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DWx
KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 17 Jan 2007
Posts: 6423
Location: UK
Styles: Tae Kwon Do & Yang family Tai Chi

PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2014 11:30 am    Post subject: DWx's Guide to Choosing a Martial Arts School Reply with quote

This post was originally published as an article in a dedicated KarateForums.com Articles section, which is no longer online. After the section was closed, this article was most to the most appropriate forum in our community.

Finding a style and school can be a bit daunting if you don't know where to start so here's my rough guide on how you should go about choosing a martial arts school that's right for you.

Before anything else, you need to figure out what it is you want from your martial art. What goals do you want to achieve? Try answering some of these questions:
  • Do you want to learn primarily for self defence?
  • Do you want to learn to strike? Throw? Grapple?
  • Are you interested in competition and/or sport?
  • Do you want to learn weapons?
  • Are you looking for a traditional school or something more informal?
  • Do you want hard contact, or would you prefer lighter contact?
  • Do you want a style that has an internal aspect (spiritual, philosophical, involves meditation, etc.)?
  • Do you want lots of cardio and fitness?
  • Do you want a school that is for adults only or are you looking for a more family-orientated environment?
Once you have answers to these questions, you can start to form a shortlist of styles that'll be right for you. Very briefly, here is a rough list of the more popular martial arts:

Striking
  • Boxing
  • Karate (including Goju-ryu, Isshin-ryu, Kyokushin, Shorin-ryu, Shotokan, Wado-ryu and others)
  • Kenpo/Kempo
  • Kickboxing
  • Kung fu
  • Muay Thai (Thai Boxing)
  • Taekwon-Do (TKD)
  • Tang Soo Do
  • Wing Chun
Grappling
  • Aikido
  • Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ)
  • Hapkido
  • Japanese jiu-jitsu (JJJ)
  • Judo
  • Wrestling
Weapons
  • Escrima
  • Iaido
  • Kendo
Mixed
  • Jeet Kune Do (JKD)
  • Mixed martial arts (MMA)
This list is by no means exhaustive, and many more styles exist out there. If you want to know more about a style, Google it, ask on the forums or look it up on Wikipedia. Searching for videos on YouTube or other video sites can also give you a good idea of what the style is all about and show you what the training might be like.

Finding Schools Near You

Once you have a rough idea of what you're looking for, you have to search for schools in your area. More often than not this requires a little bit of Google-Fu but a good starting point is to simply type the style and your location into a search engine and see what comes up. In fact Google Maps has a great feature where you can type "taekwondo" (or another style) into the search bar and then zoom in on an area to see the locations of schools. It's not an exhaustive list, but it's a starting point.

You should also look through the Yellow pages, and perhaps checkout the local YMCA or community centre to see if anyone runs a class there.

Another approach is to find out what organizations and associations govern the style in your country, and then go through their website to find a school. For instance, if I wanted a Shotokan karate school in England, I could visit the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB) website and search for a club in my home town.

Something which may, or may not turn up a school, is to search your local news website. Sometimes schools will send in an article to the local paper if they've hosted or attended any events; so it might be a good way to find something local to you.

And, of course, you can always ask around. Family, friends and co-workers might know of a little un-advertised place in someone's basement that offers great teaching.

Once You Have Found a Potential School

If you have found a viable school in your area, have a quick look over their website (if they have one), and see what comes up when you search their name. See if they have a Facebook page or YouTube account as that can be a good way of getting a feel for the school. Don't worry if they don't have an internet presence though as it's not always a good indicator of quality.

What you should do is visit the school. Contact the instructor and arrange to sit in on a class or, better yet, participate in one. Most schools these days will give you a free trial period so that you can get a feel for the instructor and training environment. It's important that you feel comfortable there and that the instructor's teaching style is appropriate for you. You'll most likely be at the school for many years, so you have to find somewhere you like. It's unlikely to happen, but if the instructor says that watching/trying first isn't possible, then I would start looking elsewhere unless it comes highly recommended from someone you trust.

Visiting the School

When you visit the school, you'll want to watch all the students. Look at how the higher grades and more experienced students move. Do they look like they know what they're doing? Even if you don't know all that much about the style itself, look at whether the higher grades move with purpose. Do they look powerful? Do they look like they have control and focus? Do they have the skills you would want to have when you reach that level? How good is the instructor? Due to age and other conditions, they may not be in their prime, but they should at least look and sound like they know what they are doing. Most importantly of all, see how the instructor takes the class and how they teach it. Everyone will have their own teaching style, and you have to see whether theirs will be a good fit for you.

I can't stress the importance the school's atmosphere enough. It should be a crucial factor in your decision. As I've already mentioned, martial arts won't be something you'll do for a couple of months and then give up. You need to find somewhere you'll feel happy and comfortable at. The actual style is less important compared to the atmosphere of the school.

Whilst visiting the school, it's a good opportunity to chat with the other students, and ask them why the train there and what the good and bad things are. Ask them about their own experiences with the school and teaching as they can tell you things the website and instructor won't. If you want to start training to meet new people and make new friends, find out if the students get together outside of training. Does the school run any social events over the year?

Ask Questions

If you get a chance after the class (or if not, you can arrange to speak to the instructor at a later date), you'll probably want to ask some questions. What's the instructor's background and lineage? Who have they trained with, and what have they done over their martial career? How is a typical class structured? Is the school affiliated with a national or international organisation? Not all schools will be, and it's not crucial that there are, however if they're approved by a national governing body (NGB), it can indicate that they are a good school. Do they have insurance for you? How often would you get to train with masters or specialists at events like seminars and camps? How is a typical class structured?

