There are many different factors to take into account when choosing a martial arts school. After many years of experience, these are the main points which we have found to be important to potential students;-
1) Premises. Look for a school which has its own facilities rather than one which shares with other users, whether they are other martial arts schools or other users, such as in a sports centre or school hall. If the school has its own premises, then you can be much more certain that they will continue in business and that you wont turn up one day to find that classes have been cancelled with little or no notice.
Also, you will usually find that they have a much greater choice of training times and will be able to arrange events such as Grading Tests, outside of normal training times rather than cancelling classes. Private tuition is also more likely to be available at a more competitive price.
In addition, of course the premises are likely to be properly fitted out for martial arts with the correct matting, protective flooring and walls, permanently fitted kick bags and a much wider range of training equipment available for students.
Are there changing facilities, toilets and somewhere to buy drinks?
2) Which Martial Art/s? The Olympic Games and the cinemas have ensured that most non-martial artists have heard of Karate, Taekwondo, Judo and Kung Fu. There are however, many other martial arts which have an equally strong following and, in some cases actually offer much more to the potential student. Just because you have never heard of a particular style, does not make it a bad idea.
Have a closer look at the syllabus. Is it restricted to mainly handstriking, blocking and kicking? Or maybe it favours throwing, joint locks or pressure points as a self-defence method. Are the les well known side of martial arts taught at all, by which we mean meditation and breathing techniques which can help to greatly reduce stress. Ideally your martial art should encompass all of these and more.
Is there a National and/or International governing body? Are there other schools within the organisation where you can train if you are way from home? Is there good communication between schools or do they “keep themselves to themselves”?
Are certificates issued by a governing body, or just by the school owner? Is there good quality control within the organisation?
Does the art involve sparring sessions? If so, how are they run? Is it light, semi, or full contact? Are you happy with that or with having to be involved in any type of sparring at all? If not, does the school allow you to opt out of these sessions and will they provide other training for you during sparring sessions?
See our guide to the most common martial arts below.
3) Will you actually get what you want? Does the training on offer fulfil your needs as far as improving your fitness, strength & stamina? Will it provide realistic methods of self-defence? Will children be encouraged to respect themselves and others? Will the training help to improve their concentration and discipline and will they learn to work to realistic goals and achieve them?
You should be allowed to watch a class, if you wish before deciding to try it for yourself. But make sure to ask whether the class you watch is typical, or whether there is much variation. Most people are more likely to stick at a class which offers a varied programme and will therefore be more likely to reach their personal goals.
4) The Instructor/s. You should find out if the main instructor actually does most of the tuition, or does he/she pass this on to lower ranked students? All instructors should be Black Belts and if one person is billed as being the Principal Instructor then you should be able to be confident that they will take most of the classes. The instructor should have experience, not just in training themselves, but in teaching others.
While a good personal record in tournaments is an indicator of the abilities of the instructor, it does not necessarily follow that they are good at passing on what they know. If the school concerned takes part in tournaments, then find out what success they have had. This will give you an idea of how well the students are taught.
However, you should not feel that by joining the school you will be compelled to take part in competitions, unless that is your aim. A good school will have room for competitors and for those who simply wish to train locally to gain the many benefits of martial arts.
Make sure that you meet the instructor/s who will be teaching you or your child. Martial arts tuition is a personal thing and you need to be sure you will get on with them!
5) Children. Are children’s classes taught separately? If not then forget it! There is no way adults can train effectively with children in the same room and training with adults you don’t know can be frightening for the kids. The important exception to this rule is where special “family” classes are run in addition to regular separate classes to allow families to train together. This can be a very positive thing so long as it is not the only class attended each week. Children’s lessons should not be too long or they will soon get bored. 45 minutes to one hour maximum is ideal. They should also include a number of games as warm ups and to help keep interest going.
Parents should be encouraged to stay and watch their child if they wish, although it can be beneficial to leave them once they have been to a few lessons, so that they gain in confidence.
6) Safety. The training centre should be well fitted out with safety mats, protective flooring and walls. All instructors should have full CRB checks done and be fully insured. Make sure that students have adequate person to person cover and that the school owner has a good level (ideally around £5m) of liability insurance.
Naturally parents should make every effort to pick up their children on time. However, if something goes wrong, you need to know that your child will be safe and not left alone, inside or outside the building. Be sure to ask about this when you visit the school.
7) Fees. Look for a school which charges fees monthly and preferably one which uses a direct debit system of collection. If the instructor accepts cash each week, then they are likely to be spending a large part of the lesson just sorting out payments! Monthly fees, also usually offer a better deal for regular students and to be brutally honest, if you don’t think you or your child will be regulars, then you should consider another activity, as you will find it very hard to progress in martial arts if you only come occasionally. However, the instructor should allow some flexibility to account for holidays and sickness and other times when you simply cannot make it to class.
Expect to pay a joining fee if the school belongs to a National or international organisation. You should also expect to pay around £45-50 per month per person to train twice a week with discounts for families. Much less than that and you will find the old saying about getting what you pay for will come true. When instructors accept fees of around £3-4 cash per lesson you often find that class sizes are large and personal tuition flies out of the window.
Ask if there is an annual insurance or membership fee, what it covers and when it is payable. Some schools charge up to £100 per annum, payable in a lump sum, whilst others just add a small amount to your monthly lesson costs.
You should expect that the school will offer you one or two free trial sessions, either within a normal class or on a more personal basis, so that you can decide whether it is right for you.
8) Grading tests. Does the school hold its own grading tests or will you have to make long journeys to test for each new belt? Ideally, coloured belt tests should take place locally, probably every three months. Black Belt tests for most reputable martial arts are run at one or more central or regional locations. Is there any provision to “make up” tests which are missed due to ill health or holidays?
Don’t forget to ask about testing fees as they vary enormously and whether the cost of new belts and certificates are included.
9) Competitions. Does the school take part in any national or international competitions? Is this compulsory or just fro those who want to take part? If you are keen on competitions then find out how well the school has done in the past. If you don’t want to be involved in such activities, then make sure that you won’t be left to do your own thing while everyone else in practising for competitions every time they come up.
10) Talk to other students. Have a chat to other students and parents in the school. This is a great way of finding out whether the school “does what it says on the tin!”
These guidelines are based on what students and potential students have told us over the years and they are by no means complete. Of course you may not find a school which ticks all of these “boxes” immediately, but if too many of these factors are unsatisfactory then you would be well advised to keep looking.