Outside traditional gyms exists the fitness option to learn the way of the fist. This is done in a dojo, dojang, octagon or being thrown into a pit of hungry lions and seeing if you have the right stuff. After all, what good is physical prowess without the ability to chew ass and kick bubble gum? Many people prefer to take a more non-violent stance and engage in a life of peace of fellowship. Those people need to be air-dropped into the Congo.
There are, of course, training options that range from interesting to “over my dead body”. It’s not too difficult to find a martial arts training facility just about anywhere unless you live in Antarctica. As a long-time martial arts veteran, I can safely say it is a situation of buyer beware. Sit down and take a mental inventory of what it is you truly want. If it’s just a black belt then good news, they’re only $10 on Amazon. If you really desire to learn how to kill a man with minimal effort, then you have a plethora of options. Just be advised, if you plan to use these fighting skills in everyday life trying to defend your honor, better get a lawyer on retainer.
Before deciding to join a dojo, avoid watching The Karate Kid ( The real one, not that Jaden Smith abomination ), Fist of Legend or any 80’s fight film with a musical montage. Last thing we need here is for you to get pumped. In order to be proficient enough to not look like a doofus, expect at least a two-year commitment. Even then, Daniel would still have gotten slaughtered in any tournament while Mr. Miyagi slipped out the back. With reasonable expectations we can now look at the most common styles. Just remember, different martial arts attract a wildly diverse clientele.
This is where I come in as I spent over a decade in Shotokan, which is the mass market of karate styles. Kind of like a Toyota Corolla. But contrary to being a badass, old ladies still cut me off and steal my parking spaces. I guess my intimidation factor could use some work. Karate tends to be pretty rigid in its adherence to tradition so avoid wearing a hat to class unless you like being the sparring dummy.
Karate is mostly characterized by low stances, sharp movements and a room of Americans yelling in what “might” be Japanese. Our regional head, Sensei Yaguchi, always looked like he was holding back a belly laugh whenever we bastardized his native tongue yelling the dojo mantra.
Be prepared for a lot of trash talk between styles. Shotokan says Wado-ryu is sloppy, Wado say Shito-ryu has a stupid name and Kyokushin can’t say anything because they all have concussions. It’s a lot like the Burger Wars of the 80’s where everyone says they’re the best, but in the end it’s all just ground up meat from the killing room floor. Whether of Okinawan or Japanese flavor…it’s all just a spin on the same old karate. Try not to get too caught up in the tribal hype.
Or as I like to call it, karate-lite. Taekwondo is a Korean spin on Japanese karate which itself is a spin on Okinawan karate. Most moves follow the same pattern, albeit significantly less refined. Stances are higher, and punches are an afterthought. To a karate practitioner, watching the patterns ( kata in karate ) is a cringeworthy experience. Sparring is a random kick-fest with no planning, tactics or defensive techniques which is why padding is a must. But where Taekwondo shines is with impractical, yet highly flashy kicks. In a true self-defense situation, there’s probably a 99% chance you’d get your backside killed trying one of these wild haymakers. However, if you did manage to connect, there would be songs made about you.
The most popular style is WTF Taekwondo ( World Taekwondo Federation. Not the other thing ) and no, that is not a typo. Between Shito-ryu Karate and WTF, you have to feel bad for the branding. Be that as it may, you will be equipped with gaudy Adidas polyester uniforms and a ton of protective gear to protect you from the tornado onslaught of your fellow students. Get the best sports cup money can buy.
Look for a dojang that has a somewhat serious instructor and not the vibe of a used car salesman. Any place that advertises “Little Ninja” classes or after school care should be avoided unless you like receiving your belt alongside a room full of six-year-olds. I did that during my tour of duty in Taekwondo and to be honest, it wasn’t exactly a boost to the machismo.
Take a moment to walk into a Brazilian Jujitsu studio and observe the clientele. Odds are there’s more than a few 20-something males who have 3x the normal testosterone level of a bull-moose. Maybe even sporting a tattoo or ten. They can also recall the top ten UFC fighters and the names of their mothers. Now realize these young mustangs with more brawn than brains are going to be the ones folding you into a paper airplane twice a week. If you’re ok with that then drop the money on the table. Jiu-jitsu in its various forms is an incredible hand-to-hand grappling system that uses locks, submissions, and personal humiliations you never thought possible.
During the 90’s, kickboxing was the martial art of choice. This was probably due to the charisma and Academy Award winning acting talent of Jean-Claude Van Damme. It is best described as an unholy union between karate and boxing, producing Rosemary’s baby in the form of its own martial art.
Without exception, kickboxing dojo’s have several duct-taped punching bags that look beaten within an inch of their existence. This is probably due to the higher female demographic. After countless days of dealing with idiot husbands and kids who just. will. not. listen…you can rest assured Mom has the internal fires of Hell ready to break loose. If you decide to join a club and see one of these angry vixens beating on the bag like it was a rented mule, do your ribcage a favor and give her some distance.
Few things appeal to our basic instincts like putting grown adults into a fighting ring and letting them kick each other’s teeth out like rival silverback gorillas. While most martial arts training involves a level of restraint, MMA evidently has removed the safeties.
There are of course vast options available. UFC Fit gyms focus on getting people functionally fit and maybe do a little sparring, minus the impending ambulance ride. They tend to do a lot of bag work, Crossfit-style workouts and general martial arts training thrown in. Heck, bring the kids!
This is contrasted to more serious outlets that are fighter-factories designed to develop competitors. These are much less family friendly if the blood stained guy swearing in an Irish accent is any indication. If you wake up at night and imagine it would be awesome to receive a roundhouse kick to the face, or a flying body spear to the midsection, then you’re in luck. There exists a multitude of fly-by-night MMA gyms that have waivers ready to sign.
Back in the day if you found a ninja dojo, they would have to kill themselves for being discovered. But times have changed and thankfully the only thing the modern ninja has to worry about is having no dignity. I learned this the hard way when at twelve, I ordered a ninja uniform from Ninja magazine because training in my bedroom to be an assassin seemed a good career path. The look on my mothers face when she picked it up at the post office pretty much said it all.
Ninjutsu is characterized by black uniforms, ski-masks and the use of impractical illegal weaponry such as nunchaku, shuriken ( throwing stars ) and other various items designed to slap you with a second-degree murder conviction. Personally, the best ninja weapon I’ve come across is without question the Louisville Slugger so I guess I have a thing for the classics.
To the serious onlooker, Ninjutsu has less in common with true martial arts, and more so with failures in the park role-playing King Arthur. Keep in mind that while one can say they take karate or jiu-jitsu lessons, you’d best keep your mouth shut about your nightly ninja-classes. That sort of stigma can really put the brakes on a job promotion.
Also known as “belt factories”. The sole purpose of a McDojo is to separate you from your cash and provide the fast track to a meaningless piece of black cloth to put around your waist. Gaudy badge ridden polyester uniforms that look like they were sewn from an American flag, easy belts and long-term contracts are all signs you should run, not walk, the other way. Technically any martial art can be a McDojo given the proper circumstances, but there are definite poster children. The ATA ( American Taekwondo Association ) is perhaps the most famous in this category. So should you decide to leave ATA and take up another fighting art, be sure to mention you have no prior martial arts experience. You’d be telling the honest truth.
This is an excerpt from the upcoming book, Dr. Parrot’s Guide to Becoming a Lean, Mean, Killing Machine.
Available late summer of 2018