Martial Arts Challenge 2001

Welcome new martial arts challengers for 2001! My name is Gaku Homma and I am the founder of Aikido Nippon Kan. This message is for all of you who are thinking about trying a martial art in 2001. I would like to explain what we offer here at Nippon Kan.

Nippon Kan, (which means Japan House in Japanese), was founded in 1978 and became a Federal 501C3 non-profit Cross-Cultural organization in 1987. Nippon Kan’s 10,000 square foot facility is located just south of Auraria Campus at 1365 Osage Street. The facility houses a Japanese folk art museum, Japanese gardens as well as Denver’s well-known Domo Japanese Country Foods restaurant. A primary focus of Nippon Kan is the practice of the Japanese martial art of Aikido and Nippon Kan’s facility houses the largest Aikido dojo in the Rocky Mountain region. (Dojo is the word for a martial art school).

Nippon Kan’s Aikido dojo has had a twenty-two year history in Denver. Presently we have a highly trained staff of twelve instructors, and an office staff of over twenty volunteers who donate their time to keep operations running smoothly. Over 9,500 students have participated in our beginning aikido classes. There are very few martial arts schools anywhere who can offer credentials with such a high level of stability and experience. It is important to me to supervise all of my students and classes; therefore Nippon Kan has only one location in Denver. A motto of mine is “my students are only those that I can see”.

In Denver there are different Aikido dojos and different kinds of instructors. As the founder of Nippon Kan I am personally responsible for the training of all of my students and am responsible for awarding the level of instructor to those who meet our strict criteria of technical proficiency and teaching ability. Those who have been selected as instructors possess their own unique qualities, personality and distinctive educational backgrounds. Any former Nippon Kan student who was not awarded the level of instructor and is teaching outside of Nippon Kan did not meet the requirements for Nippon Kan instructors. Those who have met these criteria remain at Nippon Kan, some having taught for ten to fifteen years.

The Rocky mountain region has many very good martial art schools and instructors in many different styles of martial arts. I do wish to warn you however, that there are some very inexperienced, poorly run dojos in the Denver area right alongside with the good. To a new student distinguishing between styles of martial arts and quality of instruction can be confusing. If a student becomes disappointed with his or her first experience due to the inabilities of an inexperienced or low-level instructor, that student may become disillusioned with martial arts in general. To a beginning student all styles of martial arts are like apples in a barrel. If you know nothing about apples you wouldn’t know the difference between a crab apple and a Washington apple for example. If a new student’s first taste happens to be a crab apple they might well come to the conclusion that all apples are bitter. This is the same with martial arts. As a martial artist for many years I can see the detrimental effects that unprofessional, unethical schools have had on martial art community as a whole.

There are presently over 250 martial art schools and studios listed in the Denver Metro yellow page directory. If you include surrounding areas and martial arts groups that are not listed, I believe this number to be over 500. It is interesting to note that martial art schools are not regulated by any federal or local authority, nor are they self regulated. Unlike other schools and day care centers for example, anyone can open a martial art school, anywhere, any time. Sometimes adults and children alike inspired by films and magazines they have seen, seek out martial art schools to teach them or their children to become what they have seen in the movies. In their enthusiasm many do not check the credentials or background of an instructor whom they are trusting to teach them possibly fatal or dangerous martial art techniques. Originally martial art schools were formed for guiding the process of human development and as a place for education. Without government control or licensing requirements martial arts schools can teach anything they wish. In France and Germany government requirements for licenses have been in place for sometime. The martial art schools listed in the Metro directory vary in size, scope and style. Listings range from classes taught at the YMCA to classes taught in someone’s backyard or garage. There are even listings for schools that are not open yet. There are also schools that list themselves under many different names, some that change their name every year, and some that change their name each time Hollywood release a new martial art movie! Some schools are not registered with the state as businesses making any kind of legal or financial recourse difficult.

Schools with titles such as “International…” or “…Federation” or “Martial Arts Academy of…” may sound good but turn out to be a disappointment. I have heard of cases of women who signed up for “self defense” classes only to find they were private lessons with individuals whose intentions were not completely honourable. Some of these cases resulted in sexual harassment charges against the instructor.

Around thirty percent of martial art schools that open in the Denver area close their doors within six months. Some of these operators soon open another school under another name. With such a high turn over, new students need to beware of contract obligations. Some schools require contract payments to be made to become a black belt in their art. Some schools hold their students accountable for the contract obligations even if they quit their training or if the school closes down. Students sometimes feel intimidated and I have heard more than once of students who continued to pay on long contracts long after their training had ended.

