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Karate or Other Martial Art Schools: How to Choose a Dojo

Updated on March 12, 2011

Maybe your ten year old has convinced you that he or she is ready for a new challenge. Or maybe you always wanted to try your hand at karate and you have finally decided to give it a go. Whether you choose karate, judo, jujitsu, tae kwon do, or another art, the dojo, or martial arts school, that you choose will be a major factor in whether or not you continue in your new hobby or drop out before you reach that black belt. Here are some things a parent or new student needs to look for when choosing a new karate school.

Call around and do some price comparisons. Some of the more popular chain schools have exorbitant pricing that is easily beaten by locally owned and operated, individual schools. I have found that the local schools are often more flexible and may have a greater sense of camaraderie than the larger schools. The instruction level of an individually owned school can be just as high or higher than a chain, where you may find you are paying more for the name.

  1. Observe some classes on your level as well as on the advanced level. Meet some of the students and see whether you or your child would fit in. Are the students happy and friendly? If you are looking for a dojo for your child, do the parents who bring the students interact or are they standoffish and withdrawn? Do the teachers and students treat each other with respect? If you are looking for a serious school, do the students meet your level of competitiveness? You will be spending a lot of time in very close proximity to these people, so make sure they seem to be the kind of people you would be comfortable around.
  2. Ask if you can observe a testing. Some martial arts schools may not allow this, but if they do, notice whether or not the students look like they are competent in what they are being tested. If the students are clueless about the routine, it is a pretty good bet that they are mostly just paying for the belts, which is useless as far as actual martial arts learning is concerned. Also notice whether or not the tests look challenging. A martial arts test for a belt should showcase a student’s expertise and stamina, and even at the lowest level should never be simple or easy.
  3. Find out whether or not the students compete, and are competitive, at local, state, or national events. Not having a competent team can be a red flag for a number of things: dissatisfied students that drop the dojo after a few classes, faulty or poor instruction, students being passed to levels without actually possessing the skills of that level, or a lack of discipline in the dojo.
  4. Find out about the character education, particularly of the children’s classes. A  traditional dojo teaches more than just  how to fight. It teaches responsibility, honor, honesty, loyalty, and all those moral codes that make for a well-disciplined, well-rounded person. This instruction should be obvious, especially in the children’s classes. If you are looking for a karate school for your child, this is one area you particularly need to pay attention. Participating in a good martial arts program is an excellent ways to build character and lay a foundation for a responsible child and adulthood.
  5. Take a close look at the contract. Some schools ask for a two or three year commitment. This is quite a contract for a passing interest. You may be able to get a martial arts school to reduce the contract for a year, for the first year. If so, this may be a better option, especially if the contract is for your child. Many children try on different interests, and you don’t want to be stuck with a three year contract when your child is ready to move on to guitar, soccer, or ballet lessons!
  6. Find out whether or not the dojo charges extra for belt testing. Keep in mind that this can be a conflict of interest. A parent who pays for testing may be upset when that child does not pass. This can lead to instructors who pass students who really should not be moving up. If money is a bit tight, there can be a considerable pressure to cough up the extra money to advance and keep up with peers.


Choosing a martial arts school can be a long-term commitment. Taking the time to do a little research could make the difference between keeping a white belt or going all the way to that coveted, embroidered black belt.


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