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So a course perceived and taught from a given peripheral bias, such as athletics or performance, will likely produce no greater result than that level of understanding. Such superficial levels of orientation soon become obvious, even to the beginning student.

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The selection of one's instructor becomes, therefore, the single most important variable in determining the potential achievement one may attain through the martial arts training. As we come to know that our outcome - our rate and safety of progress; our potential for understanding the daily application of the class-work; our cultivation of health and fitness through the practice; our ability to protect ourselves and our families; and our honing of a tool for success in all endeavors - directly parallels the type of training we receive from the master instructor, we also come to know that our most important decision when we begin training in martial arts is to find a great teacher.

One must be realistic about one's physical condition when he or she considers entering a martial arts school. The practice regimens and technical requirements of some programs may be inappropriate for a given injury or type of physical idiosyncrasy. A person with a torn anterior cruciate ligament should not do flying kicks; nor should a person with a severe rotator cuff tear engage in intense grappling.

I mention those particular conditions and their restrictions on certain presentations of martial arts because I have had both injuries myself, and I am a fully functioning martial artist able to do everything I want and need to do to attain a superior level of skill and any other attribute I wish through the training. I should also mention that the first injury was sustained in a basketball game, and the second was in a Frisbee football game; both have been rehabilitated through special rehabilitative sets that we teach here at the school.

Now I practice intelligent and effective kicking techniques, and I also practice jiujitsu-style grappling twice a week. If you have a pre-existing injury or a physical anomaly about which you have concern, a highly qualified instructor can assist in various ways. First, the instructor should have enough knowledge about such topics that he knows whether you need to consult with your doctor before you begin a martial arts training program. However, the problem in consulting with most physicians is that they may have a preconceived notion about what "all" martial arts training entails, so they often will give opinions, albeit well-intended, from a position of relative ignorance.

Their own experience or their inferences from media presentations of martial arts can influence them to either approve of a possibly dangerous training protocol or prohibit one which might prove very beneficial to the prospective student. Therefore, it becomes of paramount importance, especially if the existing injury or physical anomaly could be significantly, either positively or negatively, affected by the training, for the physician, the instructor, and the student to discuss the expectations of the curriculum, its possible ramifications for the student, and the goals the student has in undertaking the training.

If the experience and knowledge of the instructor do not include a way for the student to protect and, hopefully, rehabilitate the injury in the context of attaining his goals in the curriculum; or to circumvent by individual design the impingement of the training on the injury or anomaly; then training in that environment increases the risk of injury or failure. In our opinion, the training exists only to serve the student's goals, and as such, must be adaptable for the special needs and aspirations of the student.

A rigid set of criteria for practice or advancement, which cannot help all people, indicates only that the instructor has not truly mastered the art himself and can, therefore, never be expected to be able to guide the student to mastery. There is no simple answer to this question since the goals and experiences of every person in the training hall are unique to themselves. I think that it is important for anyone interested to avail themselves of all the possible benefits achievable in a good martial arts curriculum, and one of those benefits is most certainly an enhancement of fitness.

The archaic pictures painted in martial arts stories about the punishing and dangerous methods and regimens which damaged and scarred people's bodies and, supposedly, instilled superior fighting skills and indomitable spirit, harbor some of the greatest dangers and are some of the most misleading directives in martial arts lore. Certainly training methods have been and continue to be concerned with establishing a level of physical rigor in the development of the individual. However, those schools, current or historical, which take pride in the badges of injury and physical discomfort worn and related by their students; and those students and teachers who subject themselves and their classmates to such a juvenile and outdated approach will do more, and possibly permanent, damage to their bodies and spirits than the negligible benefit they may accrue from such a sophomoric perspective.

Many of those people simply don't know any better, not having used an intelligent set of criteria in the first place for selecting a school. They are often just doing what they are told or what they saw someone else do, and they have no data with which to make a comparison. After a while, even if they are exposed to a track which achieves superior results safely, both in physical conditioning and defensive skills, their own cognitive dissonance may prevent a logical conclusion for them. It is important to train properly from the outset and to reduce or eliminate the probability of acute, traumatic and of chronic overuse injuries.

An intelligent approach to increasing physical rigor is assured by first assessing the initial physical condition of the student and then moving him appropriately through various levels of physical intensity over a long period of time. In the earliest stages of training, it is important to listen to the alarm signals the body is giving us about what is an acceptable level of challenge, so the student must be actively involved in the ongoing assessment process and give the instructor accurate feedback about fatigue and, generally, about how the body feels during the training.

If the beginning student has not been involved recently or ever in regular exercise, or if the beginning student is a current professional athlete, the student is entering a new activity with new requirements for the body. The student and the instructor must work together and pay close attention to how the student's body is responding to the practice.

Each student is unique and each student must be guided by the professional teacher to involve himself at a safe intensity and to build that intensity over weeks or months to the required level for the goals of the student. Most of us are such goal-seeking animals that our tendency is to push too hard rather than to do too little, especially when we are in an environment where the mere presence of others motivates us to push beyond our normal bounds.

It becomes the obligation of the staff to monitor and suggest when we should rest and recover so that we can make steady progress instead of self-inflicting nagging little strains or excessive soreness which detour us from our goals. A superior martial arts training program will guarantee better and more comprehensive fitness and health adaptations than virtually any other discipline, but it can only exist if the instructors have the knowledge and the attitudes that assure it.

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