How To Choose a Martial Arts School (Ultimate Guide)

There are many reasons why practicing martial arts is a good idea. Martial arts can increase your confidence, flexibility and provide valuable self-defense skills. I’m not trying to tell you why practicing martial arts is a good idea, though, but rather providing information on finding the best place to learn.

Here are just a few ways how to choose a martial arts school: 

  1. Decide why you want to be a martial artist.
  2. Know what style you want to learn.
  3. Look up schools online.
  4. Consider the environment.
  5. Learn more about the instructor.
  6. Pay attention to cleanliness.
  7. Consider involvement in competition.
  8. Observe all your potential school’s classes.
  9. Have an understanding of safety measures.
  10. Don’t fall for an overblown sales pitch.
  11. Look for diversity.
  12. Try online classes.
  13. Trust your instincts.

Knowing that you’re correctly learning a skill is more important than just learning said skill. Research is the first thing anyone should do before trying anything potentially risky and can lead to injury. Throughout this article, we’ll discuss what you should look for in a martial arts school and things you should keep in mind during your search.

1. Decide Why You Want To Be a Martial Artist

I gave a few examples of why people choose to be martial artists earlier, but these may not resonate with you. The first thing you need to think about is why you’re making this decision. If you haven’t found a concrete motive yet, here are a few more reasons why people decide to learn martial arts.

  • They want to learn discipline.
  • They can alleviate PTSD and other forms of trauma with martial arts.
  • Martial arts can help improve social skills.
  • Learning martial arts can relieve stress.

If you see your motive listed, great; If not, that’s fine too. Regardless of why you choose to learn, be sure to consider your schedule also. If you work every day except weekends, focus your search on schools that open only on weekends or seven days a week.

Get a Physical Examination

Martial arts schools don’t make medical exams and accompanying documentation a requirement, but you should get one anyway. If you have pre-existing neurological, muscular, skeletal, or cardiovascular issues, you need to be vetted by a doctor before starting training. The last thing anyone wants is a medical emergency while you’re in the middle of katas!

This step technically has nothing to do with finding an excellent martial arts school. Still, it’s a precaution you should take before starting any strenuous workouts or repetitive movements – two things which a lot of martial arts involve plenty of.

2. Know What Style You Want To Learn

Knowing what you want to learn will be a huge help when finding a school to learn at. That said, you need to account for any medical conditions you have and the teacher. For example, if you want to learn Taekwondo and have a heart condition, you should think of another style. Taekwondo can be too intense for people with cardiovascular problems.

Ensuring you’ve got a good teacher is also more important than what style you choose; this is because you can find an instructor in the style you want that’s not great at teaching. Focus on finding a competent teacher if it doesn’t matter what style you learn.

Don’t Get Too Hung Up On Styles

Knowing the style you want to learn can help you find your school, but sometimes people get too caught up in that. Learning Jeet Kune Do won’t make you better or worse than someone who learned Karate. The level of instruction you’ve received and the effort you put into learning is what matters.

If you settle on a particular style, fine, but don’t choose it solely because Bruce Lee or your brother’s best friend practiced it. Decide what martial art you want to do because you want to, and you found someone that can teach it well.

3. Look Up Schools Online

The internet makes it easier for people to find things, like a martial arts school. You can search your local area (or far off if you can get there) for schools with dojos.info and poke around their websites to learn what they offer, their hours, and get a general feel of the establishment.

Many places will likely have students leaving testimonials and reviews, but it’s entirely possible these places only post glowing reviews to put themselves in a better light. Message boards or sites like Reddit (i.e. external platforms) tend to have more nuanced and personalized perspectives.

Call Before Arriving in Person

Once you’ve found schools you think will be a good fit, give them a call. You can prearrange your trial class and discuss any payments and fees before you arrive, giving you more time to focus on the course. While on the phone, you can assign a designated time after class to meet with the teacher.

Speaking over the phone can help eliminate schools you may not feel are worth the time before you visit in person. If the phone call doesn’t go well, it’s likely a good sign that the school wouldn’t have been a good fit for you.

