Sunday, March 9, 2008

Why People Learn Martial Arts


There are many reasons why a person might decide to turn up at your dojo and have a go at the martial arts, and it is important that we try and identify these in order to establish exactly what the potential student is looking for, and whether or not your art is going to give it to them.


So, why has that particular person just come into the Dojo? What is it that makes them come to you? What is their particular motivation?

These are all very good questions to be asking your self, but it is even more important to actually ask the learners themselves rather than allowing yourself to make any "knee-jerk" judgments or decisions for them, and jumping to any conclusions.

Indeed, having preconceptions about learners can be extremely misleading indeed, and can cause no end of problems later on. I remember one particular instructor boasting proudly that one of his students happened to be an officer in the Royal Marines Reserve. "That's good" I said, "Why is he here?" At this question, my colleague looked both shocked and amused "He's here to learn how to fight, off course!" he said, rather indignantly.

Now, without wanting to "burst any ones bubble", I think its fair to say that an officer in the Royal Marines might already know something about fighting, and certainly wouldn't need any advice from the local martial arts club down the road! ("I'm off to a war zone next month, and was wondering if you could help me out.....," NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!!!) On closer examination, it turned out that this individual was researching certain aspects of Japanese culture as part of his Masters degree! He had come to the class in order to learn something about classical martial arts, and the instructor (thanks to him jumping to conclusions) had him in a corner doing pistol disarming! (Good differentiation, but completely inappropriate)

The fellow was far too polite to say anything, and was just persevering patiently in the hope that they would eventually get to practice some more traditional techniques as the class progressed! This happens all the time within the martial arts fraternity, simply because we don't bother to find out what the prospective learner is looking for in the first place! As instructors, we should never take anything for granted: Simply because a person happens to wonder in to your club on a training night doesn't necessarily mean that they know anything about what your doing, or even have an actual interest in martial arts. (That reminds me of another story, when a young lady entered a dojo and was immediately told by the instructor to get on the mat and warm up. She took part in the whole lesson (it was a beginners class) and, when asked at the end what she thought of it she said she had enjoyed it quite a lot, but actually only came in because she thought the aerobics class took place on that particular night!)

Take some time out to talk to them, put one of your senior students in charge for a few moments, walk over, and introduce yourself! This will help to make both you (as one of those creatures of legend "The Black Belt") and your club far more approachable and accommodating, and will immediately impress upon the visitor that you DO consider them to be important and DO care about them.

Usually, they will volunteer a certain amount of information regarding their background and expectations such as: "I used to do karate when I was younger, and just thought I would pop in an have a look" etc.

But, you should also ask them some questions as well in order to clarify any important points, and enable you to get some idea of what they are after and build up a picture of their expectations. Some of the possible reasons for people wanting to learn the martial arts are as follows:

- Self Defense.
With crime on the increase, this is probably the most common reason for most people considering taking up the martial arts, as they feel it will at least give them a "fighting chance" if they are ever unfortunate enough to be attacked.

- Physical Fitness
People are being encouraged to take more of an interest in their well-being these days, and the martial arts provide them with the opportunity of building up their levels of stamina, strength, and suppleness by providing a good "all round" workout.

- Sport
Many martial arts such as Judo, Kickboxing and Kendo are very lively and established sports offering participants the chance of competing at club, local, national and international levels. And this supplies a very healthy outlet for the competitive spirit.

- Philosophical
The martial arts have, over the period of centuries been influenced by a great many different religions and philosophies, and all have left their particular mark. This is particularly the case with the softer, Japanese arts of Aikido, Iaido and Kyudo, and the internal Chinese martial arts of Tai Chi, Pa Kua and Hsing-Yi.

- Cultural
Martial arts are extremely rich in history, tradition and customs. As such, they will tend to appeal to people who are interested in these particular aspects of human behaviour, be that just a casual curiosity or even an academic study.

Again, martial arts are superb tools for building up a person's confidence and self-esteem, and are also brilliant at controlling stress levels. Some schools even include relaxation and meditation techniques, and both of these have become quite fashionable in recent times.

- Social
Martial artists tend to train hard and play hard, and some clubs have a very lively social scene whereby they organize trips and outings. This helps to build up the "camaraderie" amongst the students, as well as helping to break down the barriers that can sometimes exist between junior and senior grades.

There are, off course, many more reasons why a person chooses to commence training in the martial arts, but the above are the main ones. And it will, more often than not, be one or more of these that is the "prime motivator" for the majority of people. As well as having an initial chat with these prospective students, you could also employ other strategies to help you clarify their ideas and needs, such as giving them a short questionnaire which they could take away, fill in and bring back when they officially enroll.


Identifying student's needs and expectations as quickly and efficiently as possible enables the instructor to:
1- Ensure that what he/she is teaching IS actually what the prospective student is looking for (You will need to be brutally honest here. For example, it would be completely inappropriate for someone wanting to learn self defense to enroll in an Iaido class, just as a person wanting to experience meditation might be a bit disappointed if they ended up a student in a kick boxing class, etc. It is the instructor's responsibility to consider the welfare of this person, and to guide them in their choice. Rather than simply regarding them as yet another training fee!)
2- It will enable the instructor to gain valuable insight into the background and aspirations of the individual and, (if and when appropriate) to modify their syllabus, resources and teaching methodology to accommodate these efficiently.
Jumping to conclusions about what your students want, on the other hand, is both patronizing and condescending and can be an extremely effective method of putting people of studying martial arts for good!

"Most people know what they want, but few know what they need" (Ancient proverb)

Prof. J R Lee-Barron PhD FIMAS

Professor Lee-Barron is the Director of the Institute of Martial Arts and Sciences, UK, and Dean of the Faculty of Martial Arts, Knightsbridge University. These bodies are dedicated to affording martial arts instructors with the opportunity of gaining recognized university degrees in martial arts. He is an experienced educator, researcher and academic, as well as being a senior black belt instructor in several martial arts. He can be contacted at:



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