Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Complete Guide for Martial Arts Newbies

Jonathan Bluestein is a frequent contributor to Cook Ding's Kitchen. Today he brings us an article meant to help martial arts newbies find their way. Enjoy.

Bluestein’s Complete Guide to Martial Arts Newbies
By Jonathan Bluestein

With the kind aid of Rick Matz, Natan Levi Sensei, Ashe Higgs and Patrick Parker

The purpose of this article is to help people who are new to martial arts. It is straightforward, relatively neutral and includes no bullshit or advertisement material whatsoever. It is long, but it would be worth your while, and that is a promise. The first part of the article will teach you how to choose a martial art and a martial arts school to train in, that hopefully would personally suit you best. The latter part of the article will answer many frequently asked questions that newcomers to martial arts often have.

Consider this article to be your first stepping stone to martial arts. It is written in a simple, plain and clear-cut language, and everything was simplified so it would be easier for you to chew on. Want to know more? Then do some extra reading afterwards or in parallel.             
What kinds of martial arts are out there, and how should I choose one?

When we talk of martial arts, we can segment them in a very general way to 10 different parameters. I am going to explain to you what these 10 parameters are, and show you how to EASILY use them to determine which martial arts style is the right one for you (give this article 10 minutes, and you shall see how simple it is).

The 5 parameters of interest for the martial arts newbie

These are about what interests YOU, on the personal level, when you want to train in martial arts. Generally speaking, you are probably most interested in one or several of the following 5 things:

Self-Defense:  Plain and simple – the ability to defend oneself. . Self Defense is first and foremost about violence you encounter in daily life. This approach assumes that, optimally, you should be prepared for any physical threat. It is less specialized, meaning – you will learn a lot of principles and techniques on how defend yourself. The main goal of self-defense is SURVIVAL, and not WINNING. Learning self-defense is learning how to get out of a physical confrontation ALIVE. This can mean learning to avoid violence altogether, as well as having to maim or possibly even kill someone in order to survive an encounter which was forced upon you and might threaten the lives of yourself or your loved ones. Most martial arts teach some form of self-defense, but not all of them focus on it.

Sports:  Many martial arts focus on the sportive aspect of fighting. The main goal of sportive fighting is WINNING, and not SURVIVAL. Sport martial arts thus have a different mindset altogether from martial arts which are focused on self-defense. Sport martial arts are much more specialized, usually include a much smaller array of techniques one may use, and adhere to very specific rules of fighting. The focus on PRACTICALITY and EFFICIENCY is high, and you get to test your fighting ability more often. However, your fighting mindset is always confined to the rules of the sport. There is a lot of competition, formally and also in class, but the martial artist can often choose to what degree he or she are interested in competing as a professional, if at all. Sports martial arts are more often taught in larger groups.

Fitness:  Some martial arts include a strong component of physical fitness – things that make your body stronger overall, in better shape, and help one look better as well. This is of great interest to many people.

Health:  A focus on health is not the same as fitness. Health-oriented exercises keep the body healthy and have healing potential, but do not necessarily make one stronger or better-looking. Likewise, the focus of fitness does not necessarily make one healthy. Therefore, there often a difference between these two things. The focus on health is most important to people who are either sick or past the age of 40.

Spirituality:  Most commonly, a focus on spirituality is a personal choice of a teacher. Therefore, this can usually only be checked by discussing the matter with the instructor you are interested in studying with. Nonetheless, there are some martial arts that include a ‘spiritual focus’ as part of their constitution. In the context of martial arts, Spirituality is a cultural and philosophical tradition that relates to the origins of the art. It is not related to religion. People of all religions and non-believers alike can all study martial arts without difficulty.               
When assigning the term ‘having spiritual focus’ to a martial art in this article, this might also mean that an art has a strong core life-philosophy which accompanies it. Such things are very common in the martial arts, but are still more dependent on the way a specific teacher chooses to convey an art, rather than being an integral part of it. 

Easy so far, right? Let us go over the next 5 parameters, and then we could see how to use all of these to effortlessly choose the right martial art for us…

The 5 parameters of martial skills by which martial arts work

People can fight in a wide variety of ways, but when it boils down to it, all martial techniques in existence can be classified under 5 categories. Why is this important to you? Because the category of martial skills which a martial art is focused on would determine how you are going to train in each and every class you attend.

Striking:  Learning to hit the opponent. Most hits are done with the Fist, Palm, Forearm, Foot or Shin. That said, many styles also teach hitting with the Knee, Thigh, Shoulder, Elbow, Upper Arm and even the Head and Waist. Various styles will focus on different parts of the body for hitting. Competitive Western Boxing, for instance, only hits with the fists, while Tae Kwon Do practitioners most commonly hit with the feet and legs. Striking can be trained anywhere. 

However, it is extremely limited if you fall to the ground – meaning that one has to be standing on one or two legs to use it efficiently (though there are exceptions).

Grappling:  This includes various forms of wrestling and also applying what is called ‘joint-locks’ – locking the opponent’s or attacker’s joint in place and/or breaking them. Can be trained anywhere, but most styles prefer training grappling with a partner.

Takedowns:  Methods for making the opponent drop to the floor. Can be trained anywhere. Used only to toss people to the ground, for the purpose of hurting them in the process or continuing to fight with them on the ground (preference depends on the practitioner’s skillset).

Throws:  Throwing the opponent to the floor. Most often trained on soft mattresses and enclosed facilities. Used only to toss people to the ground, for the purpose of hurting them in the process or continuing to fight with them on the ground (preference depends on the practitioner’s skillset). Has more potential to cause damage than takedowns, but it more difficult to apply. Can only be trained with a partner. Unlike all other martial methods, which can be trained at many speeds, Throwing can only be performed at explosive speeds (which in turn means that arts focused on Throwing are not suitable for some middle-aged or older beginners).

Ground-Fighting:  Fighting when you and at least one opponent/attacker are not standing on your feet. It is a form of grappling which you use when you cannot stand on one or two feet, and therefore cannot use other forms of fighting. Most often trained on soft mattresses and enclosed facilities. Cannot be trained on hard ground, and can only be trained with a partner. Some claim that “90% of fights end up on the ground”. I call bullshit on that claim. Do not buy into such marketing nonsense. Many fights go to the ground, and many do not. There are no strict rules or statistics for such things.