Understand the Fees

Some schools only require a yearly fee, and some will have you pay every month. A few establishments require a contractual agreement for you to begin taking their classes. There may be extra fees, too, like for belt testing, gear, and uniforms.

Discuss with staff members if you can end memberships or contracts early if necessary and if you can opt for shorter trial periods before fully enrolling. Be a little suspicious of schools that don’t allow you to test the class out before joining.

If martial arts is just a hobby or you’re too busy to dedicate significant amounts of time to it, then you might want to opt for community center classes. They may have cheaper fees as opposed to schools run from their buildings.

4. Consider the Environment

Physical training of any kind is bound to be a little rigorous, but that doesn’t mean that your surroundings have to be uncomfortable. No two schools will have the same environment, and your comfort level while learning your style will contribute to how effective your instruction is, after all.

Many places have state-of-the-art equipment, some may work with used training gear, and other schools operate out of community centers or their own buildings. The membership fee will depend on the equipment and facilities. It’s up to you to decide what you’re comfortable paying for and if what you’re paying for is worth it.

5. Learn More About the Instructor

Conversation is key; talk to your would-be martial arts instructor after class. Ask questions about what they’re teaching and the school. Are they patient and willing to answer your questions? Do you feel at ease while you’re talking to them? You should also ask if they and other staff members can perform first aid and CPR in case of emergencies.

Some people may put on a convincing performance when questioned and lie about their training and experience. Making sure your potential instructor is truthful is as simple as an internet search.

It’s common to find an instructor’s training on their website and all their other credentials and associations. It’s okay to ask about the specific school they trained at or their instructor’s name to help your research. If you can’t find any proof about their martial arts background, they may not have been telling the truth.

Something else to look into is the trainer’s competitive record. Searching online should quickly reveal if they’ve genuinely won any competitions or if they’re untruthful.

6. Pay Attention to Cleanliness

If the building isn’t clean inside and out, you shouldn’t consider their business. Look out for unpleasant smells, dirty mats, and generally dingy-looking surroundings. If the environment is filthy, it can negatively impact training and the student’s mood.

There’s also sanitation to consider. The janitorial staff should sanitize everything; floors, windows, and especially mats to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria. A school that can’t be bothered to keep everything clean for their students won’t put much effort into teaching them either.

Staff members should look neat and orderly also. A worker’s slovenly appearance can indicate a lack of interest in you and their position at the school. The instructor, in particular, should look their best; they should be wearing a crisp, clean uniform.

Someone who isn’t willing to make themselves look presentable isn’t liable to give 100% for their position, be they the teacher or otherwise.

7. Consider Involvement In Competition

Some of your potential schools might be hardcore martial arts competitors, which means there may be an expectation for you to compete as well. You may even come across a school or two that make competing mandatory for advancement.

On the opposite end, there will be schools that don’t compete much, if at all. The non-competitor establishments may not mingle with other martial arts clubs – Aikido is one style where you won’t see any competitions. Some schools leave the decision to you whether you’d want to take part in competitions. Make sure tournament participation factors into your choice of school.

8. Observe All Your Potential School’s Classes

Don’t settle for just viewing the introductory class once you come across the school you like. Watch the class spar, and look at the black belt classes; if you can find the time, drop by test belt courses. If the teachers are patient and provide concise instructions to the least experienced students, they should do the same for the more advanced classes.

A student’s advancement shouldn’t result in a negative personality shift. The classes shouldn’t become overly difficult and punishing once a pupil attains a higher belt. There shouldn’t be a drastic change in the teacher’s enthusiasm either – they shouldn’t be more excited for one batch of student’s success over another.

Consider the School’s Approach to Teaching

Yes, the school you pick must have instructors who know what they’re doing, but just because someone is good at something doesn’t mean they can teach it. Your teacher could have the skills to rival Bruce Lee and still be a lousy teacher. On the other hand, he could be a fantastic instructor – and incompatible with you.

