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Choosing a Martial Arts School

There’s a great deal of variety in the martial arts you can study and the schools where you can learn them.  While many people have experience with comparison shopping at the grocery store or the auto dealership, not so many have experience with choosing between different martial art schools.  It can be quite difficult, because:

  • No two martial arts systems are the same,
  • No two martial arts schools are the same, and
  • No two martial arts instructors are the same.

Learning martial arts will be a significant investment, not just of your hard-earned money but also of your time.  It may be tempting to choose a school based solely on location and price, but it’s worth taking the time to understand your options and make your choice carefully.  We hope this article will help you make an informed choice.

Know Your Interests

Different people have different goals when considering the study of martial arts.  The two most common are:

  • Self-defense (“I want to learn how to defend myself”)
  • Fitness (“I want to get in better shape”)

But there are plenty of other reasons people get interested in martial arts, for example:

  • Earning a rank (“I want to get a black belt”)
  • Particular techniques (“I want to be able to do high kicks” or “I want to learn how to use a sword”)
  • Competition (“I want to compete in a tournament” or “I want to become a professional fighter”)

Think about what your interests and goals are for martial arts training.  They don’t have to be complicated or audacious, but try to have some idea what you want to accomplish.  Discuss your interests with instructors at prospective schools.  Because the focus of each martial art system, each school, and each instructor is different, your goals may be better served by some schools than others.

Get to Know the Instructor

When you enroll at a martial arts school, it’s not like signing up with a regular gym.  More than just time to train at the school, you’re paying for instruction.  The people who will be giving you that instruction will have a big influence on your experience.  You’re paying for time with the instructor, so it’s worth finding out what you’re buying.

Have a conversation with the instructor.  Ask questions about their approach to teaching, their beliefs about martial arts, even their philosophy.  Find out how long they have been training in martial arts, what rank(s) they hold, and how they earned their rank(s).  Ask how long they have been teaching, and how they learned to teach.  Find out why they started training in martial arts, and what motivates them to keep training.  Ask whether they have any favorite martial art topics or whether they specialize in a particular aspect of martial arts.

Be sure to find out how many instructors there are at a prospective school, and which one(s) will be teaching you.  Some schools have many assistant instructors.  Getting to know the head instructor is valuable in any case, but they may not be teaching you personally.

Observe and Try Classes

Ask for the opportunity to try classes before enrolling.  Most schools offer a free trial period.  (Without the chance to try a class it’s hard to know what you’re buying, or whether you’ll enjoy the experience.)

If for some reason a school doesn’t offer a free trial, it may be harder to evaluate.  You can also ask to observe a class, which most any school should allow.  If you’re new to martial arts, you might want to observe a class before trying one yourself.

Ask About Affiliations

Many martial art schools are affiliated with a larger martial arts organization.  There are many reasons why such an affiliation can be beneficial:

  • Such organizations set standards, certify instructors, and award ranks.
  • These organizations can provide quality assurance.  (Generally martial arts schools are not certified or regulated by state or local government agencies.)
  • Martial arts associations may organize special events like tournaments or seminars.
  • They act as a network of schools and instructors.  (This can help you continue learning martial arts if you move far away from the school where you started training.)
  • Membership in such an organization can help an instructor continue to improve their skills over time, by training with other instructors of a higher rank.

Just as no two schools are alike, no two martial arts associations are the same.  Ask not only about a prospective school’s affiliations, but what benefits those affiliations provide.

There are of course fine independent instructors that have no such affiliation.  However it is worth asking an independent instructor questions about:

  • Who certifies them to teach, and
  • How they continue their own training

Listen to Your Instincts

Choosing a martial arts school may sound like a lot of work.  After you’ve visited several schools, asked questions of the instructors, and tried their classes, you might feel a little overwhelmed.  Perhaps you’ve taken notes on the different schools to help you compare them.  Maybe you’re trying to figure out which school’s schedule will work best for you.  You might have all their prices written down.  There can be a lot to think about.

Give yourself a few days without thinking about it.  Then consider each of your prospective schools and ask yourself simple questions:

  • “Do I want to spend my time there?”
  • “Will I enjoy the classes?”
  • “Do I get along with the instructor?”

While it’s important to investigate prospective schools, it’s hard to compare them directly.  Your best guide is how you feel about each choice.  You should be looking forward to each class, having fun while you’re there, and developing a good relationship with the instructor.  Those kind of positive feelings are what will motivate you to come to class and train consistently.  Consistent training and positive motivation are what leads to improvement, advancement, achievement, and satisfaction in martial arts.

More Resources

If someone trying to sell you something gives you advice about choosing what to buy, you should take that advice with a grain of salt.  I am a martial arts instructor myself, and I run a school which might be one of your potential choices.  So here are a couple articles written by other people about how to choose a martial arts school:

I sincerely wish you the best of luck in finding a positive martial arts experience.

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