How to find a martial arts school
The right martial arts school (for you)
Beginning the Search
Before you start your search for a school, you need to have the specific benefits you want out of the training, whether for yourself or for someone else. With these goals in mind search the martial arts schools in your area, most schools will have trial classes to determine how well they are able to fit with your goals.
Meeting the Instructors
When entering the school don't be afraid to look at what they have to offer (just be careful of shoes on the mats). Some schools will have trophies displayed from competitions, pictures on the walls of the masters the instructors had, and some equipment that is used. These are not necessarily an indication of how good the school is; it is far more important to have a teacher and a program that fits you and your family first.
The first thing you should be comfortable with is asking questions, if the school gives off the vibe that questions are an insult, it's a good indication that feedback and cooperation with students is not a main focus. Some questions to ask are:
How are classes divided?
At the school I taught at we had our classes divided by age groups:
3-4 in this section it's more about learning how to take turns, follow directions, and communicate with others. What you want to avoid is a glorified babysitter, by this I mean there should clearly be a standard and a structure to the class room,
5-7 (I'm not going to lie this was my favorite age group, they were young enough that being excited was still cool and old enough to understand what they were doing) this is when the foundations are started along with the kicking, punching and self discipline. With this group you want to see the students engaged and excited, hanging off of the instructors every word.
8-12 these guys get to start seeing the more developed self defense and sparring, the most important thing you want to see is the instructors stress of safety (this may vary with the discipline you chose to study, karate safety measures and Krav Maga safety measures are very different) and the students should still be engaged and excited to be in class.
13 and adult this is really where you start seeing the differences in martial arts disciplines, I taught Krav Maga and the main focus is having the ability to defend yourself no matter the situation, it involved lots of conditioning and muscle memory under stress. Needless to say there was lots of sweating, whereas, with the more traditional martial arts I first studied, I hardly ever broke a sweat. At this point it is more about what your goals are and if the program will help you accomplish them.
Other schools may not divide their students in this manner. Some schools may have more of an interest in family classes where children and adults are together, other schools may be divided by belt rank. The preference you have will depend on what the goals you are looking to obtain are.
How often are belts earned and what are the testing fees?
The school I was at had the testing fee was $40, $50 if the fee was late, and occurred every three months for all ages. For most schools this is a focus of revenue. It's not good or bad but something to take into consideration when looking for a school and is important in order to find the true cost of the program.
How are students evaluated?
Now, this question is far more important than just about anything. This is where you learn what the school thinks it means to be a black belt. Remember this is a way of life, a passion that shows who someone is as a person, if the response is that you have memorized a series of movements and are therefore qualified to have a belt, then perhaps this is not the school you deserve.
For children we had stripe tests for the qualities of a champion (the physical aspects of a black belt) which happened at the end of every month in class and we had black belt excellence sheets (the character traits of a black belt) to be completed at home that way we as instructors knew the student had a "black belt attitude". With belt testing a student was ready to move to the next belt when the sheet had been completed and signed by a parent and when they had earned the quality stripe. If the student had these there was no reason for the student not to test but if one or two were missing due to various reasons (sickness, vacation, etc.) we had the students make them up during scheduled appointments to be able to continue their advancement. To be fully qualified to advance we sent out evaluation letters for parents and teachers to complete because students don't stop wanting to be black belts when they go home, so, why should they stop acting like one? This evaluation had a scale ranging from 1-10, 10 being the very best they can do and 1 being an area they strongly needed to improve upon. If the student was at less than an average of 7, we would again schedule appointments to work on what was needed to be improved upon. For adults for their first test we set a baseline for what they personally could achieve, in the time that was given to them, after that each test had to be a little better every time. What you want to see is advancement beyond "going through the motions" and for the school to take an interest in showing being a black belt is a responsibility not just an item.
Am I required to sign a contract?
It is common for schools to have contracts. Most will be 6 months or a 1 year. If there is a longer term, I would advise the shorter contract as a fail safe to be sure it is a program you wish to be a part of. The school I was with we offered a 3 year black belt training program that would allow for students to become assistant instructors, however, that may not be for everyone. Keep in mind this is a two way street, not only are you committed to attending (and paying for) classes but the instructors are committed to continuing and advancing your education.
I would also ask if there are certain situations in which the contract may be voided (injuries, family medical problems, moving away etc.). It would not be fun to have something happen to you and no longer able to enjoy classes and still had to pay for them.
What certifications do the instructors have?
Due to the fact the martial arts is NOT regulated and no one is required to have any certifications in order to teach martial arts, I would highly recommend that you research (YouTube) the discipline that the school teaches. Yes, you may see framed certificates and trophies, however, these can be store bought. I am not suggesting that every school, or that even most schools are like this, I suggest being informed. It is always better to learn something new and get excited about what you may be studying at that school. Most instructors will have a black belt and will say from whom it was earned, others may have an instructor course that is required within a national chain, again, research is always your best option.
What is the schedule and how often are the classes?
With this you want to make sure that the classes fit into your schedule, meaning you have ample time to get to the classes ( I would also ask about penalties of being late to a class just in case you're having one of "those" days, with our school we had a better late than never attitude as long as we saw the student hustling to join class). You also want to see if you are restricted to a number of classes a week or certain days of the week. I would also advise asking, if you are restricted and need to miss your class (school functions, other family activities etc.), if you have to opportunity to make it up.
When are the instructors available for questions or concerns?
As I stated in the beginning, you want there to be communication between your instructor and yourself. Find out what the easiest way to get in contact with them is, whether it be phone, email, or even Facebook. See if you're able to schedule meetings with instructors, this may be a way for you to address home or school issues you think they could help with (for me being an instructor was more than just teaching someone to kick and punch, it was about being a coach and a mentor to the students I had and helping them in any way possible).
What equipment will be needed?
Every sport requires equipment, martial arts is no different. This is to help you consider the true cost of the program.
During the Beginning Trial
When considering the quality of instruction in a school you want your instructor to be knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge with you. Is your instructor teaching from a positive aspect, showing you how to improve rather than telling you what you are doing wrong? You want the instructor to be the example, not the assistant instructor or a student. This is more about the instructor themselves being able to do what is being asked of you, because really, do you want to learn from someone who can't do what it is they're "teaching"?
Making the Final Decision
This goes back to your original goals, why are you looking to study martial arts to begin with? I haven't discussed the different disciplines of martial arts, because, that isn't the focus, a good program and a great instructor will help you to achieve what it is that you are wanting from your training. If you feel a connection with a particular school then great! That is something every good instructor strives for.
© 2015 bturg