Choosing Your Discipline

The first step is taking the decision to start Martial Arts training. Whatever your age, this can be very daunting. I think everybody has a preconceived image in their head, whether that be of lines of people in bright white uniform, punching and kicking in synchronised unison, or shouting men breaking paving slabs with their heads. I remember how scared I was, entering the dojo or training hall for the first time. It was the gymnasium at my school, but that did not make the fear any less.


Why did I choose Karate and Judo? If I’m honest, it was because apart from Kung Fu, they were the only Martial Arts I had heard of at the time, and because they were available in my area. My guess is that this is not uncommon. This could have been down to advertising, or just lack of general awareness. When I started, the Bruce Lee boom of the 70’s was long past, as the fad had handed over to Star Wars, the next big thing to hit the big screens and dominate cinema.


So, how do you find out what is available in your area? The advantage of modern day life is the internet, and most clubs and societies advertise on there. But unless you have a starting point, what do you search for? I’m guessing, unless you have a specific art in mind, the words that will be typed into the search engine will be ‘Martial Arts’ followed by the name of your town, village, city area, or region. Some clubs advertise the old fashioned way, with leaflets, posters and adverts in local papers. I found out about my first clubs by word of mouth, which is still not uncommon.


The next questions are likely to be; When are the sessions? Can I make it? Where are the sessions? A lot of what we do is dictated by our working lives, and the needs of our families. Perhaps you’re looking for something you can do with your partner, or your children. It makes it a bit easier if you know which art you want to practice, but it has to be available and accessible to you. Once you have found such a club, I’m sure the next thing on your mind will be the price. Do you pay per session or is it monthly? A lot of clubs now take monthly payment by either direct debit or standing order, which is convenient, but are they flexible if there is a period of time where you cannot make it for whatever reason?


The instructor has to cover his costs, whether this is for the rent of a training hall or an equipped venue. These were rare when I started training, but are a lot more common now. I have trained in three, and still do train in one. Prices will vary, but you have to make a judgement on what you’re getting for your money. In my opinion, it is unreasonable to charge health club prices to train 1-2 times a week in a school hall. The formula is simple. Divide the monthly premium by the number of sessions available in that time, and take in to account the length of the session. I would say 1-1/2 hours is a good length of time for a session. £5 per session these days is cheap, and anything between that and £10 is competitive, although, as with everything, the prices are higher in London. I will not make this instalment about price, but it is a consideration. Also, are they going to try and get you tied into a long term contract in the same way that some gyms do? It may be good business for them, but I would argue that it is up to the instructor to keep you coming and training. A lot of clubs still offer a free ‘taster package’, the length of that varies, but it gives you a chance to try before you buy.


What will you need in the way of clothing and training equipment? Can the instructor get it for you? Does the instructor insist you buy it through the club or can you go elsewhere? Tae Kwon Do clubs are renowned for this little trick, not all of them, please don’t think that I am claiming that. They will not allow you to use any equipment or uniform purchased by any means other than through them, even if it is the exact same brand and specification, and what a surprise, they sell it for more than the retail price. This is not unique to TKD clubs, but they do seem to be most common among the culprits, sadly, followed by some commercial Kickboxing clubs.


You can get a small flavour of the quality of the club by speaking to the instructor. Are they passionate about what they do? Do they speak more about what they can offer you, what they have achieved, or how you pay them? I am an advocate of giving the session a go rather than watching first, but this is a personal choice. I don’t have children, but I think that if I did I would consider watching the class first, just to see how the instructor conducts business. If this is for your children, what is the instructor’s attitude towards this? I’m guessing that if you have children, then they are the most precious things in your life, so do you feel at ease leaving them under the supervision of this person? Is there more than one instructor? What are the other students like? The quality and attitude of the other members of the club can make or break your experience of training there. If it is a really good club, the other students and the instructors will become long term, or life friends.


The longer you stay on your Martial Arts path, the more times you may have to look for new clubs, either temporarily, say if you spend a bit of time working away, or permanently if either your club closes, for whatever reason, or you have to move to another area. You will develop and learn that there is an etiquette to this. You will want to make a good account of yourself, to show that you are of a good standard, but do not let this go to your head and allow yourself to become heavy handed when working with others. One of the things that Martial Arts should teach you is humility, and this should be exercised during your bedding in period. You should appreciate that, even clubs within the same governing body, may do certain things differently to the way that you’re used to. Just go with the flow and do it their way. There will be things that you prefer from your old or regular club, and new things that you will see as a better way of doing things. Even within the same art, this is branching out. Sometimes, you will not be able to find a club that practices the style, or even the Martial Art that you are used to. I have learned over the years that it is the quality of the club, the instructor, and the other students that matter. I have made the transition from Shotokan Karate, to Higashi Karate, to Kickboxing to Muay Thai, and never looked back. I have also, while working away, trained with Tai Kwon Do, Kung Fu, Jeet Kun Do, Ju Jitsu and Boxing clubs, and all have had something to offer.


