One of the main things that make people outside martial arts look at us “insiders” as immature, hormone-raging and irrational types is certainly the shape that some of the martial art discussions (read: meaningless quarrels) take. Essentially there are two types of those – first the inner disputes within the same system/style, second the “whose d!ck is bigger” debate among the practitioners of different ones. The former case is almost always politically motivated, so I am not going to delve into it here and now.
The second kind, however, as it seems to me, tends to be more or less sincere in the beginning, but deteriorates due to some fundamental lack of understanding between the parties involved. My experience tells me that on most occasions those irreconcilable disputes are based on the failure of all sides involved to understand and acknowledge their own and other people’s motivation to do martial arts in the first place. I will try here to offer a view that could maybe help in preventing of dissolving such waste of energy.
Let me start outright by saying that I feel almost any motive to get involved with training in martial arts is legit, as long as it is authentic. By authentic, I mean entirely based on interior benefits, and excluding exterior ones (commercial success, social status and similar). Some of the more common ones that we see are:
- the genuine need for self-defense skills;
- the need to build one’s self-confidence and sense of well being;
- a cultural/ethnological study of sorts;
- means of recreation;
- competing in sport events;
- spiritual uplifting and/or self-actualization.
Now, it is obvious (at least I hope it is) that each of these motives requires different approach to and emphasis in training in order to be realized. Therefore, whenever you look to join a martial art class, ask yourself what are you looking for and why are you doing it. Try to answer your own question as sincerely and honestly as possible, as it would save you a lot of time, frustration and disappointment later. Once you know what makes you tick, you can set off on finding a right school for you.
It means that your driving motivation will decide on which elements of the whole package may have more or less importance in whether you choose to join a particular group – is there a required uniform or not; are there some customs/rituals that are mandatory; is there emphasis on the original terminology etc.
For example, if you really do need realistic self-defense methods, especially in hurry, you ought to seek a school or a program that teaches some sort of combatives. Certainly the best known such type of system today is krav maga, but most other RBSD methods that focus on scenario type training and stressing adequate physical and psychological attributes will do just fine. On the other hand, in this case the only rituals observed should be those relating to the safety in training and the uniform should not play that much of a role.
Should you be on the quest to learn more about some culture’s expression embodied in its form of martial art(s), it is then certainly important to embrace the whole thing – uniforms, terminology, proper code of conduct (as long as it does not stand in direct opposition with you own set of deeper values), hierarchy…
However, it is my firm belief that the relations that may be of utmost importance within the school, during training, should not necessarily transfer to your daily life. In other words, please do not be a medieval ninja or a renaissance nobleman fencer, nor an MMA athlete or a SEAL commando at your daily job as a post office clerk, as it will usually make you a modern day jackass. Whatever you do, it only makes sense in its proper context.
Those in need of some recreation after hours of sitting at work might be more concerned about the proximity and cost of the class that about the actual material being taught.
By now you should get the idea and the main point of my lecture, but there is one aspect that needs be addressed individually. When it comes to the whole spiritual/mental aspect of training martial arts, I really feel that if you mange to find a healthy environment in which the training is conducted, and you work with dedication and commitment, the spiritual and mental improvement will come on its own, almost as a side-effect of your training. Personally, I’d say that if you are searching primarily for that kind of effect, you will be better off doing yoga or practicing one of the many meditation methods out there (DISCLAIMER: look for proper guidance here and I am not recommending anybody’s approach in particular). Otherwise, you will be frustrating other people in you martial art club who are there for actual training.
And now, back to being sincere and honest with yourself. If you are, you will avoid getting involved in an argument over the street-effectiveness of aikido, tae-bo and capoeira, or the authenticity of lineage in kickboxing or MMA. That said, nevertheless, it is a fact that even within the same general system or style of martial art, some schools will put more emphasis on one aspect of training or another, so you might want to do some previous research into that as well.
Finally, there is one more thing left to stress here. It is normal for people, especially those who are into it for a long time, to change their point of view or focus of interest in training, so there is nothing bad in changing schools, trying out new things or combining two or more training approaches on one’s own personal path through the world of martial arts.