Choosing a martial arts school can be tricky, especially if the extent of your martial arts knowledge is limited to bad action flicks. So here a quick guide to help you out.
The best thing you can before starting any new program is research, research, research. The worst mistake you can make is to pick a school just because it is the closest to you or just because it's the cheapest. We live in a great time where we can look up pretty much anything online and most martial arts schools nowadays have some kind of online presence. Here is a list of some FAQ that can help you in choosing a new school and martial art.
1. What style of martial art should you choose?
This can be tricky, and depending where you live you might not have many options. But again research is key. Generally all schools will advertise that they are of some style of some sort of martial art. Doing a
quick YouTube search can most of the time show you what you are basically in for (striking, grappling, etc). Most schools will describe their style as being the best and tell you why, but in actuality no style is without its flaws. Every martial art has its owns pros and cons and again its up to you to research to find out which one might fit you best according to your strengths and goals (see FAQ 10).
2. Is the instructor(s) qualified?
Here are some questions to ask the instructor(s)
A. How long have they been training?
B. Who is their instructor? and their instructor? Trace a lineage.
C. What is their rank? Through which organization?
D. What classes do they teach? All classes, advanced only, etc
After you collect all this info again do some research and see if you can verify everything. Unfortunately and sadly there are many frauds in the martial arts world so be cautious as to take things at face value.
3. Does the instructor(s) still train regularly?
This one is super important and often missed by prospective new students. A martial art is like a knife, you have to keep it sharp for it to be effective. It can be difficult for instructors to find time to train when much of their time on the dojo floor is spent instructing. A good instructor will always continue to train and hone their skills. A common philosophy among martial artists is that it is a “lifelong journey”.
4. Does the school offer a free trial?
You’d be hard to press to find one that doesn’t. Take advantage of it, it will give you the opportunity to try many different schools and styles to find one that will fit you the best. Also try and go with a friend (or another parent). Walking into a school for the first time can be intimidating, overwhelming and an information overload for some. Having another person to compare notes with afterwards is always helpful.
5. Does the school have a good reputation?
Here is another online task. Check 3rd party sites like Google Places, Yelp and Bing Business to see what kind of reviews the school has. Again though be wary of overly glowing reviews and check many different sources to be sure they are not reviews posted by the school management themselves.
6. What's the cost/cost structure?
This is of course pretty important to most of us. Like most things in life you should probably set a budget and stick within that amount. Make sure you ask what ancillary cost their might be. Such as uniforms, sparring equipment, weapons, etc. Also be aware that many schools also carry testing fees that apply as you move up in rank.
There are 3 common cost structors that you may come across.
A. Month to month. No commitments, you just simply pay for the month you train in.
B. Sessions. Generally a specific 6-8 week time of the year.
C. Contract. Committed to length of time that can be anywhere from 3 months to 1 year.
7. What is the class size / instructor ratio?
No one wants to be another face in the crowd. It's important to get some kind of feedback to help improve your skill. A good school with large classes should always have a couple instructors on hand to walk around and correct mistakes while the main instructor is teaching.
8. What is the instruction / action ratio?
In other words, do you spend more of the class moving and participating or do you spend it listening to the instructor talk? A good instructor will give enough information to explain what is going on and plenty of time for the students to actually perform the movements. Unfortunately the martial arts is riddled with ego, if you find yourself spending most of the class standing around listening to an instructor preach you may want to try a different school.
9. Is the class safe?
There are schools out there that live in an “old school / movie based” reality where they will be especially hard on beginner students essentially to “vet” out the people they deem unworthy to learn their “art”. It sounds silly but its true. It never hurts to watch a beginner class first to see what the class environment is like. You don’t want a class that coddles beginners but at the same time you don’t want a class that pounds you or your child into the ground at the first opportunity. A good class will be challenging, informative and safe.
10. Finally, why are you training / why do you want your child to train?
There are many reasons people train: fitness, self-defense, the art of it, competition, discipline, etc. Make sure whatever school you choose incorporates the reason why you want to do it. For example, if your interested in learning a martial art for the art of it, you may not want to join a school whose curriculum is based heavily in competition sparring.
As you can see joining a martial arts school can be a more complicated situation than one may think. Remember though you are investing in yourself / your child and a set of skills that can last lifetime so it's important to make the best choice possible.