How do we choose a martial art to study for self-defense? We could use a phone book, but who does that anymore? A quick Google search will likely yield several potential schools. We can also ask around at the gym or at work. These will all give you options to pick a martial art, but how do we find the best for self-defense? More than likely, we will talk to someone we trust like friends and family who have studied some type of martial arts. When you ask a martial artist which art is the best for self-defense, there is a good chance that whatever that individual studies will be the answer. If that individual didn’t believe in their martial art, why would they practice it? So be aware, insider information is almost always biased.
Honestly, every martial art is good…for what it was intended for. Some were intended for sport or close quarters combat and some for combat a hundred years ago. All martial arts have pros and cons including what I teach. With that said, I don’t tend to join martial arts schools. I prefer to visit many different schools to get varied perspectives and exchange ideas. Here are five points to think about when selecting a self-defense school to train at long term.
1) Instructor(s) – I look very closely at the instructor(s) and conduct research on them. If I can’t find anything on the person, if the website provides an inadequate/no bio or if the instructor(s) don’t have relevant experience(s), I pass. What I do not want is someone who has learned from a guy, that learned from a guy, that learned from a guy, who was a “Master.” I want an instructor who has current experience in real world application.
2) Curriculum – I look to see if the course/class/school/seminar teaches more than techniques. I want to see if concepts like preventive measures, deescalation and dealing with the aftermath are taught (Pre-Attack and Post-Attack). These are quite important. The instructor should recommend further readings and other people to train with. Also, I look to see if there is a long elaborate rank system. It shouldn’t take years to be able to protect yourself.
3) Realism – I look at the sparring. Is it set up like a MMA or is it limited contact? I prefer scenario based training and drills. This creates a more realistic situation. Real violence doesn’t happen at the distances or circumstances of boxing or MMA. This type of sparring does have its benefits, but it should not be the primary means of testing my skills. Are there weapons involved (known and unknown)? The techniques should be simple, not overly complex or artistic. Techniques should not have stipulations,“grab my arm, other arm, my other arm.” I want to occasionally train on uneven, wet and slippery ground. Real life doesn’t always happen on dry and flat surfaces. If a uniform is required, I will pass. I will be wearing normal clothes in real life, so I want to train that way or at least have the option.
4) Culture – Having to change my philosophy on life, religion, claiming to have the “secret” or to be the “only way” this is a huge red flag to me and borderline cult. Self-defense is about personal protection not religion or life philosophy. I want an instructor who asks something like “what are your concerns?” and addresses my concerns. How can an instructor properly address my safety if he doesn’t even know what concerns I have? No one has more to lose when it comes to your safety than you do. Don’t let someone tell you what’s best for you without your input.
5) Students – Who is training there? If law enforcement or military personnel are training there, it’s a good sign. These individuals typically understand the realities of real violence. The ones who choose to train outside of their agencies usually choose schools that meet the needs of their occupation.
These are just a few factors that I take into consideration when deciding if I should train somewhere long term. When training somewhere short term, I don’t need to have everything I mentioned to justify training at a particular school. I will attend if there is something I can take away from the training. I hope this gives you a little insight into choosing a quality self-defense class or school.