Choosing a Martial Art School
Deciding that you want to gain the many wonderful benefits of martial arts training is the first step. The second step is choosing the correct school to set you on your journey. There are some GREAT schools out there but not all schools are equal! Good schools are ethical establishments with positive environments; teaching solid material through helpful instruction. In these schools you will grow, flourish and surpass your goals. Read the Consumer Guide and know when you’ve found a quality place to train yourself or your family.
= = = picking a school = = =
Some people just go to the school that’s closest to them and join up blindly. This is a mistake because, like picking a meal, there are so many flavors to choose from. It’s important to first know what your hungry for; are you interested in improving confidence, getting stronger, losing weight and looking better, increasing your balance & coordination, developing skills to protect yourself and your loved ones, taking on challenges, gaining a sense of accomplishment, growing physically and mentally, becoming an athlete and competing, making new life long friends… the list of possible benefits goes on and on. Different schools have vastly different agendas and approaches. Know what your goals are; look to schools that specialize in that, and who can give you what you need to succeed. When I started training, I drove 45 minutes, one way, to attend a school that specialized in what I needed and it was worth it!
Ok, you’ve located some schools that can help you accomplish your specific goals. Before you travel and check them out go online first. Get reviews! People will tell you what they think of the place and their experience there. The bottom line is: ‘Were they happy?’.
- KEY #3 : SEE FOR YOURSELF
You’ve narrowed your search down to a few schools that specialize in what you want AND they’ve received praise from others… now it’s time to go in. Most schools have an introductory program. Go try it out! If you’re looking for your child let them try it and watch before you make any decision about them joining. While at the school find out answers to these questions: What’s required of students in class? What are future belt requirements? To advance do you have to do things you physically can’t? [For example, you’ve got a knee injury but its mandatory to throw head kicks. A good system and school will modify it’s curriculum for you; a bad school won’t budge.] How was the feel of the place, the instructor’s personality and their style of training? Did you like them? Ask yourself, can this school really take me where I want to go?
Not all shopping is the same! Compare choosing martial arts training vs. choosing car insurance. With car insurance you may get better customer service with one agent over another but the bottom line is that the amount of car coverage you choose is the same across the board and the difference between the companies is price. In the case of insurance it makes sense to shop around for the cheapest one. This is NOT true with martial arts training. Schools are so drastically different and, more often than not, you do get what you pay for. A better comparison is choosing martial arts training with choosing a mattress; buy the cheapest mattress around and you’ll be rewarded with a bad nights sleep and a sore back to boot. An even better analogy is the seat belt. Fortunately the government has set quality standards in seat belt manufacturing because seat belts are for SAVING LIVES. Unfortunately there are no such regulations for martial arts schools. In dire need good training can save your life while bad training could get you hurt or killed. Don’t base your choice on price alone but instead on ‘will you get your money’s worth?’!
= = = time to sign up = = =
- #5 : NO PRESSURE PLEASE
Taking advantage of an introductory program (especially a free one) was smart on your part. Now the ‘intro’ is over. You’re in the market to train and are excited to get going. The teacher would be foolish not to tell you about signing up to continue what you’ve started but an ethical school will not put a ‘high pressure sales pitch’ on you either. If they are good at what they do, their program sells itself; there will be no need to try to coerce you into joining. If you sense the ‘I’m at a used car lot getting the screws put to me’ feeling… get out of there and don’t come back.
An honest school, the only type you should train at, is up front with training expenses. Sneaky unethical schools hide charges and then nickle and dime you every step of the way. Here are some of the things that can really add up so BEWARE:
A) Testing Fees: Expensive belt testing fees are not only hard on your pocket book but have another negative side: the instructors will pass you on tests, whether you’ve earned it or not, because they’re going to make a lot of money on your promotion. Also, be on the look out for ‘uniform patches’, ‘belt stripes’ and ‘multi-colored belts’. If you see these being used then the instructors have added additional levels to add charges onto you. Get a price list for all advancements and tests up front!
B) Equipment Fees: Purchasing equipment for training and safety is important but find out what you’ll need first (no surprises please). Some equipment may not be necessary; take for instance a ‘required’ school labeled duffel bag. You’re forced to buy their bag, which they’re selling at an inflated price, but you’ve already got three perfectly good bags at home. It’s just money in their pocket. Here’s another example of a costly trick on you; at some point in your advancement you may be ‘honored’ by getting to wear a new outfit color. Honored… you have to throw away a perfectly good uniform and cough up more dough for a new one!?!
