“What martial art do you teach?”
That’s right up there among the most common questions asked by a prospective new student or their parents. If they’ve done some research, they may already know a few things about the martial arts, but as beginners, there are so many unanswered questions and preconceived ideas. Cutting through all of that can sometimes be a challenge.
As a practicing martial artist for my entire adult life I’ve had the opportunity to study a variety of martial art disciplines, some more extensively than others. I like to tell people, “They’re the same thing, only different.” I have always believed that it’s not the specific style or the system that makes one art better for one student and not another. I think it’s more important to find an instructor and a school with a philosophy and style of teaching that is appropriate for the needs of the individual student.
Youth class at St. Louis Family Martial Arts Academy.
One of the great things about our industry is that each school owner or organization can determine its own guiding philosophy. While we can’t be all things to all people, we can be upfront in sharing our philosophies with new or prospective students. That can help them decide if our teaching style is what they’re looking for or if it’s appropriate for them. We get to decide if we’re a school that focuses on competition or sport martial arts; if our primary goal self-defense training or fitness; if it’s helping adults sharpen their minds through a new skill or building confidence and self-esteem for school aged children. Perhaps it is even a blend of several of these things.
Rather than, “What martial art do you teach?” I prefer the question, “What is a martial art?”.
Here is how we define it at our school: A martial art is a fighting art. As such, every student should be able to protect themselves at some level. Now, this is different for every student based on their physical, mental, and emotional makeup. Some people have the attributes to be good fighters or skilled competitors right away. Some students are more motivated to learn and practice effective self-defense techniques early on. For others, it takes some more time. Some students, quite frankly, will never be good fighters. And that’s OK. We can work with them to give them tools to learn to protect themselves to the best of their abilities. They may never stand in the Octagon. But they’ll leave our school better than when they first came to us.
Students test before a panel of judges for the next belt.
Some schools don’t spar much. Others make it a daily practice. We have one day a week, Friday, dedicated strictly to sparring classes, and we teach practical, modern self-defense techniques periodically in every class as part of a rotating curriculum.
There’s also the “art” side of the martial arts. We break that into two distinct definitions. First is the aesthetics or techniques of the art. We teach techniques, including individual techniques as well as forms and patterns, to be done a certain way. There’s a specific look and quality to each technique. Through a lot of repetition, this, is what helps the student learn to be efficient in their training. It’s important that the student learns more than just the motion, but how and why it works.
Instructors at St. Louis - the author is on the far right.
Second, and most important, is the art of how you choose to live your life. We use the traditional tenets of Tae Kwon Do as The Way students should conduct themselves in and out of the school. These five tenets are
Courtesy - Courtesy is defined by the common courtesies, being polite, and having good manners. We say yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am, please, thank you, and you’re welcome. Courtesy is also further defined by following the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. We also like to specify that you should treat people with kindness and respect.
Integrity - Integrity simply means doing the right thing no matter what anyone else thinks, or says, or does, and doing it whether or not anyone is there to see. It’s also being consistent in your behavior at all times. Integrity is simple to define. That doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Self-Control - We define self-control as controlling your body and your behavior. As martial artists, learning to control our bodies is obviously a large component of training, no matter what age the student is. The responsibility for controlling one’s behavior applies to both the students’ responsibility to act and behave appropriately, and to the instructor’s responsibility to model such behavior. It’s also important for us as teachers to hold our students accountable for their behavior in and out of class.
Perseverance - Perseverance comes from a Latin word meaning “to strictly adhere or stick to something.” In other words, to never give up. We define perseverance by asking a simple question: “Is everything easy?” The answer is, of course not! Sometimes things are challenging. These challenges are important for our continued growth. Challenges are uncomfortable. That’s a good thing. If we stay where we’re comfortable we don’t grow, we don’t get better, and we never improve. It’s only when we stretch beyond our comfort zones, when we face those challenges and never give up, that we truly begin to grow, not only as martial artists, but individuals.
Indomitable Spirit – This is a spirit that won’t be contained. This value is often the hardest to define and explain, especially to a younger student. We like to say it’s like perseverance, only bigger. Your Indomitable Spirit is what you use when you face an uncommon challenge. This uncommon challenge can take many forms, it might be a personal conflict, an injury or illness, or a variety of different other things. When you face life’s uncommon challenges it is your Indomitable Spirit that keeps you moving forward in spite of the obstacles you’re facing.
So, what martial art do we teach?
We teach traditional tae kwon do with influences from Filipino kali, Lee Jun Fan, muay Thai, western boxing, silat, and several grappling arts. We take a structured and modern approach to teaching the martial arts. Our emphasis is on teaching quality martial arts techniques including a foundation built on strong character education. All of this combined helps our students learn to protect themselves while developing confidence, building self-esteem, becoming physically stronger, more fit, and growing as an individual. We do all of this in a safe and fun training environment.
Our approach to martial arts instruction and training may not be for everyone. The school down the street may have a completely different philosophy and very different goals and teaching methods. That’s great! Having a clearly defined structure and teaching method is what makes our school successful for us. If a student is looking for something different, that’s great too. At least we’ve provided them with the information they need to make an informed decision about where they want to train and if what we’re doing will work for them. If they decide their best choice is the school down the road, we encourage them. Because at the end of the day, when our martial arts family grows, no matter where they train, we all thrive.
Dwight Trower began his martial arts training in 1981. He has trained primarily in the arts of Tae Kwon Do, Filipino Kali, Lee Jun Fan, Muay Thai, and Silat. Since 1991, he has been the owner and Director of Instruction at St. Louis Family Martial Arts Academy. In 2010 he began developing a standalone martial arts curriculum for teenagers and adults with Down syndrome and similar disabilities. In 2018 he was recognized as The Pujols Family Foundation Partner of The Year for his work in the martial arts and Down Syndrome community.
Make sure you also Dwight Trower's MASuccess feature article! Link here.
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