A lot goes into choosing the right martial arts school, so start by asking the right questions. Those questions differ somewhat by age. Younger students do not have their own funds or transportation, and must depend on parents or guardians for guidance. This post will deal with choosing the best martial arts school for adult students, with a follow-up post for finding the right studio for kids, or helping young students participate in selecting a good martial arts school for themselves.
How far are you willing to travel to take a martial arts class? Be honest and practical; if you’re time-crunched and will be hurrying across town after work to train, that may not be a viable long-term solution. Convenience is a plus, and certainly increases your ability to participate in special events, arrive early, or stay late if need be.
How much can you afford to spend on a class? Note that “more expensive” doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be receiving more value. I know some excellent instructors who teach through colleges, YMCAs, or even rent space from a local church or business and have inexpensive monthly rates. Conversely, those dojangs and studios with substantial overhead expenses may charge more, and also have more extensive facilities with larger classes.
Pricing structures vary widely from school to school. Some martial arts studios charge students a monthly fee, while others require an annual contract with up-front or monthly payments. Other schools may not charge a fee for classes, but simply for uniforms, belt rank tests, etc.
How often are classes held? How often are you able to attend, and how often are you allowed to? If a school holds five classes per week, but you’re only eligible to attend two due to age, rank or experience level, that’s one consideration…another is if the school only holds one or two classes per week, and your own schedule prevents you from attending consistently. Some large martial arts studios may offer many classes each week, and allow students to participate in as many as they like. If you need or prefer a lot of structured class time, it’s best to select a school where you’ll be able to attend at least two classes each week.
Type of art
If the type of martial art is important to you, do some research before visiting any schools. Some martial arts, such as Kendo, may necessitate a significant investment in equipment to be able to fully enjoy and participate. Other arts, such as Taekwon-Do or Karate, may require just a uniform in order to get started. In order to excel at most martial arts, an investment in additional sparring gear or training tools will be needed as you progress.
Make sure classes are offered for your age group, and that the instructor is welcoming. Large schools may offer a spectrum of age-based, rank-based classes, but in a small school, you may be one of a few adults in a class full of kids or teenagers. If that’s the case, make sure the school you select has a culture that welcomes and facilitates a wide range of ages and abilities, and has enough instructors to go around.
Note: Most students come to a martial arts school with some type of “baggage” they see as a hindrance to their training potential, whether it’s a previous injury, lack of flexibility, or simply being out of shape. Don’t let your personal concerns keep you from taking a class in which you’re interested!
Traditional vs. sport
If you’re interested in Mixed Martial Arts training, you can go one of two directions: either take some “stand-up/striking” martial arts classes and some “ground/wrestling” classes; or seek a school that specializes in Mixed Martial Arts training. If you enjoy very structured, traditional classes that include history and theory, you’re likely looking for a very different studio than the one that offers highly physical classes with less personal instruction. Be sure to visit the school before enrolling, and participate in a class if that opportunity is offered.
Be sure to ask what additional expenses are involved before making your final decision, so you’ll have an idea of the total cost. Most martial arts schools require membership in an association or federation through which their school and/or instructor is certified. These memberships/dues help provide standardized curriculum, training materials and opportunities for the students, as well as certifying their rank as they are promoted. If you attend multiple classes each week, you may wish to purchase an additional uniform to minimize the laundry cycle. The art you select may recommend sparring gear for class or tournament participation, or tools for training outside class. Additionally, most schools encourage students to participate in tournaments, seminars, camps or other activities to hone and enhance their skills and training, requiring registration fees and travel expenses.
There are many people in the world who can show you how to throw a punch or kick, or perhaps even block those attacks. However, it’s human nature to focus on the activities we enjoy or at which we excel, and to ignore or discount those things we don’t understand, or aren’t good at teaching. This is why having a certified instructor can make all the difference: instructors who are certified through their organization or association have proof of earning their rank, they must teach specific curriculum provided/monitored by their organization, and any students promoted under their aegis will be recognized by that organization. Certified martial arts instructors, like school teachers, are required to continue their education through seminars, referee certification, tournament participation, and more.
How does it feel?
Will the instructor(s) let you watch or participate in a class before you make a decision? Do they answer your questions, blow you off, or give you a hard-sell approach? Are other students welcoming, or do you feel excluded? Trust your instincts when making a decision, and choose a school that is truly a fit for you.