I've seen a lot of articles online about 'how to choose the right gym for you.' Which is all good and well, but I still find myself wanting after reading these articles. In my opinion, finding the 'right gym' is a matter of finding the right teacher.
Martial Art, is physical education. It's for that reason that I place importance on the educator, not the place.
There is a big difference between a school, and a gym. A gym, is just amenities while a school, is a place of education.
#1. Context, validates content
Jump onto YouTube and watch a car review video on any high end sports car. You'll most likely hear phrases like 'heel toe shifting, 'downforce', 'drag coefficient' etc etc. Most of us don't use or need these advance driving techniques and for that reason will feel a little alienated because ultimately this is race jargon that really doesn't matter to the daily to and fro driver.
If you feel that way, that's simply because the information being presented (depending on what you do with your car) will either be in context, or out of it. All the information about the car will all be true, but the burning question is this:
does it matter??
The Martial Arts conversation creates the exact same dynamic as the sports car analogy. We have different levels of usage for martial art and therefore relevant language/programming is necessary to remained engaged and to improve.
Find a teacher that has an intuitive understanding of context when they teach. I've seen a million martial art tacticians out there--yet no one goes to their classes or their schools. Why? Because of context.
Why you train, is not the same as why another trains. The contexts are different. Mommy Jane, does not have the same intention as GI Jane and therefore need to be treated differently.
Or, to be a little more realistic--the student in his 20's, who became a top fighter is now a career and family man and now trains for personal enjoyment is a drastic change of context, and expectation. The change in the energy requirements of his life as a family man and career limits the energy he once had to devote as an athlete. Also, the change in interest will change what he expects to receive from martial art and vice versa, he should be treated as he exactly is (father, career man), because treating and expecting him to accomplish what he once did only leads to failure.
To adapt and still be a productive teacher/trainer is very very hard to do as a teacher, but it is our duty to attempt it, and not to shame others in the process.
A good clue as to whether you are in the presence of a martial teacher, is when the instructor asks, 'why do you train'--and continues to ask that question throughout your martial study, and most importantly; your life cycles.
#2. Content, matches context.
A good student organizes information. A good teacher, times its release.
What Lebron James jr. needs to know about basketball right now is very basic and rudimentary in comparison to what Lebron James Sr. needs to know to help the Cavaliers win a championship.
Here's a basic fact about the Martial world vs. the sport world:
In traditional sports (basketball, soccer, hockey) you have a different coach for your age/physicality. You have an elementary level coach, junior high school level coach, senior high school level coach, college coach, and if you make it, a pro level coach (most likely several in your pro career).
The Martial Art world is not like that. You have one teacher, (barring a fall out) for your entire development cycle. You have one teacher for your beginner level, intermediate level, advanced level, amateur career to pro career. This of course doesn't take into account gyms with multiple teachers (which I think is more problematic for learning than it does appease business personnel needs).
With this life cycle in martial art in mind, it takes a tremendous among of knowledge from the teachers part, to teach for that great amount of time and an even greater amount of insight to know when to time your lessons according to your development rate.
It is in this sense that martial art teachers are like fathers--you only have one, for your entire life.
Anything less than a fatherly martial artist, and the job simply won't get done and a fall out will only be a matter of time.
#3. Context is contagious
My teacher is Ajahn Suchart. Author of three world champions, countless instructors (who now make their own living), a full time martial artist for 25 yrs and just all around legend. He's trained me for all my fights (though I didn't fight much, I was instructed by him quite deeply) I've had the honour of being an audience to his lectures and lessons on philosophy, skill, and strategy.
I've learned solely from Ajahn for 7 years, as deeply as I could possibly do. His lessons have yielded me a self sufficient and respected school in my community. Every student in my gym regardless of their level or intent has improved technically and physically--ask them yourselves.
That is because of what I learned from Ajahn:
Just because you have the recipe doesn't make you a chef.
I've gone through great length to catalogue all his steps in building martial artists and students. I'm quite confident in that process in its rhyme, reason and execution. But through countless failures of my own experiments in implementing his advice I've learned that What makes him him ('him' meaning the results he's driven in his life), is the passion in which he does everything. Intensity and passion. The word 'passion' is used way too loosely in today's world. Most people do not have passion. They have 'interest', which is a seed and infant of passion: fragile, small and requires loads of nurturing. 'Interest' isn't a producer in and of itself, it's actually a consumer. Interested people are not ready to achieve. They still need education and refinement. They cannot yet give, because they must take until interest becomes passion.
Passion is when your fire ignited so strongly that it can give birth to more flames with dying on it own. It is a producer, not a consumer.
My point, is this: Ajahns passion elevated my intention. His passion drove me from recreational student, to serious student, to amateur fighter, to gym owner, to trainer, to now amateur and professional trainer.
If the teacher isn't invested in the subject, neither will the student. Another way to understand this that the longevity and improvement of the student is so inertly tied to our teachers passion for improvement.
A good way to see this is to watch how the teacher interacts with their students. If they interact with only a certain segment, that usually means those are the ones they are comfortable teaching. When the teacher interacts with everyone top to bottom, old to new, beginner to advanced, it typically means they are comfortable and able to traverse all levels (because he/she is strong enough to do so).
A passionate and knowledgeable instructor has the ability to ignite your goals no matter how small they start. Their passion is so strong, that in their presence you find yourself wanting to do more, accomplish more and accept more challenge.
It is at this point, and I argue that it is an essential point in Martial Art that your activity becomes engaged, motivated, and productive.
Always choose passion over product. Amenities are just inanimate objects. They lack the ability to ignite you as a person.
Yours in the Arts,