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Top Questions To Ask When Selecting A Martial Arts School – Tips To Saving Yourself Thousands of Dollars!

By Syl Peterkin,  MMA/Boxing/Jiujitsu/Judo RCM Correspondent

Ask Yourself,what are my needs and goals?

How much time do I have to dedicate to the martial art?
Are you seeking competition, fitness, self-defense, self-improvement, weapons, a way to express yourself artistically, to become an instructor or something else?

Write down these needs and goals before you go to a martial arts school.

Key Things to Consider

What is the average price of martial arts schools in your area?
What is the average price of the style of martial art you are seeking to learn?
Nationwide the average price is $125.00 per month according to Frank Silverman, director of the Martial Arts Industry Association. High end prices in NYC can easily range from $150 to $300 per month for many grappling schools.

Don’t be fooled by a trophy or high rank credentials!
Trophies can be bought and many are given away at tournaments (literally some tournament directors give away trophies at the end of a tournament rather than carry them and take them home). Many times there are no records of a tournament results and, or the tournament was local with a title of world in the name.

For those individuals who claim high ranks investigate these claims. Ranks between 6th to 10th degree blackbelt or titles such as grandmaster, doctor, professor, or shihan. Ask them specifically, who promoted you? where did you train? what is your lineage? A title such as Shihan which means “master instructor” is a prime example of the rank credential fraud. In Japan, Shihan is a significant and rare title. In the United States, many organizations or individuals bestow these titles on each other or themselves. I personally know of two individuals in one street less than three miles apart in New York City and at least a dozen in a 10 mile radius in NYC that have the title of Shihan in Shotokan Karate.

Know Your Goals! If Self-defense is your goal, competitions might run counter to that goal. Competitions are important but unless that is your primary goal do not put excessive focus on them. If self-defense is your goal you should attend some competitions in order to test your skills against a resisting opponent who are trying to beat you.

How far is the school from you?

Does the price difference in terms of tuition make up for the cost difference in gas? Can you reasonably get to the school if your vehicle were to become disabled?

Understand that many times it is the person and not the style that makes it work.
Many martial arts offer a nice mix of techniques. Many arts are effective for many people but might not be effective for you. Additionally, a sub-par teacher of a style you like may not be as good as great teacher of a style that you might not prefer.

Did the instructor create his own style or Start their own “World” Organization to give out rank ?

Be wary of instructors who created their own styles. Many times they will promote themselves Due to the lack of regulations; some people create their own styles in order to scam people out of money. This is not to say that they aren’t good and effective teachers (with high rank credentials often comes higher prices), but think about this would you go to a doctor who taught himself medicine? Understand that not all instructors are honest about their experiences, background, memberships, etc.

Check out other schools and make a comparison!

Don’t make an on the spot decision! Go home and think about it.

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Things to Ask

1. Is there a contract?

a. If there is a contract, what are the ways to cancel a contract?
b. Can the contract be paused and for how long?
c. Is there a cancellation fee?
d. Are you restricted on where you can train or possibly teach after training?
i. Can you cross train at other schools?

2. Costs and Fees

a. How much is the school per month?
b. How often can you attend? (what is the cost per class)
c. How much are the promotion tests?
d. Is there a family plan or multiple person rate?
e. Is there a per class rate?

3. Do you have mandatory equipment to purchase?

a. Some schools do not immediately disclose the equipment that must be purchased. The equipment can be as low as $5.00 to as high as $350.

4. Instructor Rank

a. The rank of the head instructor may not be as important as you think. Of course a black belt is important, but a 10th degree black belt may be a horrible instructor compared to a 3rd degree black belt or even a person with two 1st degree black belts in very different arts. Did the instructor (s) self-promote themselves? (more common than you think)
b. Is the instructor a competitor, a non-competitor, teaching self-control/self-improvement or a mix of all three?

5. Credentials – What are the credentials of the school?

a. Is the instructor nationally certified? If so is the national federation legitimate?
b. If the instructor is a current competitor does he dedicate enough time to teaching his students?c. If the instructor isn’t a current competitor, did he or she ever compete?

NOTE: World Champion does not mean Great Instructor! Some of the best instructors were only subpar in competition and Vice Versa i.e. Phil Jackson – Great Coach (Nowhere close to an All Star).

6. Who will be your primary instructor?

a. Some schools will advertise one teacher and have another teacher as your primary instructor. How long has the primary instructor been training?
b. How long have they been teaching? Who is the instructor of the primary instructors?

7. What are the offerings?

a. Is there private classes available for students?
b. Is there leadership opportunities?
c. Is there an available weight room?
d. Is there additional classes available?

8. Is there a trial class or period?

a. Is the trial class with the rest of the class or is it a one on one?
b. How long is the trial class?

9. How long should it take for you to be combat proficient (if a person attends 3 times per week)?

a. Some style can take 10 years while others can take 18 months. This is not to say that the person can master the art, but at least be able to use it to reasonably defend themselves.

10. Are you allowed to purchase and use your own equipment?

11. Is there sparring? How often do you do it? is it full force?

12. Inquire about injuries

a. How are injuries handled? Has there been many injuries at the school?
b. How are they handled? Is there insurance coverage?

13. Can you attend class if you arrive late?

a. If you arrive late, is there a reasonable punishment or are you made to show up for the next class?

14. Is there a curriculum and requirements for each rank?

a. How many ranks are there until a student reaches their blackbelt?
b. How long does it take for a talented student to reach their blackbelt?

15. Are there any affiliate schools?

16. If I were to move, would my earned rank be respected at / transfer to another similar school?

a. If I come in with previous rank, do I get to keep my rank?

17. Are there outside the school activities to participate in?
Things to Observe

1. Are there posted rules? Is there posted values of the school?
2. Is the school a good fit for you?
Everyone has their own individual preferences. Some schools will have an easy going atmosphere. Some schools will have a basic training type atmosphere. Some instructors are demeaning, some instructors are very supportive.
3. How are the facilities?
Good facilities should include a first aid kit, changing room, clean bathroom, etc. is there a changing room, is there enough space to train? How often are they facilities cleaned? Is the training equipment modern?
4. How are the students?
Speak to intermediate and advanced students. Ask them their experiences at the school.
5. Does the school run workout drills, one on one instruction or a mix of both?
6. How are classes structured? Is there a warm up, cardio, calisthenics, techniques, and cool down?
7. How does the school speak about former students?
8. Do the students get along?
9. How does the school speak about other styles?
10. Beware of gimmicks. Example Free T shirt with enrollment. Is a $15.00 t-shirt worth a possible $2400 yearly contract?
In the end, an honest instructor might be slightly annoyed at the amount of questions, but should have no issue answering all of them. Don’t put yourself in a bad situation which may cost you financially, in time, and only works to the advantage of the school. Take the necessary planning so that you can be successful. You must understand that you are a paying customer and a good school is key to your goal!

Sensei Syl Peterkin is the Head Instructor at Revival Judo (USJA, USJF) in Bayside NY. He holds black belts in Taekwondo, Judo, and Goshin Jitsu (Japanese Jujitsu).

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