Choosing the Right School

A Little Investigation Beforehand Can Save You a Lot of Time, Trouble and Money Later

Joining a martial arts school is a lot like purchasing a used car: You don’t always know what you are getting until it’s too late. In the marketplace of martial arts, all schools are not created equal. Martial arts teachers generally do not have to answer to a government agency, and there is no consumer group to act as a watchdog to ensure the quality of instruction. Anyone, in fact, can acquire a business license, purchase a black belt, rent studio space, and, to the unwitting public, appear to be the second coming of Bruce Lee.

Some instructors receive their “black belt” when they purchase their franchise and receive some basic training. Other instructors train many years before becoming a qualified black belt. In addition to a black belt ask the instructors what other qualifications they have. Martial arts qualifications are often given by the Master instructor. Ask the instructor if they have any coaching certifications. NCCP national certified coaching program, Medical certificates like CPR or first aid, etc. Check with Sport BC or a government organization to see if they are a recognized club with a trained and affiliated instructor. Ask the instructor how many years they have been instructing, as a competitor or practitioner doesn’t always make a good instructor.

Unfortunately, most first-timers and some veterans have a difficult time seeing past the price tag or the convenience of location when choosing a martial arts school. Those should not, however, be the only determining factors when deciding on a school. It is important to visit several schools before committing to one. See what each school has to offer, and then make your decision.

Often an assistant instructor or adult black belt teaches classes, and not by a school’s master. Be sure you know before enrolling find out how available the master instructor will be to help you with your learning. Generally, the Master instructor will not be able to do all the classes but make sure they do some of the classes your child or you will be involved in. Then check out the credentials of their assistants. Talk to the instructor about an appointment to watch both beginning and advanced classes. If the school offers a free introductory class, take it. Many very good clubs have instructors who teach karate as a hobby and are doing it for the love of the art, not just the money. Make sure you are aware that some clubs or schools are in it only for the money and will have contracts and requirements that will become very expensive.

The following are a couple of factors that should all be weighed before you sign on the dotted line, if the club has contracts, many don’t and still offer excellent instruction.


A school’s proximity to your home or work should be taken into consideration prior to signing up. Having said that many people travel great distances to train with an instructor who is both qualified and reputable.

Equipment/ Facility

Martial arts schools vary in the type of equipment and amenities they offer. Some are large and modern, and provide weight-training equipment, showers, and lockers, while others do not. It is up to you to decide what is most important and necessary for your training. All schools should offer basic comforts, adequate equipment, and learning essentials. Remember: A pretty school isn’t necessarily a highly functional school and vice versa.

Styles or types of Martial arts

Styles are as varied as shoes and can be comfortable or not.  Try to see past the latest craze in martial arts, there have been many and will be many more.  A credible style is one that fits your goal and needs and honestly, when you begin you won’t know one from the other.

Class Sizes and Schedules

Many new students prefer to be part of a large training group, rather than a small class. However,  If you prefer private, one-on-one lessons with the chief instructor that can usually be arranged.

You should also check with the instructor about what time of day classes are offered to see if they fit in with your schedule.

Class Age Groups

Check to see if classes are separated by age and/or belt level. Adult students may not appreciate training with second-graders, some of who may be able to execute the techniques better than they can. You may find yourself as the only adult in a class full of much younger students, and the different maturity levels could prove distracting to both you and them.

Some martial arts instructors are in business simply to get your money and could care less about your progress in the art they teach. To discover if this is the case, ask the instructor about his belt ranking system. If he says you need to be proficient in a certain number of basic movements, forms, sparring and self-defense techniques before he will promote you to a higher belt level, you are likely dealing with an honest teacher. 

If, on the other hand, the instructor tells you that you will receive a new belt every two months, be wary. You should never move up in rank until you are ready and qualified to do so. A good instructor does not push students to move up in rank merely to receive a belt-testing fee.

Size of School

Martial Arts schools come in all sizes. Some are part of a large chain; others are small operations run by a single instructor. The quality of instruction you will receive at a school is not necessarily related to its size. You can receive either poor or excellent instruction at a small school, and the same goes for large schools. Although large schools may have better equipment and a nicer facility, smaller schools offer students more personal attention from the instructor(s). Check out both types during your research.

Rarely do martial arts schools advertise their price of instruction in the phone book. Prices could be determined on a monthly basis, over several months, or by how often you train each week. In some cases, the price varies and sometimes discounts or promotions are offered (family package deals, for example). There are instructors who charge as little as $50 dollars a month for instruction, and there are those who charge $50 or more for a single one-hour session.It is up to you to determine what you feel are a fair and manageable price for instruction. After some research, you will know who is asking too much.

There are many other minor details to consider when choosing a school. Is the school clean? A clean school is a sign of pride and respect.

Is the instructor receptive to your questions? If you are treated like an annoyance when trying to find out about the school, you will probably be treated like an annoyance while you’re taking classes. On the other hand, if the instructor seems too eager to sign you up and answers with rehearsed responses, a warning light should be flashing in your head. Does the school have air-conditioning and/or heating? This seems like a silly question until it’s sizzling or freezing outside.

All of this may sound like a lot of work simply to find a place to take martial arts lessons. But if you are planning to invest hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours in martial arts classes over the next few years, don’t you want to be sure of what you are getting in return? If you make a list of the things you feel are important, and check off those items as you visit prospective schools, you will find that your choices are quickly narrowed. Before long, you will be performing martial arts drills at a school that is right for you.