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How Do I Choose a Martial Arts School?


(Even if it isn’t our school) 

In any given town you’ll find at least a few, if not a dozen, martial arts schools to choose from. After training and teaching martial arts for over 30 years, I can confidently tell you that not all martial arts schools are equal. Some academies are excellent and some are terrible, but how do you know which is which? 

If you find a good academy to train at it can be an extremely positive and life changing experience. If you choose a bad academy to train at it can be a waste of your time and money. Given the choices, it’s critical to know what you’re getting into ahead of time. 

If you’re wondering what criteria to use when checking out martial arts schools, read on! 

The number one most important aspect in choosing a martial arts school is the relationship between the instructors and the students. A good instructor is critical in having the best learning experience possible.

A good teacher inspires students, passes on knowledge in an effective manner, and ultimately helps students reach their potential. Bad teachers make learning difficult and ultimately limit the progress of the student.

Additionally, a martial arts teacher with the title “world champion” does not mean he or she is a good teacher, because teaching is a completely separate skill from actually being great at martial arts. Sometimes, people who spend all of their time making themselves elite athletes do not spend time bringing others to their potential. They may know how to win tournaments and trophies, but passing on their hard-earned knowledge is a different skill entirely.

The world champion, whose cup is often running over with natural ability, often does not understand how to get the average person from the beginning stage to the advanced stage in a martial art. It takes insight, good communication skills, and a positive attitude to be a fantastic teacher. Technical skill alone is not enough to truly be a life enhancing martial arts instructor.

The ideal situation is to have a high-level martial arts practitioner who is also a great teacher.

To find out whether an instructor is a great teacher, watch or participate in a class to see how he or she interacts with students. Most academies will let you try out a class, or several classes, for free if you ask them.

It is also a good idea to do your own background checks or ask the martial arts school if they background check their instructors. Martial arts teachers who have a history of assault, battery, abuse, or other convictions are not the best choice to guide someone, especially children, through the martial arts. The problem is, many academies hire these types of people to teach their classes, so be sure to ask the school if they also run background checks on junior instructors.

Before even calling the first school it is critical to decide what you desire out of the training. Here is a short list that encompasses the benefits most often stated by martial arts schools:










Creative expression, ect…

Some schools and/or martial arts styles will be better at some of these benefits than others. Good instructors who are focused on their students are able to balance all of the benefits of traditional martial arts, sports based martial arts, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and self-defense systems.

In addition, different martial arts styles offer unique benefits. Here are four classifications of martial arts styles and the benefits you will typically experience from training in them.

Traditional martial arts such as: Karate, Aikido, and Judo will best exemplify traditional martial arts values such as; discipline, control, respect, honor, justice, courage, mercy, politeness, honesty, and loyalty. This is not to say that other martial arts lack these things but they may emphasize other aspects of their art more than these benefits.

Sport-based martial arts such as: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Boxing, or kickboxing emphasize the benefits of competition, cooperation, and team spirit. The advantage of sports-based martial arts is that the techniques must be used against a resisting opponent who is also trying to use those same techniques against you. This helps the martial artist become extremely competent at the techniques that his or her art teaches and translates very well in to a real world self-defense situation. Many, but not all, sport-based martial arts have some emphasis on traditional martial arts values in addition to the element of competition.

MMA based systems emphasize individual toughness, a winning spirit, and the technical skills used to dominate a single opponent in cage fighting. Like the sport-based martial arts, one advantage of MMA is practicing with a resisting opponent. One of the disadvantages is that very little emphasis is placed on the traditional martial arts values such as honor, politeness, control, etc.

Tactical self-defense systems like close quarter combat, Krav Maga, or defensive tactics classes are usually situational training and have highly effective self-defense techniques. It is appropriate for law enforcement, military, and responsible civilians who need to know how to defend themselves in the worst situations when there are truly no rules and no referees. A common negative aspect of this type of system is a lack of sparring or utilizing your learned techniques against a competitive and unwilling opponent.

Great instructors are able to balance the benefits of traditional martial arts, sports-based martial arts, MMA, and CQB self-defense systems.

Look for a martial arts school that has a long history of being in business. Also, look for a martial arts school that has stable instructors who have been with the school for a long time. High instructor turnover may be a sign of business problems or other problems that aren’t easily seen by the new student.

It is important to have a truly qualified instructor. Some schools have a black belt teaching several styles even though he or she is only a black belt in one style.

Dabbling in several martial arts styles, while looking good on paper, does not mean the instructor is highly proficient in the other styles. It can actually be a bad thing for your or your children’s martial arts study, as the instructor’s lack of in-depth training passing on bad habits and and teachings that are inconsistent with the art.

To avoid this over-generalized approach to martial arts, look for a martial arts school that has an expert teaching the styles that are advertised.

The best style to train is the one that the student enjoys the most or has the best connection with.

Most styles fit into these categories: striking, grappling, weapons, and hybrid.

Striking systems such as boxing, kickboxing, karate, taekwondo, Muay Thai, and kung fu utilize various body parts to strike an opponent. The general goal is to knock out or disable the opponent through the use of strikes to vital target areas.

Grappling systems such as Judo, Jiu Jitsu, wrestling, aikido, and submission grappling utilize positioning, control, leverage, balance, and momentum to off balance, throw, pin, hold, submit, and gain advantage over opponents. Most (90%) self-defense situations end up in a grappling situation.

MMA systems utilize striking and grappling to train for 1 on 1 cage fighting. No weapons, in a controlled environment with a referee.

Combative systems such as Krav Maga or simply “combatives” classes utilize striking, grappling, weapons, and situational training to prepare the student for any self-defense scenario. This also includes firearms, and knives, and other weapons.

As you observe a class or two, pay attention to whether the training space is of adequate in size for students to train safely. If you see students fighting for space, running into each other, or having to get out of the way of other students to avoid getting hurt, it’s likely not a good place to start your journey in the martial arts.

The space should also be be clean even if it is older or in a spartan environment, such as a warehouse or retail space. Cleanliness is a HUGE concern in a martial arts academy because if a facility is not properly cleaned then there are reasonable health concerns.

The school should also offer private dressing rooms or clean bathroom for privacy.

The martial art school’s location should be relatively convenient but not at the expense of more important things such as training with expert instructors and quality training.

If you are looking to improve your health, learn life saving defense skills, anti-bullying tactics for kids, or boost your confidence, then driving a few extra miles for the best experience is COMPLETELY worth it.

Students have different income levels so what may seem expensive to some may not be to others. If you are considering enrolling your youngster, be sure ask what the rates are when he or she changes age groups. If the rates increase along with your child’s age, be sure that you are aware of the additional expense down the line.

If you’re really watching your budget, a cheap school (when compared to other local schools) might look appealing. Beware, however, because cheap training means there have probably been some corners cut somewhere. At that point, you can run through this 8-point list to find out what that might be.

At the same time, if the cost is high without a commensurate level of service, instruction, and equipment, then you may want to keep looking for a better deal.

Value is the balance of a high level expert instructor, great service, friendly staff, health benefits, a clean facility, convenient location, reasonable cost options, and a variety of martial arts styles.