Some schools still operate like those helmed by old masters that demanded strict discipline. These old-school teachers may harshly admonish their students in ways that many people wouldn’t put up nowadays. A reputable school, or at least a legitimately operating one, is liable to let you sit in on a lesson; some establishments even offer free first lessons.

One easy way to gauge what you’re in for is to observe the class and ask any questions you have afterward. It may be helpful to have your questions ready a few days prior, so you don’t forget anything.

Observe the Instructor

I probably sound like a broken record, repeating the same thing over and over, but just because someone can do something doesn’t mean they can teach it. All teachers should ideally know their field and impart it to students with patience and a willingness to accept mistakes.

A competent teacher will keep abreast of their student’s progress and help them identify areas they can improve. Students should feel like they can have fun but still be mentally and physically challenging. The teacher should balance all of this with an approachable demeanor and, of course, excellent martial arts skills.

There’s also the matter of the teacher’s overall demeanor. Trust your instincts and give the school a pass if they seem uninterested or just give you a bad vibe. A welcoming and positive attitude is what you should look for.

Observe the Students

If the teacher is good at their job, it’ll show in the student’s behavior. Everyone should be having fun but in a structured environment. The students should be disciplined and respectful, and the instructor should be able to keep them all under control despite the flurry of movement.

The teacher has to maintain a position of authority at all times. If the students are the ones running things, you’re not going to get anything out of the class. A teacher having trouble with the rest of the course can’t dedicate much time to you, much less teach anyone else.

Pay attention to how the students act outside of instruction as well. Off-putting behaviors are a good sign that you should probably find another school. You and the other students should be able to learn alongside each other respectfully.

Another thing to watch for is the student’s skill levels. A school full of intermediate and advanced students implies that they’re all interested in becoming more skilled. Talk to the other students to see how they feel about their training, environment, and the staff.

9. Have an Understanding of Safety Measures

Just because you’re ostensibly learning combat techniques doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be safety precautions. There should be a fully stocked first aid kit on hand and someone who can administer it. There should be stretching and warm-ups before any intense martial arts begin.

A safe class has enough supervision that preventable injuries aren’t common, and there’s no roughhousing or improper conduct happening. If someone is hurt, there should be a swift response to take care of the injury or wound.

10. Don’t Fall For an Overblown Sales Pitch

Advertisements can sometimes feel false and “try-hard”. When you spot an ad for a martial arts school that seems overhyped and lacks substance, you should assume that the establishment may not be as great as advertised.

Any martial arts school that advertises itself by putting down potential competition, issuing multicolored uniforms, or with their logo plastered on all their stuff should be avoided.

Here are a few more tells that you’re dealing with a deceptive ad:

  • There’s more focus on choreography than actual martial arts.
  • The head instructor refers to themself by title (if they’re a master, they don’t need to proclaim it).
  • You’re promised to earn a black belt faster than at any other school.

Don’t be taken in by false promises and flashy posters or commercials. A reputable school will list its accomplishments and what they have to offer you without all the glamor and fake excitement.

Rank Isn’t the Only Thing Matters

One can achieve multiple ranks in martial arts, and it makes sense that your teacher would have one of the highest – except, that’s not entirely true. Ranking isn’t synonymous among different styles or organizations. You could earn your black belt at the local community center faster than at the school part of the international association in the city.

One place can require a lifetime of work to issue you a black belt while another might hand them out like Halloween candy. Different organizations may also assign other meanings to their ranks and present them based on differing criteria.

Masters of a certain rank may not feel the same way about teaching either. Junior teachers with lower rank black belts tend to be more excited and passionate about educating students, whereas some older, more experienced instructors don’t have that same energy.

When you choose your instructor, make sure it’s someone that decided to become a martial artist because they love it and not for any praise and adulation they’ve receive.

Look Into the School’s History

While you’re researching the instructor, look up the school itself. Find out how long the school has been in business. A trustworthy establishment will have been open for at least a few years; a recently opened school may still be getting on its feet.

