The Secret to Selecting the Best Martial Art School

The Secret to Selecting the Best Martial Art School

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

When most people today think of martial arts, they think of the traditional Asian fighting arts like Kung Fu, or Karate.  Or maybe they think of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or Jet Li and action films they see on television or in the theater.  In reality, martial arts includes a broad spectrum of styles and cultures.  How many think of Oscar De La Hoya or Roy Jones Jr.?   Actually, western boxing and wrestling are also martial arts, as is fencing and Japanese sumo wrestling.

Martial arts is truly defined by combat – individuals, physically struggling against each other.   The techniques and tools used in this struggle are what define the many styles of martial arts around the world.  Many of these styles are born of the environment or culture. Some came about as sport, while others from survival. Most originated from a need to protect yourself and family, and overcome an adversary.

Traditionally, if you wanted to learn how to fight, you would search out a friend, family member or someone in the community who had some experience, and ask them to teach you.  You would then become a student, disciple or apprentice, of that teacher.   In many cultures, students went to live with the teacher, providing services to the teacher in exchange for the instruction.  Eventually, when the student had learned what that teacher had to offer, they would strike out on their own or find another instructor to advance their skills.  In many ways, that tradition continues today.

If you are just starting out, the important thing to understand is that martial arts is not currently a regulated industry.  Just as in years past, anyone can open a school, recruit students, and teach them how to fight.  There is no licensing or certification for these instructors.  Anyone can purchase a belt or uniform and make whatever claims they like about their abilities and the material they teach.  The joke of the “Rex Kwon Do” school is funny, but true.  It is up to you as a prospective student, or parent of a student, to assess the skills of the teacher and the value of the instruction.

Different martial arts and different schools will have different emphasis and structure depending on the direction of the teacher.  Some focus on self-defense, while others may focus on competition, fitness, or discipline.   All of these are worthwhile pursuits, but you must decide what is most important to you, then find an instructor who shares your vision and goals.

Reputable schools will offer a free introductory class or classes, to give you an opportunity to evaluate the school and the instructor.   If the school does not offer this opportunity, it may be wise to steer clear of that operation.   Many schools will require a contract once you begin classes, so take the time to interview the instructors and ask questions –  How long have they been practicing martial arts?  How long have they been teaching?  Where were they taught?    Interview some students at the school. Find out how long they have been there.   Good schools will have students who have been there for many years.

Find out if the school has more than one instructor.   Schools with only one teacher may be closed for extended periods while that teacher takes vacation, or is away at competition.   Ask if the school has a standard curriculum and how often you may attend class or are required to attend class.   Ask if the school is independent or part of an association or governing body.   Schools within an association will often let their students transfer between campuses that teach the same curriculum.

Finally, ask about any extra fees associated with attending classes.  Many schools require additional fees for testing, seminars or competition.  Some require additional uniforms, patches or clothing.  Some also require additional equipment like sparring gear or weapons as students advance through the program.   Have an idea what your total costs will be for the length of your contract, and don’t focus solely on your monthly dues.

Martial arts classes are an excellent way to stay fit, build confidence and self-discipline, and make many new friends.  For many children and adults, these classes can be life-changing and a tremendously positive experience for the whole family.  Take the time to find the program and instructor that best suits your needs and personality.  The rewards that await are truly worth the investment.

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