Martial arts schools are
not created equal. Do your research and shop around before
enrolling at a school.
Joining a martial arts
school is a lot like purchasing a used car: You don't always know
what you are getting until it's too late.
In the marketplace of
martial arts, all schools are not created equal. Martial arts
teachers generally do not have to answer to a state regulatory
commission or a government agency, and there is no consumer group to
act as a watchdog to ensure the quality of instruction. Anyone, in
fact, can acquire a business license, purchase a black belt, rent
studio space and, to the unwitting public, appear to be the second
coming of Bruce Lee.
How, then, can the discerning buyer make a
knowledgeable choice when it comes to martial arts instruction? By
shopping around. Like any other product, there are certain criteria
that make some martial arts studios more appealing-and
Unfortunately, most first-timers-and some
veterans-have a difficult time seeing past the price tag or the
convenience of location when choosing a martial arts school. Those
should not, however, be the only determining factors when deciding
on a school. It is vitally important to visit as many schools as
possible before committing to one. See what each school has to
offer, then make your decision.
More often than not,
classes are taught, not by a school's master, but by an
assistant instructor or adult black belt. Be sure you know
before enrolling how available the master instructor will be
to help you with your learning.
The first thing to do
is make a list of the martial arts schools within your acceptable
travel distance and your preferred style (if you have one). Then
make an appointment to watch both beginning and advanced classes. If
the school offers a free introductory class, take it.
following are factors that should all be weighed before you sign on
the dotted line.
The attitude of both the instructor
and the students can serve as an accurate indicator of school spirit.Instructors
who treat their students with little respect, yet demand it themselves,
may be on an ego trip. Student respect and discipline can be forced
or natural; watch how the students react when the instructor is not
within sight. If they step languidly through the motions or chat with
one another, their previous show of respect and discipline was a facade.
Hopefully, the students diligently continue with their drills in the
Stretching before class
is important and necessary to prevent injuries. Check and see
if the instructor at your prospective school conducts such
warm-up drills before classes.
Warming up is essential to
a martial arts workout. Stretching is especially important, since
there is a good chance you will be performing kicking drills and
could injure muscles or ligaments that are not properly conditioned.
A short "cool-down" workout after a vigorous training session is
also recommended. By visiting a school, you can discover whether
these facets are included in the training.
A school's proximity to
your home or work should be taken into consideration prior to
signing up. Although an hour commute to class might not seem too bad
at first, keep in mind that you will be making that drive
two-to-three times a week for the next several years. Find a school
that fits your needs, but is also within an acceptable driving
Martial arts schools vary
in the type of equipment and amenities they offer. Some are large
and modern, and pro- vide weight-training equipment, showers and
lockers, while others do not. It is up to you to decide what is most
important and necessary for your training. All schools should offer
basic comforts, adequate equipment and learning essentials.
Remember: A pretty school isn't necessarily a highly functional
school, and vice versa.
Ask instructors about
the size and composition of classes before signing up for
lessons. Adults may not want to be in the same class with
children, some of whom may be able to perform the techniques
better than their old
Most instructors recommend
starting with one type of martial art and learning its essentials
before trying another style. However, many martial artists like to
be exposed to a variety of styles, and compare them to their own,
instead of focusing on one art. There are schools that offer both
types of training; you must decide which method you prefer. Ask
instructors about the size and composition of classes before signing
up for lessons. Adults may not want to be in the same class with
children, some of whom may be able to perform the techniques better
than their old counterparts.
Class Sizes and
Many new students prefer to
be part of a large training group, rather than a small class.
However, the benefits of a smaller class should not be overlooked.
In a smaller class, you will likely receive more individual
attention from the instructor, and there is less of a chance of
becoming "just a number." If you prefer private, one-on-one lessons
with the chief instructor, that can usually be arranged.
should also check with the instructor about what time of day classes
are offered, as well as their duration. Some schools offer 90-minute
classes, but most seem to be an hour long. Decide what length you
would be most comfortable with before committing to a school that
offers classes that are either too long or too short for your
The attitude of both the
instructor and the students can tell you a lot about a school.
Respect and discipline can be forced or
If the school is headed by
a well-known martial arts master, many prospective students
mistakenly believe they will receive their instruction from this
individual. Such is rarely the case, however. More often than not,
classes will be taught by an assistant or high-ranking students at
the school. That's not to say these individuals are not fully
qualified to teach, but a prospective student should ascertain ahead
of time who will be doing the instruction, and how available the
master instructor will be to help you during the course of your
Class Age Groups
Check to see if classes are
separated by age and/or belt level. Adult students may not
appreciate training with second-graders, some of whom may be able to
execute the techniques better than they can. You may find yourself
as the only adult in a class full of much younger students, and the
different maturity levels could prove distracting to both you and
Your chances of
receiving one-on-one insruction from the teacher are increased
when you attend a small martial arts
Some martial arts
instructors are in business simply to get your money and could care
less about your progress in the art they teach. To discover if this
is the case, ask the instructor about his belt ranking system. If he
says you need to be proficient in a certain number of basic
movements, forms, sparring and self-defense techniques before he
will promote you to a higher belt level, you are likely dealing with
an honest teacher.
If, on the other
hand, the instructor tells you that you will receive a new belt
every two months, be wary. You should never move up in rank until
you are ready and qualified to do so. A good instructor does not
push students to move up in rank merely to receive a belt-testing
Martial Arts schools come
in all sizes. Some are part of a large chain, others are small
operations run by a single instructor. The quality of instruction
you will receive at a school is not necessarily related to its size.
You can receive both poor or excellent instruction at a small
school, and the same goes for large schools. Although large schools
may have better equipment and a nicer facility, smaller schools
offer students more personal attention from the instructor(s). Check
out both types during your research.
Rarely do martial arts
schools advertise their price of instruction in the phone book.
Prices could be determined on a monthly basis, over several months,
or by how often you train each week. In some cases, the price is
negotiable depending on how many people will be taking classes with
you (family package deals, for example). There are instructors who
charge as little as $50 dollars a month for instruction, and there
are those who garner $50 or more for a single one-hour session. It
is up to you to determine what you feel is a fair and manageable
price for instruction. After some research, you will know who is
asking too much.
Just because a school is
small and training is conducted in a spartan environment
doesn't mean the instruction is not top quality. Good martial
arts schools come in all shapes and
There are countless
other minor details to consider when choosing a school. Is the
school clean? A clean school is a sign of pride and respect.
the instructor receptive to your questions? If you are treated like
an annoyance when trying to find out about the school, you will
probably be treated like an annoyance while you're taking classes.
Conversely, if the instructor seems too eager to sign you up and
answers with rehearsed responses, a warning light should go off in
your head. Does the school have air-conditioning and/or heating?
Seems like a silly question until it's sizzling or freezing out-
All of this may sound like a lot of work simply to find a
place to take martial arts lessons. But if you are planning to
invest hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours in martial arts
classes over the next few years, don't you want to be sure of what
you are getting in return? If you make a list of the things you feel
are important, and check off those items as you visit prospective
schools, you will find that your choices are quickly narrowed.
Before long, you will be performing martial arts drills at a school
that is right for you.
About the authors:
Edward A. Aymar is a Fairfax, Virginia-based freelance writer. C.
Renee Beveridge is a Driftwood, Texas-based martial artist and
freelance writer. Jim Coleman is the executive editor at Black Belt