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Choosing a Martial Art School

A martial art school is a unique thing within our society. It is more than a place for fitness and social activity. It is a place designed to promote personal growth and to enhance character development. When looking for the right martial art school for yourself or your child you should consider the following: 

1. Karate, judo, kung-fu, taekwondo, aikido and kendo are examples of different Martial Arts. A martial art Style refers to a way of teaching a specific martial art. Therefore, wado karate means the wado style of the martial art karate. Other styles of karate include shotokan, goju, isshin, etc. Be careful not to confuse style with art and any school you are considering should not do this either. Legitimate taekwondo and kung-fu experts are proud of their arts and would never refer to them by another name, such as taekwondo karate or kung-fu karate. Be leery of schools that claim to teach one martial art but actually teach another. Ask yourself why a school would attempt to misrepresent the art they teach. 

2. Look for a school that teaches only one martial art. Avoid schools that profess to teach a long list of arts. An old martial arts proverb says that the hunter who shoots at two rabbits misses both. You will be better off learning from someone with serious focus. If you think you want to learn more than one martial art, concentrate on just one at a time. Even modern "cage fighters" who compete in "mixed martial arts" contests all began their martial arts training by concentrating on just a single art, such as karate, wrestling, boxing, or jujutsu, for many years before augmenting their base art with techniques from other martial arts.

3. Location, location, location! Try to find a school within reasonable driving distance from your home or work. But, don’t just pick the school closest to where you live. It's far better to drive an extra 10 or 15 minutes to get quality instruction. 

4. Pick a martial art school that's been in business at least 5 or preferably 10 years, or more. Statistically, small businesses close their doors at the rate of 74% within the first couple of years. Martial art schools are no exception. The last thing you want is to change schools because your first school went out of business. Every martial art school is different and changing schools will definitely require a period of adjustment to the new curriculum, teacher and fellow students - even if you can find another martial art school teaching the same style. 

5. "World Champion" does not necessarily mean "Great Teacher". There are more great practitioners than great teachers in any martial art, just like there are more great players than great coaches in any sport. Ask the school who will actually be teaching you or your child (most likely it will not be the owner of the school). Find out what the teacher's credentials are and how long he or she has been teaching at the school. Ideally, you want an instructor who is an adult with many years of proven teaching experience. Don’t trust your child’s well being to a teenager or any teacher who just started teaching recently. Pay for experience, not inexperience! 

6. Ask if the school belongs to a recognized national or international organization. Most good schools are part of such organizations. Belt ranks that are certified by an international organization are generally much more respected than ranks issued by a local school.

7. Do you or your child have any physical limitations? Do you lack flexibility? If so, an art requiring high kicking such as taekwondo might not be best for you. Are you unable to safely learn how to breakfall due to a prior injury or surgery? If so, throwing arts like judo or aikido might not be appropriate for you. Be sure to ask the school how any limitations might affect your progress in learning the art they teach. 

8. Does the school offer free trial or introductory classes? They should! Also, be sure to view or participate in the actual class you will be attending before you enroll. Private sessions with an instructor are not the same as group classes. 

9. Look for a martial art school that shares the same values and goals as you. If you only desire to get in shape and learn some self-defense, then picking a school that requires you to compete in tournaments might not be best. Conversely, if your goal is to become a world champion then you should seek a school emphasizing hardcore training for competition.

10. All legitimate martial art instructors have credentials to verify their rank. Ask about their credentials. Then, ask yourself if their credentials make sense? There are only a handful of true 8th, 9th and 10th Degree Black Belts in each martial art throughout the whole world. And, all of them are over 50 years of age.

11. Price is a strong factor in any purchasing decision. But, you should not choose a school solely based on price. Instead, consider value, or the amount of quality instruction you receive per dollar spent. The lowest price school may also be the lowest value if the quality of instruction is poor or the facility and equipment are inadequate. The highest price school may have a large amount of fixed costs including an overly large facility or amenities that do not directly improve your training, such as an aerobics room, cafeteria, or large conference room. While these items may be "nice", they unnecessarily inflate the tuition fees and may result in a low overall value even if the quality of the instruction is good. Some schools spend a tremendous amount of money advertising in newspapers, magazines, radio and TV. And, these expenses ultimately increase the tuition price and lower the value of the instruction. In the end analysis, the school offering the best value should have sufficient space to accommodate the student base, the proper equipment required for training, a reasonable tuition rate, and excellent instructors. 

12. It takes time to acquire skill at self-defense and develop the life changing qualities a good martial art school seeks to instill in its students - making them healthier, happier, and more prepared for life’s challenges. Something acquired quickly is usually forgotten just as quickly. As a result, most schools require new students who qualify for admission to make an initial commitment of 6 to12 months of training after their trial or introductory classes. Be prepared for this. However, there may be other options. Inquire at the school.

Out sincere appreciation to Sensei Taylor K. Hayden, 7th Degree Black Belt and head instructor for the United States Eastern Wado-Ryu Federation, for providing this information.

If you have any questions we will be happy to answer them. Please feel free to contact us anytime by phoning or by visiting one of our Wado-Ryu Karate locations. We always enjoy speaking with people who are interested in martial arts.

For more information, call us at (615) 399-3992.


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