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Frequently Asked Questions



1. What is a martial art?
- Basically, a martial art is a skill or skillset relating to human conflict, particularly physical. (Martial = war, art = skill)

2. What is the best style?
- That depends entirely upon you. There is no ultimate, ‘best for everything’ style or school of the martial arts. There is only what suits you and your goals.

3. Is karate/kung fu/etc. really useful in a fight?
- You get out what you put in. If you train hard, with realism and a focus on using the system to develop fighting skills and have a good teacher, then yes.

4. Aren’t martial artists all Bruce Lee wannabes?
- No. In general, martial artists will tend to laugh at Bruce Lee (or any other kind of) wannabes at least as hard as anyone else. While admiring other martial artists or martial arts performers can be used as a great motivational tool, just the same as in any other field of endeavour, such hero-worship if it is there at all generally either wears off or becomes a detriment to your development.

5. Who was the greatest martial artist of all time?
- This is a question without an answer. There is no possible way to define ‘greatest’ or to judge all practitioners of the martial arts throughout history that can make this question make sense.

6. Can martial artists fly like in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon?
- Firstly, they weren’t flying they were jumping and standing very lightly. Secondly, I have never seen any evidence suggesting that this is a reasonable thing to believe you can do. I’ve never seen anyone do it outside of movies. You might want to stop believing everything you see on the screen.

7. Could Bruce Lee really fight?
- The evidence is somewhat inconclusive as to Bruce Lee’s ‘real life’ fighting abilities. Given the responses of his direct students, and the abilities and knowledge they display, it would probably be a safe bet that even if he wasn’t a really great fighter, he had some really good ideas. You answer for this would be ‘probably pretty darn good – very strong and fast, some great understanding, so he could probably fight. But he wasn’t a god.’

8. How should I go about choosing a school/style?
- The best answer I can give to this is: Read this article. The question, "Can you tell me where to find a martial arts teacher in my town?" is also covered here.

9. Is studying the martial arts a good idea for fitness?
- It depends largely upon the school and how hard you train. In general, fitness works less as a motivation for the study of the martial arts and more as a side effect of training hard. Some styles focus more on efficiency of movement than anything else, and so teach you more about conserving energy than burning it.

10. Am I too old/young/female/weak/fat to benefit from training in the martial arts?
- Short answer: No.
-Long answer: While each of these things will probably have an effect on your training, they are factors, not disqualifications. To address the points individually:

Old – you may not move as quickly or as smoothly as you used to, you may heal more slowly. These will have an impact, but there are benefits in terms of improved fitness, health, balance, and refined movement to be found in many systems. Taijiquan (Tai Chi) is a martial arts system often practiced by older people, for example. You may not desire to fight in full contact tournaments, but that isn’t the only valid goal in studying the martial arts.

Young – Children have been trained in the arts of war throughout history, often as soon as they could walk. Many schools these days run classes specifically for children, though many view such classes as largely fitting the McDojo mould. Some people feel that teaching children under a certain age how to fight is negative, and some feel that it is not only positive but important. It really comes down to the parents and the instructor.

Female – There is no reason that being female or male should have anything to do with it, bar that it will have some impact on your body type and personal history. It certainly is ridiculous to propose that someone could not benefit from training in the martial arts because they are female. In fact, it can be (and has been) argued that being female is a good reason to train in the martial arts, as women are often considered to be at greater risk of being attacked than men (although this argument may be spurious).

Weak – Part of training in the martial arts is improving one’s strength. While it is rarely a goal in and of itself, it is considered an important thing to develop. So, being weak is really no barrier to such training, provided you are willing to work hard to improve your strength.

Fat – Basically the same answer here as for ‘weak’, substituting ‘fitness’ for ‘strength’.

11. What is a McDojo?
- The term ‘McDojo’ is generally used to refer to a school that aims for profit over the quality of teaching. Such schools often: charge high fees, include many gradings (which the students are charged for), don’t allow their students to expose themselves to other schools/styles (for fear the students will decide that they are being ripped off and leave), don’t allow their students to practice their skills in ‘live’ situations (no sparring, or only very light sparring with restrictive rules), and have other traits.
In short, a McDojo is a school that sells a poor product, often at a high price, and endeavours to ensure that the students never learn that the product is deeply flawed. Often they use a ‘Creed’ or Code of Behaviour that the students must abide by to achieve this, wherein ‘don’t use your skills’ is given much emphasis.

Unfortunately, the upshot of this is that if the student does get into a violent confrontation, they will often lose because they have been taught poorly – and sometimes this event will happen largely as a result of the student being convinced that they are highly skilled, and acting arrogantly.

12. What should I look for in an instructor?
- In most basic terms, look for an instructor who suits you; who teaches skills you wish to learn in a manner that suits you to learn them. If you learn best or are most comfortable in a rigidly formal atmosphere, you probably won’t do as well if you choose an instructor who likes to kid around in class. If you prefer a more relaxed, informal atmosphere then a strictly traditional school with bows and rigid formality will probably stifle you, and you will not learn as well.

For the rest, use your common sense. An instructor who knows their stuff will generally have students who display it – higher level students will be skilled appropriately, a demonstration of the instructor’s teaching abilities. Talk to the instructor, talk to their students.

13. What should I expect to pay?
- There really is no pat answer for this question, aside from, “what the school/teacher charges.” Some will charge very little, and by the lesson. Some will charge a great deal more and by the month. Or other variations.
A note of warning here: the cost of instruction is generally no indication of the quality of that instruction. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it is. Some expensive schools are very good, some not so, and the same goes for less expensive schools.

14. How long will it take me to become a Black Belt?
- This question is, ultimately, meaningless. Not all schools use belt systems, and of those that do, few use the same system the same way. Plus, it depends upon your talent, dedication, and time… and how difficult achieving this rank is.

15. What does having a Black Belt really mean?
- At the risk of sounding trite, it means that someone for some reason has decided that you are worthy of wearing a black piece of cloth around your waist. That person could even be yourself – it isn’t unheard of for people with small skill to buy a black obi and declare themselves a master.

In some cases, people have a darn good reason to feel good about that piece of cloth. Maybe they sweated blood for 15 years before being allowed to possess it, and they feel that they have earned it. Ultimately a belt or rank has meaning only within the school or system, and really only that meaning which the owner attaches to it. Outside of yourself and your school, the belt means nothing, but your skills, knowledge, and understanding mean everything.

16. As an instructor, what is it my students expect of me?
- That you will teach them what they wish to learn. The specifics are between you and them, really. Everyone has expectations in form and context that differ.

17. What is the difference between Sport and Self-Defense, what should I choose, which is better, and why?
- Sport generally consists of restricted competition in a controlled environment with particular rules and a referee. Self-defence is basically protecting yourself from harm or death in the case of someone trying to inflict them on you – no rules, no ref, no set environment.

There is a third variation to be taken into account that doesn’t actually fall into either category – Fighting. This is the ability to fight, whereas self-defence refers to the ability to avoid harm or death. Fighting includes much focus on causing harm.
The variations do overlap – but they are not the same. A self defence class will (if it is well-developed) involve a large amount of focus on such things as avoiding bad situations, reading people’s intentions, assessing danger, and talking your way out of danger. The physical aspect of self-defence is not really the core, though that is often the conception and the focus of short, poorly designed self-defence courses.

Which is better? Whichever one suits your aims. If you wish to compete, then train to compete. If you want to protect yourself, then train to do so. If you want to be able to get into fights and win, then train for that.


About Martial Arts




Last Update: 6/02/03
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