How can I use this knowledge to choose the best martial art for me?

Very simple. In the table below are listed most of the martial arts that are taught in the West today. You review the 10 parameters I have explained before. You decide which of these 10 parameters are most important to you. Then you look at the table below, and see which martial arts best fit the parameters you think you want to have in the martial art you are going to train in. Be careful not to judge a martial art more positive or negatively because it has a broader or narrower focus!

Dark Blue – Shows the main focus of a certain martial art. Light green – Shows a secondary/minor focus of that martial art. Black – indicates this martial art does not focus on that aspect at all, having very little of it or none of it altogether, compared to other arts.

(for a larger version of the chart, please click here:

How should I choose a teacher and a school?

After having picked 1-3 arts you are interested in from the list above, or other arts you might have found through your research, it is time to visit some schools. It is acceptable in 99% of schools worldwide that you are eligible for at least 1 free introductory lesson. Take advantage of that (also, never pay for a trial lesson!). As a rule of thumb – for each martial art which you find interesting, go and have one such free class in at least 3 schools.

You might protest now, thinking: “Oh my! That means that if I am interested in 2 martial arts, then I should spend some 6-12 hours just going to introductory classes trying to figure out what I want (since each class is usually 1-2 hours long)… It is a lot of time!”. Well, this is true. I am asking you to make an investment with your free time. However, consider the following:

-          You might end up practicing that martial art for 5-50 years now… Would not it be wise to pick the teacher and style that WILL NOT WASTE so many years of your time? Choosing a martial art can easily become a very long-term thing, so it is good to make an extra-careful choice.

-          All of you reading this want to train in martial arts for reasons which are important to you. Especially in terms of learning how to fight and defend oneself, you WOULD NOT want to learn from someone whom you cannot trust, or who would not teach you skills that will fail you when your life or the life of a loved one is on the line.

But hey, there were tons of martial arts in that table you made! How the heck am I supposed to choose only 1-3 that interest me out of so many?

Good point! It is common for newbies to get excited about many martial arts. Here is what you should do in case you find interest in more than 3 styles you saw on the table above:

-          Spend 20 minutes or more reading on each style online. Begin with the Wikipedia entry (most styles have one), and then continue to read more elsewhere. Try to avoid commercial websites and attempt to find articles which seem more neutral.

-          Watch 5 short videos of each style online. Make sure each of the 5 videos is by a different teacher/organization. That why you would like get decent exposure.

Once you do these things, you will surely find some of the styles you have researched you liked much more than others. 

Then, you can look up schools in your area that teach those styles. Sometimes, you would not be able to find any such schools. It happens. Do not give up on martial arts altogether. Go visit schools teaching other styles regardless. You might find something else that you are REALLY into, which you did not expect. 

Remember – you are a complete beginner. You are not supposed to have one class and then already know the skills required to slay 20 men and a dragon. It does not work that way. Rather than learn complex skills, the most important thing you are going to do during your trial lesson is to observe your surroundings, and decide whether this is what is right for you.

Now, here are things to look for and beware of when you attend each of these free classes:

Teacher:  Do you think he speaks and explains clearly? Can you get at least SOME of what he is saying? Did he pay attention to you at all? Did he answer your questions or avoided them? And most importantly, and I cannot stress this enough: DO YOU THINK THE TEACHER IS A GOOD PERSON AND DO YOU GET ALONG WITH HIM? 

Believe it or not, the latter is THE most important factor for you when choosing a school. Only choose to study in a school in which you can personally like the teacher and get along with him. You are going to have a committed teacher-student relationship, so as in any relationship in life, you better like each other, or it would not last in the long term. You do not need to be best friends with your teacher, and many teachers keep their distance and that is OK. But do get along. 

See all ‘em medals, trophies, honorary degrees, belts, ranks, suits, historical photographs, etc that the teacher might have on the wall of his office? Newsflash:  THEY MEAN NOTHING TO YOU. That is just him showing off, and possibly, he earned the right to show-off these nice things (good for him!). But you came here to see what he is worth and if he can teach YOU, and YOU could not care less for what he did for others or to help himself. You are in for checking compatibility with who you are, rather than who he is. You know what is common with Kobe Bryant (Basketball legend), Tiger Woods (Golf legend), O.J. Simpson (Football legend) and Mike Tyson (Boxing Legend)? They could all fill an entire stadium with honours, and they all did very nasty things to women. Just goes to show that a person can be awesome and magnificent at what he does, but also have darker sides which you might not like. Be sure that you like the person and can actually study from him – the stuff he puts on the wall does not matter at the moment.          

Stay away from teachers who have a cult following. Stay away from teachers who mix up religion with their martial arts (spirituality and meditation, in the context of martial arts, are not a form of religion). Bowing is a common etiquette requirement in many martial arts, and is culturally symbolic rather than religious in nature. Stay away from teachers who claim to be ‘enlightened’, ‘connected with higher forms of consciousness or make any similar silly statement that is aimed at making you their obedient, well-paying follower.

Fellow students:  Do they get what the teacher is saying? Look for the more advanced students. If you do not know who they are – ask. See whether those who are more veteran and/or ‘higher-ranked’ are actually more skilled than those who are not, and can explain things better. This method is meant so one could observe whether the grading and advancing system in the school is orderly, which in turn will point to the quality of teaching in the school. The students often reflect the teacher in their behaviour while inside the school. The best teachers also influence the way their students behave outside of the school for the better. Are these people nice? Helpful? Kind? Arrogant? Bitchy? Assholes? Take it all into consideration, as this again points to the teacher. While it’s more important that you get along with the teacher than with the other students, you do not want to be left alone socially. Be sure you think you can get along with at least a third of the people in the group on some level.           
In martial arts, everyone gets SOME injury once in a while. Mostly though, these are minor injuries – a scratch, a bumped knee, a tooth that bit into your lip, a temporary mark left by a strike… something minor which would come and pass. Some schools have a lot of injuries of the more severe kind – such that can last a lifetime and/or require surgery. Ask around. Find out who is injured and how they got injured (do this away from the teacher so he won’t intervene with excuses). Whenever over 30% of people in a school have been injured in training in a non-minor way – do not sign up at that school.

