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 A Parent's Guide to Selecting a Martial Arts School.

What to look for in a Martial Arts school.

We're sometimes asked what people should tell friends or family in other cities to look for in a martial arts school. You may also be reading this because you live in the Central Ohio area and are interested in finding a martial arts school, but aren't sure where to start.

One thing to be aware of is schools making exaggerated claims. For example, some schools may claim to have students who are "the youngest 3rd Degree Black Belts in the world" in an effort to make their program sound superior. Most taekwondo organizations require students to be 13, or within 30 days of turning 13, to be eligible to test for 3rd Degree Black Belt. Since many students start when they are 6 or 7, they often reach the level where they are just waiting to turn 13 to be eligible to test for their 3rd degree rank, which means there are a whole lot of 13 (and almost 13) -year-olds testing for that rank. So it is very common for taekwondo schools to have 13-year-old (or 12-year-olds who will be 13 within 30 days) 3rd degree black belts.

Also, schools that teach "Olympic style" taekwondo may try to make it sound as if this is a superior style of martial arts, simply because it is "Olympic"-style. There isn't anything wrong with Olympic-style. It's just a different style of teaching taekwondo. Schools that use chest protectors may also try to make it sound like schools that don't use them are not safe. We've found that wearing chest protectors creates a false sense of safety and security for students (after all, if the bully attacks you or your child, will you have time to put on your chest protector?) and those students often keep their hands hanging down by their sides instead of using their arms to protect their head and body. We teach our students to use their hands and arms to block and protect themselves as well as how to move well to avoid taking the hit in the first place.

Below are some additional things to look at when considering a martial arts school.

The Instruction

The martial arts style is less important than the personality, teaching style and teaching qualifications of the Chief Instructor(s). We do recommend that you talk to the student's doctor about the style of martial arts you are considering to make sure there are no medical or safety concerns.

 Ask if the Chief Instructor is at the school during all the classes and if they teach (or at least supervise the teaching of) most of the classes. If the Chief Instructor is not at the school, who is in charge and what are their qualifications?

Is the Chief Instructor old enough to have the experience and maturity to handle difficult situations that might arise.

 Watch a few classes to see if the Chief Instructor seems to genuinely like teaching, knows the students’ names, uses positive reinforcement, and maintains control of the classes while keeping it fun.

Watch class to see if instructors explain why they are teaching the techniques they are demonstrating and do they adapt their teaching style to the different ages, ranks and abilities of the students?

•  Chief Instructors should be at least 2nd degree black belts. Beyond that, teaching style and teaching ability is more important than rank. You want the person teaching you, or your children, to communicate well, demonstrate techniques well, be patient and to understand how to teach to different learning styles.

•  All of the people in charge of teaching classes should be at least a black belt and have been certified to teach by some national martial arts group.  Color Belt students and Black Belt students who are not yet instructors may be used in supporting roles to help demonstrate target techniques and assist with floor drills. They may even help teach forms in a supervised environment as part of their training to move toward Black Belt and to become an instructor, but should not be in charge of running the class.

•  How important are the Chief Instructor’s competition history and trophies?  An instructor’s personal martial arts accomplishments do not give any indication as to their teaching ability or how well they will communicate with you or your child. It is more important that the instructors are able to communicate well with children, teens and adults, be able to demonstrate proper technique, keep classes fun and interesting, and motivate students through positive teaching methods to develop self-confidence and achieve their goals. It's one of the reasons we do not have a display with all of our trophies and medals at Hilliard Taekwondo Academy. All of our instructors do very well in tournaments, but again how we perform in tournaments ourselves is less important than how well we teach and what type of role models we are for your family.

•  Check to see if the Chief Instructor is affiliated with a national martial arts organization that provides on-going training and quality control.

The Classes

Inquire about the number of classes that you or your child can attend each week. The more options you have, the better. Training 2-3 times a week is ideal. It provides plenty of exposure to and reinforcement of the techniques you are learning while also giving your body days off from training. Make sure that the class times are flexible so that if a hectic week forces you to change your schedule you can still attend class. The exception is for classes for children younger than 6 years old. Programs for very young children like Tiny Tots, Little Dragons, etc may be offered once or twice a week because of shorter attention spans of younger students and how tired they get as they start school.

Ask if parents and spectators are allowed to watch classes. A closed-door policy is a red flag that something may be wrong with the teaching methods in the school. (It is normal, however, for schools to ask parents and other visitors to not talk to students during their class because it can distract the student and result in an injury.)

Are classes fun or is it exactly the same thing day after day? While repetition is important, classes should be an interesting, fun learning experience.

What activities does the school offer besides classes, testings and tournaments to promote a family atmosphere?  Look for activities such as lock-ins, parties, picnics, etc. These social events help students and families get to know one another better and makes it more likely that students will continue with the program.

The School

Assuming you like the instructors and the program, the more convenient the location, the more likely you will attend classes regularly and get the most out of the program. If you choose a school all the way across town, even though it may be less expensive, you may attend less because of traffic and the longer drive time.

Does the school look bright and smell clean? How often is it cleaned?

The Membership

Any schools you are considering should ask you to try at least one free class before you sign up for any martial arts program. This gives you a chance to see how the instructor(s) interact with your child and other students before you make a commitment. It also allows the instructor to determine if the person trying class is able to focus, follow directions and be respectful enough to be able to participate fully in the program.

Do you need to schedule a specific appointment to try a free class or can you just stop in unannounced to try any of their Beginner student classes? Being required to schedule a specific appointment may not indicate there is a problem, but it could also mean that they prepare for you and create a more ideal class situation than you might experience once you become a student.

One-year memberships are standard in our industry among full-time instructors. Many schools also offer an introductory special to allow new students to try classes for one or two months for a fee. When you are ready to sign the one-year membership, it is better to make monthly payments rather than paying the entire amount up front, in case the school should close. If you choose to sign up for a one-year membership rather than trying an introductory special, check to see if they offer a written guarantee that will let you out of the membership if you change your mind within the first 30 days.

Ask about additional membership costs. In addition to the introductory special or monthly membership fees, some schools may require you to pay a one-time fee to cover the cost of your membership packet and uniform. Once you've committed to a program some schools may also then have additional fees for different levels of training they offer which may mean that students who only pay the initially quoted membership fee get less training and attention than students who pay more.

Ask how often the students test and how much testing costs. Specifically ask how much it costs for each testing at the Black Belt level. While it's normal for Black Belt testing to be more costly than color belt testing (for example at Hilliard Taekwondo Academy as of 2013 the testing color belt and the first 2 levels of Black Belt is $50 per testing, The next 4 levels of Black Belt testing are $95 per testing and for 3rd Degree Black Belt and higher ranks testing is $150, with Black Belt testings occurring less frequently than color belt testings) some schools charge hundreds of dollars for Black Belt testings.  Also ask what equipment the students are required to have, when they are required to have it, if everyone purchases from the same manufacturer so everyone has the same quality gear and how much it costs.

Make sure that the costs are reasonable, but do not make a decision based solely on price.  The cheapest place may not be the best deal and the most expensive school may not offer the best program.

Good luck in your search. We hope you find a martial arts school that is a great fit for you!