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Martial Arts - What To Look For In An Instructor
Posted on Sat, Oct 30, 2010 at 5:29 am
by IDMA Editor

Once you have a basic feel for the styles of martial arts available, it's time to move another step closer to practicing this sport. Just as it is important to find a style that suits you, it is equally important to find an instructor who suits your style.

The martial arts originated from the need to protect oneself. Those who didn't excel in these arts didn't survive. As the need for self-protection abated, the focus shifted to the spiritual aspects of the arts. Even so, some schools continued to focus on combative training methods. Beginning students in these schools were simply told to copy senior students. If you were lucky, your instruction might include limited verbal commands followed by a hard kick or punch intended to leave a lasting impression. In these schools, students dropped out after three months, or stayed and became lean, mean fighting machines.

Gradually, more martial arts schools began to focus on health and fitness. The move ensured schools a steady stream of students, most of whom stayed longer than three months. It also ensured schools a steady stream of revenues—a situa­tion that spurred the proliferation of martial arts schools.

Compared to other segments of the health and fitness industry, the martial arts is fragmented. Exactly how large it is remains open to debate. Peak Performance, a market research newsletter for health and athletic clubs published in Bellevue, Washington, estimates that there are about 7,000 schools, including classes offered by YMCAs.

Few disagree, however, that the industry is profitable.

The martial arts industry has been estimated to produce annual revenues of $720 million to $900 million from monthly tuition fees alone. The market for equipment has been estimated at $2 billion. The franchise phenomenon has also taken hold within the martial arts. In fact, some chains have as many as 100 franchise studios, and produce revenues of $10 million and up.

Most of a martial arts school's revenue comes from monthly tuition fees. But many schools today earn income from selling equipment and uniforms, sponsoring tourna ments, and charging testing fees each time a student tries to qualify for a higher belt. (In the Orient, students are usually classified as white or black belts—novice or expert. In the United States, students wear one of a range of colored belts— from white to yellow to purple to black—each of which can come with a testing fee.)

Since mere is no national certifying organization for martial arts instructors, and therefore no industry-wide standards, the martial arts community has little control over the quality of teaching and the awarding of belts. Though tae kwon do and judo have governing bodies because they are Olympic sports, schools are not required to join.

To keep students, some schools have cut the time it takes to achieve a black belt. Students generally earn black belts in three to five years. But some schools today promise it in as little as one year to attract students.

As a result, the martial arts has become flooded with first-degree black belts with varying levels of ability. Within the black belt community, too, is a burgeoning number of practi tioners with advance degrees. For example, whereas there should be only a handful of tenth-degree black belts—one of me highest achievable black-belt levels—there are hundreds in the United States alone.

Though the proliferation of black belts has eroded their significance, there are well-qualified eighth-, ninth-, and tenth-degree black belts in this country. Still, be wary of instructors who flaunt their black-belt ranking, and who call themselves "master" or "grand master"—tides reserved for top coaches with international reputations. You probably don't want to rule out a school solely on that basis, but keep in mind that the school may be overly concerned with marketing and reputation.

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