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⏺ The 7 Most Important Points to Consider When Choosing a Martial Arts School

aikido benefits martial arts Nov 14, 2016

The 7 Most Important Points to Consider When Choosing a Martial Arts School

You are about to make an important and lasting decision. You intuitively understand that picking a martial art has more implications for long-term mental and physical health than just picking a gym or fitness activity. You probably don’t know much about the various arts other than what you see on TV and movies, and probably are trying to make your decision based on price, proximity, and marketing materials. How do you make sure you are making the right decision and not a mistake you will come to regret?

Martial art styles and affiliations should not be treated like brand names. Coke and Pepsi work hard to deliver the same experience and flavor whether you were buying a can of their product in New York or Istanbul. Martial arts, however, are transmitted from individual to individual, and the experience is defined by the talent, insight, instructional capability, integrity and character of the individual teacher. Picking a style “brand name” is no guarantee of the quality you will receive.

The most important tip is very simple: Don’t make your decision based on a style or art, or even what your friends and neighbors are doing. Make your decision based on finding the right instructor!


1. Find The Teacher Who Will Inspire You

inspireTo make the right choice, start by visiting every Karate, Aikido, Tae Kwon Do, Judo, or Jujitsu school that you can find, and interview the teachers and students. Do they seem like the type of people you want to spend time with, call friends, or emulate? Do the instructors seem like they have the ability to inspire you, push you to new limits and motivate you, challenge you, show you how to have fun and passion for what you do, and inspire you to keep coming back to class week after week, year after year? Do you have a strong “gut feeling” about the individual and the school? Ask about what values the teachers promote, and ask yourself if those are the values you want to instill into yourself and your children. Ask the teachers where they themselves train and improve their skills; the best teachers train and study their entire lives, and do not rest upon the ego gratification received from just being a teacher.

With that out of the way, there are some other things that can be useful to consider as well.


2. You Are Joining a Community

communityYou will be learning as much from the other students as you will be from the teachers. Consider the school members and community. Trust your instincts: does it seem like the students are motivated by pride, respect, trust, ego, the need to prove themselves, or showmanship? Ask the members and students what benefits they receive from training there; is there a diversity of ethnicities, genders, and ages in the dojo? Does the school look like it teaches things only young people can do, or do they teach things that can be practiced for an entire lifetime? Does the school convey a sense of community, belonging, teamwork, and mutual support, or does it convey a sense of competition and “everyone out for themselves?”


3. The Space Reflects The Spirit

Carefully examine the physical environment where you or your children will actually be training. How clean is it? Does it show an emphasis on trophies, or spirituality? Does the space instill a sense that you’re doing something special and important, or does it feel like just a place to work up a sweat? A wise person once said, “first, we build the spaces around us; then, the spaces build us.”


4. Don’t Let Money Define The Relationship

moneyHow does the school organize memberships and dues? Do you feel like you are being given a hard sale, like at a car dealership or a fitness club? Are you being pressured to sign up for a long-term contract before you feel you have even determined if the dojo is the right place for you? Do you feel that the teacher is focused more on making money than improving the lives of their students? Dojos are expensive to operate, and teachers have to make a living too, but you can usually get a sense of whether or not you mean more than a paycheck to the owner of the school.


5. Cross-Training / Allegience Policies

handcuffsFeel like popping in at another dojo when you’re traveling? Want to attend a seminar of a famous visiting instructor at a different local dojo? Not so fast! In some dojos, that’s grounds for being expelled! Yes, some schools will actually kick you out if they find out that you attended another dojo – even if it was just for one class on your last vacation! Explanations for this policy will usually sound like this: “Well, we don’t want our students to get confused with a different style.” or “Oh, that dojo isn’t legitimate. They’re not members of xyz organization that we belong to. Only our organization is pure/correct, connected to the founder of our art via abc.” Before you sign on with a dojo, ask them if they have any policies regarding training outside their dojo or affiliation. If they do, ask them why. A teacher who is confident will not feel threatened if you want to attend a class or seminar with another teacher. Indeed, this is the sign of a committed student and a teacher should be happy to see this sort of enthusiasm. It’s one thing for a dojo to ask for a certain degree of loyalty. It’s another for them to think they own you.


6. Don’t Be Dazzled By Rank

dazzleDon’t be too influenced by the rank of the teachers; ranks really are not comparable across styles and organizations. It is much easier to quickly receive high rank in very small organizations, than in large international associations with thousands or tens of thousands of members. Some organizations give different meaning to the various ranks, and award them based on different requirements, abilities, and experience than others. There are also many very respectable-seeming, international “rank and diploma organizations ” that allow paying members to receive rank certificates in various arts with very little actual training. Sometimes, junior teachers have a fresh outlook and enthusiasm which can be more infectious and rewarding than instruction from seasoned and tired teachers.


7. Great Schools Attract Diversity

Finally, one of the best measures of the quality of a Dojo is the diversity of the students who train there. Do their students frequently participate in seminars of different organizations and dojos? In more “open” schools, you are less likely to hear “that is wrong, this is right” and more likely to hear “explore this, keep what is useful.” Environments that attract and tolerate a wide variety of experience and knowledge are more likely to provide high-value, high-quality instruction.

Selecting, and committing to a martial art can be a daunting process. As many people drop out of martial arts because they made the wrong first choice as for reasons of personal potential, aptitude, or interest. Chances are you are not really knowledgable enough to make an informed decision when you start down the road of becoming a student. But a little detective work, trusting your instincts, and knowing what questions to ask yourself, the instructors, and the students of the schools you’re considering can help you be confident that you are making the right decision!

Also, pretty much every school offers some sort of discounted or free Intro Option with little or no obligation. Try a couple classes before you commit to a long-term agreement.

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