Good decision. I applaud you for it. I want to talk about some of the general things you are going to want to look at and think about now that you are jumping in the deep end.
First things first. You have to find a place to train. If you are an experienced martial artist you are going to know all of the following but I thought I’d write this as a guide to someone just starting out.
Choosing a Gym
Finding the right gym for you is probably the hardest step. Find the right place and you will probably be set for life. What I mean by this is not necessarily that you will train there forever but that you’ll gain all the tools and experience there to keep you on the right track wherever you go. Choose the wrong gym and you could be lost to the sport forever. I need to emphasise the first sentence again….you need to find the right gym for YOU. The gym that suits you might not suit others and vice versa. The other thing you need to do is to keep an open mind. I know people that have started out just wanting to do some ‘fitness’ work who have gone on to have professional fights a couple of years later and I also know people who have started out wanting to fight MMA who have in the end dedicated themselves to a traditional martial art and never fought MMA and don’t even train it anymore. So the right gym for you to begin in might not be the right gym for you to finish in….confused yet? Hopefully you are still with me?
1. Don’t rely on the interweb. This should be a general rule for life but it certainly applies to martial arts. To give you an example from the fitness/strength and conditioning field…have you ever heard of Julian Jones or Harry Wardle? No? Don’t worry…very few people have. They don’t have blogs or websites or products to sell…what they do is produce Olympians and World Championship competitors day in day out and have done so for decades. I could keep naming strength and conditioning coaches that have produced medalist after medalist and you will have heard of none of them because unlike myself and others they are too busy building champions. What I am getting at is that having a huge profile on the internet is no measure of success. It is no guarantee of excellence in any other area except marketing and promotion. The same rule applies to martial arts. There are great teachers out there that don’t excel in marketing and promotion. Teachers that aren’t internet savvy who instead of blogging and looking after getting their name out there on the web they are in the ring or on the mats coaching future champions. So by all means…do research gyms and teachers/coaches on the internet but be aware that the perfect coach for you might not be found there.
2. Get your foot in the door. Before you decide on a gym go and have a look. I have never been to a single gym that wouldn’t be happy to let you sit in the corner with your mouth shut and your eyes open and watch a class. Personally, what I would do is to go into a gym and get a timetable and find out who teaches what classes. Hopefully you have some idea of what you’d like to do. Take some time to go and watch that class. Get there before class starts. Watch the class from start to finish and then after the class ask the instructor anything you want to know. I will also give you a few tips here for free to help ease your way.
a) Wear some flip flops/thongs when you go. Depending on where you go and what type of gym you go to you might have to walk over the training area to get to the place that you are going to watch the class from. Walking on the mats in anything but your bare or stockinged feet is a big no no. Do not walk on the mats with your shoes on. This is particularly important if there is any grappling involved. There is a good chance that the mat you are walking on is going to have my face on it 5 minutes after class starts and I don’t want to have my face rubbed into anything that you happen to have walked inside. I wouldn’t lick the bottom of your shoe by choice so don’t make me do it incidentally.
b) Introduce yourself to the instructor. Asides from just being polite whoever is teaching the class whatever it is and wherever it is if they are instructing you can pretty much guarantee that they’ve done some hard yards getting there and for that and no other reason they deserve your respect even if you don’t think it or know them. Tell them who you are and why you are there. You can also guarantee that if they are coaching that 1. They definitely are not just doing it for the money and 2. That they love the sport and that if they get the time during class they will want to explain it to you and tell you all about it.
c) Stay to the end. If you’ve made the time to go there make the time to stay till the end of the class to make sure you understand exactly what is going on and how the flow of the class goes and what the do’s and don’t’s are. Some martial arts are very formal and involve recognition of rank and seniority some are very informal. You should know which is which when you are starting out so you don’t feel like an idiot when you go to class and also so you don’t just look like an idiot.
d) Ask questions after. This is the time to have them answered and to ensure you know what you are getting into. You might want to know is there a curriculum? Can you just start anytime or do the classes run as part of a program? If you don’t ask you won’t know.
3. Ask if they have a trial. You should try before you buy. You want to make sure you know exactly what you are getting into before you decide to join a gym. Do a week of classes. Again, just personally (I don’t know why I keep writing that…I think at this stage anyone reading this is fairly certain that these posts are my opinion.) I would try a few gyms. If you have decided to try BJJ for example and there are more than one school in your area…do a trial at one and then a trial at the other. As I said before, you need to find the right instructor for you not just the right sport.
4. Respect. I think liking and respecting your coach as a person is as important if not more important than their pedigree or credentials. Whether you are going to put a lot of time in or a little respecting the person that you are training under is important.
So in summary…
1. Look around.
2. Do your ‘research’ in person as well as on the internet.
3. Take your time and don’t rush into anything…try before you buy.
4. Make sure you are comfortable with the coaches and the gym.
So for the first time…I set out to write 1000 words and only went slightly over 🙂