Finding the Right Instructor
Sometimes looking for a martial arts club for yourself, or for your children, when you have no
background or experience in the martial arts can be a mind-boggling and frustrating experience.
The single most important thing to consider when looking for the right martial arts club is the
quality of the training you, or your child, will be receiving. But there are so many clubs
around, all touting high-ranking instructors - who are you to question what they tell you?
Guess what? You have every right to question what they tell you. The sad fact is that the martial
arts world is unregulated - and this means that, unfortunately, you will often find that the
quality of instruction varies immensely from club to club. Simply put, the term "blackbelt" can
mean different things, depending on the club. You will find clubs run by instructors with more
than a decade of serious training and you will find clubs run by instructors who aced the
ten-minute blackbelt program last year.
This does not mean that the more inexperienced instructor is a worse teacher than one with many
years of experience. Credentials and experience do not necessarily mean teaching ability. An
instructor who has only been training for two or three years but who also has an indepth
knowledge of his or her art, who is dedicated and who trains regularly in order to continually
improve his or her skills, may very well be as good a teacher, or perhaps even better, than one
who has decades of experience.
In addition to the quality of instruction, there are also different styles of teaching. An
instructor whom one student finds phenomenal may not be all that phenomenal when instructing
another, different student. The bottom line: check out credentials and don't sign the dotted
line until you find an instructor with whom you, or your children, are comfortable.
The following are some more tips on finding the right instructor (parents should also check out
our Parents' page for more tips):
Watch a few classes, and see the instructor in action. How does he or she interact
with the students? Do the students seem to be enjoying themselves? Is the instructor
intimidating? (And if you find you're not allowed to watch a class, ask for an
explanation of this policy. We personally can't think of any good reasons why a
prospective student should not be able to watch a class, but there may be one good
reason out there, somewhere.)
- Meet the Instructor
Talk with the instructor. Ask him or her about the club's classes, how they are run, and
why they are run the way they are. Does the instructor seem knowledgeable? Does he or
she show enthusiasm both for the martial arts and for teaching? Is he or she
- Mingle with the students.
Talk with the students and the parents of students. Find out how long they have been
training, and what it is about the club that keeps them training there. There's nothing
like the old grapevine to give you a clearer idea of whether the club and the instructor
are right for you or for your child. Hint: If you get an overwhelming majority of
responses that start with "Well, the times are really convenient for our schedule" or
"This was the cheapest place we could find", you might want to look elsewhere.
- Price isn't everything.
Which leads us to this important point. While the cost for martial arts instruction can
range from $400 to over $1,500 per year, a higher price does not guarantee quality.
It's not unusual to hear of people who received pretty dismal instruction from a club
that charged more than $1,200 a year. And then there are some lucky people who find a
martial arts genius who runs classes at the local rec center for a pittance, after his
day job as a computer programmer (it pays the bills).
- Qualifications vs. teaching ability.
Credentials are important, but again, you need to watch some classes. Someone who's a world
class martial artist may not necessarily be good at teaching children. Or adults, for
- Teaching style.
What is the instructor's teaching style? Does he or she employ extremely strict
discipline, with punishment (fifty push-ups, one hundred sit-ups) given out for minor
infraction of class rules? Does he or she use humiliation or ridicule in order to get
a point across to the students? Or is the instructor firm but approachable, able to
motivate students to do their best? Or perhaps the instruction is more on the lax side,
with the emphasis on fun. You need to consider the type of teaching style which you, or
your children, would find the most comfortable.
- The primary instructor.
Is the class taught by a blackbelt instructor, or is it taught by a senior,
non-blackbelt, student? If a lower ranking person teaches the class, how often does
this happen? You need to find out who will be the primary instructor for the class,
and what his or her qualifications are. It is always best to have a black-belt teaching
classes - that's what you're paying for. However, high ranking coloured belt students
often have a teaching component to their training. In such cases, it is usually better
to go with a club in which senior students assist the instructor rather than one where
such students frequently have sole responsibility for the class.
- Honour to us all.
Finally, a word about class rules. Clubs will usually have the class rules posted up on
a bulletin board or their
web site. Another good way to find out about class rules is to watch a class or
two. Do the class rules require students to pay serious homage to the instructor who is
honoured as a demi god? Or do they merely ask that you treat the teacher and other
students with the respect accorded their rank and experience? There is a big
difference - and if you do find a club with rules similar to the former, we'd advise
you run, don't walk, away from there as soon as you can.