The truth is that not all martial arts schools are created equal, and there's not a common thread from school to school that you can use to compare and contrast dojos to find one that fits your needs. So how can someone navigate all of the information out there to find a martial arts program that fits your schedule and your family's needs? I've listed a few important things to consider when seeking out a martial arts facility to enroll in.
Students in the martial arts enjoy a wide variety of benefits ranging from increased health and fitness, as well as a decrease in stress and anxiety, a pathway toward social outlets, and even college scholarships. It's important to determine what you want to get out of your martial arts training because without knowing your long-term goals, you may be leaving options on the table that would greatly benefit your overall experience.
WHO IS INVOLVED IN THE DAILY OPERATION OF THE SCHOOL YOU'RE CONSIDERING?
Whether you're looking for a hobby or searching for a high-quality traditional dojo that offers all the bells and whistles, be sure to inquire about the backgrounds and history of the people involved in the program you're considering. Because there is no 'requirement' regarding qualifications, background checks, and moral standing it's important to do your due diligence about those running the school you're inquiring about. Do they operate their lives and their school in a way that aligns with your beliefs and values? Do they have a criminal record? Are they involved in community events and outreach? These might not seem important at the early stages of researching schools but there is nothing worse than becoming invested in a facility only to find out the hard way that the people involved in the program weren't on the up & up.
WHAT ARE THE TERMS OF SIGN-UP?
Be sure to inquire specifically about the terms of the membership you're considering. While many schools still reqire long term contracts, there are studios that offer month - to - month memberships that only require a short-term cancellation period.
Are there different membership packages to select from? If so what are the pros and cons of each? Knowing all of the options up front will help you make the best decision regarding which facility is right for you. Don't be shy about asking specific questions, any school that is unwilling to be upfront and transparent with you regarding their sign-up procedures may not be a good fit for you.
WHAT TYPE OF CLASSES ARE OFFERED?
Another detail to consider is they type of classes that will be offered to you if you sign up. Will the classes be offered on a limited basis or will you have the ability to select as many classes per week as you'd like for your purchase? Sometimes pricing seems lower up front, only to find out that students have limits on how often they can use the program each week; this drives the price to the consumer up without the public realizing that they are being charged a higher rate per class.
Will classes be divided by age and ability? If you're a 37 year old potential student, you'll want to know if the class is offered to all ages because you may not be interested in training with children. Schools that divide their classes up by age recognize that there are different developmental needs based on the age of a student, just as there are different skill needs based on the length of time a student has been training in the martial arts. Find out if the school you're considering offers rank-specific and age-specific classes.
ARE THERE ADDITIONAL OPPORTUNITIES BESIDES THE STANDARD CLASSES?
Because some schools are full service martial arts facilities and others offer more of a club atmosphere, you may be missing out on some really cool options by failing to inquire about additional opportunities that are offered within the school.
Some dojos offer a competitive team add on which opens up the door to competitive martial arts. These competitive events are a great way to bolster the foundational program and gives students a fun way to enhance their skills and seek out additional challenges for growth and development. Some competitive circuits even have pathways to scholarship opportunities so be sure to consider these benefits when inquiring about a school you're interested in.
In addition to the competitive pathway, some schools also offer opportunities for leadership groups by involving students who show dedication to their training a chance to step into a leadership role and assist in classes and coaching events. These are invaluable opportunities that help youth develop a sense of connection with their community and a heightened sense of responsibility in their own lives.
Going beyond that, there are often options to enhance the standard program with weapons training, or kumite classes that help round out the full martial arts experience. Be sure to inquire about any additional options that might become available to you as a member of that school.
IS THE INSTRUCTOR DEDICATED TO TEACHING MORE THAN JUST FIGHTING SKILLS?
Historically, martial arts were taught in tandem with morals and values because instructors wanted to make sure that the potentially dangerous techniques they were passing down would not be mishandled. Schools that place a spotlight on living a quality lifestyle of hard work, determination to a goal, and positive character traits are not only teaching fighting skills, but also life skills. These are the type of schools that help to elevate the values you are currently living by, or teaching to your own children. Be wary of schools that seem to seek out confrontation, because the true nature of martial arts should be a self-defense system based in humility and respect.
WHAT ARE THE QUALIFICATIONS FOR RANK?
This might not seem important but finding out if a school has a serious curriculum is an easy thing to do. Schools that promise black belt achievement in a short timeline may not be offering a serious martial arts package, but rather an enhanced fitness program. True martial arts is based on the long term improvement of oneself, and requires more than a short term timeline. While it is true that the first belt achievement may not take an extended period of time, the timeline to black belt can tell you everything you need to know about the instructors view of patience and dedication.
In the old days, martial arts was a lifelong endeavor, and there are traditional schools that still strive to help foster that love of the journey within their students. If a facility makes the claim that they can guarantee black belt rank in a specific timeframe, that should be a red flag.
Much in the same way fast fashion involves providing cheap and easy access to low quality items, fast results in the martial arts means missing out on the deeper understanding of self-discipline and perseverance which can only be learned over the course of time.
IS THE SCHOOL A MEMBER OF A LARGER ORGANIZATION?
Many serious schools are members of larger organizations that provide legitimacy to the instructor and the program itself. These larger governing bodies are often affiliated with the roots and history of the style they teach. There are some hybrid styles that don't have a true historical foundation and may be lacking in the area of lineage. Inquire about the style being taught and where it's founding originated. Find out if the school adheres to tried and true methods of instruction forged in the history of the style and the organization it represents.
WHAT IS THE SCHOOL'S REPUTATION?
Finally, when researching a school, you will want to find out about the longevity of the program you're considering. Are they a school that looks fresh and new but may be gone in an instant, or can you see a staying power and a deep connection of service to the community? Beyond the number of years the school has been in business, inquire about the instructors and the number of years they have been teaching. There's great wisdom to be found in an instructor who has honed their skills over the long haul.
Hopefully this quick guide will help you find a high quality martial arts school that will fit your needs. Good luck in your search and happy learning!
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