How To

How to choose the right martial arts school

Choosing the right martial arts school is an important decision that will affect your entire experience. Many find that choosing the “best” school is a real challenge. Others mistakenly believe that all schools are the same. To help you find the school and instructor that best suits your needs, here are some questions that can help you make an informed choice.

#1 What do you hope to gain or achieve through martial arts?
Determine what you hope to achieve through your martial arts training. Is it an interesting and intense workout? Or, is practical self-defense your most important objective? Do you want to compete? Exploring this question will help you keep your expectations in line with your choices. Practicing martial arts is a very personal and powerful activity. Learning techniques from an experienced instructor and practicing with other students will challenge you physically and mentally, and you are likely to gain more from the practice than you imagined.

#2 What martial art style should you choose?
The key to choosing a martial art is knowing how each one differs from the next. Knowing what to expect will affect your satisfaction with your practice. You don’t buy a car or take a vacation without first doing some homework, but the bottom line is that most martial arts are an excellent path to personal growth.

#3 What is the school owner’s or head instructor’s teaching philosophy?
Of all of the aspects of choosing a school, this is the most important. It is the owner or head instructor who sets the expectations, curriculum and overall philosophy of the school. The right instructor will positively influence and set the tone for the instructor team and students. A reputable instructor will help understand your goals and help you on the right path, even if that path is directing you to another school. A good and effective instructor will not only be able to demonstrate techniques, but also be able to teach them to you. The instructor team should be well-rounded and in tune with recommending curriculum that helps you achieve your goals. Be sure to watch a class or two to see what kind of teaching style the instructor employs, as well as the quality of his or her students. You will never learn more about an instructor as you will through direct observation. You should be cautious of schools or instructors who don’t allow observing visitors. Whether you’re new to martial arts and want to get in shape and learn self-defense or you’re an experienced student with specific goals for your practice, you’ll want to find an instructor who is interested in discussing your goals and helping you to achieve them.

#4 What questions should you ask the school owner and head instructor?
This can be a difficult question to answer if this is your first experience with martial arts. For starters, ask them these questions: How long have you been teaching? If required for teaching your art, are you certified? If teaching multiple arts, what are your credentials? Where and when did you begin your training?

#5 Does the school have a balanced and complete curriculum?
Many martial arts schools offer curriculums that focus primarily on the physical techniques of the martial arts offered. Some schools focus more on competition, so the curriculum is designed around this. Look for a school that has a balanced approach to the physical and mental training that will help you achieve your goals. A balanced curriculum should include a combination of physical techniques and conditioning, self-defense, opportunities to compete and an emphasis on how mindfulness can be used for improved self-discipline and mental focus.

#6 What are your expectations for the school’s location and facility?
Consider what you want in the training facility itself. Is it clean and well-maintained? How far are you willing to travel for classes? Does the appearance of the facility make a difference? What amenities are important to you (i.e., changing rooms, viewing area, etc.)? Will the class times fit your schedule?

#7 Does the school have any affiliations?
There are many types of affiliations. One example of an affiliation is a franchise. Schools that are part of a larger corporation may be considered franchises. Another type of affiliation is professional organizations. Professional organizations provide tips on curriculum and how to improve class instruction. Some professional organizations may provide general information about industry trends and best practices. Others have governing bodies that provide certification for rank and require affiliate schools to adhere to the organization’s guidelines. Another type of affiliation includes networking among independent schools. These schools choose to network with other schools and their owners and instructors to share best practices for teaching, curriculum and special programs. Regardless of affiliation, good instructors are continually seeking to improve themselves through seminars, classes, networking outside their circle, seeking information from professional organizations or their mentors and from professional events.

#8 Are ranking organizations important?
Although ranking organizations can play a role in martial arts training, they should not be considered pivotal. A school with an organizational affiliation can be very reputable and provide quality martial arts instruction. However, schools without these affiliations can also offer very high quality instruction. Affiliations and ranking organizations may positively influence some schools, but they do not guarantee the best instruction or curriculum for all schools.

#9 What about competitions or tournaments?
As a student, most schools provide the opportunity for interested students to participate in tournaments. Competitions that are well-organized and reputable can be a positive learning experience for students to choose to compete. Some schools may participate in inter-franchise tournaments. That is, they compete with other schools within their own franchise only. Others participate in invitational tournaments and compete with other independent schools, franchises or groups. Ask the school owner what types of competition experiences are available through the school.

#10 What about guest instructors or special events?
Some schools will bring in teachers from other styles or organizations to give their students a different perspective on their training. These special events are designed to bring additional learning experiences to the school in order to expand students’ knowledge and encourage students to incorporate new material and concepts into their own personal training.

#11 Take advantage of any trial periods or introductory offers. Think of this as a test drive. Would you be willing to buy an automobile without driving it around the block?
You MIGHT be happy at a school and sign a long term contract without having experienced the program beforehand, but you might not. A reputable school will offer you an opportunity to “test drive” the program. Whether it’s two free lessons or a one month membership, you should try to experience what the school has to offer before making a commitment.

#12 What is the tuition based on? What are your expectations for tuition? What are you willing to invest? What value will you place on your training compared to other activities?
While it’s true that you can get what you pay for, it’s also true that you can pay too much. Your return on the financial investment is the personal growth you will achieve during your training experience. Many martial arts instructors teach because of the deep satisfaction of sharing the art with others. If they could provide high quality martial arts instruction at no charge and still support themselves and their families, most would. Quality instructors have dedicated 10, 15, 25 or more years of their life to the pursuit of martial knowledge and have earned degrees that we see as stripes on their black belts. Yet, these stripes represent experience and knowledge similar to that of someone who has earned their PhD. Therefore, the majority of most schools’ tuition pays for the operational costs associated with the training facility itself such as rent, equipment and supplies. Tuition is set by school owners with the long-term success of the school and its students in mind. Full-time schools typically charge anywhere from $80 to $200 per month.

#13 What are testing fees?
Some schools charge a testing fee to keep the monthly tuition at a lower rate and to establish value to the testing process. The testing fees also cover costs associated with testing such as guest instructors, belts, certificates, and at times, accreditation through the organization to which the school belongs.

#14 What are program upgrades and do all schools offer them?
If a school has upgrades or additional programs, they should be discussed in advance and be fair. In fact, all costs should be identified before you make the commitment to enroll. Be sure to ask about membership options, testing fees, upgrades and mandatory equipment. A recent trend seen at some martial arts schools is a high-pressure sales technique to get new students to commit early to a long-term membership. Be sure that you’re ready to make this commitment for the right reasons.

#15 What is the best way to get more information about schools in my area?
The yellow pages, local community newspapers and the internet are all good starting places. Word of mouth can also be helpful, but be sure to get many opinions. If you know anyone who is familiar with martial arts, ask them for guidance. If you’re already interested in a specific school, ask others that may know about the school’s reputation.