If you are interested in practicing a martial art, the first step is to check the school’s and the instructors back ground. Do not be tricked into signing a contract because you saw a flashy demonstration or heard a charismatic speech. Take your time to do your research before you sign anything. Schools that say they teach magic techniques or techniques that can be used against someone with a gun should be looked at twice and thought about fully four times before you proceed. Having practiced Aikido for over forty years, I can tell you truthfully that such techniques are not real and are marketed to people who are easily fooled. Please don’t let this happen to you. At Nippon Kan I never teach techniques like this because they are not real.

I would like to share my experience with you and endeavour to tell you how to find a good martial arts school. Please use my suggestions as a guide in helping you find a school that meets your own needs. I invite you to visit Nippon Kan any day you would like. We have class observation from 5:30 to 6:30 pm. Monday through Thursday evenings.

What to look for in a martial art school:

  • A martial art school’s chief instructor should have at least twenty years experience and should have been trained by an instructor with similar experience.
    “…experience is everything”.
  • The school should have been established in the same area under the same instructor and under the same name.
    “…be careful of ‘gypsy’ instructors”.
    “…stability begets longevity”.
  • It is my experience that over seventy percent of beginners quit after a few months practice. Do not let yourself be forced into signing a long term contract even if it does include “bells and whistles” like free lessons or free uniforms. The best schools do not force you to sign a contract at all.
    “…there is no such thing as a free lunch”.
  • A martial art school should not be selling you dreams and miracles.
    “…don’t take any wooden nickels”.
    “…don’t believe everything you hear, and only half of what you see”.
  • A martial art school should not glorify violence with displays of sadistic weapons or glorify Hollywood martial art stars by displaying glossy photographs or movie posters. None of these have any final bearing on your practice.
    “…glory is good for soldiers, but will not buy you anything”.
  • A martial art school should not promise you an improved social life, a healthy lifestyle, success in business or any other illusionary promise. It should promise you nothing but what you put in.
    “…you will only get out what you put in”.
  • A good instructor does not claim to be able to teach competently many different styles of martial arts. I have been practicing Aikido for over forty-one years yet I still would not claim to have mastered it.
    “…jack of all trades, master of none”.
  • A martial arts school or the style of the art it teaches should not be named inappropriately in its native language. If you are not sure, inquire with a native speaker of that language to see if the name makes sense. If it does not, it is an indication of the authenticity of the school.
    “…a good shepherd can spot a wolf in sheep’s clothing”.
  • A martial arts school should have no hidden fees or contracts. Applying extra hidden expenses once you join is questionable for any business let alone a good martial arts school. If a school advertises using terms such as “free” or “low cost” I would think about the safeguards and insurance policies the school has in place to guarantee your safety.
    “…there is no such thing as a free lunch”.
  • Nothing should be hidden from you. If a school uses too many foreign phrases or hidden techniques, it is a sign of lack of honesty not something special. A good instructor should be completely open while he or she instructs to assist students in their learning. If you find an instructor is using words or phrases that you do not understand, don’t worry about asking them to repeat themselves in English. Some schools will make you pay to learn “secret” techniques. If techniques were really so secret then no matter how many times they were shown to someone they wouldn’t understand. Please do not get caught in this trap.
    “…a secret is no longer a secret once you learn it. If you can learn it, then others can too”.
  • A martial arts school should have a good set of roots. The instructor should be able to say where he or she studied. It should be possible to ask his or her instructor or organization for a reference. There are instructors that have caused problems for an organization and transferred to another organization or teach freelance to hide from their past.
    “…beware of skeletons in the closet”.
  • A good instructor will not boast that he or she studied martial arts in Japan. In Japan, a “practitioner” is someone who has studied a martial art for over ten years. To be truthful, in Japan, ranking is sometimes given as a souvenir to foreigners returning to their countries. It is sometimes called “candy rank” in Japan.
    “…medals and awards make for the best and worst presentations”.

All of these twelve points are things I have learned in my own forty-one years of martial art practice. These twelve points make up the foundation that Nippon Kan is based on. In the end it is up to you to make your own choices. I caution you not to be drawn too quickly into any school that you visit. Rather, be objective and use your own common sense and experience.

For information about beginner’s classes offered at Nippon Kan, click here.

Welcome martial arts training challenger 2001!