your style accordingly. It is always worth investigating the underlying philosophy behind a particular martial art to see whether it is for you.
Whilst each discipline has its own unique style, some are more choreographed than others. Capoeira is famous for the way the various moves seem to almost be a dance. To a lesser extent, the rigid moves and counter moves of Aikido can give a similar impression. Once again, is the potential martial arts student looking for such a martial art, or something less rigid?
Some martial arts are very old and formal in every way, such as Aikido and Karate. Others are quite the opposite, with Krav Maga being a good example. Is the level of formality a factor in the martial art you wish to study?
Another point to research is that although many disciplines use throws, grappling, kicks, and the body to counter an opponent, some use weapons. Kendo uses swords, and Aikido practitioners can go on to using Bokken, for example. The main feature of the Japanese martial art Kyudo is archery. Once again, is using weapons something which might be a factor when studying a martial arts style?
Further, the style of teaching and instruction has to be considered. Different styles (and indeed different clubs) will teach in different ways. Each person has their own learning style. Another matter to consider therefore is the teaching style of the various martial arts and what teaching style best suits your own learning style.
All those factors and questions can only be answered by you as you assess and choose which martial art to take up. Overall though, a key question to ask yourself has to be “what is important to me?” when considering which martial art to take up.
Research and questions are useful and positive, but nothing can replace actually giving a martial art a try. To that end, visit different clubs and different disciplines in the region before making a definitive decision.
Many clubs offer trial sessions, beginner’s packages, open evenings, or similar introductory programs. Take advantage of such offers and deals, and visit local clubs. Local community centres or schools often play host some evenings a week to martial arts clubs; it is well worth checking such places to see what clubs are there and if they have information about local martial arts clubs.
When having a trial class, do not expect to be competent or have any knowledge or skill in the various throws and moves of that martial art. Such skill takes time and practice. However, do expect to go along with an open mind and a willingness to get involved on the mats. At the end of that trial session (although you might be slightly bewildered and unsure of many things), it might be that you want to go back and take up the martial art.
By contrast, if at the end of the trial session you find that martial arts are not for you, that is also fine. There will be other clubs and martial arts which are more suitable to you and your needs and style. It is equally important to find the right club as well as the right discipline. The right club will be the club with the right style of leadership and teaching for you. Additionally, the members and people at the club are often incredibly important; the atmosphere and camaraderie fostered by the members will add to your martial arts journey and development.
Regardless of the club or martial arts discipline, what will be found is that all in the club – be they black belt or only having been there a few weeks – will usually all be very welcoming. After all, the members and instructors all want you to share in their passion for that martial art and to become as skilled as they are. They want to welcome beginners to their group and share in your development from white belt to black belt.
Given that most clubs offer different sessions for different experience levels regularly, taking up a martial art is very accessible and relatively easy to fit into a busy schedule. At first, discipline will be needed to make it regularly to the club, but after a while it will become part of a weekly routine. Having the determination and support of others might be needed at first, but eventually your ability will improve with regular practice.
Throughout this, never stop asking questions. Be they directed at fellow club members, instructors, or those present at gradings and competitions, never stop asking questions about your martial art or seeking to learn and develop further.
For such ongoing learning, such a search for answers and personal development will truly make your martial arts journey a fulfilling adventure.