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What is the difference between average and excellent?

This is the question that us martial artists are often faced with as we push towards personal growth. We want to become the best–or at least better–and so we seek to train with the best.

Of course, what truly matters is if your training makes you happy and/or fulfills your desires. Nobody volunteers to go to an art class and stays to complain that they aren’t teaching the right things. They love it, learn from it, or leave it.

No reason to save space in that lovely noggin for negative thoughts, amirite?


But maybe you haven’t yet found a place to train. Perhaps you’re just now getting started on your training journey (congrats!) or you recently lost your previous place of training (er, my condolences!).

The struggle is real – finding a trustworthy place to invest your time, energy, and attention isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.

That’s why you have your Black Belt Magazine family!

This article is here to share a few things you can look for in your future dojo-home. These are the things that make a school or club stand out, whether you are looking for Karate or Kung Fu.

They aren’t guaranteed to make it the right place to train – that’s something only you can decide – however they certainly do make the school a special find.

Proper Mentality

Albert Einstein is purported to have said “everything should be made as simple as possible, yet no simpler”.

A great testament to your understanding is your ability to communicate said knowledge to another. This goes double when talking about an idea or concept (such as discipline or courage) and working to impart it to the core of somebody with adolescent understanding (i.e. a child).

Whether you teach respect and call it Wu De or a character benefit, the intangible traits of the martial arts can be tough to communicate and instill. A good gauge of an effective teacher is if their classes permeate positive traits in every interaction, be it a group of kids or adults, regardless of if the teacher is around.

Some of the most important lessons of the martial arts are about mentality, not your movements.

Your respect, self-discipline, and kindness is tested in life much more often than your gyaku-zuki.

Time for a blunt opinion; If a class needs a coach in order to act like a martial artist, it might be a stretch to call them martial artists.

As a whole, the attitude and performance of students are a testament to the quality of a teacher.

Care for the Studio

Roughly speaking, you are a sum of your habits.

One can only hope your habits include taking out the trash at the end of each day.

In order to obtain any measure of skill in any endeavor, you must first put forth the effort. Physical and mental participation is what encourages growth, after all. Problem is, you can’t just do what you love. The skill of discipline you cultivated to grow as a martial artist is a skill shared by every avenue of your life.

If you can’t make your damn bed, how can you make yourself into a better version of yourself? Without discipline, a martial artist is only skilled by virtue of the luck that they love this “hobby”. But enough about the intangible, let’s talk about something you can see.
Dirt. Dust. Maybe a blood stain or twelve.

Cleanliness is a great sign that the teacher and the students care about their training space and carry the discipline to do what needs done.

You and your environment aren’t unrelated.

Time Management

Now onto something that is a bit more procedural.

Harkening back to the discussion on discipline, good time management is something you don’t see all of the time in the world of martial arts.

Mind you, we are passionate folks and can lose track of the clock when talking about what we love. It takes a certain level of professionalism to see the time on the clock and prioritize the takeaways of the session before calling the end of class out of respect for the students’ time.

It’s tough.
It’s also possible.
Beyond that, it’s a show of respect to the students’ time to be mindful of the clock.

Mind you, it’s a different matter if the expectation of the class is already established to be open-ended in regards to time. The professionalism here is that the teacher at least understands themself well enough to not present a false idea of precise time constraints to the class.

Appreciation for Other Styles

It’s unfortunate yet many martial art fans don’t actually mean it when they say they love all martial arts.

The invisible ink written in their proclamation of martial art love is that they actually just love all of their preferred martial arts.

Newsflash: you can love full contact sport combat, sport karate, performance arts, weapon training, traditional styles, and everything in between.

Appreciation isn’t a limited resource, there’s enough to share with everyone.

I’m not saying you need to become polyamorous for all fighting styles. You can love a style without becoming deeply involved in it as an ambassador of the art.

Appreciation for a style you don’t agree with or understand doesn’t leash you in as an ambassador of the art. What is outside your preferences can be exactly what another person needs in order to get started or grow.

An egotistical blind eye helps nobody. A mature martial artist understands that other viewpoints can coax ideas out of your brain and present new perspectives on your training.

This is as true for other styles as it is for other schools. There are still many great training sessions and lessons from schools which don’t always showcase the above attributes.

It sounds cheesy, but at the end of the day, the school doesn’t need to be the best ever, it needs to be the best for you.

Train hard, smile big, and keep on progressing forward.

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