5 Martial Arts Seminar Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Hapkido arm bar plus throw.
Hapkido arm bar plus throw.

What is a seminar?

If you haven’t been to a martial arts seminar, these are intensive learning events that typically last from two to four days. There will be anywhere from five to ten hours of training per day. The seminar is often hosted by a local martial arts organization that brings in a high-level master. The master demonstrates a technique, then the attendees pair up and practice it. After a while, the master demonstrates another technique, and so on.

The seminars I have attended have typically cost between $80 and $100 per day. The smallest one I attended had about 15 attendees, while the largest was a Dan Inosanto seminar in Stockton that was attended by over 100 people.

Common pitfalls and how to avoid them

1. Can’t get in because the seminar is full

How to avoid this:  Pay at least a month or two in advance, if possible. Some seminars sell out quickly.

2. Getting lost

It sucks when you’ve paid in advance, traveled a long distance to attend, and then you’re late because you can’t find the training hall.

How to avoid this:  Fly or drive into the seminar city a day in advance, or at least several hours in advance. Use that time to check into your hotel and then get to the seminar location early. Get a hotel as close to the seminar location as possible, even if it’s not the nicest or cheapest hotel. Trust me, it makes things much easier. The last thing you want is to be five miles away from the training location, getting lost on your way to and from the hotel, and maybe without a ride if you don’t have a car.

3. No one to practice with

Often people go to seminars in groups or pairs, and if you’re alone – and especially if you’re not extroverted – you may find yourself without a training partner.

How to avoid this:  Take a training partner with you. If you’re alone, however, you have to be willing to simply approach someone, tap them on the shoulder and say, “Want to work on this?” Do it immediately after the instructor demonstrates the technique, before they have a chance to pair up with someone else. If there’s no one free, approach a friendly looking pair and say, “Can I work in?” You’ll quickly get a feel for which pairs are open to strangers and which are not.

4. Lacking the proper equipment

It’s embarrassing having to borrow equipment from better-prepared attendees, or buy it from the organizer at a markup, or rush out to try to buy it at a martial arts supply store.

How to avoid this: Find out if in advance if you’re expected to bring any special training weapons or equipment. For a Silat seminar, for example, it’s a fair bet that you’ll need a training knife and a pair of safety goggles. For a Kali or Eskrima seminar you’ll need sticks. Ask the seminar organizer and bring what you need.

5. Getting injured

This is the biggie. I have been seriously injured once at a seminar (a torn rotator cuff) and have experienced several minor injuries such as elbow hyper-extensions and sprained wrists. Getting injured is no fun and can wreck your entire seminar experience. Then you get home and you feel discouraged, and you can’t review the techniques you learn.

How to avoid this:

  1. Don’t train too hard before the seminar. You do not want to go in with incipient injuries, otherwise the seminar will wreck you.
  2. Take breaks. Some people – especially when they’ve traveled to attend – feel that they must practice feverishly for the entire five or six hour session, in order to get their money’s worth. This is a recipe for injury. Practice the technique several times, then take a minute to write it down. Rest when needed. It’s okay to simply watch from time to time.
  3. If you have a pre-existing injury, baby it. Wear a brace and let your partner know to go easy on that body part.
  4. Protect yourself during training. Cover your face during striking techniques. Keep a slight bend in your arm when receiving an arm bar. Don’t let anyone lock your joints fully. In your home dojang/dojo you might play the part of the compliant receiver, so that your partner can practice the techniques properly. That’s fine with someone you know and trust. At seminar, however, some attendees are inexperienced and will hurt you without meaning to. Some have no control, or simply don’t care (if you get someone like that, move on and find a different partner).
  5. Don’t throw each other if the floor is crowded. This can be a problem with busy seminars in small spaces. I’m always cognizant of where I throw my partner, but my partners have not always been so careful. I was once thrown onto a woman’s leg, resulting in her knee being badly hyper-extended. Another time I was thrown onto a woman’s ankle. Since then, if the floor is crowded, I simply don’t follow through with the throw, or I stay out of the throwing techniques altogether.
  6. Be prepared. Take an ice pack and stash it in your hotel room freezer. Take ibuprofen and a menthol cream. Use them every day after training.
  7. Sleep at night. Some people get caught up in the excitement of being in a new city. After training they go out for dinner and drinks, then hit the town. They return to the hotel room at 2 or 3 am, crash for a few hours, then it’s time to get up and train. By the end of the second or third day they’re exhausted, sick and sore. Honestly, this is no way to learn. Remember what you’re there for. You traveled all that way to learn from a master, not to party. Stay focused on your purpose.

It’s reasonable to expect that you can learn useful techniques at a seminar, have fun and not get injured. With a little preparation and common sense, it’s also doable. Have fun and train safe.


Wael Abdelgawad, Founder
Hammerhead Hapkido

1 Comment

  1. I suppose another possible pitfall might be attending a seminar taught by a charlatan. I’ve seen some of these on Youtube. So-called masters with poor technique, running hoaxes on students who don’t know any better. But I’ve never personally met any such fraudsters and I don’t know how people get taken in by them.

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