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How to Choose the Right Martial Arts Program for You

by Grandmaster R.S. Chontas

More people are choosing to study martial arts because it offers double-edged benefits: both physical fitness and self defense. In light of recent news in Baton Rouge, this is especially appealing to women. Most enrollment figures show that forty to fifty percent of the enrollees are women. Whether you are male or female, the task of choosing the right school for you can be confusing and intimidating. Some key questions can help you make that decision. Keep in mind as you are determining your goals that there is no quick fix for self defense and security. For those who are willing to invest the effort in physical fitness, there is the added advantage of knowing a skill that helps to provide some measure of personal safety as well.

What school is right for me?
Currently, Baton Rouge offers two types of martial arts: Sports-oriented martial arts schools and traditional martial arts schools. The sports-oriented classes typically charge more for tuition and expect less of their students, focusing on the physical aspects of training. While there is still some emphasis on self defense, it is not the priority of the training. Traditional martial arts schools most often charge less for tuition, yet also expect more of their students. By expecting more of their students than the physical aspects, these schools also cause practicioners to learn spiritual and mental discipline, both essential components of practical self defense. These schools combine the physical fitness necessary to practice with genuine self defense techniques that will be practical in the real world.

What should I expect when I visit a martial arts school?
As a prospective student, you should be prepared to view one full class session. No one should purchase a martial arts program without having been able to watch class first. If the instructor will not allow you to watch class, perhaps you should respectfully say "thank you," and go on to visit another school. You should not expect to take a class for free. Training requires time, and new students require more time than old ones.

How long should I be expected to enroll?
Years ago, schools required most students to sign one-year to two-year contracts upon entering the door. At present, martial arts programs are so varied and diverse that students should hesitate before signing any long-term contracts. Reputable schools offer an introductory program, usually no less than two months, nor more than six. Many of these programs are complete packages, including a uniform, a promotion test, and other essentials that students need to attend class. Beware of schools that offer 'discount' introductory rates, yet have hidden fees for supplies and materials. Always ask the question, Is there anything else I need to purchase to train martial arts? Steer clear of programs that offer a two-week program with a free uniform, for these schools will afterward expect minimal enrollment of one year, and will usually have other hidden fees as well, besides the actual tuition. A good school will also offer family and group programs to be used to lower the cost of training. Take time to ask questions, and get a quote in writing concerning fees and other costs.

How long will it take to reach a level of proficiency?
As a great master once taught me, nothing easy in life is worth having. Self defense is no different. Whatever you put into your practice is what you will get out of it. As with any physical fitness program, you should expect to practice two to four times per week. The student who comes four times per week will obviously excel more quickly than the student who only comes two times per month. Some people can defend themselves well within six months; others can take years. It all depends on the individual's spiritual, mental, and physical attributes.

Should I worry about getting injured?
As with any physical program, there is always a chance of injury. According to the American Medical Association, martial arts practice has the lowest percentage of injuries for a contact sport program. In the twenty-four years that I have been involved wiin martial arts, 90% of the injuries that I have seen have been self-inflicted, largely due to improper execution of technique, combined with students attempting techniques that are beyond their ability. Even these injuries are, for the majority, sprains, strains, and minor bumps.

While many people are interested in martial arts, too few take the time to investigate martial arts practice. The hardest thing to do is to walk through the door. After that, the rest is easy. Make sure that you look into schools that will be convenient to attend on a regular basis. Many schools offer classes directly after the work day, as well as on weekends. Most martial arts instructors are dedicated to their craft, and to perfecting their art. They usually are compassionate and caring people who will go out of their way to help others achieve their goals and dreams within their lives, teaching their students to be assertive and respectful, never aggressive. In these precarious times, it is reasonable and logical for people to practice some form of self defense in order to add an extra level of personal security. Take the time to do this for yourself, and you and your family will be more peaceful and secure in your own lives.

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