Originally published in Severna Park Voice, January 2019
For those interested in martial arts in our modern age, the sheer volume of information and options can be overwhelming. Many people will default to that which is close, convenient, or shows up at the top of a Google search. If we think about martial arts as essential life-skill training instead of simply a hobby, more akin to swimming or driving than soccer or stamp collecting (not that there is anything wrong with either of these activities), then we begin to understand that choosing the right martial art or martial art school matters quite a bit, especially when it comes to our personal or family safety. Choosing the right martial art or martial art school should begin with defining one’s goals.
Martial arts can be divided into four main categories of interest. There are martial arts that specialize in self-defense, those that focus on the sporting side of martial arts, traditional or classical martial arts, and those that specialize in addressing predatory violence. Self-defense based martial arts tend to be those that teach an individual how to successfully protect him or herself in the most commonly experienced social violence scenarios, like bullying, street fights, and other such altercations. Sport martial arts teach practitioners the skills and fitness levels that will best enable them to win in specialized competition events. Traditional or classical martial arts are those that have histories dating back before modern times and tend to require an interest in both the historical as well as the physical aspects of martial arts. Martial arts that address predatory violence are much more specialized, teaching techniques and strategies for recognizing, avoiding, and surviving the darkest side of human violence, such as assault, rape, kidnapping, etc. and tend to deal more in small workshops or seminars than ongoing classes like the other three types of martial arts.
By first defining one’s concerns and goals, one is better able to discern which martial art is best for addressing those concerns. Determine first what you hope to get out of martial art training for yourself or your loved ones. Research the different martial arts available in your area and choose the discipline that best suits your interests and goals. Then, seek out the school that offers the martial art or martial arts you are interested in. Many martial arts schools offer multiple programs for individuals with multiple interests or for families who may have a diverse set of interests amongst the members. Do not compromise or settle on a martial art school because of price or proximity if your interest is more than just finding a casual extracurricular activity because not all martial arts, martial art schools, or martial art instructors are created equal. Finally, find the art, school, and teacher or teachers that feel right. Take your time and trust your instincts.
– Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu