There are so many things to consider when selecting a dojo (martial arts school) for your child. After all, the school you select will be involved in guiding them through their formative years and should strive to instill positive mental, physical, and emotional development. The instructors should also be making it a priority to instill such character traits as honesty, integrity, and perseverance in your child so they can move through their pre-teen and adult years successfully, with a foundation that has it's roots in the very martial arts program you select. We at Ingram's hope you'll find the following article helpful in selecting a dojo that is right for you and your family.
How Comfortable Are You When You Speak To The Owner / Instructor?
When you arrive you should feel welcome and respected, and so should your child. Everyone involved in their martial arts experience should be willing to learn their name. You should feel a friendly vibe during your first impression with those involved in the program. As a parent, how you feel about a person or program will be a good indicator as to which program will be a good fit for your child. A friendly atmosphere will help a child to better focus on learning and working toward their martial arts goals with success.
How much experience does that particular school have, and how much experience do the instructors have in working with children?
Children are all unique and so are their learning styles, so finding a program that has been able to consistently provide a quality learning environment for children year after year will be important to your selection of a school. Ask them how long they have been teaching in the area, find out about their reputation and track record, and watch a few classes before making your final decision. Some schools even offer a free trial for your child to experience the class before deciding. If a school won't allow you to view classes, that should be a red flag. Parents should always be welcome to see the classes in action.
Who are the people involved in the program?
The owner and the instructors will have a large role in your child's life and development, which is why it's so important to know who they are and if they will be able to lead by example for your child. State law requires public and private school teachers to be fingerprinted and background checked for student and campus safety; however there are no such requirements for martial arts schools. Check into each individual's background by using online resources such as your county's sheriff's website to find out if there are any past incidences you are not comfortable with. An informed parent can always make better decisions for their child. Public records are free and are easily accessed through each county's sheriff's website. (Many families don't realize this can be a valuable resource when seeking a child care babysitter, tutor, or other guidance style coaches.)
Does the program offer opportunities outside of weekly classes?
A well rounded children's program should offer more than just a few classes per week. Does the program offer additional opportunities such as summer camps, social interactions, and competition team? Children who are able to meet and participate in extracurricular activities with other kids who have similar goals are more likely to stay dedicated to their training, as well as benefit the most and feel the most successful about their accomplishments than students who are only able to access a class or two per week.
Is the school involved in competitive events?
Some schools are highly involved in competitive events, others do not participate in karate tournaments at all. Find out about the program's view on competition and ask what type of opportunities might be available through competition. Some schools have had students invited to compete at the international level, affording them the chance to travel abroad and represent the USA. Some of these opportunities can lead to scholarships as well as help enhance your child's future college application and job resume to stand out among the crowd. Find out what type of opportunities are available to your child through the program you select.
Ask about black belt, even though that may seem a long way off.
Schools that guarantee students will receive high level belt ranks in a short amount of time and other types of radical guarantees can get children caught up in the hype. Martial arts is about self improvement over time and the school you select should be willing to play a part in helping your child learn that they are in control of their own success. Each of the instructors should provide strong support and guidance to help your child find their way and take control of their performance and future. Be careful about schools that make claims that seem to be unreasonable or doubtful. Ask specific questions about test requirements and how children can expect to level up through the ranks. Martial arts should be viewed as a discipline (meaning that many of the lasting benefits that will be gained stem from the journey of training, not the specific belt acheived.) Lasting benefits like a strong mind, dedication to a goal, and personal integrity, are all formed over time with positive guidance from involved instructors who care about your child's well being. Personal development is the cornerstone of a good program; ask the instructor specific questions about how they will address your child's needs.
Does the program stress the importance of good character and diligence outside of the dojo?
What does the school do to ensure that students continue their 'good character' development outside their karate classes? Do they acknowledge good grades and consistent effort at school? Do they have a method for reminding children how important it is to remain positive and helpful at home? Students who know that their sensei (Karate instructor) thinks these things are important tend to make school performance and good behavior at home a priority as well.
Are the membership prices and policies straightforward and easy to understand?
Be sure you understand the details of becoming a student. Some schools advertise super low prices, but fail to mention that their pricing may increase with increased attendance which puts parents of students who may need extra attention in a difficult position. Ask about specialized 'clubs' that will become available and if these vanity clubs carry an additional price tag. Some schools choose to incorporate all of the valuable learning opportunities into their membership for no additional charge. Find out if the school 'upsells' these beneficial opportunities as mandatory expenses for students to level up. Also keep in mind that these 'vanity clubs' are something that your child will potentially want to be involved in (especially if their friends are. Activities like kumite, sensei in trianing, and fun friday are all examples of clubs your child may want to be involved in.)
If you can, try to find a program that doesn't charge for these opportunities, but rather they offer these specialized programs as a reward for your child's hard work and dedication; not a purchase choice. This way your child has the opportunity to excel without any additional fees. Factor these details into your price comparisons from the beginning so you will know what to expect as time goes by.
While price shopping may be a good way to find the cheapest program, if you're looking for a high quality karate program, pricing alone may lead you away from the best choice. Often times a few dollars difference from school to school can equal large differences in quality of curriculum and instruction. A good way to avoid this is to find schools that have 'memberships' rather than per class, or per week rates so that your child can attend additional classes without incurring additional fees.
We hope you'll find these topics helpful as you gather information about the dojos in your area to be sure you find the program that's right for your family. Karate is a wonderful platform to introduce and reinforce positive values in your child's growth and development. The right program will help foster self confidence and respect for self and others; which will continue to benefit your child throughout their life.
Traditional karate should aim to instill a sense of good ethics. It's not just about punching and kicking, a traditional karate student should learn the value of preferring peace over battle while being confident in their strength and abilities should self defense ever present itself necessary. ~ Sensei Jen