Magazine • the Silk Thread of Gorindo
Silk Thread of Gorindo - June 2011

The Silk Thread of Gorindo - Ottawa - Canada

Issue VIII

- Martial Arts: Choosing the Right Way

- The Simple Act of Breathing (Part 4)

- The Learning Kiai (Part 4)

- Videos

Photo cover Roxanne Standefer sensei at the Gorindo Dojo, Ottawa, May 2011, by Claudio Iedwab


Martial Arts: Choosing the Right Way


People begin studying martial arts for many reasons. Young children often join an after-school class alongside other activities like soccer, basketball or piano lessons. There have been waves of participation that have followed popular crazes like the Ninja Turtles and Karate Kid. In most cases parents have hoped that the activity would bring a little discipline to their child’s lives and that while burning off some energy, they might learn a little self-defense.

For those who join later in life, the reasons can be more complex. Reading an article or book, or a simple desire to bring a healthy change into one’s existence can inspire a visit to a martial arts school. Individuals finally make it through the front doors of a school after contemplating the idea for a while and building up the courage to find out more. Often it is a friend that introduces you to the study of Martial Art, or as a group you decide to “check it out” together, feeling some strength in numbers and the fun of participating in something new. Sometimes a significant event in one’s life can be the turning point; a health problem, a death in the family, an attack on the street, a significant birthday or a New Year’s Resolution.

Gorindo - Roxanne Standefer Double Punch


One of the good things about most martial arts is that you don’t have to invent it yourself. There is a program, and with a good teacher all you need to do to plug yourself in is show up and practice. The rest will follow along the way.


Making Choices

The potential student can be faced with a confusing range of choices. In smaller communities there may be no choice at all; if there is a martial arts teacher, then whatever style or school he or she is teaching is what’s available. This can be a good thing. Many fine teachers have moved to rural environments. They enjoy less overhead, healthier lifestyles, calmer atmosphere and less competition with other schools or activities.

In larger urban areas there may be many schools from which to choose. In addition to commercial establishments, classes are often held in community centers and health clubs as well as the extra-curricular programs of schools and universities. You can choose from what seems to interest you, or is best suited to your personality, but often the martial art chooses you. It can be as simple as what is offered in your school or what they teach at the dojo (training place) down the block. It might be the style your uncle studied when he was young or the great teacher your girlfriend heard about from her friend.

There may have been a poster on a bulletin board or light pole that struck you at just the right moment. A certain amount of luck, fate or destiny can influence your journey in the martial arts. Almost every martial artist has a story about how they began their path; it is part of the process.


Crossing the Threshold

Regardless of whether it is a spur-of-the-moment impulse to drop in to your local school or months of research that brings you to the dojo door, there are some important considerations to bear in mind as you enter. Firstly you must remember that although this first step is significant to you, what is happening already inside the school is not (yet) about you. The teacher has likely been teaching for some time and is part of a tradition that has been passed down in some cases thorough centuries and generations.

Usually there is some sort of brochure available or a website about the school, its fees and timetable. It can be a good idea to make an appointment or find out the best time to return to discuss your possible enrolment. You might inquire whether you might observe a class, but don’t be disturbed if they suggest another time. The class in progress may be too advanced or of such a specific nature that day that it is not representative of what you will encounter as a beginner. Have patience in your search and remember that as a life-long study it is a good idea to find a comfortable fit between your goals and what an individual school or teacher may have to offer.

Gorindo - Roxanne Standefer Cross Stance


Finding a Teacher

Secondly, when it comes to choosing a style of martial art you may come to realize that it doesn’t matter so much what line you follow as long as you have a good teacher to show you the way. Equally important is how good a student you can be to that teacher. The responsibilities go both ways, and if you can avoid thinking of the teacher as a paid service or as a product you are purchasing for your dollar, you are more likely to be successful in finding what you need in a martial arts school. Good teachers tend to see what they do as a profession not a business.

Deciding on what makes a good teacher can be tricky. There are many kinds of credentials in the martial arts and no truly standardized system of rating qualifications. You can look at the certificates on the wall and the dan (black belt level) ranking of prospective teachers, the number of trophies in the window and how many ‘international championships’ have been won; but still you may be comparing apples and oranges if you try to rate one school over the next on this basis. One organization may have different requirements than another for its higher rankings. In some organizations seventh and eighth dan certificates are sometimes handed out for political reasons or designation of a hierarchy position rather than technical skill level, and theoretically someone who begins their own line has every right to call themselves a tenth dan in their art.

Within larger established international associations black belt levels and instructor certifications tend to be centrally controlled and should be representative of the abilities of the certified person. It is important to remember though that someone who has been spending most of their time teaching, especially if they are full-time professionals with their own establishment, will not always have the time or resources to train for high level exams or to participate in the affairs of an association. This teacher however may have years of experience training beginners and taking advanced students to high levels in their practice. Such a person may not be as highly ranked as they really deserve based on their knowledge and ability to pass it on to others. Similarly, a person who has won many tournaments and devoted their training time to competitive sport martial art may be very skilled and may even be a good coach, but is not as experienced as a teacher or patient with the newcomer to the martial arts.

Some schools are very large and have many different instructors in charge of classes. The high ranking sensei may not actually teach the beginners classes and spreads his or her time around many different schools in a chain. In these schools the assistant instructors may be very well prepared as teachers or they may not.

It can be very helpful to observe several classes at a school that you are considering, particularly at the skill level and time that you would be participating. Politely ask questions and ask if you might speak to some of the students. Be very careful though, it is a privilege to invade the privacy of a school, its teacher and students, and be aware that you may well be evaluated in turn on your attitude, goals and expectations. How you conduct yourself in preliminary conversations may very well affect whether or not you will be accepted as a student and how you will be viewed and treated if you are.


Examine Your Goals

Thirdly, try to be honest with yourself and others about why you want to study martial art and why you are considering a certain style or school in particular. Your reasons don’t have to be fully articulated. You can’t possibly know everything at this stage about how things work and what you might like or dislike. But you should be able to ask yourself what your primary goals are at this moment as a beginner. Are you keen on winning trophies or defending yourself from a street gang? Do you plan to join the military or the Peace Corps in a danger zone? Are you interested in meditation and peaceful philosophy or do you just want to get in shape and meet some new friends? Try to be clear so that you don’t waste your time and that of the teachers and students. After all, they will be introducing you to something they love and have a great deal of respect for.

You may try a couple of different teachers and approaches before you are able to settle in to a training program that works for everyone involved. Most importantly be prepared to expect the unexpected, and give yourself some time to explore and understand what is being taught and how it is being conveyed to you. Don’t try to make it immediately match your expectations and do allow yourself to be surprised by something new and different.

Have respect for all those you encounter in your search. Try to find a good teacher and then give them the best of yourself so that they are able to teach you what they know. Don’t worry about what is the best martial art or who is the best teacher because that varies with circumstance and the people involved. If you choose those who approach their martial art as a serious study that involves mental, spiritual, and physical aspects, and where development of character is as important as development of the body, then you are well on your way.


by Claudio Iedwab & Roxanne Standefer

Photos of Roxanne Standefer sensei at the Gorindo Dojo, Ottawa, May 2011, by © Claudio Iedwab



- Martial Arts: Choosing the Right Way

- The Simple Act of Breathing (Part 4)

- The Learning Kiai (Part 4)

- Videos


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