Martial arts are a great way to get in shape. They also provide an excellent way to meet new or like-minded people and prepare us, or try to, should we or our loved ones find ourselves in danger. If you’re considering training in martial arts for any reason, it is important to know how to find a good martial arts coach and school.
As a student, instructor, and professional competitor, I have witnessed just about everything in my 30-year career. From claims of a secret, no-touch knock out of instructors who couldn’t fight to fighters who couldn’t teach and everything in between. And trust me, there is a lot of in-between in the martial arts gyms and community.
Your Gut Feeling
While this will be a topic of another blog entry, your gut is still your best friend. Specifically, if it doesn’t feel right, either the instructor, the martial arts school or environment in general, leave. Do research, read reviews, talk to others, who are more experienced in the field. Lastly, if you are a beginner or new to martial arts, stay away from people who make extraordinary claims. Run if they are disarming knives and guns with ease.
Defending against an armed opponent is not suggested, and with other alternatives gone, it is very messy at best. For example, fighting against someone with a knife, while there are strategies you can employ to manage risks slightly, it is virtually guaranteed you will get cut or stabbed. Unlike the movies, the reality of both scenarios will almost certainly mean death or severe injuries, if you’re lucky. Using common-sense, being aware of your surroundings, and defusing situations verbally are still the best ways to manage your safety. With that personal bias out the way, here is how you find a good martial arts coach or instructor.
Traits to pay Attention to in a Martial Arts Coach
An excellent instructor should be able to recognize your learning style, your goals, and aspirations and create an environment conducive to the learning of all in attendance. In other words, they should vary their teaching style based on experience, background, and learning capacity of the student. A good litmus test of that is observing a coach teaching beginners, advanced and a kids class. Not sure what to look for in terms of teaching style in your coach? Maybe you are considering becoming an instructor? No problem. Here is an article on two general coaching styles, which both have their value.
Continued education and working knowledge of other arts and styles is another mark of an excellent instructor. Martial arts are dynamic and continually changing in response to society. As such, one should have a working knowledge or a certain level of proficiency in other styles. It’s impossible to be an expert at all arts and forms out there. Always be wary of a Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach who can’t complete a basic double leg takedown, or of an instructor, teaching blocking who can’t throw a punch. Similarly, shy away from coaches teaching ground fighting while not being belted in a grappling style or having wrestling accolades. Always cross-reference and verify belts, ranks, and lineage.
Lastly, run like the wind, if a martial arts coach has a cult of personality about him that elevates him above everyone else. Some, but not all, ways of spotting this are too much involvement in other areas of student’s life. This is particularly troubling if students are impressionable young adults. Another manifestation is barring or controlling students from attending or cross-training at other martial arts gyms or individuals. Of course, talking ill or down of other instructors or martial arts school is also frowned upon.
Now That You’ve Found a Coach and a Gym you Like
These are just some quick and easy ways on how to find a good martial arts coach. I go into more critical detail on some of these traits in the attached video from an interview I did with Robert Lisac. He was my first martial arts instructor who inspired a life-long pursuit of movement and martial arts. Make sure you give him a follow on his YouTube channel.
So you’ve found a great martial arts coach and a gym where you feel comfortable. Congratulations. Get ready for a life-time of passion and learning. That said, you can always jumpstart and speed up your progress by leveraging best practices. Make sure you check out my blog post on 3 hacks to improve your grappling, which is also applicable to other martial arts). Good luck.
What are the traits of some of your favorite martial arts instructors? What were some of the best/worst experiences you had with a martial arts coach? Let us know in the comments below.
Until next time. Cheers, Gregor