C) Tournaments Fees: Competition can be motivating and fun but you should never have costly events forced on you. The schools may very well be running a scam where you have to enter (and pay for) expensive tournaments run by them. Find out ‘Is sparring required?’. If yes then ‘Are tournaments a requirement?’, ‘How many?’ and ‘What’s the cost?’.
D) Mystery Tuition: Be on your guard if a school refuses to tell you what they charge. They may not give you prices over the phone, that’s acceptable, but a big sign of trouble is if they won’t tell you prices when you come in either. This underhanded trick, used largely on parents, goes like this: hide the inflated school fees from you and get your child in and training for a couple of weeks. Over this time they build a relationship of (false) trust with you, all the while getting your kid really excited and pumped up, probably putting the child in a uniform and doling out some rewards like a belt or some patches that gets them hooked. Now you are primed for the kill and they hit you, the parent, with the crazy price tag of continued training. No parent wants to let their child down and the school is preying on this. With good intentions you’ll sign your child up; probably trapped in a long term contract (see KEY # 9) at a huge back -breaking rate. I know someone who was asked to put a second mortgage on their house just to pay a martial arts school’s price! Once their magic has worn off your child will most likely burn out and want to quit. The school will sell your contract to a collection agency and laugh all the way to the bank. Parents… don’t fall for this trap!
- KEY #7 : JOIN THE CLUB
Some schools have up-grade programs where, in order to get special and preferred treatment, you have to pay higher fees. A common name for such a program is the ‘Black Belt Club’. I’ve heard horror stories from students who couldn’t afford this top dollar program and consequently were ignored and stuck on the side lines during classes. You deserve the best quality training and you deserve to be treated fairly regardless of your bank account.
- KEY #8 : BLACK MARKET
A great aspect of martial arts training is that it should allow you to go at your own pace and learn at your own speed. If getting a Black Belt is one of your goals a good question to ask is the average time it might take you to get one. Certainly not all systems, or their Black Belts, are created equally. In a quality martial arts program it requires many years of training to achieve this major accomplishment. Beware, however, if the school guarantees you a Black Belt and, even worse, a Black Belt in a set amount of time. This school is simply selling its diplomas and a great expense no doubt! They promote not because of learning, improving and earning, but instead because you’ve paid their price tag. ‘Earning’ is so different from ‘getting’. Being given something is a hollow victory, without the benefit of personal growth. Earn it and you will gain the sense of accomplishment that comes only from hard work and dedication.
The only way to get good at something is to practice it. When you tie your shoes you don’t consciously think about it because you’ve done it so many times. Martial arts is the same; to get the benefits you must do it until it becomes second nature. There’s no magic button; it’s going to take time and work. If a school has contracts they are most likely just asking to you show the investment and dedication that you need to succeed. On the bright side the school, over that period of time, is also committed to helping you. But, with that in mind, you can also have too much of a good thing. So, if you are asked to sign a contract, find out the answers to these questions first:
A) Does the contract say what you’ll receive? You need to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting (or not getting) for the amount of money and time you are committing to.
B) If the contract is full of legalese and hard to understand, look out! With a contract like that you should be very wary and, if you’re still set on joining this school, ask to take it to your attorney so it can be looked over by someone who can make sense of it.
C) Does it have an termination agreement? In other words, do you have to pay for lessons you could not take? Just a few reasons that can crop up, and legitimately keep you from training, are such things as: a medical problem, forced to move far away, you’ve lost your job and are now unemployed. I know of someone who, outside of training, broke their back but the crooks at the school wouldn’t release them from their contract. Make sure it’s written that you’re allowed to stop or put the contract on hold in cases of such emergencies. If you’ve followed the steps in this guide from the beginning, you’ve already gone online to get reviews of the school. It’s there you’ll find if the school has treated others fairly.
D) Commitment to a year of training is fair for both parties but I wouldn’t suggest signing on for anything longer than that. How can you possibly know what will be going on in your life two, three or even more years from now? Worse is the ridiculous ‘life time membership’! I have a family that has trained happily with me for over five years now. Prior to coming to my school the father paid an outrageous amount to get a ‘life time membership’ for his two children at a different place. As you can imagine the kids got burned out (in under a year) at that other school and quit. There went his money down the drain!
= = = overview = = =
Ok, you’ve read the Consumer’s Guide to Choosing a Martial Arts School and are now armed with information to make the right choice! Don’t forget these are the answers you need before you know it’s the right school for you:
- What do I want?
- Who can get me there?
- Do I like the feel of the place? Do other people like this place?
- What is required physically? Is it safe? Is it fun? Can I do it?
- What is required financially? Is there a contract? Can I commit to doing it?
Happy training and enjoy the transformation into a better you!