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shadowclaw

Taking up a martial art - seeking advice

7 posts in this topic

Hi everyone,

I've been thinking of taking up a martial art for a while, and I have a few options available to me around my school. I studied Goshin Jutsu karate as a teen and enjoyed it for the most part. It is a style with murky and apparently controversial origins, but it is a Japanese style of the "one strike" philosophy. We met twice weekly for regular class and classes were an hour and a half. I lost a lot of fat, gained a lot of muscle, and generally was in amazing shape as a result of these classes and I enjoyed the comradery with my fellow karateka. I also took a weekly aikikai class. However, at times I felt like it was too military-like, and the belt tests became rather cruel as you advanced in rank.

This style is not available to me now, and I'm not sure if I want to try something similar or not. I have the options of Shotokan, Taekwondo, and American Kenpo. The Shotokan and Taekwondo schools both advertise "traditional" classes, which I assume follow the general format of my previous karate experience which involved warming up and stretching, followed by technique practice, and finally the activity of the week (kata, sparring, etc.). Style-wise, Shotokan would probably be the closest as well. Both of these schools offer class three days per week and are an hour and a half long, although there is no flexibility in the class schedule and the schools are not open for use outside of class hours. All belts also have class together. The Kenpo school advertises itself as a place to build character and fitness and for everyone to get their black belt. It has a very flashy website and is also the most popular martial arts school in the area. Classes are three days per week and are much shorter - only 50 minutes long. Classes are also divided up by experience rather than having all of the adult students take the same class. It's also the type of place that gives talks on various topics during classes (e.g., respect, dedication, effort), which cuts down on time available to train. The schedule is super flexible with multiple offerings on different days, and the school is also open beyond class hours for use by students. Kenpo is also quite a different style and perhaps is more practical for actual self-defense, although my goal is fitness.

So I'm trying to decide which school I should try. I am fat and pretty out of shape (although I have been doing bike riding lately so I'm getting better), so I'm probably going to feel a bit miserable and sore at first no matter which I choose. I'm a bit turned off by Taekwondo because I associate it with high kicks and jumping, which might not be an accurate impression, but at this point it would be very hard for me to do. I am drawn to Shotokan mainly because I perceive it as familiar, I enjoy learning and performing kata, and I think the longer class time will be good for me. The short classes of the Kenpo school turn me off, as do the talks, but it seems like it might have less of a military flare to it and the flexible schedule is really convenient. Price-wise, the Shotokan and Taekwondo schools are completely transparent. $45 per month at the student rate and you get to try a class for free. The Kenpo school does not advertise it price, but they do offer a two-week free trial with 50% off the membership fee to new students. I assume this means that there's some year-long price that must be paid up front, which is not very convenient, although I don't know this for sure as I haven't called them up to ask.

I'd love to get some input from anyone with experience with these styles and what I can expect. Is any particular style better for someone whose out of shape? Are there kata in Kenpo? Is Taekwondo really as kick-driven as I think? Do you just have a suggestion of which of these school seem like the best bet for a plump grad student on a budget? Should I just do the free classes at each and then decide?

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I trained in Shotokan karate for many years and enjoyed it a lot (though as an adult I haven't been able to keep up, for the most part). It sounds very similar to what you describe: warm up, some training, and some activity, like practice a kata or routine, a new kata, etc. I think the most important thing isn't so much the official name of the  technique or school, but what a training session actually looks like, who the instructor is and what the students are like. I'm also not particularly impressed by schools that advertise black belts for all, it's not about the belt anyway. Choose the place where you feel the most comfortable. It sounds to me like that might be the Shotokan option. I'd also suggest not to worry too much about which option is best for someone who is out of shape, it's probably fair to assume that any form of multiple-times-a-week training will do wonders for your overall shape. So yeah, I again just repeat, the one where you felt the most comfortable is the one you're most likely to continue with for the long run. Can you ask to join for one or two sessions before committing for the longer run, and visiting all of these places? That's probably the best way to go, if possible. 

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After reading all of this, I really think that you need to do a trial lesson (or maybe even a trial month) at each school. It could be that you "click" more with the adult students at one place, which is important since you like the camaraderie. I've also seen that some places are more accepting/open to students who are out of shape than others (a gym in my current town is known for kicking people out for being too fat/inflexible/out of shape, as mindblowing as that is). Consequently, trying it out in person is always ideal IMO.

My experience with a very different martial art (capoeira) has been that it's all about the instructor and the others in the class. Unless I click with them, I won't go regardless of how convenient the class times are. During my PhD, I found time to go to capoeira 3-4 times a week for classes ranging from 1.5-2 hours depending on the day of the week. You might also see if one of the styles/schools is affiliated with your university as it's possible they offer classes through the campus rec program that you could attend. If there are, the schedule might be better suited to your own and/or give you extra practice time if you're concerned about not having open gym/studio time to practice outside of class.

Good luck! Sounds like this could be a lot of fun.

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Thanks for the advice, @fuzzylogician and @rising_star

Once this crazy week is over, I'm going to start with the Shotokan place and do the trial lesson. I've been doing a little more research, and I do have a little bit of a concern about it, though. In all of their photos around the dojo and at events, there are so many men and maybe two women. I wonder if that's just because women happen to be studying at other schools in the area (also discovered that there is a kung fu school in town as well that is owned by women and seems to have a large female clientele) or if they aren't too keen on women. Or maybe women just don't do karate as much as men (although my past experiences at tournaments suggests they do)? I guess I'll find out.

 

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11 minutes ago, shadowclaw said:

Once this crazy week is over, I'm going to start with the Shotokan place and do the trial lesson. I've been doing a little more research, and I do have a little bit of a concern about it, though. In all of their photos around the dojo and at events, there are so many men and maybe two women. I wonder if that's just because women happen to be studying at other schools in the area (also discovered that there is a kung fu school in town as well that is owned by women and seems to have a large female clientele) or if they aren't too keen on women. Or maybe women just don't do karate as much as men (although my past experiences at tournaments suggests they do)? I guess I'll find out.

Yeah, I don't buy the "women aren't keen on X" argument. It isn't true for karate just like it's not true for science or any other place that women have traditionally been kept out of. At the end of the day it's all about how you feel at the dojo, and how you click with the instructor and classmates. I'd rank that over which martial art it is. If the kung fu club is more welcoming, I'd personally prefer that. 

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Agreed with @fuzzylogician. I'd also go for the one where I felt the most comfortable, which will likely be a mix of how welcome you feel and what the actual training entails.

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