Martial Arts Training
The #1 Mistake You Might Make When Getting Started

Choosing the Wrong Program

Everyone has their own reason why they begin martial arts training, and I've heard hundreds of them. I've also heard all of the excuses why people QUIT martial arts. There are many reasons why people quit, but the main reason is that they become disillusioned because of the training, or at least the program they tried, didn't fit their preconceived notion of what the martial arts should be. And usually that’s because they chose the wrong program.

The fact is that most people who want to start learning a martial art think that all martial arts are the same. All they know about martial arts is what they’ve seen in the movies and they want to be able to jump around and kick like Jackie Chan. So, they just head down to the first martial arts school they see and sign up. Well, if that school happens to be a Judo school, they may be there several months before they figure out that they’ll never learn to jump and kick because Judo doesn't teach jumping and kicking. Instead of doing a little bit of research to find a program that better fits their ideal, they just quit martial arts training altogether.

If you want to be the next star of the UFC, you’re going to be sadly disappointed when you find out the Taekwondo school you signed up with doesn't teach ground-fighting. That’s why I ask every prospective student exactly what they expect to get out of a martial arts training program. As I said before, everyone has a different concept of what the martial arts means to them. However, when I really analyze what people have told me about their wants, needs or desires when it comes to learning a martial art, I find that there are really only three types of attitudes across the board…

What's Your Style?

The Enthusiast - This is someone who simply likes the idea of learning a martial art. It seems to them to be something interesting to do. Maybe it’s something they’ve always wanted to do, but never got around to it. Maybe they see the martial arts practiced in movies or on TV and think, “I’d like to be able to do that.” This is the type of person who thinks learning martial arts would be FUN and a form of recreation to stay active and fit.

Some people will tell you that this is the WRONG reason to learn a martial art, but I completely disagree! In fact, the vast majority of those who begin martial arts training, start for this very reason. It was MY attitude when I first got started. It’s a great reason to start training in a martial art. The problem is, most Enthusiasts don’t really know what they’re looking for, so they choose the wrong program.

As soon as the program is no longer FUN, and seems to become a series of grueling forms and drills, the Enthusiast quickly loses interest and gives up the idea of learning a martial art, not knowing that there are dozens of different style that may better match their reasons for training. I’ll explain exactly what the Enthusiast should look for, but first, let me cover the other two types of “martial artists”.

The Analyst - This is someone who is very calculating about everything they do, and every action must serve a specific purpose. They have all the angles covered. They have every kind of insurance you can think of, and they have emergency plans for fire, flood, tornado, etc. In case something goes wrong, they want to be protected.

The Analyst has decided that they also need the additional protection in case they are suddenly confronted with a violent attack. Maybe the nature of their job puts them into risky situations, or takes them into high-crime locations. Maybe they live in a neighborhood that makes them feel the need to be prepared to protect themselves, or their family.

This is definitely a great reason to start martial arts training. However, this type of person is also prone to choosing the wrong program for their needs. They often find themselves after several months of training, in the middle of a lesson thinking, “Scoring points won’t help me much if the attacker has a knife.”

This could simply be the case that the program has failed to convey the ‘big picture’ and that subject will eventually be covered in time. Quite often, though, the Analyst finds that the program he or she is in, NEVER deals with the fundamental issues that concerned them when deciding to learn a martial art for the sole purpose of Self-Defense.

The Competitor - This is the type of person that loves to be challenged. They always want to prove themselves, and if something isn’t hard, it’s not worth the effort. They are heavily into sports and often watch kickboxing, or MMA matches on TV. They have visions of being in those types of tournaments, with cheering crowds and having their arms raised in victory.

Maybe it’s just for the thrill of the competition, or maybe they see an opportunity to gain fame or fortune. But, once again, the Competitor can find that they are in the wrong martial arts training program because it doesn’t give them the opportunity to prove themselves in a one-on-one challenge. They find that it isn’t leading them to their goal of becoming the next ‘world champion’, so they either move from program to program, or simply give up on their dreams.

