Garage martial arts – are they any good?

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A garage dojo in Seattle, Washington. A garage dojo in Seattle, Washington.

I have a friend coming from out of town this morning to work on knife defense and tactics. We will practice in my garage.

Some people look down on garage training. They think a “real” martial arts school should have a well-equipped dojo with heavy bags hanging from the ceiling, weapons on the walls, and thick mats on the floor.

That’s all good. But no one should ever look down on garage training, and no student should be embarrassed to study in someone’s garage or home. Some instructors are traditional, and prefer to teach only family or individuals they know and trust. They do not promote their arts. A student should consider it an honor to be allowed to train in an instructor’s home.

Many instructors teach out of their garages, or at the park, because their primary pursuit is the art itself. These types of teachers are obsessed with learning and honing their abilities. They don’t want to invest their time in running a studio, doing paperwork, marketing and sales. They would rather focus on training and even traveling great distances to learn from other masters. Instructors like this can be the most gifted martial artists around, even if no one knows their name outside of a small circle. Bobbe Edmonds comes to mind, or the legendary Professor Wally Jay (who taught in his basement, and was scorned by other masters for years because of his innovations to Japanese Jujitsu).

I once tried a Wing Chun class in a garage with a young man who had advertised online. He didn’t want to be paid. He just wanted a loyal student. I didn’t continue because I found that Wing Chun did not suit me personally; but it was obvious that the young man was extremely skilled. He seemed to live, breathe and eat nothing but Wing Chun and heavy metal music.

One of the pioneers of Hapkido, master Ji-Han-Jae, studied with various teachers in his youth. These included of course Hapkido founder Choi Young Sul, a monk he called Taoist Lee Dosa, and a woman he called Grandma. Grandma taught him for three years from a hospice for the terminally ill. Somehow I doubt they had heavy bags hanging from the ceiling.

The training environment is not the measure of the martial artist. Nor does his/her value as a teacher and fighter correspond to the cost of his uniform or the square footage of the training space. The measure of an instructor lies his sincerity, character and skill, and the sincerity, character and skill of his students.

I am sure that there are amazing martial artists teaching in garages, living rooms, basements and backyards all over the world. These men are hidden masters. The important thing is that they continue teaching, so that their skills may survive and perhaps one day be shared with the world.

Wael Abdelgawad, Founder
Hammerhead Hapkido

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