Some schools are in a ‘study group’ format. This means that there is a main teacher coming to teach every few weeks/months for a few days to a few weeks in a concentrated format, and the rest of the time the students would work on what they have learned and practice together. Sometimes, there would be a group leader who would speak for the main teacher in his absence. This format is valid only if the teacher is very good. Were you to encounter a school operating in such a training format, you should research information of the main teacher thoroughly online before making up a decision. Try verifying that the main teacher has a decent reputation. In this case, the level of the students in the study group is crucial for your decision making. You would want to make sure that these students are getting the results they desired, and have actual skills that you feel you want to gain as well.

Curriculum and attitude:  Do ask the teacher about the curriculum. Make sure you know what to expect from studying for a few years at the school. Never study with a teacher who would promise you a black belt within less than 3 years of dedicated practice. Also try to avoid teachers who claim that it should take over 7 years to earn a ‘black belt level’ (though there are exceptions, as in traditional Brazilian Jujutsu it sometimes takes up to 10 years). Be aware that grading systems vary between schools – respect the grading system which exists in the school you visit and do not try telling the instructor that “you saw things were different in this or that school”. While we are at it – keep the school etiquette as explained by the teacher while you are visiting. Remember – you are not the only one doing assessments – the teacher and students are observing you as well, and first impressions are important – especially considering you might sign up in that school. That said, do not feel bad about not doing so well on first classes – it happens to all of us. I farted loudly on my first Karate class many years ago, while doing a fancy back kick. No one laughed, by the way, and I respected that. In a good school, people do not mock each other for their faults or lack of skill.

Teacher’s background:  You want to be absolutely sure that:

a.        The teacher can name his style and tell its exact origins (‘Kung Fu’ and ‘Wushu’ are not names of styles, but umbrella terms for various Chinese martial arts. ‘Jujutsu’, ‘Karate’ and others also have many sub-styles). This demand is not so you can affirm some sort of ‘authenticity of style’, but rather so you see that the teacher has at least a basic level of education of the history of whatever it is he is teaching. 

b.       The teacher can name his teacher, teacher’s teacher and so-forth at least 3 generations before him. This, again, is something meant to check for ‘authenticity’, as much as find out whether the style has a history and was not made out of thin air. All martial arts styles should have a history. Even ‘completely new’ styles should be based on some past knowledge that came from somewhere.

c.        The teacher has spent AT LEAST 5 consecutive years studying with his main teacher. This is to ensure that his knowledge and skill in his ‘foundation martial art’ has matured enough before he began teaching.

d.       It is best if the teacher is still on good terms with his own teacher/s, though this is not always possible. This is not an absolute necessity, but indicates good things of the teacher.

e.       The teacher’s personal background sits well with your personal moral agendas. Again – do not study under someone whom you cannot respect or trust.

Class time:  Regardless of what anyone tells you, it is impossible to seriously and effectively learn any martial art in classes lasting less than 60 minutes. Yes, this is the truth, and 1 hour IS THE MINIMUM. You should prefer classes lasting 1.5-2 hours. Anything 1.5 hours or more is OK. Over 2 hours might prove excessive for most people during their first years of training, but this is up to you to decide whether you can physically handle longer classes.

Class structure:  Some schools segment the classes according to ‘rank’, while others allow everyone to train together. No approach is inherently superior. There are faults in each. When classes are segmented by rank, you get less exposure to ‘advanced material’. It might sometimes also be a method for making people pay more as they advance in rank – do not fall into that trap, and find out in advance if veteran students have to pay more. When students of all levels train together, it is especially important that people are friendly and forthcoming towards each-other. This is because is such groups, often the more veteran students form ‘training alliances’ within the group, and do their best to train only with people ‘of their level’. This is not a good sign, and will hinder your learning if that is the case with most advanced students.

How the school looks like:  Does not matter AT ALL. Some of the best martial artists who had ever lived learned and taught in lowly basements, open fields, under bridges, in their living rooms, etc. School should be clean and orderly to an extent, but otherwise it does not matter. Likewise, a fancy-looking school is never a guarantee for a good teacher. What is important to look for is whether the area in which the teaching takes place is SAFE for the type of activity you are doing. Reminding you of an example from before – training throws requires a soft surface, like a mattress, sand or grass. The size and shape of the school should enable everyone to train without bumping too much into each-other. Make sure you feel comfortable in the physical training environment. However, for those of you who come to martial arts in order to study them for self-defense and/or sports, do remember – you have chosen a tough path and a rough ride, and this sort of thing should not be trained in a place looking like a fancy hotel room. It is well known in martial arts that the most rough and rugged looking schools often produce the best fighters.

Financial:  Never sign up for the most expensive school you find. It is extremely rare in martial arts circles that the teacher who charges the most is the best. More commonly, the best martial artists charge low sums, and sometimes even teach for free. However, do not immediately take a low monthly charge to be a sign of excellence. Rather, simply avoid the most expensive school. Private tuition fees are a different matter, and are commonly high. For private tuition, whatever you feel is right is likely the right price for you. Then again, here too do your best to avoid the most expensive teachers.   
Never sign up for a school that forces you into a shady contract. Try to avoid schools that force you to sign up for more than 6 months in advance as a newcomer – do your best to avoid them. Do not sign up if the teacher says “you will only advance in rank by taking lots of private lessons with him” – that should not be a must.
Do not sign up for any school that charges a fee for “promoting you to the next level”. You bust your ass to get better – you should not pay for it with your wallet, too. Grading systems have been mostly invented in the 20th century, and prior to that most martial arts had no grades and no ranks besides teacher and student, and sometimes a differentiation between close students and regular students. Grading is for:  Order in the school, marketing and making more money if the teacher is greedy enough to charge money for grade-promotions. You may cut a teacher some slack for a requirement to pay a sum for your ‘black belt’ or equivalent, but it should be a MODEST sum and only paid once, for that one-time ‘black-belt-promotion’.   
Do not sign up if the teacher says that competitions should cost YOU money – again, it is YOU who’re busting your ass – you should not pay for it, outside of payments for registration fee (when an official organization makes the competition), flights, food, etc. Do not pay extra for medals, trophies, belts or otherwise.              
Also, do not learn where they charge veteran students more money, and require that veteran students do too much teaching instead of the teacher – you are paying to learn, not to serve. It is important to help your teacher from time to time, even replace him on occasion if you are a veteran student, but you are not there to do his job for him. Pay attention to the thin line between kind, dedicated and loyal help and becoming one’s slave.                
Never pay too much for accessories. Beware of teachers who try to sell a lot of them, or sell overpriced versions of them. 

