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A Guide to Selecting a Martial Arts School

Courtesy of www.natkd.com

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Martial Arts School

Choosing a martial arts school to train yourself or your child is an important decision.  There are many factors to consider when selecting a place to train such as:

  1. Location
  2. Instructor
  3. Price
  4. Disclosure of Costs and Fees
  5. Martial Arts Style or System
  6. General Fit to Your Needs.  

This guide is unique in that it will not only help you explore issues to help ensure that you find a school with quality instruction.  The guide will also help you find a good "school situation" in terms of the customer relationship and business interactions that will be healthy and enjoyable for you.  This will enable you to stick with classes over the long term, receive a quality training experience and a positive customer experience so that you can become an avid martial artist and maintain peace of mind throughout the multi-year experience of your martial arts journey. 

This information will assist you in choosing a school regardless of the type of martial art that you are interested in learning such as a Tae Kwon Do School, a Tang Soo Do School, a Karate School, a Kuk Sool Won School, a Jujitsu School or a Kung-Fu School.


One of the most important aspects of selecting a martial arts school to train at is the location.  Most students attend a class with in three miles of their home.  An ideal school is one that is located within one to two miles of your home.  If the school is a short distance from your home, there is a greater chance that you or your child will be able to attend classes regularly.  Depending on the age of your child and your preferences as a parent, attending a school within walking or bicycling distance of your home may eliminate the need for you to drive your child to class.  Additionally, if the school is located close to your home, you will still be able to get to class if you run late during the work day and avoid traffic, etc… 

While location alone is not the most important factor in selecting a school, it is the factor most likely to affect your ability to regularly attend classes and the likelihood of your attending classes for the long term.  Driving merely 15 minutes to class results in 1 to 1.5 hours of commute time per week, which is 75 hours per year!  Because of this broad reach and affect, you should weigh location seriously in your decision for selecting a school.

The instructor is one of the most important things you should consider in your decision.  The head instructor of the school should be knowledgeable, experienced, capable and most of all a good teacher.   The head instructor should actually teach a significant portion of the classes the school offers.  There are several factors you should explore with a potential instructor.

You should look for a school with a head instructor who has attained sufficient rank to understand the martial arts system taught at the school thoroughly.  Most people will tell you that Black Belt is only the beginning of a martial artist’s journey.  A 1st Degree Black Belt has just learned the basic curriculum for his art.  The black belt ranking system is sometimes compared to the education system.   


Educational System Comparison

White/Yellow/Orange Belts

Elementary School

Green/Blue/Purple Belts

Middle School

Red/Brown Belts

High School

1st - 3rd Dan Black Belts

University - Bachelor's Degree

4th - 6th Dan Black Belts

University - Master's Degree/Graduate School

7th - 9th Dan Black Belts

University - Ph.D./Doctoral Studies

In order to fully understand the system's curriculum, an instructor usually must have achieved the rank of 4th Degree Black Belt (4th Dan).

The instructor’s rank should be further qualified by his time in training.  A typical minimum time line for rank attainment would be:

Belt Belt Rank

Time Training at Previous Rank

Total Training Time Required

1st Dan Black Belt

3 years

3 years

2nd Dan Black Belt

2 years

5 years

3rd Dan Black Belt

3 years

8 years

4th Dan Black Belt

4 years

12 years

5th Dan Black Belt

5 years

17 years

6th Dan Black Belt

6 years

23 years

7th Dan Black Belt

7 years

30 years

8th Dan Black Belt

8 years

38 years

9th Dan Back Belt

9 years

47 years

Thus an 5th Dan should have approximately 17 years of training.  Some programs and schools offer 2 year black belts and accelerate ranks that go 1 year for 2nd Dan, 2 years for 3rd Dan, 3 years for 4th Dan etc…. which would produce a 5th Dan at 12 years of experience.  

This is comparable to a doctor who went to a two year medical school and tested out of his residency. Would you let him operate on you?

There are several other traits that instructors can posses that may enhance an instructor's ability to delivery a quality martial arts experience such as:

·       Holding a leadership positions in Martial Arts Organizations

·       Having a College Degree

·       Holding significant positions in the work force or community

·       Having military service experience

·       Serving in a law enforcement position

An instructor who has demonstrable credentials, achievements and success outside of the martial arts school is more likely to be able to maintain and grow the school from a business and operations perspective.  This will result in a healthy school that will exist long enough for you or your child to earn a black belt.  It will also enable the instructor to provide a better customer experience for you and the other members of the class. 

Price is a strong factor in any purchasing decision.  While price is important, you should also consider value.  Does the school have a large amount of fixed costs such as an overly large facility or amenities that do not add value directly to your training, such as an aerobics room, or large meeting rooms?  While these items may be “nice”, they inflate the amount of tuition charged unnecessarily.  In the end analysis, the school should have sufficient space to accommodate the student base and the proper equipment required for training.  The school should not pass on unnecessary fixed costs which artificially inflate tuition price.  Is 400 square feet of space that you probably won't use actually worth and extra $50.00 a month to you?  Do you want to learn in a class of 50 students or 20?

Full Disclosure of Costs and Fees
One of the things you should strongly consider is the school’s willingness to discuss the cost of training with you.  When you call and ask about the price of classes, will they tell you over the phone?  Do they disclose the full price and other associated fees?  Do they disclose this information the first time you ask or the fifth?  Things you should ask about are:

·       What are the belt test fees ?

·       What are the association membership fees?

