Wednesday, 15 July 2009

What factors make a martial arts club good?

Here is my 'student's eye' perspective of what I think makes a martial arts club good:

I think three things make a club work well: High standards from a good instructor; a dynamic and progressive ethos; and a good mix of students.

I really fell on my feet when I chose my karate club though I didn’t really know what to look for or what to ask. I was only vaguely aware that there were different styles of karate and I certainly didn’t know the differences between them. Where I live there are two clubs nearby, a Goju ryu club and a Shukokai club. My husband suggested that Goju ryu might be ‘too rough’ for me and suggested I do Shukokai. Not knowing any different I agreed and have never looked back.

So why is my club good? Well to start with I think the standard of training I receive is high. I am reassured of this because the club is externally validated by the SKU (Shukokai Karate Union). This suggests to me that all clubs in the SKU will have to provide training to the same syllabus and standard. My instructor has to attend 3 instructors’ courses a year in order to maintain his instructors licence so his teaching standard is also externally assessed. The SKU also provides brown belt and black belt training courses which will enable me (when I get my brown belt) to train with members from other clubs and reassure me that I am being trained to the same standard as others.

This is not to say that clubs not externally validated or affiliated in this way do not offer a high standard of training, it’s just that as a student with little experience it can be hard to know.

My club is also very active, lively, outward looking and progressive. There is always a positive buzz about the place – it makes you want to join in, be a part of it. There is a whole range of off syllabus stuff to do. The club arranges extra weekend sessions sometimes to concentrate on just kumite or just kata or even just fitness training. These sessions are serious but fun.

Our club is very family orientated. We have several families who train together, including mine. I think this family friendly ethos encourages more women to join and more importantly - to stay. We have roughly an equal split between males and females, even at the senior coloured belts.

We also have social events such as bowling, clay pigeon shooting, meals out, family games days and even a p...up in a private brewery! (Adults only). We are also planning to join up with another Shukokai club for a joint training session soon –swap training tips, see how others do it. I think it’s important for a club not to be too insular.

Most importantly though, my club feels safe. Supervision is high, bad technique is corrected and discipline is maintained. No one is allowed to be too rough and no one is allowed to be a diva. Injuries inevitably happen from time to time but they are minimal and minor.

What do you think makes a martial arts club good?
(Next post I will give my thoughts on what I think makes a good instructor)


John W. Zimmer said...

I'm a simple man... just learning how to fight was my goal when I started. Everything else was fluff. :)

Sue C said...

Hi John... fluff is good! Each to their own hey!

Rig said...

Sue another great post.

I wish I could write as well as you do!

Can I ask where do you get your blog photo's from?

Sue C said...

Hi Rig, glad you enjoyed my post. I get most of my photos from microsoft clipart (they do photos as well!). They're free and easy to download. I also use stockvault ( but they don't always have what I want.

Anonymous said...

1. a good instructor, capable both in technical ability and teaching. Extra instructors are always a bonus.

2. as you said a good mix of students, a good portion of serious, hardworking students who aren't there for superficial reasons. Not too much young males nor women or elder people.

3. good equipment, a clean and safe enviroment where it's fun to train.

4. a clear goal and vision, be it competition, self defense or tradition. It's not good to mix too much as one element will inevitably lead to diminished performance in other area's.

5. long term thinking: the focus should be on developping good students, money and fame is of secondary importance.

6. adaptability to new trends in the martial arts world without selling out and riding the bandwagon of the latest fad.

7. a logical curriculum and decent, honest testing. Rank should be earned not bought or granted because of personal relations or seniority.

Sue C said...

Hello anonymous!

I pretty well agree with all your points (not sure about the 'not too much ... women'- what's wrong with us?).

Since I wrote this post back in July 09 my club has moved out of the SKU and joined a new organisation - the SSK. This has enabled it to develop in much more exciting ways, for example we do more throws, locks and ground fighting to make it a more complete art. I have also progressed to 2nd kyu grade and do a bit of teaching with the junior class. The syllabus is now more logical and progressive and testing more rigorous so I think our club will fulfil all the points you make :-)

Anonymous said...

Of course there’s nothing wrong with women per se, what I meant was that there should be a healthy mix of both men and women. Men tend to take training very seriously which might lead to an overly competitive, aggressive atmosphere, women tend to take things too lightly and generally display too little aggression and intent. If you have a class predominantly consisting of women the pace will generally slacken and being too nice to your partner when attacking or defending isn’t exactly consistent with the martial way. Personally I’m not that fond of training with women since they talk too much during training (most of them anyway) and you have to take it easy on them, besides there’s not much chance I’ll ever have to fight a woman or someone of smaller stature so that takes some of the realism away. Of course it's good that they train, more power to them and this is just my personal perspective.

Where did you get your ground fighting and grappling techniques? I thought karate was a very striking orientated martial art, nowadays with the rise of MMA you see a lot of traditional clubs that didn’t originally contained grappling techniques but later added them to advertise as a ‘complete art’. Nothing wrong with that but I believe credit should be given where it’s due and stealing from other systems and then calling it your own invention or an ancient fighting art is rather despicable. I’ve seen karate clubs that did trapping (clearly originating in Wing Chung kung-fu) and claimed it was part of karate all along or taekwondoka doing locks from jiu-jitsu and calling it Korean. What’s funny is that these so called ‘experts’ still make beginner’s mistakes in executing these techniques, that’s a dead give-away they only learned them recently, most likely by taking a few seminars or aping instructional DVD’s. I’m all for experimenting and mixing styles but you should always be honest about what you trained as your core and what you added later on: if your base is judo than you are a judoka and not an expert on x-number of martial arts that would each take years to properly master. There’s too much marketing and false advertisement in the martial arts these days and too much instructors teaching things they are not certified to pass on, to the detriment of unsuspecting students.

Sue C said...

Hi Anonymous - I certainly think women gain more from training with men than men do from training with women so I can understand why you are not keen on it. Personally I would not like to train in an all women's club. In our club the men generally partner other men and women with other women. Occassionally we rotate round and a man and woman may train together for a short period. I think it is important for all of us to train with a variety of partners (male or female) so that you learn how to adjust techniques to different body sizes and weights.

As far as the grappling/locking techniques we have introduced. A jujitsu black belt has taught us some escapes from various grabs and how to defend from kicks to the head when on the ground, but this is a very small component of our syllabus. My karate instructor is also an aikidoka and so is able to use that experience to teach us locks. But these techniques have always been part of karate anyway -we are just putting a little more emphasis on it than we used to. When you explore karate kata you find grabs, locks, throws and takedowns are all in there anyway.

I can assure you that my club is a traditional karate-do club with high standards and not a 'flash-in-the-pan' McDojo!

Anonymous said...

Well, good for you. As long as the instructor is qualified I don’t really care what he teaches, it’s the bozo’s that teach improper technique I have a problem with. It’s funny to see people teaching techniques they don’t really understand themselves (probably found them on the net or via other media) and obviously never had proper instruction in. I enjoy training under people that are knowledgeable in different styles: for one they’re generally better than the ones that adhere strictly to their own style, plus they’ll be able to give you a well-rounded education and after a while you’ll realize there isn’t all that much difference between the martial arts regardless of origin. Good luck on your journey, do try to train with men as much as you can since it’ll benefit your development a great deal. It’s important for women to learn how to deal with people bigger and stronger than them. Back in the day I tried to train with the big guys and higher belts as much as I could: it’s hard and painful and frustrating in the beginning but you’ll learn so much more than you would have if you had stayed in your comfort zone.


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