Do not buy shoes/uniforms/other stuff from a teacher who offers you to purchase them. At least not immediately. Chances are you can get them cheaper elsewhere online. That said, some specialized items might only be sold by your teacher/organization. Also, some teachers would not like the notion of you refusing their offer to buy from them the items they required (as they might see this as one of your commitments as a student). It is up to you to decide whether you are OK with buying things from the teacher. Oftentimes, the price he would charge for the items would be just slightly higher than what you would have paid online, or just the same. In such a scenario, it is better to but from the teacher, if you are indeed to study with him. It builds trust at the beginning of your relationship, as it shows you are willing to take his word on it. Yet, if you happen to discover the teacher is charging significantly more for some items than it would have cost you elsewhere, you might want to consider another school altogether. Consider that integrity is a virtue which carries over to many walks of life, and so is the lack of it.

Remember at this point in your life, as a beginner - It is never too late to start or to quit:  You can start at any age, given the style you want to study physically allows for it. You can also quit at any age and start something else, if you are for some reason not pleased. Even though it’s best to study any art you might be interested in for at least 5 consecutive years, do not fixate – when your relationship with either an art and/or a teacher deteriorates, and cannot be mended, then it is time to quit and move on to something else – possibly not even in the realm of martial arts. I have written this so you could understand that although you are making an important choice here, things are reversible.

Who to choose from, then?:  After having visited several schools, if stuck and cannot decide between 2 or more teachers, go for the one you personally like the most. Trust your gut instinct on that one. You learn best under those whom you trust most.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Martial Arts

I went  to an introductory class at a certain school, and the style they taught, while listed on your table, wasn’t exactly as you described it. Is that OK?
Sure! The table was just meant to help you make your decision making easier. It generalizes quite a lot of many styles in the process, and there are always exceptions to the rule, as martial arts tend to vary significatly based on the attitude and personality of who is teaching them. When choosing a school, try basing your decision on my other advises. The chart is merely a tool to help you find the schools to have introductory classes at, which are most likely suitable for you.

Would the martial arts make me look better? Which and how??    
Generally speaking, any physical training will make you look better, period. Martial arts are usually a form of intense physical training, so that is positive. Arts with a stronger focus on Fitness are more likely to aid your physique in improving its shape (while the contribution of other arts to this goal would be less pronounced). But do not get too hopeful, for neither martial arts nor any other physical endeavor would make you look better or lose fat if you would not maintain a PROPER DIET. The latter would make much more of an impact on your shape and wellbeing than any form of practice you may engage in. Therefore, martial arts are definitely not a magical solution. To gain a large amount of muscular mass, it is also much better to invest your time training in either Bodybuilding and/or Powerlifting.

Is it true that some martial arts are better than others?
Better for what? Each martial art is good for certain things and not as good for others. All martial arts were created in a very specific historical context. Samurai Kenjutsu and Jujutsu arts were created by the Samurai class, so they reflect the need at the time to be able to fight with armor on, but do not excel at striking empty-handed. Xing Yi Quan was developed by people who did a lot of empty-handed and medium-large weapons fighting without armour, so it’s heavy on these but has no particular reference to techniques against knives and guns. Krav Maga and MCMAP were most commonly developed by militaries and active/former military personnel, so they reflect immediate practicality for working against things like knives and guns, but lack the depth and breadth of the previous arts I have mentioned. Brazilian Jujutsu has a ground-fighting focus that almost all other arts lack, but rarely if ever one is taught how to strike while learning that art.
Additionally, it is important to recognize that what makes good fighters are decent teachers and dedicated people – not specific martial arts. Any martial art every created which lasted more than two generations yielded at least a few people who could fight brilliantly (and sometimes many thousands of them). No martial art is therefore superior. There are only superior fighters and better teachers – not superior arts.

I saw this school which advertised that they would teach me several martial arts in parallel. Is it therefore a better school?        
Absolutely not.  This is not a positive thing. Allow me to explain…            
With the advent of the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) phenomenon in the West (beginning in the early 1990s), people began to talk about the need to know many martial arts to become proficient in fighting. This is not true. One can become an incredible martial artist by having practiced just one style in great depth for many years, and another may become just as good by having practiced several. People are different.              
However, one thing always holds true – if you want to get really good as a martial artist, you better invest at least 5 years in one style before moving on to other styles, or taking up additional styles to train in parallel. Most of the world’s best martial artists throughout the ages have gained their skill in this way – they had their ‘core style’, which they either trained in great depth or added more knowledge upon. But that ‘core style’ was a solid foundation that they could later build on. This is true for most MMA fighters as well – the majority of them spent many years studying one style, before expanding their knowledge.   
As a beginner, the absolutely worst thing you can do is learn more than one style at one time – especially if it’s over 2 styles. You will gain a little bit of skill quite quickly that way, but within several months you would already be lacking in foundations, and will never be able to reach the essence of any style. Your ability to dig deeper into the ocean of knowledge that is contained in many arts will be hindered, and after a few years your progress will come to a standstill. At most, you would be improving your fitness, but you will cease to develop as a martial artist.        
Nowadays you will see many MMA gyms that are very excited to sell you this kind of package – to convince you that they have the ‘superior, more complete stuff’ because they teach ‘more than one thing’. Other schools have teacher who do more than one martial art, and they offer to teach you them in parallel. Do not fall into these traps. Always go for quality instead of quantity.    
All this considered, it is positive that a school offers to teach more than one art, whenever the teacher intends to provide you with the strong foundations you need before moving on to studying an additional style.