·       Are long term contracts required to start training?  Are they required to progress past a certain rank? 

·       Are there required programs (such as Black Belt programs, Master programs, or Leaderships programs) and if so what financial and time commitments are associated with them? 

Many students start a martial arts program and quit after 2 – 6 months.  Thus, many martial arts schools require annual contracts.  In the event that you quit coming to class the school continues to get paid for a full year regardless of whether you like the class or the martial art or even attend classes.  This makes the schools income more stable for the instructor, but can be quite frustrating for the student or worse than frustrating if you find yourself in a situation where you can no longer afford to pay the cost of tuition.

Many people find that the friendly instructor who told them that he would work things out and refund the students money in case of an emergency or a problem, that the contract was merely a formality or part of the association rules; found their instructor not to be so forgiving when it came time to ask to end the contract.  If you sign a contract, you will likely have to the pay the full amount of the contract, one way or another, which is usually anywhere from $1,200 to $5,000.  Additionally, you will most likely not be dealing with the instructor, but rather a collection agency who will be making negative reports about your credit.

In addition to annual contracts being required for all students, some schools have a “bait and switch” program.  They give new students an attractive deal to start training.  Then at a crucial point, the instructor informs the student that a long term contract or membership in a special program (which requires a contract) is required to continue training or to earn the next promotion.  For example, a school may allow the you to pay monthly for 6 months and then, prior to your green belt test, the school may require you to join the Black Belt Program/Club (2 year contract), Master’s Program/Club (3 year contract), or Leadership Program/Club (4 year contract).  This can be a gut wrenching decision especially when small children are involved.

A modified version of this tactic is also often used just before the student is ready to take their Black Belt Test.  In many cases the student will not be allowed to test for, or earn, their black belt unless the student signs a long term contract.  Nothing is more frustrating than spending a year earning your green belt and being told you now have to sign 2-year contract before you can take your belt test or that you must join the 3-year leadership program and sign a contract in order to test for your black belt.   

A lesser example of this tactic would be where the school will let you bring your children to a week’s worth of free classes, get the children extremely excited about the class, and only then tell you the tuition is $150 per month (per child) with 1 year contractual commitment for each child.

The bottom line is that the school should be confident enough in its services and training that it does not have to force the students into a signing a long term contract or black mail the students by withholding rank.  In the event that the school would like to offer long term contracts or pre-pays they should do so in a mutually beneficial way by offering discounted tuition incentives so that both parties (Instructor and student) win. 

The school should be confident enough to earn your business on a monthly basis and continue to provide you quality service month after month consistently.  Additionally, be wary of schools that demand that you buy your equipment from only the school, often at inflated prices. 

Martial Arts Style or System
Another key factor is the martial arts style or system.  There are many different martial styles and all of them have great things to teach.  You should consider several factors in choosing the style that might be good for you.  Is the style a reasonably established system that is readily taught?  If you had to move as a result of a new job, could you or your child find a school to train at in your new location?  Does the style meet your need for self-defense, exercise, or practicality?

General Fit
Lastly, you should explore the school for its general fit with your needs and your comfort level with the school.  Are the students friendly and helpful to other students?  Does the instructor’s style of teaching seem like one you’d be comfortable with?  There are many different philosophies that instructors may use in running a school such as a militant style, a competitive style that is focused on tournament competition, an Asian philosophical style or a general style that has different aspects of all of these previously mentioned styles.  You should look for a school that has a style you’re comfortable with and will enjoy. Be sure to talk to the students and get their experiences as well!

The following matrix should assist you in comparing and selecting a quality martial arts schools. 

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Martial Arts School


What is the distance of the class from your home?
1 mile = 5 pts, 2 miles = 3pts, 3 miles = 1pts, 4 miles+ = 0pts


Will the school disclose tuition rates upfront, when you ask?
1st time you ask = 5pts, 2nd = 3pts, 3rd = 1pt, 4th+ = 0


Does the school offer monthly pricing with no mandatory contracts? Yes = 5 pts, No = 0pts


Does the school have mandatory Black Belt Clubs or Programs that require additional financial and time commitments?
Yes = 0pts, No = 5pts


Can students buy equipment or training aids from any source? 
Yes = 5pts, No = 0pts


Is information about testing requirements etc… readily available in advance? 
Yes = 5pts, No = 0pts


Are parents allowed to observe class at anytime?
Yes = 5pts, No = 0pts


What is the instructor's rank?
5th Dan+ = 5 pts, 4th = 3pts, 3rd & below = 1pts


How often does the head instructor teach class?
80% = 5pts, 50% = 3pts, 25% = 1pt, <25% = 0


Does the instructor: have a military or law enforcement background? a college degree? hold a significant position in the community or work force?
3 Yes answers  = 5pts,  2 Yes answers  = 3pts, 1 Yes = 0


Does the instructor hold a position in a martial arts organization?
Yes = 5pts, No = 0




The following break down of scores should help you differentiate potential schools for both ease of use, comfort in business transactions and positive customer experience.



45 – 55


35 – 44


25 – 34


20 – 24


  0 – 19


How do you:

Select a Karate School?
Select a Tae Kwon Do School?
Select a Kung-Fu School?
Select a Kuk Sool School?
Select a Hapkido School?
Select a Tang Soo Do School?
Choose a Karate School?
Choose a Tae Kwon Do School?
Choose a Kung-Fu School?
Choose a Kuk Sool School?
Choose a Hapkido School?
Choose a Tang Soo Do School?

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