Q: Dear Ninja,  recently I have been wanting to “become a ninja” myself and get into some kind of martial arts. I’m not very strong, and I’m not super skinny either. Is martial arts still something that I can do? And is there a type of martial arts that’s better for certain types of people?

A: Thanks. I want you to close one eye, bust out a spin kick, and repeat after me: “It is never too late to be a ninja!”  You can absolutely be successful and benefit from martial arts training no matter what your body type, size, or level of fitness is when you begin. Here is a big myth buster for you: You also don’t have to be coordinated in the beginning.   Martial arts training is about personal awareness and self improvement.  Strength and fitness are happy by-products of practicing a martial art, but you don’t need them to get started; and, despite the images we see  on the big screen, martial artists do come in all shapes and sizes. As you practice your martial art, you will grow in core strength, coordination, flexibility, balance, and mental focus.  Many people also find that it’s a good workout, and weight loss is common.  When choosing a style of martial arts, there are several things you might want to consider — and a few of them may surprise you!

  • What’s My Style?

Are you primarily interested in street defense, or are you looking to challenge yourself in the dojo?  Do you prefer a little distance between yourself and an opponent, or do you like to get in close?  Do you like the flashy head-high kicks, or are you more comfortable with your hands?  Thinking about these questions will help you select the style that best suits your needs. Batul Nafisa Baxamusa has written an excellent break down of martial arts styles for women that you can read here.  Choosing the best style is important, but, surprisingly, it may not be the most important aspect of your martial arts training.  Other equally important factors include finding the right dojo, the right class composition, the right location, and a cost that fits into your budget.  Read on, future ninja, and choose your clan!

  • Instruction Style

It’s important to choose a style of instruction that inspires you.  Your martial arts instructor should show the same respect that she asks for in the dojo.  She should push you to be your best, but she shouldn’t intimidate or embarrass you.  You should feel comfortable asking questions, but you must understand that within the structure of a martial arts class, there are protocols for when and how you do so.  When checking out a new school, find out about the instructors’ qualifications not only as a martial artist, but also as a teacher.  Here are some good questions to ask: What belt rankings do your instructors hold? What training do they have in teaching in addition to their own martial arts practice? How many of your classes are taught by the chief instructor as opposed to assistants or students? If I train consistently, what is a typical belt progression at your school?

My friend and world champion martial artist Mariah Moore at age 16.  Photo by Emily Zoladz

Is competition required in order to progress?

  • Classes

You will also want to know about your “mat mates.”  These are the people that will be training alongside you, and the better the fit, the more you will enjoy training.  A smart ninja will want to know the following: How large are your beginner classes, and how many instructors are on the training floor? Are your classes divided by age, belt ranking, or both? How many classes can I attend per week? What is your current schedule of classes and how often does it change? Do you have any “all girl” classes?

  • Location

We know you are a dedicated ninja and that hopping a train, swimming through alligator-infested lagoons, and taking a quick five mile jog with all your gear won’t deter you from getting to class, but even ninjas have days when it’s wise to train as near the nest as possible.  Of course quality of instruction comes first, but keep in mind that you will be training anywhere from two to five days per week, and you don’t want getting to your dojang to be the hard part of your work out if you can help it.  You will train most consistently if you are able to find a good school that is convenient to your daily routine.  However, trust your instincts and don’t choose a school based on convenience alone if you don’t have a really good feeling about it otherwise.  This is a long term relationship you are starting, and you want it to work.

  • Cost

Don’t be afraid to ask how much training costs and what type of contract if any the school requires. Be cautious of any school that isn’t upfront about tuition and additional fees.  Martial arts is a discipline that takes time to develop, and it is not unusual for a school to require a commitment of six months or more; but, it is important to know that upfront.  Most schools will have some type of introductory period to be sure that their instructional style is a good fit for your needs before you make a lengthy commitment.  Prices certainly vary from studio to studio, but professional group instruction is typically in the $125 month range which normally breaks down to about $8 to $10 dollars a class.  It’s common for there to be additional charges for belt graduation, so ask about that if cost is an issue.  As with location — don’t choose a school based on price alone, but do keep your budget in mind.  Being a ninja is a lifestyle, and it is definitely worth the investment. Remember:  No one ever says, “Yeah, I really wish I hadn’t earned my black belt…”

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