How To Choose a Martial Arts
So many martial arts schools and so little time! How does one
choose the right one? Here are some inside tips to help you to
pick the right school for the right reasons, from Tom Callos, a
veteran school owner and consultant to the martial arts industry.
Martial arts schools are everywhere! If you live in the U.S.,
chances are you have at least one school within a 5-mile radius of
your home--and probably more. There are estimated to be more than
six million martial arts practitioners in North America, about 70%
of those are children. Today's martial arts schools range from
operations that rival the polish and fancy facilities of the
nation's finest health club chains to schools that look like the
set of The Last Samurai to down-and-dirty "garage dojos".
Price ranges in the martial art industry, according to Frank
Silverman, Director of the Martial Arts Industry Association,
average out at about $125 per month, but schools can be found that
charge anywhere from $35.00 per month to more than $200. How does
one go about choosing the right school? Industry expert Tom Callos,
a veteran school owner himself, has some of the best advice on how to choose a martial arts school
that's right for you.
The first thing to know about choosing a martial arts school is
that you already know how to do it, says Callos.
You evaluate a martial arts
school the same way you would evaluate any school you would take
your child to. Just because you're thinking of joining a school
that teaches the ancient arts of self defense, doesn't
mean you don't apply modern day scrutiny to their
professionalism, teachers, and facilities.
Callos asserts that being a black belt, at any level, is not a
sign that the wearer is a good teacher or that he or she knows how
to run a business. Just because someone is a good athlete,
doesn't mean they are going to give you your money's worth
when it comes to lessons, warns Callos. Parents should use
their good judgment when choosing a school, as just like in the
martial arts, there aren't really any secrets, it's all about
mastering the fundamentals. If you're looking for a good school,
look for one that's proficient at the fundamentals of customer
Callos offers nine other school-hunting tips:
Just like any business, the way the facility looks and its
cleanliness (or lack thereof) says something about the attitude
and aptitude of the owner. A martial arts school doesn't have to
look like a Starbucks, but it ought to be clean and organized. If
a school doesn't look professional, chances are it isn't.
Just like you would expect from any business, the staff of a
martial arts school should be courteous, professional, and
personable. They should treat you (and/or your child) like a
paying customer. If you can go to a department store and get
better service than you can at your local martial arts school,
then spend your money at the department store.
Bad attitude = bad school; if you get a weird feeling, a sort of
attitude from the staff or owner that rubs you the wrong
way, then you shouldn't become a customer of that school. If the
attitude of the owner is superb and his or her staff exhibits a
similar attitude, then you've found a school worth a second
When shopping for a martial arts school, the style the
school teaches is secondary to who teaches the classes and how
they teach them. A good instructor will make you feel good about
what youre doing. He or she will help you stay healthy and take
an interest in why you've joined the school. If you're a
complete novice to the martial arts, don't shop for a style or
method, shop for the best teacher or teachers (read: the best
people) you can find. Find the right teacher and you'll love the
martial arts. Find the wrong teacher and it won't matter what
style they teach.
Lots of intermediate and advanced students in classes? Chances are you've found a school that knows how to enroll and keep its students; that's a good sign. If you go to a school that's been in business for a year or longer and it's still empty, something's not right with the school. Most martial arts teachers think their classes are the best classes --the way that most restaurateurs think that their food is the best food. If the parking lot is empty, it's a sign that the customers have a different opinion.
The Financial Arrangements
Many martial arts schools will ask you to sign a contract for a
certain number of lessons and/or for a certain amount of time
and that's ok, as a school has to sell its wares and generate
cash flow just like any other business. You shouldn't think
twice about signing a contract with a school, under the following
1. You've had adequate time to witness and experience the
service the school provides. Most schools have a great sales
pitch, but some aren't able to follow through with the level of
service they promise. Nine out of 10 schools will allow you to try
a month of lessons, for a price, before you agree to enroll for a
certain number of classes or months. If you can't negotiate this
trial period, it's a definite red flag. Bonus Tip: Most schools
will have a Pay In Full option on membership. It's ok to pay for
your membership in full, but make sure you know the school
thoroughly before doing so. Most schools will have a no-refund
2. The contract you sign should spell out, clearly and exactly,
how you leave the program should you have to leave or if you
become dissatisfied with the service. It's ok to pay a little
exit fee or some other penalty should you decide to leave before
fulfilling the terms of a contract, but the penalty or penalties
shouldn't be unreasonable (and some are, so check carefully).
Nine out of 10 schools will, if you insist, write a special
exit clause on your contract spelling out the terms of your
departure and they will also be willing to strike out parts of a
contract if you don't feel comfortable with the verbiage. Bonus
Tip: The way the owner or staff member treats you should you try
to negotiate a trail period or a change in the school's contract
will give you a very clear idea of what the school's service is
really like, after the sale. If you're not treated with respect,
There's service, then there's good service, and then there's
excellent service. Just because the owner or staff member of a
martial arts school has the ability to make you beg for mercy with
his or her baby toe, doesn't mean they have the right provide
you with anything but the best service they can muster. If you
visit a martial arts school and you don't see or feel a
reasonably high level of customer service happening, raise that
suspicious eyebrow, step back a bit, and do some further analysis.
The Feeling You Get When You're There and When You Leave
Are you having fun? Do you leave the school feeling empowered and
taken care of? If you go to a martial arts school and leave
feeling better than when you arrived, you've found a good thing.
Your Gut Instinct
Always go with your gut instinct when choosing a school or
instructor. If your intuition says something's not right,
something's not right. If you've found a good school, you'll
know it (especially if you've read this article).
Tom Callos is a professional consultant to the
martial arts industry and the team coach for the Ultimate Black
Belt Test (www.ultimateblackbelttest.com).
He is also a co-founder of www.911aok.com, an Acts of Kindness
character development program for children and adults.
He resides near Lake Tahoe, CA.