Disclaimer – The advice in this post is purely based on own experience, one student to another.
It can be very daunting to take up Martial Arts if you’re a complete beginner, but try to keep the below in mind and your time as rookie should be more enjoyable. This first phase of your training might feel overwhelming, but should also be full of new impressions, lessons learned and the inherent joy of quick progress. A lot of people drop out after the first few weeks, so this will most likely be your first adversary!
- Know thyself: Before joining a school, ask yourself why you want to take up martial arts. Are you the competitive type that wants to chase medals and glory? Or are you of a more pragmatic mind, and just want to feel capable in a threat situation? Or do you just want to learn ‘cool stuff’? And so on. These motivations don’t (and probably won’t) exclude each other. Try to get a good idea of what you want out of your training before you make your choice, and make sure you try out a first lesson before signing up for a whole course.
- Test the waters. Unfortunately, the quality of any given school varies greatly – even within the same organisation. If it turns out that your school of choice is run by a egomaniacal dickhead with serious hubris issues, or that there are little to no safety measures etc… then get out early and look elsewhere. A good idea would be to bring a friend (if possible) with some martial arts experience to your first class, he can then give you a second opinion. I’d recommend trying out a few weeks of training before you make this decision though.
Enjoy your worst case scenario…
- Respect – This is a trait that you find in all martial arts. Respect everything: the art itself, its history, the local school and its rules, your teachers, your fellow students as well as yourself. Try to be open and work with the other students, as they will be able to help you understand the teachings much quicker.
- Practise, practise, practise – sounds easy, right? But let’s break it down a bit as there is more to it:
- Practise – a training session is there for you to learn the exercises you’ve been given. Don’t waste your time and others with gossip, joking around or just hanging out.
- Practise – as any montage worth its salt will tell you, training doesn’t stop just because there is no class. Stretch at home, walk through your forms to memorise the patterns and hit the gym to condition your body on the days you don’t have regular practise.
- Practise – A lot of skills need maintenance, or you will find them absent when you need them the most. Make it a habit to revisit your basics, and keep it fresh even after you’ve mastered a technique. It’ll pay off in the long run.
- Ask Questions! Rather than blindly copying what you’re being shown, try to dig deeper – ask questions to find out the purpose of what you’re being taught. Over time this will give you an understanding of the principles that the techniques are built on, which in turn will help you become more than a ‘programmed robot’. That said, mind your timing – do not repeatedly interrupt class with smaller questions that can wait until later.
- Gear up! There is normally an initial requirement of buying stuff when you join a school, ranging from a set of uniform t-shirt and pants all the way to a full suit of armour. In general, this initial investment will make your training more comfortable, safer, and it also furthers your commitment to the training (you’re a lot less likely to drop out if you’ve spent $200 on a gi).
- Make it a habit – a common reason that people drop out is because they take a casual approach to their training. Avoid this by adding your martial arts class to your everyday structure – set up reminders in your calendar, block out the nights you will be training on, and so on. See if a friend would be willing to sign up with you – having a training partner that expects you to show up will make you more likely to go.
- Immerse yourself – Raise your awareness of your style of choice by educating yourself a bit. Have a google, read books on the topic, see if there is any good movies that features your martial art and so forth. Personally I like to keep a martial arts magazine in my bag for a quick read on the train. Raise any questions or opinions with your instructors though – sometimes external material can give you the wrong impression (or completely misleading information), and learning martial arts should always be a person-to-person process.
- Get involved – Dr Phil tells me any good relationship is based on a concept of give and take, and martial art schools are normally not making much money. Usually the school will ask its students to help out with handing out fliers, showing up for demonstrations, gear maintenance etc. Raise your hand and help out, and you’ll most likely find that your help will be met with more attention from your teacher. Just don’t be that guy.
- Enjoy square one – Keep in mind that everyone started out as beginners, even that oversized hulk in the front row that seems to eat bricks and shit cement. It won’t take long for you to pick up the teachings, and nothing in life that is worth keeping comes easy. Consistency is key!
Hope this helps. If you have any tips of your own, feel free to comment!