These days you can drive around town and literally find a martial arts club on every corner.
Whether you're a parent who wants to have your child train in the martial arts, or wish to
learn the martial arts yourself, if you've had no previous experience with martial arts the
choice can seem bewildering.
The first choice you have to make is the martial arts itself. There are a lot of martial arts out there, originating from a number of different countries. Check out our article You Mean Martial Arts Are Not All Alike for more information. You'll also need to decide whether you want Traditional vs. Sport Arts.
Once you've figured out your preferred martial art, the most important thing is to find an instructor with whom you or your child feel comfortable. Our article, Finding the Right Instructor, gives you some tips on finding a good instructor.
You should consider the following when looking for that perfect dojo:
1. Are you allowed to observe a class?
If the club doesn't allow prospective students to observe a class, you should remember it's not wise to purchase anything sight unseen. Which is exactly what they're asking you to do. The ideal situation is a club that allows you to try out a class. This gives you a feel for the classes, and helps you decide whether the club is right for you. Many clubs offer a free trial class. Others may charge a small fee. If you get the opportunity to try a class, take it - it's your best chance to determine if the club is a good fit.
2. Are parents allowed to watch classes?
This is an important question. There are clubs which have a "closed door" policy, in which the only time you get to see your child in action is at demonstrations and/or competitions. You have to ask yourself, why are they being so secretive? While you may get the explanation that parents watching simply prove to be too much of a distraction, in our experience, the majority of children enjoy having a parent present, and often work harder in class as a result. And when, as has occasionally happened, a child does far worse when a parent is present, the best solution is to have the parent stop watching classes for a while and then to casually begin watching again. (Check out our article Parenting a Martial Arts Child for more tips for parents.)
4. If you're a parent, consider if the instructor appears
comfortable teaching children?
She may be disciplined and even a little strict - the martial arts is all about discipline - but she should still be pleasant. (For more tips for parents, see our article Parenting a Martial Arts Child).
5. Is the dojo clean and well-kept?
At its best, the martial arts melds with the zen approach to life. You will often find this reflected in a clean, simple and uncluttered dojo. The other, more practical, thing is that a clean, well-kept dojo is much more pleasant to train in. That raw, sweaty look (and smell) you sometimes see on t.v. and in the movies is more appropriate to a boxing club than it is to a martial arts dojo.
6. Along the same lines, are the students themselves clean and
(It goes without saying that the instructor should be.) Of course, after a class, everyone will be (or should be!) sweaty. But prior to class, students should be sporting clean uniforms, without hems dragging the floor or sleeves that flop over the tips of the fingers. You may notice the odd student who is sloppily dressed. Check with a student to see whether the club has a policy about uniforms and general cleanliness. It could be that the sensei hasn't gotten around to talking with that particular student yet.
7. Don't forget to consider the students themselves.
After all, these are people with whom you, or your child, will be training. If you walk into a club and are immediately struck by students' "attitude", ask yourself whether you'll enjoy training with the people sporting these attitudes.
8. Are female students very heavily underrepresented?
In the best martial arts club, the student's gender should be of no consequence. In such clubs, you will usually find that the division among the sexes is fairly evenly split.
9. What is the turnover rate among the students?
Try to avoid clubs with more white belts than advanced belts. You want to see a slow steady inflow of beginners - this means the emphasis of the club is not on signing people up but rather on teaching - and intermediate and advanced students who stay with the club. This is based on the general principle that people usually stick with a good thing.
10. What do the other students and parents have to say about
the instructor and the club?
There's nothing like the old grapevine to give you a clearer idea as to whether this is the club for you or your child. Check out the enthusiasm of the people you talk to, whether it's enthusiasm for the dojo, the art itself or the instructor as a teacher.
11. What do you get for your annual membership fee?
Unless you're getting a uniform and other equipment, the annual membership fee shouldn't be more than the cost of a month's training.
12. Is the dojo affiliated with any national or international
While such affiliations don't guarantee the quality of teaching you'll receive at the club, they do provide a certain measure of comfort in what is, ultimately, a totally unregulated industry. Be sure, though, to check out the associations themselves. Reputable associations should be known among advanced martial artists. Look them up on the Internet, and in martial arts journals and magazines.
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