When I sign up for a martial arts school, am I a customer?     
No, you are not a ‘customer’, you are a god damn human being first and foremost. Act like it. Respect your teacher. 

Respect your fellow students, even if you think you know better than them. You can learn something from anyone in the school (and in life) – not just your teacher. Martial arts are about learning, not receiving a service. Knowledge and skill come through prolonged hard work, and are not offered to you on a plate. Be courteous. Abide by the school’s etiquette. Do not humiliate people publicly, but choose to impart your criticism of their skill in private if possible. Test your skills rather than brag about them, but do not hurt people in the process. Ask good questions, and ask them often. 

Investigate the answers you get – put time and effort into it. So no, you are not a customer – you are a student. Likewise, a teacher is not a ‘service provider’. He is a person who holds great responsibility over your physical and mental being, in both present and future. Do not shy to walk away from teachers who consider you to be a ‘mere customer’, and do not live up to their responsibility.

I do not like all that terminology I have to use in the school in a foreign language. I do not fancy the clothing items much either. Is there a way to go around these things?          
Martial arts are culture-bound (even modern martial arts which were developed in the West bear heavy cultural favours, traditions and ceremonies of their own). If you cannot stand the culture, simply find another school and style to train in. 

This is a basic principle in the world of martial arts – you would have to change YOURSELF for the art, rather than expect it to change for you. By this principle, the martial arts enable you to grow as a person. Do not underestimate it.

What do I need to get good at martial arts? 
You need the following 4 things, and nothing more:
a.        A good teacher – how to choose one has been covered previously in this article.
b.       A willingness to think deeply about what you were taught.
c.        A body healthy enough to practice your martial art of choice to your full capacity.

d.       Train hard for many years. Though it is said that 10,000 hours are required to realize world-class skill in a given field of study/practice, this is only part of the story. Personally, I believe that in order to achieve world-class skill, what is also key is to train every day (yes, 7 days a week), for at least 2 hours a day. This will guarantee quick arrival at truly awesome and magnificent skills. For the amateur though, one can get really good at a certain martial art and be able to fight with it within 3 years by training 8 hours total a week (how you segment that time is less important). Basic and applicable self-defense skills can be reached, with a good teacher, in a year or less, if one trains 4 hours a week.

It is crucial that you understand – having trained for a total of 10 hours in martial arts in your entire lifetime is not optimal by any means, yet still superior to have trained 0 hours. Likewise, having a bad day, people can succumb to skipping training altogether, but even 20 minutes of training on that bad day still counts as training. Train more, gain more. Some training is always better than no training.

Do I have to actually fight in order to get good at martial arts?       
For learning basic self-defense – no. But if you are interested in actually learning to fight and defend yourself in a real fighting scenario, then you have to do sparring, which is mock-fighting with partners that would enable you simulate real fighting in a safer environment with safety rules and regulations (and possibly, with protective padding). Some argue that in order to be the best fighter that you can be, you should be involved in as many real-world fights as possible. This claim is probably true, but you have to consider the fact that such activities are illegal, and the risk is great. Most of us train in martial arts so we can keep our body from getting beat-up or ill. Personally, I do not find any sense in harming one’s body to achieve these goals.

Is martial arts like what I’ve seen in the movies?  
No. Movies never reflect true martial arts. In fact, within 2-3 years of martial arts training, most martial arts in movies would already seem completely unrealistic to you. The actors will reveal their clumsiness and lack of expertise. You will notice they are not even trying to hurt each other. You will laugh at the lame sound-effects. It would take quite a production to impress you once you seriously pursue martial arts yourself…

Is fighting on the street like what I’ve seen in the UFC/Boxing rings/other professional fighting venues?         
Usually, no. It’s commonly much dirtier and uglier, and often the nastiest guy would win – the person willing to cause the most damage in the nastiest and most dishonored ways. You do not have to act like that yourself in order to survive fights, but it often takes great skill to win a street fight without resorting to dirty tactics. It doesn’t matter, anyhow. Beauty and finesse in martial arts are for training. A street fight is about something else which is more important – whether you’ll live to see another day.

What did Bruce Lee train in? I want to do that!     
Bruce Lee trained in Wing Chun for about 3 years, between the ages of 15-18 (note – 3 years is not a lot of time for practicing any martial arts, and Bruce, skilled as he might have been, was never a master of that art or any other art). He also learned a little bit of Taiji Quan (Tai Chi) and Hung Gar when he was younger, quite informally. Then when he moved to the U.S. he had informal studies with many martial artists, taking a particular liking to Fencing and Western Boxing (his Nunchaku training he got from a Karate teacher whose name was Fumio Demura). At the beginning, when he taught, it was mostly Wing Chun. Later in life he began to teach an elaboration which he called ‘Jeet Kune Do’ (Way of the Intercepting Fist) which combined he knowledge and understanding from the many arts he had studied. There are several styles and schools that descended from Bruce Lee’s teaching, which bear the name Jeet Kune Do or other names. Bruce referred to what he taught a ‘concept’ or ‘method’ of training rather than a closed and rigid ‘system’, and therefore all JKD schools, while having strong Wing Chun influences, are different from each other. My advice – do not pursue any martial art just because a movie star practiced it. Neither Bruce Lee nor other famous martial artists like Jet Li or Jacky Chan actually showed the stuff they practiced/taught in private in their movies. What goes on the screen is for show – it’s not how these people fought or trained.

How can I learn to pull-off Bruce Lee’s famous one-inch punch?     
Many martial arts that focus on Striking can teach you to do that. Wing Chun, Xing Yi Quan, Bagua Zhang, Taiji Quan (when taught for fighting), Pak Mei, Southern Praying Mantis, Baji Quan, I Liq Chuan and many others have this skill embedded in them. Actually, a good practitioner of these arts should be able to strike effectively with less than one inch of distance from the opponent.

