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 legitimate-than others.
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.
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.
The 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
Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs
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 distance.
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.
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 Schedules
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.
You 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 tastes.
Quality of Instruction
of both the instructor
and the students can
tell you a lot about
a school. Respect and
discipline can be forced
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 learning.
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 them.
of receiving one-on-one
insruction from the teacher
are increased when you
attend a small martial
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
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 fee.
Size of School
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.
Price of Instruction
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.
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
Is 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 magazine.