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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):

  1. Observation.
    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.)
  2. 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 approachable?
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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 that matter.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

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