One of my students, as well as my wife, pointed out to this article on MSN. The article is a short discussion regarding how martial arts training is not only good for kids, but good for families in general. Even if the family in question takes different classes, the fact that they are all together and studying the same thing gives them an opportunity to deepen their relationships. I enjoyed the article (though it is far too short) until I reached the very end. At that point, the article attempts to recommend different martial arts depending on the type of child: shy, male, female, and so forth.
Now, I’m sure the author of the article had the best of intentions. After all, there are a great many martial arts out there: how is a parent or child supposed to figure out which art is right for them? When I began training, I was told to visit lots of different martial arts schools, so I could get a sense of what would be best for me. But as a parent, I know that such a research effort is a difficult task for any family to undertake. However, picking aikido because your child is “shy,” or karate because you think you want to focus on the workout isn’t the best means of selecting a martial arts school. I’m sure there are plenty of kids who were shy before they got into karate, and I know that a lot of my students joined aikido because they liked the workout.
So how do you choose a martial art?
In truth, I think the answer is: you don’t. You don’t choose a martial art, you choose a dojo, a school. The atmosphere you encounter when you walk into a dojo for the first time should start to tell you everything you need to know about whether that particular school is going to be right for you and your family. Here are a few things I consider:
- Is the dojo clean? The cleanliness of the dojo wasn’t important to me when I was in college (cleanliness in general wasn’t that important, for that matter); however, as a dad, it became extremely important when my daughter began crawling around. A good dojo, in my opinion, should be clean but not devoid of character. In other words, think of the lobby at a fine hotel. When you walk in, it is clean and comfortable; but also welcoming. A retail store, on the other hand, is almost certainly clean, but so sterile that it is impersonal.
- Is there room for visitors and guests? If you’re a parent, odds are you’ll spend at least some of your time at the dojo even if you’re not training. You might even have other children with you. Is there room for you to wait comfortably? Or are you going to spend every hour your child is training sitting in a chair off in a corner?
- How do the current students look on the mat? Are they training hard, but having fun? Is there an atmosphere of camraderie, or one of competition? Neither one is better than the other, necessarily–but you might prefer one to the other.
- What is the instructor like? This is a critical question. Is the instructor personable? Does he or she look like they have earned the respect of their students? Do they greet you at any point during your visit? Don’t look at just the chief instructor; look at the other instructors that might be teaching class. After all these are the people from whom you and your family are learning a martial art. They need to be someone that you think you can learn from. Is the instructor explaining things in a way that you understand?
If you find a dojo in which you feel comfortable from the moment you enter, where there is ample room for guests to observe class, where the students look like they are working hard and enjoying it, where the instructors seem like people who know what they are talking about and are explaining things in ways that you understand–then you’ve more than likely found a place in which you and your family will have a positive training experience.
(And don’t worry about whether the martial art is “better” than another: if a dojo meets the requirements I’ve outlined above, they more than likely have something worthwhile to teach you. I don’t think you’ll ever really know which martial art is perfect for you or your family until you get on the mat and try it for a time. But that’s a discussion for another time…)