How To Choose the Right Martial Arts School

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Guide to Choosing A Good Martial Arts School

Is there really a difference in martial arts schools? Aren’t they all about the same? You would be surprised! Even someone very dedicated to beginning a healthy lifestyle by enrolling in martial arts can be overwhelmed by the number different martial arts schools (also called “dojos” or “dojangs”).

Although I am the owner of USA Martial Arts Phoenix in Arizona, I want to help you understand some general guidelines that can assist them in choosing the right martial arts school, even if it’s not mine! Drawing on my lifetime of martial arts experience, I offer the following helpful tips to assist you in your decision so that you can feel confident in choosing a high quality martial arts school. This information is based on Master Asads article Guide to Choosing a Martial Arts school with my personal additions and advice.

Who can open up a legitimate martial arts school?
Anyone can apply for a business license and be granted the right to rent a space and advertise it as a martial arts school. In martial arts, there are no comprehensive accrediting bodies like the American Medical Association for doctors, or the Bar Association for lawyers, or even a state regulated system of licenses like that for tradesmen.

One self regulating industry association was created in the 1990s called the ACMA, the American Council on Martial Arts, of which I was proud to be part. Grandmaster and Film star Chuck Norris and numerous other highly respected Masters are part of this organization. However, most schools did not participate, nor were willing to agree to the code of ethics nor meet the certification standards.

In the past, when a Master thought one of his high ranking Black Belts (usually 4th degree and up) had demonstrated exceptional loyalty, skills, dedication, and ethics in their training, that person would be granted the opportunity to open a school under the direct supervision of the Master. This is how USA Martial Arts operates but few others do.

Today this is not the case with most schools. Many martial arts billing collection and consulting companies sell affiliations and memberships with no regard for a martial artist’s background, behavior, abilities, skills, and knowledge. You can even buy your rank out of the back of a martial arts magazine!

Therefore, it is of utmost importance that consumers understand the background, training history, and lineage of potential martial arts instructors.

According to industry data, over 2000 martial arts schools open up in the United States. More than 1700 of these schools close within the first year of operation. Of those that remain, over 80% go bankrupt within the first three years. Most of these do not use contracts to protect themselves and the students (by getting things in writing.)

When you look for a legitimate martial arts school make sure that they have been around in business for at least 10 years. These schools have passed the test of time and clearly have gained the general public’s respect and trust through hard work!

What is the difference between a Black Belt and a Master in martial arts?

A Black Belt is like a high school graduate, someone who has just finished the basic requirements of a particular style of martial arts. A Master on the other hand is like a principal of the school, the equivalent of a terminal degree, such as a Ph.D., in their field. Masters normally have at least 25 years of strong martial arts training, and a minimum of a 5th Degree Black Belt (in most arts), and, of course, the blessings of their Grandmaster. Legitimate schools will often have regular “check ups” and accountability evaluations with Senior Masters and Grandmasters. If you are in a school without them, this could be a serious red flag.

How does the martial arts belt system work?
Generally, all martial arts systems start with a white belt, which designates a beginner rank, and go through a number of colored belts until the black belt. Then, students can earn degrees or “Dans” of black belts. Generally once a student reaches a 5th Dan he/she may be considered for a Master rank in their particular style by their master instructor.

Who can award me a legitimate black belt rank?
If you want to eventually earn a legitimate black belt, make certain that your instructor holds a minimum rank of 4th Dan and is recognized and supported by a legitimate and reputable Grandmaster of martial arts. Rogue instructors, no matter how charming and convincing have done tremendous damage to the martial arts industry. A legitimate black belt rank can only come from a Master or a Grandmaster instructor. Traditionally, an instructor must hold at least a 4th Dan to award others a simple, plain black belt if that rank is to be considered legitimate.

Checklist: Background Questions for Instructor
How much martial arts experience have you had?
What degree of black belt do you have?
With whom have you studied? How long have you studied with them? Can I contact your master instructor(s) for more information?
How long have you been in business?

Checklist: Instructor Observations
Does the instructor maintain a healthy lifestyle?
Does the master instructor project success in other aspects of his/her life and model that for your child?
Does the instructor practice what he or she preaches?
What are good ways to get information on martial arts schools?

Start by contacting your local Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Then, go online and check the websites of schools in your area. See if their goals match those of yours and your families. Then, call the school or visit it in person. As about their background, their instructors, ongoing education, then verify what they say is true by calling or emailing.

What should I think about before calling a martial arts school?
You should think about what you would like to get out of training at a martial arts school. Are you looking to build self-esteem, respect, discipline, confidence, focus, and/or courage? Or perhaps you are looking to get in shape, to train in a social environment, or to learn self defense? Once you know this then start your homework to match your goals to those of an appropriate school in your area.

What should I look for in a martial arts facility & program?
Make sure the facilities are safe and sound. The school should be equipped with matted floors and carry professional insurance. Next, make sure the program is designed by a legitimate Master for the goals you want to achieve.

Price of Instruction: You Get What you Pay For
In the martial arts industry, just like anywhere else, you get what you pay for. Martial arts training, if done right, is a significant investment of your time and energy, as well as your master instructor’s wisdom, skills, abilities and knowledge. Many legitimate martial school owners locally have dedicated their lives to martial arts training in various styles in different arts from around the world. As a student, you will be learning the benefits of twenty to forty years of life experience of a martial arts master who has devoted every day of his/her life to acquiring skills, knowledge, and abilities to not only make himself better and stronger as a martial artist but to understand different educational systems to further help their students. Be willing to pay for all of this experience. Don’t let price deter you from choosing the right martial arts school. Price should reflect your instructors experience and rank, as well as the costs of operating the training facility.

What length of time should I commit myself to for training?
Schools can offer various agreements, from month-to-month or for longer terms, such as a year. If you don’t have a problem with commitment, you will benefit greatly from a longer contract because this will help you save money by locking in a low rate. This is just one of the ways that a master instructor encourages students who make a serious commitment to their martial arts training.
However, some people don’t want to make a serious commitment to this kind of training right away, and therefore it will cost them more money with less reliability. In this case, some schools allow you to take classes on a month-to-month basis. If you have done your homework and are sure about a good match between your goals and the programs at a particular school, I suggest that you get a 12 month program where you pay month-to-month but you give your word of honor to the school that you will not quit during that time. A win-win deal that saves you some money!

Checklist: Price Questions
How much does an Introductory Trial Class cost?
Are there any affiliation or annual membership fees?
Are there testing fees? How much are they?
What are some ways to save money on tuition and lock in the lowest rate?
Do I need a uniform? How much is the uniform?

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