Saturday, March 15, 2014

How to judge a martial arts school in less than 15 minutes

I recently had a very positive experience visiting a martial arts school.  A seminar was being held by a very skilled practitioner that was in the area for a couple of days before continuing on his cross country circuit.  I had heard of him and had seen online clips which were impressive.  My Sensei also spoke highly of him, which was reason enough for me to seek him out.

The problem?  It was being held at a dojo that I had never been to.  Add to that I was going solo and knew no one who was attending.  And it wasn’t a Jiu Jitsu dojo.

It’s always a little daunting to go to a strange location full of strangers.  Would I be allowed to attend?  Would it be awkward?  Would people be standoffish?  Would they want to test me to see if I deserved my ranking?  Would I stand awkwardly off to the side while everyone paired up?

So many questions.

So what did I do?

First, I checked the school’s website/Facebook page.  It said “Open to all schools and styles”.  Good sign.

Next, I called on the way, speaking to the owner/head intructor.  I asked him if it was ok if I just showed up and paid on arrival (you could pay on-line on his site – great idea!)  “Sure”, he said, asking only if I had any martial arts experience and if I had a gi or would be in street clothes.   Sounded friendly.  

Another good sign.

Arrival.  I found my way in.  Being a new face, I was immediately approached by the owner who introduced himself and welcomed me.  He introduced me to his second in command (only on paper, I suspect – his wife).  They both shook my hand, asked me to fill in the standard waiver.  I offered my payment, which was nice, they didn’t’ ask for it right away. 

Third good sign.

The owner introduced me to one of his students who offered to show me where to change/stow my gear etc.  Very nice person, let me use his locker so I could lock my valuables away.

Back to the mats.  Lots of people in attendance.  Crowed place.  Mainly students from the same school, but a couple visiting schools were represented with different gis, crests etc.

As we stretched awaiting the start of the seminar, I was approached by most of the students from the school who all welcomed me to the event.  Really made me feel at ease.  

Very good sign. 

As the warm up began (little was I to know it would last over an hour…), there was general good humour and positive energy, with humorous glances and looks during the more intense part of the torture, er warm up as we experienced the ‘shared suffering’. 

Once the seminar was underway, each time the visiting teacher told us to mix up partners, I was always the one approached by someone from the hosting school with an offer to work with them. 

The seminar itself was very good, with some good solid technique and some great things to think about.  A good time was had by all.  At the end I thanked the owner and his wife for allowing me to attend.  I was told that I was always welcomed and they thanked me for attending.  When I was getting changed, most of the students shook my hand saying that they hoped they would see me again.

I tend to judge a teacher by their students.  Good students, good teacher, generally speaking.

I didn’t get a chance to critique the pure martial skills of the owner, but I got a pretty good indication as I watched him taking the seminar.  No standing off to the side not taking part.  Worked hard, looked pretty sharp.  Yet another good sign.

I may not take the style of martial arts that they normally teach, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the club as a place to check out for those that do.  And I’ll be back.

As I was driving away, I realized that in the course of one short afternoon, I had made a whole bunch of new ‘martial’ friends.  I also realized that even though the whole process spanned over several hours, I knew as soon as I walked into the school that it was a good one. 

It took less than 15 minutes.

A reminder what the martial arts are all about. 

A good day.

Train well.


  1. Sounds like a great day. I love courses like that. What martial art was it?

  2. Sue,

    Great to hear from you. I've been a little absent in the blog-o-sphere of late. It was a great day. The martial art was sort of a hybrid of Jiu Jitsu, Karate and Aikido. The founder studied all three (and some others) and then formed his own style/interpretation, focusing on the proper use of the entire body in the techniques. Traditional stuff and science based body mechanics etc. Quite interesting.