Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Finding a Martial Arts Studio

I am, as many of you already know, a sometime martial artist.

There are a lot of reasons why people get into martial arts: self-defense, competition, exercise, confidence-building, etc. My interest is mainly in ancient weapons; trying to study martial arts is basically an outgrowth of that. That's not to say that the unarmed elements don't interest me - they do - but it does mean that what I'm looking for in a style/school/teacher is a bit unusual.

Complicating the issue is the simple, undeniable fact that I'm not a very good student. For me, martial arts are a hobby - one among several. I don't have a great screaming lot of free time just sitting around, begging to be used; so any classes I take get squeezed into my schedule along with everything else... and they usually get assigned about the same priority as writing. Since writing falls behind all the things I consider necessities - things like keeping my job, covering for my wife, being a good parent to my son - there isn't a lot of time left.

That would be fine, if it meant that I could set aside, say, two hours a week for classes. Unfortunately, my free time also tends to be erratic. Things come up, pieces of the schedule move around, people get sick, and sometimes we even have genuine emergencies. This is a serious problem for my writing, but it's even worse for my martial arts. Missing a single class doesn't seem like a terribly big deal, until you realize that it's your entire week's worth of study - and that the next time you return to class, you've effectively been gone for two weeks and everyone else has moved on to the next bit of the curriculum.

Study of the martial arts - like any other complex skill - requires repetition. To get that repetition, you need some combination of regular class attendance and practice outside of class. I have never (well, rarely) been able to manage to practice outside of class. That pretty much leaves class attendance, and I can manage that about once a week, on average. Most schools suggest that you need to attend at least twice a week (and regularly) if you want to make steady progress. Obviously, if you attend more, you'll learn faster. And if you attend less, you learn more slowly, but... well...

At twice a week*, you advance steadily if not quickly. You'd think that someone attending once a week would take twice as long to advance, but it's worse than that. Once you drop below twice a week, you tend to lose track of things between classes. You're not getting the benefits of repetition; you're essentially re-learning skills each time you come to class. So instead of twice as long, it takes three or four times as long.

And so but anyway, I'm looking for a new school. The reasons for this are twofold: first, the style I was studying doesn't include weapons; and second, that school is moving to a larger place, which happens to be rather further from my house.

This has led me, once again, to start looking for schools in my area. I'm looking for something that teaches, or at least includes, weapons; something reasonably nearby; something that offers enough classes at enough reasonable times that I have a decent chance of actually making it to class; and something that doesn't interfere too badly with my prior training. Should be easy, right?

Let me tell you, it'd be a lot easier if these places just answered their &*^$%# e-mail. Of the various places I've tried to contact, the fastest response I received took a week and a half. I just got one back today that I swear took three weeks; I'd forgotten exactly what I asked them, and they didn't include the text of my inquiry in their response.

It's almost enough to drive me back to the SCA. Not quite, but almost.

Anyway, among the traditional schools in the area, I've narrowed it down to about half a dozen. They're mostly Chinese styles - Northern Praying Mantis, Wing Chun**, Long Fist - and one Japanese style, Aikido, thrown in for good measure. I need to do a little more searching: there are a few styles that actually start with weapons - Escrima, Kali, and others - but they're rarer and for some reason they don't tend to show up on general searches for Martial Arts. There are also some organizations devoted to the recreation of the traditional Western martial arts, such as the AEMMA and the ARMA; the last time I checked, they didn't have branches in my area, but it's been a few years and that could have changed.

All this would be a lot easier if I could just win the lottery and retire now...

* This is a bit arbitrary, and there are probably people who need more or less exposure than this; but it's a good rule of thumb in my experience.

** Wing Chun gets something of a bad rap among the MMA/UFC crowd, but for my needs it's not bad at all; it's actually the only style for which I have two schools on my list of places to visit. My only gripe with it is its limited selection of weapons.

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