Martial arts are more than just learning how to fight. They also can go beyond the main benefit of doing martial arts, physical conditioning.

Let’s start by reviewing the definition of martial arts and take it into the options you have so you can choose the best style for your interests.

What Is a Martial Art?

First, let’s start with a brief history of martial arts from the Martial Arts Wikipedia entry:

Although the term martial art has become associated with the fighting arts of East Asia, it originally referred to the combat systems of Europe as early as the 1550s. The term is derived from Latin and means “arts of Mars”, the Roman god of war. Some authors have argued that fighting arts or fighting systems would be more appropriate on the basis that many martial arts were never “martial” in the sense of being used or created by professional warriors.

The same Wikipedia entry sums up what a martial art is pretty well:

Martial arts are codified systems and traditions of combat practiced for a number of reasons such as self-defense; military and law enforcement applications; competition; physical, mental, and spiritual development; entertainment; and the preservation of a nation’s intangible cultural heritage.

So, what are the implications of being a martial artist? Simply put, you are engaged in a fighting system with core tenents, history, and techniques that provide mental, physical, and sometimes spiritual development. It’s arguable whether martial arts are a way of life, but one thing is for certain, learning martial arts is more than learning how to punch and kick.

Why Do Martial Arts?

Before you can choose a style, you must first answer why you want to do martial arts. What are you trying to accomplish?

Do you want to learn how to strike, lock (control), or grapple? What about getting into shape? Do you want to learn self-defense or compete in flashy competitions?

These questions will guide you on the style. Each style can represent traditional/historical arts or contemporary/practical styles. There are also hybrid martial art offerings. The techniques taught are based on either application or intent.

Application or intent can be separated into the following:

  • Combat sport (competition)
  • Self-defense
  • Choreography or demonstration of forms (could also include competition)
  • Physical fitness and conditioning
  • Mental fortitude and confidence building
  • Spiritual development and meditation (external vs. internal styles)

How to Choose a Martial Art

First, you learned what martial arts represent, then you moved on to why you would want to do martial arts. Now, let’s choose a martial art.

Much like figuring out why you want to do martial arts, you need to develop some thoughts on martial arts styles that would work well for you. Look at articles and videos that appear interesting and think of how your body type and problem-solving skills could fit into the style.

Not every technique will work on every body type. Everyone is different, including you.

If you are stuck on what you want, anything is better than nothing in the beginning. Except for anything from the “no touch masters.” This is nothing more than a stage play.

Once you figure out what you like and what you want to do, it’s time to find some instructors in your area and see what type of trial offerings they have. The best way to verify something is the way you imagined it was is to actually do it.

How to Choose a Dojo/Dojang/Fight Club

You learned what a martial art is, figured out why you want to do martial arts, have chosen a martial arts style, and even found a couple of instructors to try out. Now it’s time to see if the school is somewhere you can see yourself going to a couple of times a week.

To evaluate different schools figure out the following:

  1. What is the school’s curriculum based on?
  2. Is the curriculum more traditional or practical?
  3. What does the curriculum focus on? Tradition, self-defense, forms, strikes, sparing, etc?
  4. Are weapons included in the curriculum? How important are they?
  5. How do they evaluate your progress and what is the timeline for progressing through the curriculum?
  6. Do they use a belt system and how are promotions achieved?
  7. What is the cost of tuition? Does it include additional federation or other membership fees? Are there fees for promotions?
  8. Does the instructor require a contract to get started? How do you pay?
  9. What gear do you need to purchase and when?
  10. What is the instructor’s teaching style? How long have they been teaching?
  11. Do you work with the instructor or one of the helpers? How many helpers are there and what are their backgrounds?
  12. How often should you attend class per week to get the most out of the school?
  13. Are you supposed to be at a certain strength or flexibility level to start or do they teach you how to improve as you go?
  14. If you can’t do certain moves, whether it is due to fitness, flexibility, skill, or even a medical handicap, then does the instructor allow you to show strength in other areas or do you not progress if you can’t do a certain technique?
  15. Do you start class with conditioning or loosening exercises as a group, or are you expected to arrive early to warm up?

You should be able to get most of these questions answered during your first week of class.

What Is Expected of You When Learning Martial Arts?

Sometimes instructors don’t always tell you everything you should be doing. There’s some level of understanding that you are responsible for. Here’s what to expect when starting a martial art:

  1. There are fitness idiosyncrasies. instructors don’t always lay out what is required to do techniques. As you figure out how to do certain techniques, you will notice limitations on your range of motion and other aspects that need to be improved.
  2. Martial arts in the beginning stage is usually pretty basic. You learn foundational techniques that are built upon for the rest of the class. It’s usually pretty easy to be a white belt and ramps up in difficulty from there.
  3. As you move along, you will have stuff to work on. There are things that just won’t click until you do it hundreds of times. Don’t get discouraged too easily.
  4. Regardless of style and focus, you will need to develop a good stance, form, balance, footwork, and conditioning to be successful. These all come in time as long as you put in the work.
  5. Progressing through ranks requires strength, fortitude, and tenacity. You need to be accepting and critical of yourself without being too hard on yourself. It’s one thing if a style or school isn’t for you. It’s another thing to not like it because it’s challenging.
  6. Belt rankings are not automatic, at least in good schools. Your instructor should be able to help you get ready or help you focus on what you need to improve.
  7. And remember – practice, practice, practice – even when you’re home. If you don’t have a training partner, bag, or dummy, be sure to shadow drill. Imagining practice is better than not practicing at all.


There are more things to look out for and tips to keep in mind when starting out. These are the main issues you need to figure out. The good news is most of this will occur naturally.

Ultimately, the martial art you choose will be based on what’s available to you and how it works for you.

If you are experienced in martial arts, let me know what you think. If you are starting out, let me know how this collection of fundamentals stacks up to what you experience.