Specific to what you want from your training, if you're after sport or competition, find out what opportunities there are for competing? What's the instructor's competitive background? And, more importantly, how many students has he trained to be successful in local, national and international competitions?

At some point, you should find out about the school's fee structure and membership policy. How much per class or per month? How much per grading? What about uniforms and equipment? Do you have to buy it from the school, or are you allowed to source it (cheaper) elsewhere? How many classes are there per week? Will you have to sign up to additional programs later on? Does the school require you to sign a contract? See how this compares to other schools in your area as you still want to get good value for your money.

If you're after a family-friendly school because you want your child(ren) to train too, it might also be in your best interests to see if the school has a child protection policy or other such measures in place. Does the school perform background checks on all instructors (and any helpers)? If you're looking for a school in the UK, I can tell you that all instructors should have a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check and they should be able to show it to you if you request.

This isn't meant to be an all-inclusive list. You should ask any other questions that come to mind, and raise any issues or concerns you have.

Still with me? Great. Choosing a martial arts school can be difficult, but I hope this article has made it a little bit easier or at least pointed you in the right direction. If anything, just go with your gut feeling as it's not the end of the world if you change your mind about a school at a later date. Best of luck as you start your martial arts journey.

Note

I compiled this article mostly from posts made in the Getting Started in the Martial Arts forum. Thank you to everyone that has ever asked a question or posted a response there. In particular, I found these threads helpful, so I would direct anyone looking for more info to check them out:

http://www.karateforums.com/how-should-one-go-about-choosing-a-school-and-instructor-vt38789.html
http://www.karateforums.com/what-are-the-right-questions-to-ask-vt31895.html
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Patrick
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Joined: 01 May 2001
Posts: 27966
Location: Los Angeles, California

PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2014 11:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As today is Danielle's birthday, I thought that we would publish an article written by her. Thank you for the submission, Danielle!

Patrick
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Archimoto
Purple Belt
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Joined: 12 Apr 2014
Posts: 548

Styles: JKD / Muay Thai / TKD

PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2014 1:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow great article !!!
There sure are some smart peeps around here !!!
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sensei8
KF Sensei
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Joined: 23 Feb 2008
Posts: 15453
Location: Houston, TX
Styles: Shindokan Saitou-ryu [Shuri-te/Okinawa-te based]

PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2014 4:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Happy Birthday, Danielle!!

A dynamically solid article, Danielle...EXCELLENT!!

You are all that and a bag of chips, Danielle. Thank you for the article, and this article should be in print somewhere for ALL to read, and not just here at KF. However, I'm glad that it's here, first!!



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bushido_man96
KF Sensei
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Joined: 31 Mar 2006
Posts: 28973
Location: Hays, KS
Styles: Taekwondo, Combat Hapkido, Aikido, GRACIE

PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2014 5:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article. Very thorough, and a great guide.

Happy Birthday, Danielle!
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Harkon72
Black Belt
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Joined: 27 Aug 2012
Posts: 1875
Location: Wales
Styles: Okinawan Karate, Aikido, Ninpo.

PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2014 7:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Classifying martial arts classes is never easy. The quality of the teacher has a crucial effect on the resulting student.

I wish you a Happy Birthday Danielle!
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tallgeese
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Joined: 04 May 2008
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Location: McHenry County, IL
Styles: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Bujin Bugei Jutsu, Gokei Ryu Kempo Jutsu, MMA, Shootfighting, boxing, kickboxing, JKD, Pekiti Tersia Kali

PostPosted: Mon Aug 04, 2014 2:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article! I wish everyone would read it before starting school shopping. Those questions are so crucial to long term fulfillment but are largely unknown to many would-be students at the outset.

I think that a constant re-evaluation of those questions are also in order as one changes stages of life, training, ect.

Great job!
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bushido_man96
KF Sensei
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Joined: 31 Mar 2006
Posts: 28973
Location: Hays, KS
Styles: Taekwondo, Combat Hapkido, Aikido, GRACIE

PostPosted: Tue Aug 05, 2014 7:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

tallgeese wrote:
Great article! I wish everyone would read it before starting school shopping. Those questions are so crucial to long term fulfillment but are largely unknown to many would-be students at the outset.

I think that a constant re-evaluation of those questions are also in order as one changes stages of life, training, ect.

Great job!


Refence the bold above, I agree. As a Martial Artist grows and matures, what they are seeking often changes. This article would be great for rehashing at differen points in an MAist's career.
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sensei8
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Joined: 23 Feb 2008
Posts: 15453
Location: Houston, TX
Styles: Shindokan Saitou-ryu [Shuri-te/Okinawa-te based]

PostPosted: Wed Aug 06, 2014 6:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

bushido_man96 wrote:
tallgeese wrote:
Great article! I wish everyone would read it before starting school shopping. Those questions are so crucial to long term fulfillment but are largely unknown to many would-be students at the outset.

I think that a constant re-evaluation of those questions are also in order as one changes stages of life, training, ect.

Great job!


Refence the bold above, I agree. As a Martial Artist grows and matures, what they are seeking often changes. This article would be great for rehashing at differen points in an MAist's career.

I wholeheartedly concur with Alex and Brian...Solid!! Ones journey can be a trammeled one, to say the least, and change, even in the most tenured MAist, is something that must be recognized and respected because what's solid today, might not be so tomorrow.



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