What is the best way to get started training in Martial Arts?

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Updated: May 6, 2015

Africa Partnership Station 2011
Good question and one I am asked often. What is the best way to get started training in Martial Arts, what is the best style and finally what is the dominant winner style in the UFC. First the best way to get started begins with your Martial Arts instructor. Ultimately one of the most important factors is how you feel and relate to the instructor. For the long term this will become a long lasting relationship, or at least it should be.

A true instructor or teacher despite the money is passionate about his trade. If when you walk in and observe a class it should not look like a cookie cutter program with the instructor barking commands and using unnecessary punishment, with kids in time out; students doing punishment type exercises in lieu of actual training.
Secondly, look for a seasoned instructor. Many instructors will use their Red or Brown Belts and beginner level Black Belts to teach for them. This is needed for their development for sure, but the teacher has to also be a great coach and mentor, and to be on the floor for every class, even when his under belts are teaching. Discipline, respect and dignity are always preached but often not earned. This should come naturally from a Master Level Black Belt and resonate through all of his students.
Boxing, Muy Thai, Mixed martial Arts or Kung-Fu, the style may be secondary if you train with an open mind. At every level we are all still students and no matter how experienced and knowledgeable one becomes, there is always more to learn. Instructors love loyalty. Loyalty often comes from conflict and then trust. Your teacher has to be dedicated and a problem solver, accepting there are useful techniques involved with all martial arts. Bruce Lee and many other former greats and legends believed traditional martial arts may be too restrictive and believed in a combination of what works. Look, every good punch or kick has to be executed from a solid base or foundation. Stylistically you should look at a style, system or program which has a defense built into the offense. Footwork is essential to every champion and excellent fighter. At the end of the day a fight consists of two things, offense and defense. If fighters are on their heels and most of their movement is straight in and out, you may want to keep looking. About 80% of your fighting footwork should be about 80% lateral movement. If you fail to strike first, it is good to make your opponent miss by reaching, leaning and stepping, basically chasing you. You can always counter if you can time your counter attack from angles and between steps.
I personally find any full contact or high impact program to be more effective for street defense, but it is good to keep an open mind to other techniques that would be a rule violation in a sporting event. Boxing, Muy Thai, MMA, wrestling or old school bare knuckle sparring, with foot sweeps etc.
Contact during training is required in order for your training to pay off when it gets real. Beyond that you should identify your personal goals and see if they match with your potential instructor. What do you want, a good fitness and exercise program with no contact; get into a boxing, kickboxing or MMA fitness class. You will still learn how to execute punches and kicks.
If your goal is real world self-defense or fighting sports or otherwise, then you should look into a realistic program that includes some level of contact sparring, even with protective gear. Actually that is smart.
I have developed American Extension Fighting Program which provides a little or lot of all. You will learn great boxing basics, including all the rule violations. If there is a rule infraction in a sporting event, I feel you should learn and practice them. After all they are infractions, because they will give you an advantage. You will learn all punching, kicking and zone fighting. What this means open handed strikes, punches, low kicks with excellent mechanics, including knees, elbows and even proper head-butts. You will learn soft tissue ripping and tearing, eye gauges, nerve strikes and more all based from proper positioning, distance controls and angles of attack, moving in any direction. Yes you will learn how to deal with MMA fighters, wrestlers and take down artists. Martial arts when taught by an enthusiastic instructor can be infectious and fun. At the end of the day you should leave the facility knowing you had a great workout. In addition to fighting and defense, you should have good flexibility, cardio conditioning and resistance training built into the program. Good luck with your training. The most passionate Instructors will try and protect their Dojo and keep it running, but should not be afraid to let you out of a contract, if you have to sign one.

James “Smokey” West ©

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