Some plain talk about how to make the right decision
Why I Am Publishing This Information
A little while ago I was talking with a guy at my martial arts school in Salt Lake City, Utah who seemed to be a well informed person. He had visited several martial arts school websites locally and even went in and either watched or participated in their martial arts classes.
He said that he was cautious to start training at my martial arts school (and hadn’t picked one yet) because he didn’t know how to choose one from the other. Plus, there were dozens of places to choose from in Salt Lake Valley. Every martial arts school had different things they offered, said different things, and the others seemed more interested in his finances than what he was looking for in the first place.
He proclaimed that he didn’t know what to ask besides “how much does it cost?” and “what is the class schedule?”.
Clearly there’s a gap.
And, I’m sure he’s not alone.
Here is a guy who clearly wanted to take martial arts classes but didn’t know what to ask to help him feel good he was making a good decision. He was paralyzed into inaction. He keep plugging along until I sat down and explained to him the steps I’m about to share with you.
After explaining how he should go about it, he said, “geez, I wish I had know about all this information sooner.”
Then it dawned on me. I needed to write a guide to help people who need some tips on how to make the process easier and simpler.
It’s important that everyone knows exactly how to choose the best martial arts school for them. That is why this guide was written.
You may find a lot of this information elementary. But, the next person may not. If you run into something you already know, feel free to skip it.
Following are my top 10 considerations that I hope will save you a lot of time, money and hassle. Let’s get started with the 10 proven steps on how to choose the right martial arts school.
1. Can the martial arts school help you reach your goals?
Getting started in the martial arts is very exciting. However, many in their enthusiasm to get started right away, neglect asking the most important question before signing up with a local school. It is my very first recommendation that you determine why you’re taking martial arts in the first place. In other words, what are you hoping to get out of it? Knowing WHY you’re doing it will guide you throughout the rest of the process. By determining this before calling or visiting any martial arts schools, you’re giving yourself a purpose from which to screen all potential martial arts schools in your city. This will help you cut to the chase, fast. Most people I talk to use the WRONG approach to finding a martial arts school. They call the closest place to home, ask about the costs and the schedule, then sign up because its closest to their home or just the cheapest alternative. This is such a BAD way to start your training (on so many levels). Wouldn’t you rather pay a little more each month if you knew you were getting exactly what you want even if it meant driving an extra few miles? People who rush into signing up with the closest place, in my experience, end up quitting shortly thereafter because they realize its the wrong fit and isn’t worth what ever it is they’re paying. The reasons people sign up for lessons are varied and often include:
While martial arts is synonymous with self-defense, there are a lot of differences between each method of martial arts. Some rely on methods 2,000 years old while some are more modern and eclectic. No one art has the corner in absolute best self-defense for every person out there; otherwise there would only be one martial art taught in the World. It really comes down to the approach that makes the most sense to you and what you want to learn.
Not everyone wants to compete however many martial arts schools specialize in this type of training… even when it says “self defense” on their sign. Be sure to ask and if they focus light contact point sparring tournaments or full contact MMA fights. They are two totally different training practices and each school treats competition differently. Some schools place little to no emphasis on tournaments so be sure to ask.
Looking to lose weight? Most martial arts programs can help you become more active which in turn helps you lose some of those unwanted pounds. Some programs really emphasis fitness as much as, if not more than, the martial arts side of things. Others are not so extreme. Be sure you understand how the fitness component fits into their program before deciding where to train.
Some schools teach how to defend against weapons but not how to use them. If learning how to use weapons is a big deal to you, make sure they teach the weapons you’re interested in learning. The options are wide and varied. Some teach ancient weapons while others focus on more modern weapons. Some of the most popular weapons to learn include the single and double sticks, knives, long or short swords, long and short poles, and more.
Earning a black belt is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have. It symbolizes excellence and is super rare for someone to have one. If earning a black belt is one of your life goals, be sure you can earn one from the place you’re trying considering on joining. Some martial arts school’s only offer a certificate but no black belt level in their art.
Determining your goals first will provide you clear direction when reviewing martial arts schools in town. When you know what you want to get out of your training, it makes it easier to filter out all those places who don’t match your needs.
2. Do they have age appropriate classes?
You’ve waited years to take the martial arts and finally end up selecting a place. You put on your brand new uniform with all of your patches freshly sewn on. The day has finally arrived where you show up to take your first lesson as a full fledged member of a martial arts school. As you step out onto the mat for the first time it suddenly hits you: You’re in a class full of kids. The reason this happens is because no one thinks to ask what the school’s definition of an adult is when they sign up. You just assume you’ll be in a class with people close to your age. You see, most martial arts schools in Salt Lake define an adult as anyone over the age of 12 years old. That said, some combine kids even younger with adults as a matter of practice in the majority (if not all classes). Obviously, adults and kids learn very differently and each has very different attention spans. In order to keep kids entertained, a large amount of time is spent on rapidly switching between games and activities. And, the adults just get to join in. Many martial arts school teach both kids and adults. However, one is always their focus more than the other. Usually kids are their bread and butter because parent’s will pay big for their kids for everything from belt tests to black belt programs to after school programs. An important question to ask is if everyone learns the same material. There are some things you don’t want to teach a kid who might misuse it on the playground; like eye pokes and chokes. However, it would be more appropriate to teach an adult who can judge when to use it. Make sure nothing was taken out so that it was easier to teach kids. If you goal is fitness, this point might not be that important but would be a major red flag if you’re hoping to learn practical self-defense appropriate for adults. Learning the martial arts in age appropriate classes with clear separation is key to long term engagement in your training. It also signifies you’re learning adult specific skills and not learning a “kid friendly” martial art.
