Sunday, 24 June 2012

Choosing a Martial Arts Class

Women should have their own role models in the martial arts


 week ago, I received a query from a reader interested in joining a martial arts class. She lives in a busy neighbourhood in Toronto, Canada and she wanted to know whether I could recommend a club to her.

There are lots of schools near her that teach a huge variety of martial arts. The trick lies in finding the right fit. It should be a martial art that piques her interest, something that she can see herself doing. Every martial art has a line about it, a flavour, a texture…she should find what she sees enjoyable, and useful.

And the space, and the people sharing that space with her, should make her feel comfortable about learning.

The martial arts can be a community where women network with other women


I sent an e-mail back with some suggestions on how to spot a school that might be good for her. In my limited experience I’ve found that women, men and children can mesh and bond into a single class quite well. However, each group does have individual needs and concerns that have to be addressed in order to feel safe – and happy – in any particular class.

Today, I’d like to list some suggestions specifically for women starting out in the martial arts…

1.  At first, you should check a few clips about different martial arts on YouTube. There is not one style of Karate; there are many. The same goes for Jiu Jitsu, Kung Fu, Tai Chi, etc.  Are there any that appeal to you? Do the kicks of Tae Kwon Do look like something that you might want to try? Would you like to try some mat work such as in Hapkido or Judo? Are you interested in ancient Japanese culture? Perhaps Kendo might fit the bill.

Select 3 martial arts that seem interesting.

Feel comfortable - and safe - with the teacher you choose


2.  Next, research various clubs and schools in your area and see if they offer the 3 martial arts that seem appealing to you. Check their websites; if possible, research their history; drive or walk past and take a look through the window.

Venue often has nothing to do with quality. You can have a glitzy looking storefront studio that a. provides good quality instruction; or b. has nothing to teach. It doesn’t matter. Great Kung Fu for instance, might be found in the dusty old basement of a Chinatown restaurant. No glitz there…but is the class full of misogynists?

There are no guarantees until you’ve put the school to the test.

Martial arts can help you build confidence - and self defense skills!


3.  Next, visit each of the 3 places. Get a feel of what it’s like to enter through the door. Does it feel women-friendly? When the eyes of the males take you in, what’s your first impression? How does it feel? Are the eyes - and the expressions on the faces - welcoming?

You’re not out to win a popularity contest but you are entitled to - honesty, respect and personal safety.

(I’m reminded of one instructor who drilled secret holes in the walls of the female change room so he could watch his female students undressing).

There are male instructors who are forever hitting on their female students. Their attitude is: “They don’t have what it takes to make Black Belt…but I can sure have some fun while they’re here!”

4.  Once inside the door, thoroughly check the venue. How much of the club space is devoted to women.  Are there photos of women instructors and students up on the walls? Is the club’s training equipment suitable for women as well as men? All these details tell you how important women are to the club.

5.  An instructor must let you watch a class. If not, what is he (or she) hiding?

What is the percentage of females to males in the class? How do the men in the class act toward the female students? Watch the body language. How much space on the floor are females allowed to occupy. Are they pushed aside? Are there female instructors and how important are they in the scheme of things? How do they carry themselves in the class?

A good school teaches you to occupy your full space - and defend it!


6.  Ask for a copy of the curriculum. Some schools will "front end" – load everything into the White Belt course and ad lib on the rest. The school should provide you with the entire curriculum so that you can gauge your future progress at the school.

Be careful of the 5 lesson introductory course. The sales pitch will be made in around lesson #4. They will try to sign you to a contract.

7.  Is the head instructor available? Is s(he) actually teaching the classes? In some schools the assistants teach and the head instructor is busy running the business end. Beginners should be taught by the head instructor.

8.  Make a list of the pros and cons of each place. Treat each prospective school as if it were a financial investment. Your time – and your personal well-being – is that important. If you wish, go back to these schools a few more times.

This is just a small list. I’m sure other female and male instructors can add to it!

You’re important to us in the martial arts community. There are still many changes that have to be made in our classes and in the way we treat women.

The martial arts community needs a lot more women leaders. Perhaps you can be one of the many women who can help us reach that goal!

In my next post on this topic, I’d like to discuss some ideas I have to help men choose a prospective school.

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