Top 5 things to consider when choosing a Martial Arts School
1. Who will be studying (Adult or Child)?
2. What is the cost of the program?
3. What are the qualifications of the instructor?
4. Are you looking for Martial Sport or Martial Arts?
5. Is Black Belt my goal?
** PDF VERSION **
1.) Who will be studying (Adult or Child)?
This is a very important question because children (typically under 15) should train separately from adults as well as differently from adults. If you are looking at a Martial Arts school for an adult make sure the children's class is separate because you cannot effectively train small children and adults together.
If you are looking at a Martial Arts school for a child you need to make sure that the children's program is age group specific and covers material that is suitable for that age group. It has been our experience that children should be at least 6 years old before they learn a martial art.
This helps ensures their ability to comprehend the distinction between aggression and the practice of Martial Arts. When it comes to determining the exact age to begin the practice, there is no hard fast rule and children 6, 7, or even 8 may still be too young; the critical factor is their emotional and cognitive maturity. All children should be put through an introductory class and interview process to ensure they are both physically and emotionally equipped to handle this type of instruction.
IMPORTANT - You should also make sure that any instructors that will have access to your children have cleared a criminal background check with the Family Independence Agency of Michigan. This will ensure they have not committed any crimes against children. It is unfortunate to think of Martial Arts instructors as potential threats to your children but is definitely something that should not be overlooked.
2.) What is the cost of the program?
"The cost of training is usually based on a monthly fee, a fee for several months, or by how many times you train per week. The average charge is usually between $50.00 and $100.00. However, be on the lookout for additional costs! A reputable school will tell you up front if there is an extra charge for testing promotions, if there is an additional charge for belts upon promotion, and if there are additional charges to be registered with Federations."
(Excerpt from 'The Ithaca Journal')
Other than monthly fees here is a list of some of the common additional charges:
Registration Fees, Membership Fees, Late Fees, Promotion Fees, Finance Charges, Required Equipment, Required Uniforms.
Most schools will require you to sign a contract for your lessons.
"Contracts can be monthly, quarterly, yearly, or even longer. Schools often require payment in full for contracts of a shorter length or establish monthly installments for longer term commitments."
"Long-term contracts or agreements are not really practical for children. Lives are constantly changing. Families might have to move; children might decide they do not want to continue. Find out what your rights and options are before signing the contract. Will you receive a refund if you have paid the entire fee in advance and your family has to move?"
"Many states are outlawing long-term black belt contracts. Some states have already passed regulations stating a one year contract is the maximum a school can sell."
"Beware of the Bait and Switch - As in any sales situation, unethical sales tactics such as the bait and switch can be used. Schools attract students with one price and then immediately push an extended black belt contract. Be aware of this tactic so you will not fall prey to a high pressure bait and switch sales pitch."
(Excerpt from 'The Parents Guide to Martial Arts')
3.) What are the qualifications of the instructor?
"The most important issue when deciding on a Martial Arts school is the qualifications of the instructor. The cost and location should not be the deciding factor in your decision; it should be the instructor and the quality of their instruction."
"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 student 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."
(Excerpt from 'How to choose the right Martial Arts School - by Edward A. Aymar, C. Renee Beveridge and Jim Coleman')
IMPORTANT - Make sure you ask to see the credentials of the instructors! Many instructors claim to have been practicing for many years and in many different styles. Any reputable school will be able to provide you with credentials, certificates, and honors to prove not only how long they have been training but also in what styles.
4.) Are you looking for Martial Sport or Martial Arts?
Ask about the school's philosophy and whether the emphasis is on sports competition and rank or is it geared more towards culture, tradition, and personal growth. Find out if there is written material available to help teach the deeper more philosophical aspects of the art.
5.) Is Black Belt my goal?
The current trend in the Martial Arts industry is to place emphasis on rank and testing. The rank of black belt has traditionally been considered a beginning, not an end goal.
Martial Arts training is a life long endeavor. If the teacher you are considering is not actively training under an Instructor, they will not continue to grow and learn. They may also forget what it means to be a student.
Some additional thoughts on the subject:
"In your training, do not be in a hurry, for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung. Never think of yourself as an all-knowing, perfected master; you must continue to train daily with your friends and students and progress together in the Art of Peace."
Founder of the Martial Art of Aikido
from The Art of Peace
"It will take your entire life to learn Karate and there is no limit."
Founder of the Martial Art of Karate
from his 20 precepts of Karate
The Parable of the Black Belt
"Before granting the belt, you must pass one more test," says the sensei. "I am ready," responds the student, expecting perhaps one final round of questioning. "You must answer the essential question: What is the true meaning of the black belt?"
"The end of my journey," says the student. "A well-deserved reward for all my hard work." The sensei waits for more. Clearly, he is not satisfied. Finally, the sensei speaks. "You are not yet ready for the black belt. Return in one year."
A year later, the student kneels again in front of the sensei. "What is the true meaning of the black belt?" asks the sensei. "A symbol of distinction and highest achievement in our art," says the student.
The sensei says nothing for many minutes, waiting. Clearly, he is not satisfied. Finally, he speaks. "You are still not ready for the black belt. Return in one year."
A year later, the student kneels once again in front of the sensei. Once again, the sensei asks: "What is the true meaning of the black belt?"
"The black belt represents the beginning - the start of a never ending journey of discipline, work, and the pursuit of an ever-higher standard," says the student.
"Yes. You are now ready to receive the black belt and begin your work ."