With so many different styles of martial arts to choose from, what should each of these three types of people look for in a training program?

It's Decision Time

First, let me say that each of the different personality types are “generalities” and that few people fit exclusively into one category or another. The Enthusiast may have some idea that they want to learn martial arts for competition, or for self-defense. The Competitor may realize he or she has no chance of being the next UFC champion, but the challenge of learning a martial art might be FUN.

Also, realize that with so many different styles of martial arts training available, few of them cater exclusively to one personality or another. Again, I am speaking in generalities when describing some of these arts. The point I’m trying to make here is that anyone interested in learning a martial art must have a good idea of what they’re looking for, and do a bit of research to make sure the school you attend actually offers a program that meets those needs.

So, are you mainly and Enthusiast, an Analyst, or a Competitor? It’s time to choose…

The Enthusiast, in my opinion, would be well served by seeking out an Aikido program. They are fairly common in most areas, and a quick search on the internet will give you several leads to start with. Aikido is generally low-impact and is rarely competitive in nature. It’s a great way to have fun, stay active, and begin to learn the basics of a martial art.

If you consider yourself a martial arts Enthusiast, you may also consider a form of Kung Fu, or possibly even a Karate program. These styles usually take the beginner through several months of learning proper forms of techniques through low-impact drills and exercises. One-on-one competition, or ‘sparring’, is often secondary, and isn’t practiced until you have a basic understanding of the necessary skills. These are just a few of the ways to be gently and ‘enthusiastically’ introduced to martial arts training.

The Analyst that is mainly concerned with learning a practical form of self-defense, and has no desire to compete in tournaments, would be highly advised to seek out a Jujitsu program. Let me be clear on a couple of things about Jujitsu. First of all, I mean Traditional Japanese Jujitsu, not Brazilian Jujitsu (I’ll cover that in the ‘competitive” section, below). Also, Jujitsu is where my background is from, so I am of course somewhat biased towards Jujitsu. That being said, Jujitsu is a comprehensive martial art that teaches punches, kicks, grappling, and joint manipulation. It is well suited for modern self-defense situations including attacks from behind, weapon attacks and ground-fighting .

Krav Maga is also an excellent martial art that the Analyst may consider. Its simple concept makes it appealing to many people interested in self-defense, and that its one goal is: total annihilation of the enemy. However, you need to know that most Krav Maga programs are extremely high-impact workouts. What I mean by “high-impact” is that it is an intensely rigorous workout and you must be in excellent physical condition to endure it.

The Competitor should look into either Judo or Brazilian Jujitsu when investigating martial arts training programs. Both of these styles are highly competitive and almost immediately put students together to either test their ability to perform the techniques, or to counter the other person’s ability to perform the technique. They require a considerable amount of athletic ability and are high-impact activities. Both of these styles will have you competing in tournaments right away.

Muay Thai is highly competitive, and most Taekwondo schools now teach exclusively the Olympic style competitive format. The focus is solely on scoring points and winning within a strict set of competitive guidelines. Taekwondo schools and Judo programs are popular everywhere and it isn’t hard to find a place to train. Brazilian Jujitsu is becoming more and more popular with the success of the UFC competitions. BJJ, as it’s known, is springing up all across the country. An internet search on any of these martial arts training programs will give you several places to start.


So, there is my quick guide to choosing a martial art. Again, this is not the absolute word on any of these styles, and there are many more that I didn’t even mention. But, I hope this helps you to better understand what you should be looking for in a martial arts training program, and especially, to be able to go into any prospective training facility and ask the right questions:

Do you train mainly for self-defense, or for completion?

Is this high-impact or low-impact training?

Do I need to be highly athletic in order to perform the techniques?

Asking these types of questions can save you from wasting your time with a program that doesn’t suit your needs, or even from a serious injury by participating in a style that is far above your comfort level. By choosing wisely, you should find yourself enjoying years, or even decades, of martial arts training.


Related Article:

Why Are There So Many Different Martial Arts Training Styles?