Are there secrets in the martial arts?   
Yes, many. Most teachers would not admit it publicly, though – either because they have none (most common reason), or because they do not want people to flock over to them for the wrong reasons. Over 90% of secrets are training methods that produce special bodily skills – usually not knowledge of magical ‘death touch points’. You learn these methods by finding a good teacher, of a good and authentic martial arts lineage, and prove yourself so he would teach you these things. Why a good lineage? Cause only martial arts with a significant historical background have had time to develop such depth skills. You won’t be finding them in Krav Maga (which does not mean that Krav Maga isn’t effective for its intended purposes).              
DO NOT GO STUDY UNDER ANY TEACHER WHO TALKS A LOT ABOUT SECRETS OR SPECIAL ENERGIES, SUCH AS QI OR KI, as means of explaining martial skills, techniques and abilities (it is perhaps less problematic when some teaches use these terms to explain health-related exercises). Those in the know do not talk about these things often in relation to fighting. If the teacher at hand does happen to talk about such things a little bit from time to time, you would want to ask to be demonstrated on (and try to resist while he does whatever, in case the skill is supposed to be of martial value). Preferably and optimally, to test such a teacher you would want to see a person who is a veteran of another martial art, whom your teacher does not know beforehand, being effectively demonstrated on by the teacher. Do not buy into talks of Qi and energies without extensive physical proof. Most people who talk of such things are complete charlatans. Few have real secrets and high-level skills. Whenever the only way a teacher can explain to you how to do things is by saying “just use you Qi”, then it is time to find another teacher.

Can I kill people with martial arts?       
Potentially, yes. But you are better off just buying a gun. That’d take a day instead of several years of practice. With a gun, you can be the asshole you wanna be with minimal effort! 

How were martial arts created and what about their history?
They were created by people who needed to maim and kill other people – either for profit and/or to defend themselves and their loved ones. Over time, each teacher developed, added and changed things. Often, lots of knowledge was lost between generations. Some martial arts are better than what they used to be in the past, while others are a mere shadow of their former glory. Some arts got more brutal and deadly, while others turned more peaceful and gentle over the years. All real martial arts should nonetheless teach fighting skills of some sort.       
Martial arts were developed by people with a lot of spare time to train. These people came from all walks of life. Very few of them lived on a mountain. Most of them lived in villages or cities. 99% of the martial arts that include empty-handed fighting that survived to this day cannot trace their historical origins back over 350~ years. Most of these arts are even less than 150 years old. Anyone who tells you his empty-handed fighting art is older than that is a liar, and you should not study with him (saying that there were ‘predecessor arts’ that existed before that is OK, though). Humans had martial arts for thousands of years, but they have changed a lot with time and we do not have ANY proof that the empty-handed martial arts of ancient times looked anything like what we have today, or used similar training methods. We can only speculate.

I want to travel to China/Japan/Somewhere and train with an old master on a mountain, possibly in a monastery. Is that a good idea?
Usuaully, no. Most serious masters worldwide live in cities nowadays, not on mountains. One can still locate amazing practitioners on a mountain or in a tiny village on occasion, but this is becoming less and less common. Martial arts masters are people like everyone else, and as such most have come to live in cities during the 20th and 21st centuries. 

Never go study with a person living in a village or up a mountain arbitrarily. You should first do a lot of research, as much as possible, on the style being taught, and preferably get to know someone who studied under that teacher and check him out.

I want to study in the Shaolin Temple or the Wudang Temple in China. Is that a good choice?     
Unless you are interested in modern, sports-oriented Wushu… please, do not. These places are martial arts Disneylands funded by the Chinese government as tourist-traps. You can find MUCH better martial arts teachers elsewhere in China and in the West.

But I heard that many styles originated from Shaolin/Wudang!      
Historical fallacy and nonsense. Please refer to Prof. Meir Shahar’s book:  The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts’ in case you want to learn more about this subject.

I want to study Wing Chun/Aikido/Karate/Taekwondo/JKD/Whatever
Which sub-style of the art is the best? 
The world of _______(any martial art)_______ has tons of politics and there are many sub-styles. The teacher of each sub-style will attempt to convince you in turn that his is the best (by saying that either directly or indirectly). You better check out several schools before you decide, like I suggested earlier. Do not be impressed by ‘most authentic’ claims – they’re usually untrue, and even if true, they do not always mean that what is more ‘authentic’ is what is best for you, or that because someone holds a more ‘authentic’ lineage in a martial art that makes him a good martial artist or a good teacher.

I want to study Krav Maga cause I heard it was developed by the IDF, and I respect that military and its achievements       
Krav Maga, literally ‘Contact Fight’, is an umbrella name for a million styles which share similar characteristics. Almost all styles invented in Israel call themselves ‘Krav Maga’ on occasion or regularly as a marketing tool. Very little hand-to-hand fighting is taught in the IDF (trust me, I am an Israeli and went through Infantry boot camp). The various Krav Maga systems were developed and evolved mostly outside of the army context. So all that silly propaganda you heard about tough Israelis using Krav Maga to beat up bad guys has nothing to do with your choice of which school to study in. Ironically, I should tell you, many ‘Krav Maga’ instructors in the IDF, the Israeli police force and the Israeli secret services are men that came from a background in martial arts that had nothing to do with Krav Maga…  

I am very tall/short. Is this a problem?
You can still learn most styles. Consult the teacher you visit during your introductory class. When possible, look around and see how people of different sizes closest to your own handle the class. Best way to know is to feel things for yourself. 

Trust you gut instinct with this – what feels more natural for your body in a such case is the way to go.

What are the best shoes for martial arts?     

From worst to best, not just for martial arts but in everyday life as well:
-          ‘Mountain Climbing’ shoes and Timberlands/Caterpillars and such:  Not suitable for any serious physical training or even for very long walks. Look nice though, and sometimes comfortable to wear. Never walk too much with these. 

-          Thick, bouncy, air-inflated brand-name shoes with heels higher than toe-line:  WORST SHOES TO WEAR. Fuck up your natural strides. Send shocks through the heel to your knees and low back. BAD BAD BAD, and commonly very overpriced. Avoid.