3. Do you connect with the instructor?
Making a connection with the head instructor is essential for longevity in any martial arts program. This may even be more important that WHAT they are going to teach you. A great instructor will inspire and teach you in a way that resonates yet challenges you; which will help keep you motivated for years to come. However, you also want to make sure they are also credible, knowledgeable, and experienced. For the average beginner, trying to tell the difference between an instructor who is qualified from one who isn’t can prove difficult. This is because while someone might be a good black belt and won all sorts of competitions, it doesn’t mean they’re a good instructor. Here are some questions to help you flush this out.
How long have they been training?
How long an instructor has been training helps give you perspective on the depth of their knowledge and experience. Some instructors learn multiple martial arts systems so be sure to understand how long they’ve been training in each.
How long have they been teaching?
This will tell you if you’re their first student or if they have a long history of helping people like you. Remember that teaching and training are two different things. Make sure they have a long history teaching, not just training in the martial arts. See if you can watch a class to determine how well they communicate during an actual lesson. If there is a lot of confusion or they have a hard time articulating things, you may want to go to the next school on your list.
Are they certified by an organization?
You wouldn’t go to a doctor, personal trainer or even a mechanic who isn’t certified so why would you do that with a martial arts instructor? Ask the instructor about their credentials and ask to see their certificates. Then use Google to research the organizations who issued them and see if they are in fact legitimate and credible organizations.
How long have they been in business?
Working with established businesses of any kind can bring a lot of peace of mind. However, it’s no guarantee that they’ll be a good match for you just because they’ve been in business for so long. Asking this will tell you if they just opened or if they are have a proven track record. Businesses that have been around for years generally have a good reputation.
How much does the head instructor teach?
This isn’t something anyone will normally tell you when you’re signing up. Find out how often the head instructor teaches and if you’ll even learn from them. Some instructors have multiple schools and may only teach at your location on a limited basis, if at all. If that’s important to you, be sure to ask up front how much face time you’ll get. You may have no choice but to train with the assistant instructors who aren’t usually as seasoned or experienced.
How are assistant instructors used?
Every martial arts school has instructors and assistant instructors outside of the head instructor. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask about it. Find out how they are used in your training and if they are a supplement to the head instructor or if they are a direct replacement for them.
I can’t stress enough: Ask all of these questions, not just one or two. In combination, they can all help you build a more complete and accurate picture on if the leadership are people you can trust learning from. Doing your homework can save you a lot of time, money and frustration. Be sure you’re asking the right questions (like the ones above) to help determine if you’re making the best decision; according to your needs.
4. Do they have a written curriculum?
Do you remember getting a syllabus in school? Could you imagine taking a class and never knowing where it’s going or what you’re going to learn? Sadly, this happens all the time in the martial arts industry. Many martial arts schools just wing it and teach whatever they feel like whenever they feel like it. This chaotic approach prevents you from progressing in a systematic manner. It’s hard to set goals for yourself and accomplish them when you don’t know what you’ll be learning and when. It will also help you understand what you’re going to learn and if you’re going to learn everything you have interest in (weapons, sparring, ground fighting, etc.). Find a martial arts school that offers a written curriculum that spells everything out. See if they can provide you an outline of the curriculum and if they provide manuals or books with step by step instructions so you can reinforce everything you’ve learned in class while training at home. In addition, some schools are even offering DVD’s or online videos of their curriculum. Be sure to ask about this and any other tools they offer that would help your learn and progress. When there is a written curriculum, there is a road map for your future training you can easily follow and advance. It will also tell you what you’ll be learning and if it matches your interests.
5. What are the facilities like?
How well kept a facility is can tell you a lot about a business and how much they care about it. The best way to determine how well things are kept is to go visit the facility. Many martial arts schools allow walk-ins while some will ask that you schedule an appointment. As a general rule, I recommend calling and setting up an appointment so you can be sure you have time to ask all of your questions face-to-face.
- Does it smell funky when you walk in the door?
- Is their equipment worn out and torn?
- Are their bathrooms a mess?
- Do the floors or mats look like they haven’t been cleaned in months?
- Is the place in good repair in general or is it old and in disarray?
Remember, you’re going to spend a lot of time there, probably several years, so you want to make sure the facilities are clean and well maintained. How well they maintain their place is a good indication for how much they care about their business and their members. If you want to get the lay of the land before you visit, logon to their website or Google Maps to see if they have any photos posted of their facility. Visiting the facility and walking through the front doors is a must. It will tell you a lot about how much they care about their business.
6. What do the online reviews say?
A very simple and easy way to discover what people really think about martial arts schools is to look at online reviews. There are many great and free resources that you should check before deciding on a martial art school.