Also look to see if the school has been in any kind of trouble, legal or otherwise. There shouldn’t be any history of scandal or legal troubles either. If the school doesn’t have a clean record, you should find proof online that any problems have been dealt with through the proper channels. I would advise caution with a school that has had any issues with the law, however.

The school should have teachers that have been there for a long time also. If there’s a pattern of instructors constantly leaving or being fired, there may be internal issues with the administration that you should steer clear of.

11. Look for Diversity

Diversity is a good thing; it provides different perspectives and opportunities to try and learn new things. The mark of a good school is a diverse set of programs and students. Martial arts establishments can easily become closed off from others and wrapped up in one specific skill.

This insular behavior can make a school self-absorbed and undeservedly sure what they practice is better than anything else. Genuinely great schools also have various veterans that practice many different martial arts and can offer a high level of advice and training.

Be on the lookout for students and teachers from all walks of life to get the most out of the school you choose.

12. Try Online Classes

I’ve spoken extensively about finding a great martial arts school by this point, but there’s one option I haven’t talked about yet. You can try online martial arts classes too. You won’t be able to learn quite as effectively as in a physical classroom (you can’t spar with yourself, and distance management isn’t possible to learn this way), though.

There are some drawbacks to learning from home, but that doesn’t mean that online classes are inherently terrible. First, we’ll go over why online martial arts classes might be worth it, why they aren’t as effective as a physical establishment, and how to find a good internet course.

Advantages of Learning From Home

The first advantage of learning from home is that you’re at home. The idea of training at a school might be an anxiety-riddled experience for many people. You might feel like you’re being judged, or maybe you just don’t like being around large crowds. Either way, you don’t have to worry about any of that at home.

There’s also the benefit of watching certain moves and techniques on repeat as much as you’d like. You might feel like you’re being disruptive in an actual classroom if you asked the teacher for help, but if a kick, punch, or jab is being troublesome at home, just rewind until you get it.

Well, I say “just rewind,” but realistically, you’ll want to invest in a punching bag. You’ll need something to provide resistance to develop punches properly.

Disadvantages of Learning From Home

One of the most significant advantages of learning in a school is working alongside people that can instruct and spar with you. Martial arts were initially made for fighting other people, and the best way to hone them is to fight against others. It can be hard to translate how a technique is supposed to subdue an opponent if there is no one to fight.

There’s also the issue of distance management, or rather, how you can’t develop it alone. You need another person physically there to learn how to gauge the appropriate distance that needs to be between you and the other combatant.

Defense training will also go lacking if you train solo. You’re not going to learn how to properly defend yourself from attacks if another person doesn’t attack you.

Another, probably less obvious drawback, is the lack of social interaction from online classes. A big reason many people take up martial arts is to socialize. Training at home eliminates that particular aspect.

Finding a Good Internet Martial Arts School

Much of what I’ve already said can help you choose a suitable online school. Research a list of schools, go to their websites, research the teachers, find reviews from students; I suggest calling if they have a number you can contact. Make sure you do due diligence before making your choice.

13. Trust Your Instincts

The best thing you can do when picking a school is to listen to your instincts. The first 12 items on this list are a general how-to guide, but nothing can substitute a well-informed opinion backed by your gut. You have the tools; all you have to do is use them to make the best decision that benefits you.

It’s okay to be nervous. Finding the right school is important and can lead to a life-changing discovery. As long as you ask the right questions, do your research, and keep on the lookout for anything suspicious, you should be fine. If anything feels off, then you have the choice to move on and keep searching until you find the best school for you.

Conclusion

Selecting the right martial arts school takes effort. You should take your time and consider your options before committing to anything. Picking the best school can be daunting, but there are a few things you can do to make it easier:

  • Know why you want to practice martial arts and make sure you’re healthy enough to try.
  • Observe and speak to your teacher; research them and the school online.
  • Talk to and observe the students to verify proper safety precautions are in place.
  • Don’t get caught up in different styles; instead, focus on finding the best teacher.

Sources

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