Choosing a Quality School
by Sabomnim Joe Sullins
Grandmaster Kim Soo leads the Taik Kyun Kwon-Bop club of Han Kuk Univ. which he founded in 1960 while he was a student of the University. They are training on the University's rooftop.

   In a world inundated with fast food, special effects, sales media and empty promises, how can anyone know what has true value. Unless you have first hand knowledge of true martial arts, it is very difficult to know which martial arts school you can trust. Many people say, "I want to learn but there are so many schools. How can I choose the right school for me?"

The first thing you should understand is all martial arts schools are not the same. More importantly, only a few schools offer quality martial arts instruction. Therefore the least important criteria is the school's proximity to your home.

Martial arts is not a sport. Quality martial arts instruction is a balance of physical and psychological training. Over 95% of schools concentrate on the physical technique. You should recognize that these schools are teaching low quality martial arts. They are also likely to be involved in tournaments. The main reason for their affiliation with tournaments is that they generate substantial cash flow for the school's owner and promoters. Instead of promoting the positive lessons of martial arts, the tournament's participants engage in the pursuit of aggression without control. While the participants are focused on aggression they are vulnerable to injuries, experience feelings of failure and neglect the lessons of humility and compassion. Tournaments were never part of martial arts training by the "Old Masters." The "Old Masters" were aware that the participants gain a false sense of their abilities without a positive learning experience.

Your training environment should promote safety and education. You can easily see that schools that require excessive padding such as head and body gear do not have a safe training program. Teaching students to be in control of themselves at all times and respectful of their partners is fundamental. Injuries occur when positive qualities of respect and self-discipline are replaced by bad intentions and lack of control. Safety doesn't only mean protection from contact injuries. It must include protection from long term progressive problems, both physically and mentally. These problems arise from training in systems which are not based on natural body motions. Your body is designed to move only as a human body naturally moves. You already know how to walk, run, skip, and jump. These are all natural motions that include balance of motion without conscious decision. When you follow a system based on unnatural human motions the balance that naturally exists between the body and the mind becomes disrupted. If you train long term using unnatural motions eventually physical and mental problems will develop.

Top schools educate, not coach. Examine the curriculum. It should include a history of their system, traditional terminology, basic principles, preservation of the old forms, meditation and psychology. All are important facets of a complete martial arts education.

Be suspect of any school that offers a black belt program that requires less than 4 years training. Although you may be able to memorize the requirements in less time, the mind needs time to mature. It takes 4 or more years to gain a real understanding of the lessons that are fundamental to becoming a true black belt, regardless of the system.

The martial arts world has many so called "10th degree Grandmasters." I would be suspicious of any "10th degree Grandmaster" under the age of 60 years. They have not been alive long enough to earn a legitimate 10th degree ranking. Standard belt ranking requires 4-5 years to achieve 1st degree black belt. Each following belt rank requires the same number of additional training years equal to the belt degree they are trying to achieve. A 10th degree Grandmaster has to train continuously for 58 years
to legitimately hold that rank. Unfortunately some systems give each other advance belt rankings every couple of years in order to gain status for marketing their schools.

Many schools advertise themselves as a "traditional martial arts school." Upon closer inspection you can see a complete lack of traditional training. Some schools allow flamboyant outfits, students can design their own forms, add music to the forms, practice gymnastic techniques and are constantly making faces in order to show their warrior spirit. A true martial artist is calm and relaxed except at the moment of impact, then relaxed again. Remember that you wanted to join a martial arts school not a circus.

By no means is this all the criteria necessary for making an intelligent choice of martial arts schools. Trust yourself and use your common sense. Ask someone you trust and respect that has personal experience with martial arts schools. I want everyone who wishes to train in martial arts to have a safe and enjoyable experience. Most injuries sustained by martial arts students are due to poorly trained teachers and an unsafe training environment. These experiences can ruin what should be a wonderful experience and encourage the negative perception of the martial arts world.

I believe that Chayon-Ryu is the most complete authentic martial arts system in the world. The training is safe for everyone regardless of age, sex, or personal limitations. You progress at your own pace under the supervision of qualified teachers and positive results are guaranteed.