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Prospective martial arts students often ask, "Which art would be best for me?" Perhaps a better question is, "Which instructor would be best for me?"

Is your teacher's school located three hours from your home, limiting you to taking lessons two or three times a month?

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How one instructor ensures his students learn effective self-defense without sacrificing their physical health by training in substandard conditions.

[Sponsored Post] After nearly 30 years of training in various martial arts, Brookings Tae Kwon Do head instructor Mark Anawski has become a big advocate for safety. This fourth-degree karate black belt and third-degree taekwondo black belt has trained in both the International Taekwon-Do Federation and World Taekwondo Federation styles, as well as participated in boxing and football, so he knows a little about combat sports. Also with more than 16 years of experience as a police officer and deputy sheriff in South Dakota, Anawski is certified in defensive tactics, pressure-point control tactics, special weapons and tactics (SWAT) methods, and firearms. As evidence of his proficiency, he trains other law-enforcement officers in many of these subjects. Anawski understands how important safety has become not only in combat sports but also in life. “I need my athletes to be able to go to school the next day," he said. “I need my athletes to be able to go to work the next day." He took over the Brookings Tae Kwon Do head-instructor position from Tom and Diane Buehre in August 2011. When he started, he had just seven active students, but Anawski followed Tom's request to keep it traditional while making the school his own, and enrollment quickly started to grow. “With my law-enforcement background, I'm able to take applications from what I teach in taegeuk [forms and apply them to] basic fundamental self-defense," he said. “I'm able to take applications that we teach law-enforcement officers for real-world situations and [teach you] how to effectively stop an individual safely for you and for them. It all starts with being mentally prepared and being aware."

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Find out what this veteran martial artist has to say about kids doing shorinji kempo, judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing, kickboxing, bare-knuckle karate and MMA!

A friend recently asked my thoughts on getting kids started in the martial arts. Specifically, she wondered which styles I'd recommend and what I'd look for in a dojo. When someone asks questions like these, there are a few bland but practical answers I usually give, but this wasn't one of those times. My friend is a neuropsychologist, and her graduate research focused on the effects of sports-related concussions. We were in the middle of discussing a science article about boxer's dementia when she changed topics, inquiring about martial arts for kids. Since she's also a mother with two rambunctious boys, discussing the problems of fighting athletes led to concerns about her sons' safety. I couldn't help but think she was asking which fighting arts her kids could do without getting punchy. Now, my friend knows way more about sports-related head trauma than I ever will. She doesn't need anyone to tell her the martial arts and fighting sports can be dangerous, especially for kids. What I had to offer was a little insight into the risks and safety precautions we martial artists take, as well as some strong opinions from someone who's taken his share of risks in the ring and has a young son. I suggested that she use the same approach I'm using. Silat for the Street is the title of a new online course from Black Belt Hall of Famer Burton Richardson and Black Belt magazine. Now you can learn the most functional silat techniques whenever and wherever you want on your smartphone, tablet or computer. Get more info here! Noncontact stand-up arts are the safest thing to get kids started in. If they do only forms, two-person drills and strikes aimed at impact shields, they'll learn a lot and their chances of getting a concussion are low. Many arts are like this, but I'm partial to shorinji kempo because its embu (two-person forms) competitions are safe but still allow a certain amount of creativity. When it comes to sparring for kids, point fighting is the safest. Boxing and kickboxing often start students in full-contact competition when they're elementary-school age, but it doesn't seem worth the risk. Concussion is the goal of those sports, and it's hard to justify kids trying to inflict one on each other. What's more, experts on developing sports expertise generally agree that the elementary-school years are more about play than skill refinement. That means a child who fights full contact from age 8 will have taken a decade's worth of sub-concussive blows and maybe suffered a few knockouts by the time he finishes high school, but it will not have made him that much better of a fighter than a kid who started in his teens.

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Any martial arts instructor will tell you that advanced techniques are built on a foundation of basics. As David Younglove found out, ALL techniques require a solid foundation — in the form of quality dojo mats!

[Sponsored Post] There's no doubt about it: Martial arts instructor David Younglove knows the importance of having a proper foundation. A martial artist since 1983, Younglove earned his black belt at age 17 and began teaching karate. He became a Minnesota state champion and then joined the U.S. Marine Corp in the early 1990s. His duty assignment included training Thai Marines in hand-to-hand combat — a job for which only the most qualified martial artists would qualify. “We taught on just carpet over cement in those days, and if you fell, it was just terrible," Younglove said. “The first generation of mats … we put in martial arts schools was terrible. They were very hard. They were very grippy on the feet." Despite those less-than-ideal training surfaces, Younglove continued to pursue his passion for martial arts, and from 2012 to 2014, he was the top-ranked North Central Karate Association competitor in traditional forms (40-49 year olds). In July 2014, the sixth-degree black belt finally found the perfect martial arts flooring at Greatmats.com: the company's Martial Arts Karate Mat Premium 1-Inch. These 1-meter-by-1-meter interlocking foam tiles, designed to look like a wood floor, have a leather-like, waterproof surface that provides proper stability and cushion. “I've tried many of the others in all our schools and [talked to] other owners," Younglove said. “I also went to different martial arts schools and worked out on their floors. I looked at the Swains; I looked at the Zebra mats and all the different ones. And I got some samples." He compared all those to a free sample of the Greatmats Martial Arts Karate Mat Premium 1-Inch and wound up liking the Greatmats product so much that he purchased three tiles and snapped them together for a final test. “[I] just did a few moves on them and decided it had the most support but also the most cushion at the same time," he said. “It works out great. These are by far the best that I've found." Younglove deemed the Greatmats product so superior that he purchased them not only for his USA Karate dojo in Rosemount, Minnesota, but also for his yoga studio in the same building. “I have a dual studio," he said. “We incorporate a full yoga program with our full martial arts program. At this facility, we have two classrooms. The kids can be taking a karate class, and the moms can be taking a yoga class simultaneously. We're constantly on our knees and on our elbows, and a lot of our population is 40 and over. We have some 70-year-olds taking class. It is very gentle on the joints. It also really challenges your balance." Younglove noted that it required about six months of regular use to fully break in the flooring, which seemed a bit slippery at first. However, he said it was well worth the time investment because he's confident that he now offers yet another tool to help his students build a solid foundation of self-esteem in a positive and safe learning environment. To find the right mat for any martial arts school, visit Greatmats. Photos Courtesy of Greatmats