Popular Online Review Resources
Taking this one simple step can save you a lot of future time and hassle. I’m amazed how many people don’t take this step when contacting a martial arts school. I’d say less than half of the people that come to evaluate my martial arts school have looked at reviews. For example, search Google for “Salt Lake City Martial Arts” or type in the martial arts school’s name and “reviews” and read the reviews. You’ll quickly find customer feedback along with star ratings. Both can give you great insight into a prospective martial arts school. As you might expect, high quality businesses naturally draw positive reviews to them like a magnet. However, it’s not at all uncommon for a martial arts school to be without any reviews or star ratings. For that reason, don’t just check one review site. Positive, neutral and negative reviews can be quietly read from the privacy of your own home. Reviews of any kind can help paint a picture of what you can expect or give rise to issues that may surprise you. Some questions to ask yourself:
- How many reviews do they have?
- What is the average star rating?
- What seems to be the common theme?
- Are comments generally positive or negative?
Read online reviews before going in from as many sources as possible. Reviews can tell you a lot about business before you ever pick up the phone or pay them a visit. It may also reveal some information you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise until after signing up like hidden fees, big egos, bad attitudes, etc.
7. What is the student to instructor ratio?
If you’re going to invest your time and money into a martial arts school the last thing you want is to get lost in the shuffle. Simply put, when you’re in a sea of other people, you can quickly fall behind. This can be dangerous because you will start to feel neglected making it harder to keep motivated. Be sure to ask about what the school’s policy is regarding class sizes and what they do to make sure no one gets left behind. Watching a class is a good idea and is highly encouraged. This will tell you how big their classes really are and how they split up belt levels in each class. Some questions to ask to help your make sure you always get the time and attention you need to succeed include:
- Do they limit class sizes?
- How many instructors are in each class?
When student to instructor ratios are low, you receive more personal attention which will help you learn and improve, faster.
8. Are long term contracts required?
Billing contracts are common practice among many services in the health and fitness industry; including martial arts schools. However, not all are created equally. Some offer month to month billing with 30 day written cancellation notices while others bind you for a length of time (usually multiple years) and come with stiff penalties if you terminate early. Many martial arts schools use billing contracts because it shows commitment from a potential student. It also helps them to have a steady stream of income coming in to keep their doors open which is good for both parties. Many people sign agreements then for whatever reason think the terms don’t apply to them if they want to terminate a contract early. Expect that if you sign a contract the terms apply to you. As a general rule of thumb: if you sign it you’re liable for it. Like any contract, you need to read the fine print and know what you’re signing. Don’t sign anything unless you’ve read it. Just like when you signed your contract for your car, home and cell phone, you’ll want to do the same with the contract at the martial arts school (if one is required). Some supplemental questions to consider:
- Can I train without signing a long term contract?
- Under what circumstances can I pause my training and billing?
- What is the minimum term available?
- Could you be sent to collections?
- What are the penalties for leaving prior to the contract end date?
- How much notice must you provide to cancel?
Do your homework and see if long term contracts are required. Then learn everything you can about the fine print before signing it. If you’re not comfortable with signing a long term agreement, continue your search. This is not to be taken as legal advice as I’m not an attorney. I recommend that you consult an attorney should you have legal questions or want to have them review the agreement before signing.
9. Do they guarantee their lessons?
The sad truth is that even if you do everything right, you may end up not liking a place once you get started. It happens. However, that doesn’t mean you should feel stuck. Therefore, it’s good to know if the martial arts training facility you’re investigating offers a guarantee so it doesn’t cost you big later should you determine you did make a bad decision. Guarantees can help give you peace of mind knowing that even if you make mistake you have some amount of protection in place. The trick is finding a martial arts school that offers a guarantee as not everyone offers one. A martial arts school may only offer a guarantee on their trial program or for a predetermined period after the date of the first regular lesson. Whatever they offer, be sure you can get it in writing and know what they offer. Finding a martial arts school who guarantees their service provides peace of mind and help you make sure you made the right decision without penalty.
10. Can you take lessons on a trial basis?
The truth is, you will never truly know if a martial arts school is right for you unless you experience it first hand and participate in a few classes. If you’re deliberating between a couple of schools, take both trial programs. See if they offer an option that allows you to try a couple of lessons. Some will allow you to jump into a couple of classes for free while others schedule them at a different time at a cost. Either way, this will help make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Most every martial arts school offers some sort of trial ranging from a free lesson to a 30-day trial. Some even include a free uniform, T-Shirt or other bonuses. Do yourself a favor and take a test drive. It will help you clearly identify which martial arts school is the best place for you. Once you’re done I would listen to your gut. It will tell you which is the better choice. You can usually find their latest deals on their website, Facebook page or simply by calling them directly. Taking a trial program is simply the most effective way to see if a martial arts school is right for you. You’ll be able to evaluate the facility, meet the instructors, ask questions and more; which will help you answer almost all the questions covered in this guide.
Well, those are my ten best tips for choosing the right martial arts school. If you follow all of the tips in my guide, it can help you find the best one for you. Remember, don’t just decide based on low cost or how close it is to your home.