-          Thick, bouncy, air-inflated/rubbery shoes with almost flat soles:  Just slightly better. Still suck.
-          Thick rubber soles, that are flat:  Gets better. Still far from optimal.
-          Thin and flat rubber soles (less than 1.5cm):  Usually decent for training, martial arts and otherwise.

-          ‘Barefoot shoes’:  Flat soles which are very thin (1-5mm) and wrap around your foot nicely. Best for training and physical activity in almost anything. There are many brands to choose from – get the one you like most.

-          Completely Barefoot:  Nature’s original and SUPERIOR design. Best possible option, but it would take you several months to several years of adjustment for you to be able to intensively train like that on rougher surfaces. Also, some martial arts, like Xing Yi Quan and Baji Quan, are not suitable for training without some kind of shoe, because of their stepping methods. The fact that many Japanese schools choose to train barefoot is not detrimental, but highly beneficial for your foot health!

What is Internal vs. External?      
A controversial way to classify martial arts, which originated from early 20th century China. All martial arts can be classified as ‘Internal’, ‘External’ or ‘in-between’. You can google it and read endless amounts of info about such classifications, but it doesn’t matter to you right now, as it makes no difference as to what is right for you. First choose a school and gain some skills and understanding. In a few months when you start to get a sense of what martial arts are about, it would be a great time to expand your knowledge on such issues  :-)

What is Hard vs. Soft?
Many people confuse this with ‘Internal vs. External’, but this is totally different paradigm and much simpler to explain:
1.       Hard techniques – using techniques in which your force goes directly against the opponent’s force.
2.       Soft techniques – not going against the opponent’s power directly.

All martial arts have hard and soft elements within them, though some might emphasize one aspect to a much greater degree. The ‘softest’ arts  are Aikido and some styles of Taiji Quan. The ‘hardest’ styles are those striking-oriented martial arts who engage in combat sports as their main focus. 
Many people mistakenly believe, that because there are ‘soft hearted’ they should pursue a ‘softer’ style, or that since they are strong and aggressive by nature, they should definitely go for a ‘harder’ style. Most often, this approach is highly detrimental to the individual. We grow and develop as human beings by challenging our perceptions and comfort zones. Therefore, people who possess a personality which is too hard or soft, so actually avoid martial arts that resemble too much their own character. These people would do best going neither for arts which are ‘like them’, nor for arts which feature the other extreme; they should choose a martial art which is relatively more balanced in terms of its approach to hard and soft…

What is next?
Well, congratulations! You are now on the path to become a martial artist, and hopefully a better person while you are at it. Having survived this long into the article, it is now important that you acknowledge that everything you have read up until now was not only highly simplified, but also barely the tip of the iceberg. Martial arts are a subject so huge that it takes dedicated people a lifetime to study. Quite literally, it is endless – as wide and broad as the study of human history.               
The vast majority of martial artists I know never venture outside of the confines of their own style, and the words of their teacher. I have attempted to set you on a different path. Be wise enough to recognize that there is much value in self-study, additional to that you would be receiving at the school of your choice. Invest in gaining more knowledge and wisdom, and in time such things will greatly reward you in ways you did not expect. Only depth-study would reveal the potential of your martial arts, and unlock their ability to help you tremendously in daily life. Believe in yourself, and trust me when I tell you that you can do it. Persistence will unlock greatness, and dedication would reveal what you are destined to be.

I still wish to educate myself further on the martial arts. Do you have any recommendations?    
Of course! Firstly, if you are interested in Chinese martial arts, I would highly recommend watching this excellent lecture, titled ‘Chinese Martial Arts: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’:

 Afterwards, I am sure you would greatly enjoy watching a mini documentary series called The Way of the Warrior. It was produced by the BBC in the early 1980s, and to this day is one of the finest documentations of martial arts to have ever existed. Each chapter in the series discusses 1-3 Oriental martial arts (from several countries), featuring top teachers and masters in their respective arts.

The above mentioned lecture and documentary series should definitely provide you with excellent leads and information as you further your research of the martial arts.

Wherein you liked this article, please take a look at shifu Bluestein’s ground-breaking book – Research of Martial Arts:

Jonathan Bluestein is best-selling author, martial arts teacher, and head of Blue Jade Martial Arts International. For more articles by shifu Bluestein, his books and classes offered by his organization, visit his website at:

You may also subscribe to Shifu Bluestein's youtube channel, which is regularly updated with rare and fascinating martial arts videos:

All rights of this article are and the pictures within it are reserved to Jonathan Bluestein ©. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission, in writing, from Jonathan Bluestein.


Anonymous said...

I often read your stuff on the Rum Soaked Fist. What you really want is to be perceived as an expert. That's why your knowledge and level are superficial. Temet nosce, and good luck.

Rick Matz said...

I don't know if that comment was directed at me or Jonathan, brave Mr. Anonymus.

Do you have any issue with the content of the article. Do you have something better?

Jonathan Bluestein said...

Mr. Anonymous,

Had people such as yourself, who obviously know more than I, would have been kinder and went through the trouble to write free professional articles, our entire community would have benefited greatly. Be that as it may, I am forced to contribute the little I know because people with superior knowledge are not as willing to share.

"Be the change you want to see in the world".

Jacob said...

I completely agree with the anonymous poster about Johnathan Bluestien and his LACK of knowledge. I (along with many others) simply regard him as an ineffectual tool who spouts off on a regular basis on RSF, and then promptly gets verbally spanked by those who really do know. As an example his comments and "insights" regarding Western Boxing were laughable. (that was a while ago but as I don't go to the circle jerk known as RSF to much any more, that small example will have to suffice) Now watch his ego come screaming back as fast as his head is heating up right now as he reads this and his fingers are furiously flying.

Will you have the balls to put this up here Rick, or will you keep it hidden?


"Be the change in yourself that you want the world to see."

Rick Matz said...

About 500 hits (so far) and the only complaints are from Jacob and Mr Anonymus, with NO complaints about the content.

Internal Style System said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Bluestein said...