I firmly believe that the more Martial Artists there are in the world, the better, so if reading this gives you that final push, as you must be interested to be looking up the blog and reading, then I wish you luck with your journey. There will be blood, sweat, headache and tears along the way, but I hope you will be glad that you have taken that first step towards a magical and rewarding life.


Hi. First of all, Happy New Year, and welcome to my new Blog, Fists and Elbows, Knees and Shins. I created it so that I can share some of my thoughts on the world of Martial Arts and related subjects, just in case you’re interested. It’s what ‘Bloggers’ do isn’t it? Share thoughts and topics? But first, as I am from ‘Generation Pre Blog’, I’m compelled to introduce myself. Good manners and all that! Without getting too in depth, I feel I should at least describe my own Martial Arts journey, so that you have a rough idea where I am coming from if you will do me the honour of revisiting FEKS in future, so here goes;


My journey began in 1987. I was thirteen years old, and had been pestering my parents to allow me to start Martial Arts for years, spurred on by films like Karate Kid and American Ninja. I lived in a large village in Hampshire, just inland from Lee On The Solent, sandwiched between Fareham and Gosport. I had found a Karate club at my school, and a Judo club in Gosport.


The Judo club was a member of the British Judo Association, and the Karate Club was, and still is, a member of the South of England Karate Union, later to become the Shotokan of England Karate Union, due to them expanding further North, and to save them changing their name and logo. I was hooked, loving the close quarters, exhausting grappling of Judo, and the satisfying, disciplined, spiritual skill set that Karate offered. I had several friends from school who were already at brown belt level in Karate, and one of my motivations was to catch up with them. When I first started, I had no idea what characterised Shotokan from other styles of Karate, just that I loved it. I was lucky enough to have parents who were happy that I had finally found an activity that I could progress in, and encouraged me. My Dad, having come from the era of Football in the winter, Cricket in the summer, had openly despaired of my lack of coordination with ball sports, but later joined my brother, sister and I, first in Judo, then in Karate. My Mum had admitted that she was disappointed that neither my brother nor I had joined a Cricket team, as she used to enjoy working the scoreboard when my Dad played.


When I joined the Royal Navy in 1991, I had reached brown belt level in both arts, but found that I did not have time to keep up both, so I stuck with Karate, getting my First Dan in 1992. In 1994 I passed my Second Dan grading. That was the last grading I took with SEKU, as my training was a little disjointed at times due to my work life.


In 1998, I moved to Yeovil and joined a Karate club, who trained in a different style, Higashi, which is very similar to Wado Ryu. The club shared a fully kitted out Martial Arts Centre with a Freestyle Kickboxing club, with whom I started to train in the year 2000. Over time, the Karate got less and the Kickboxing got more as I became hooked on the freedom and sheer joy that Kickboxing offered. In 2002, I decided to concentrate on this alone, and I achieved the level of First Degree in 2004 with the Great Britain Martial Arts Association.


I left the Navy a year later, looking for a more stable life in ‘Civi Street’. At this time I was training with a club affiliated to the World Affiliation of Kickboxing Associations or WAKO, and got my Second Degree in 2007. I then trained with a Lau Gar Kung Fu Kickboxing club in North Dorset. Due to a circumstantial change, I discovered Muay Thai at South West Black Belt Academy, or SWBBA, in Ilminster, where I still train.


I appreciate that these are a load of dates and leave a lot of details out, like competitive achievements and other great instructors who I have had the pleasure, and honour to train with here and there, but hey, I plan to keep FEKS going, so all in good time. Just rest assured, I continue to ponder many things based around Martial Arts, which have become such a large part of my life.


I am the last of my family still training. My sister achieved her Second Dan, and my Dad, having started training after the age of forty five, achieved his First Dan before he turned fifty. I have also outlasted all of the friends from school I began training with in 1987. Most of them got their Black Belts before they stopped, but as far as I am aware, all of them have brought their Martial Arts Journey to a close, although I have just found out through social media that one of them now has a young family who have begun their journey.


I cannot imagine myself stopping, as it is my path. If I find my health deteriorates to a point where I cannot physically continue with Muay Thai, I will find a gentler discipline, like Aikido or Tai Chi, to at least keep the spiritual development going. There is nothing exceptional about my personal journey, but it is mine, and that is one of the gifts that Martial Arts bring. I have shared parts of the journey with some amazing people and made some fantastic friends along the way. If you let it, it can become a massive part of who you are, and help influence your values. You do not have to win numerous titles to achieve, as there are so many other personal goals to reach and surpass. I firmly believe Martial Arts can enrich your life, as there is something for everybody out there, regardless of physical or mental ability. If I am lucky enough to have readers who have never tried Martial Arts then I urge you to find a club near you and give it a go. Try a few different arts, depending on what is available to you, and just see. You never know, it just might get into your blood, like it has done mine.

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