It is saddening to me that people use this platform to issue personal attacks. This article is meant to help martial arts beginners, not serve as a forum in which people who have developed a dislike for my opinions blurt out insults. I how that the people who are reading this would be wise enough to judge the quality of my knowledge and written content based on reading my articles, rather than the nasty remarks by anonymous with a highly biased agenda.

Frankly, I have not a clue why I am being attacked here. I have certainly not heard or seen these people express their opinions on the forum they mention, and neither in personal messages or emails. I believe in openness, honesty and sincerity, and have therefore posted my email and even my phone number on various forums and websites many a time. I receive inquiries from people who do not know me about the martial arts on a weekly basis, and do my best to personally reply to all of them.

This article, too, is the result of an open process of peer-criticism. It has been given to 4 other martial artists beside myself before publication (their names are mentioned below the headline). Each of them had contributed his criticisms and opinions, and I have changed and evolved the text accordingly. Such is the nature of my work - I always consult others before publishing a professionally written article, because I value the opinions of others.

Anonymous said...

Very informative article.

A lot of detailed observation and explanation based on facts and realities.

Thank you for putting effort for sharing this message with us.

CARDINAL999 said...

Rick knows that I am quite critical
in term of IMA and so forth. What was published for the newbies is pretty good from my perception.

I might disagree on a few minor points. But it is nothing that people should be whining about.

In summary, I do not expect everyone will agree on everything.

I appreciated the time and the effort that the principals have put into this post and others. ...

Mr. Bluestein. (We do not know each other. ) It is a nice piece for newbies. What more do the critics want?

Real trash talking should only be done in a back alley in Shanghai or NYC.

Anonymous said...

Great article. One I wish was available before I started in my martial arts journey years ago. :-)

Thankfully I came across good teachers. Could easily have been the other way.

- Gary

Anonymous said...

Hmm... I can see how anonymity would seem like a sin to the vainglorious. All the same, if all you really want is to be perceived as an expert, then that's what you end up with, rather than actually being one. It's a hard taste but a truthful one. Be a martyr and feel victimised by the ignorant, if you like. But yes, I do actually know a great deal more than you. Including how hard that is to get over, lol. The best thing you can do for CMA is to stop issuing your trite, superficial "insights", and go back to the start - which means back to deciding what it is you're trying to achieve out of all this. And that's my debt paid - so good luck.

Rick Matz said...

@ Mr Anonymus (1) - nearly 700 hits and again, the only complaints are from you and Jacob.

Anonymous said...

Rick, counting the hits, and not the wisdom contained within them, is pretty much where I'm saying you've gone wrong. Someone once told me that there can be no real volunteers for knowledge - it's hard taste, learn, or nothing. In reality, one hit should be enough, if you're smart enough - and the hit is hard enough. When that happens, remember, it's not too late to go back, re-assess, and take a more honest route. But hey - 500 people are waiting to tell you how great you are.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and by the way, if you're listening to sad little frauds like Mark Cohen, no wonder you've gone wrong.

Rick Matz said...

Mr. Anonymus (if that is your real name), you sound bitter.

Anonymous said...

Well, Rick, I probably sound exactly as I need to sound to protect whatever it is that you perceive yourself as. After all, if you think of yourself as a serious expert on CMA, then someone who says that you're very much not an expert is not exactly going to sound like 700 people telling you that you're great. It's pretty difficult, in fact, to listen to that one true voice, and not to the 700. As for Mark Cohen, lol. Look at those fools he has with him, throwing themselves around. You believe in that stuff because if it were true, then there would be an easy way, instead of serious fight training. There isn't. One slap, Mark Cohen is on the floor. But he has to live his life avoiding anyone who seriously wants to slap him to the floor. And anyone who follows him, thinks that is the right path, has to do the same. 700 people telling you that you're great, or 400 odd followers like fraud Cohen, will probably make that astonishing moral failure seem worth it. To some.

Rick Matz said...

I never said that *I* was an expert. I just post stuff and follow my own interests.

You seem to have an ax to grind.

Why do you read Cook Ding's Kitchen anyway?

The Strongest Karate said...

You know, Rick, I've heard it said that "you know you've made it on the internet when the trolls notice you".

Congratulations, you have made it.

As for the article, I might have quibbled about a couple of points, but what we have here is an extremely well written, informative, concise, non-partisan guide for picking not only a style but a dojo. You and Johnathan have done the entire internet a favor.

Rick Matz said...

Thank you.

I would expect that no one would agree with any piece 100%, but I think it was well done and very helpful for the intended audience.

Jacob said...

@ The Strongest Karate,
Trolls huh?
Anon and I wrote our posts BEFORE what you will read on this link:

Hardly "trolls"

And Johnny B hardly knows what he'stalking about.

Rick Matz said...

Noisy wind howling
Pushing emptiness along
Disturbing nothing.

Ken said...

Interesting analogy.

I know the author has tried to include as many as possible.

Thanks for the info.

you missed Ashihara, Enshin Karate and Daiko Juku (Kudo) and Japanese Kick boxing (K-1) off your list as Japanese arts seems to be rather thin on the list compared to the other headings

Rick Matz said...

In fairness to Jonathan, this is a broad topic and by necessity, generalizations must be made. The purpose is to give the newbie and sense of direction and some basic information upon which to build their own research.

Unknown said...

As a newbie in martial arts, one will experience lots of thrills. But the important is that you enjoy the experience as you meet new friends and learn new skills.

Just don't miss the core of martial arts: discipline and building character.=)

Martial Arts Brisbane

Anonymous said...

Its a nice way to get a headstart within this generally confusing and intransparent world of martial arts. Heck ... I began with Karate because I knew Karate Kid. Then I got into Jujutsu because hey, its different. Now I'm beyond the noob stage and practicing 'Tai Chi' (preferred way of writing :) - and while the table might be incomplete the text surely reads itself straight enough to find the way. Heck ... find even 50% of those arts near you and you'd live ... where? heaven?

Some people just don't seem to understand where their oppinion belongs! (Trash Can `?).

Anonymous said...

Could you please correct the link for the table of different martial arts. It looks to be very useful but goes to dropbox and nothing is there and the on-screen one is not clear at all.