The first thing you should establish is what you are looking to derive from a martial arts school. Self defense, physical fitness and mental development are included in martial arts training. Some schools also provide a very good social environment. Most schools offer all of the above to some extent, but generally place the emphasis on one or two specific areas. For example, a self defense oriented school will place more importance on hard physical training and contact work. You can expect your share of bumps and bruises along with a few sore muscles. A school that features high kicking will require a flexible body frame. A school that stresses physical fitness over self defense will give you a good workout, but will not provide you with much more protection than an aerobics class. Then there is the ultra commercial social school, where little work is done, but everyone  gets promoted, and speaks highly of each other. The hardest strikes in these schools are the pats on the back from the head instructor.

 

All of these schools provide a niche. You should visit as many schools as you can, and find the one best suited to your individual needs.

 

Head Instructor

The Head Instructor is the most essential ingredient in selecting a school, or style that interests you. He is responsible for the knowledge and workouts that you will receive directly through him or his instructors.

 

You should be concerned with his rank & legacy.

Ask the following questions:

  • How long has he been training?

  • What is his rank?

  • How did he obtain it?

  • What is his legacy?

 

Unlike a state or federal school system,  no official certification is necessary to obtain or issue rank in the martial arts. Rank is usually determined by the head instructor of a system, a school, or chain of schools. The testing is often done with the assistance of his senior instructors. Skill levels and legitimacy of rank can vary greatly from school to school; even within the same system. It is conceivable that a black belt instructor in one school will have a great deal more ability than a higher ranked black belt or master of another.

 

 Do not judge a head instructor solely on his rank or testimonials. His individual skill level and accomplishments are worthless to you if he does not openly share his knowledge with his instructors and students.

 

 A few things to observe when evaluating a head instructor's potential value to you as his student are as follows:

 

  • Does he regularly teach the main classes?

  • Does he do the workout with them? I.e., does he provide them with a good example on how to train, and display constant illustrations of the movements he is teaching?

  • Does he just walk  around the class issuing verbal instruction?

  • Is he able to execute the movements he is instructing?

  • What is his skill level?

  • Is he in good physical condition?

  • What is his demeanor with his students? Does he offer constructive criticism in a polite manner or are his remarks insensitive and demeaning?

  • What percentage of the class is dedicated to actual working out, versus the time he spends on oral instruction? You can learn a great deal through listening, but you will not know how to do something until you practice it.

  • What percentage of the class is given to an open workout?

 

What are his priorities?

  • Is he dedicated to teaching his art?

  • Is he interested in the development of his students?

  • Does he work with individual students and address their specific needs and concerns?

  • Does he spend most, or all of the class time in his office?

  • Is he more concerned with enrolling new students than teaching?

  • Does he stop teaching the class to talk to potential students?

 

Students

Students provide you with an excellent visual of what you can expect from attending a particular school. Observe the following:

 

  • Do the students appear to be dedicated to their training?

  • How many black belts are in the class?

  • How long did it take them to achieve their black belt?

  • What is their skill level relative to their rank?

  • Are they in good shape?

  • Are they compatible with each other?

  • Are they willing to answer questions about their teacher, their school, and their training?

 

 Location

Most people look for a school in their neighborhood when searching for a martial arts school. This is a mistake. Finding the right martial arts school for you is not like buying a bottle of Pepsi. Pepsi (as long as it's fresh) tastes the same no matter where you buy it. Expensive furniture and a good location, while plusses, do not teach you how to block, punch, or kick. Choosing a Martial Arts School should be akin to selecting any educational facility. You should select a school that meets your requirements. Obviously, not attending a school that requires 2 to 3 hours to reach is understandable. However, in most communities, the extra travel time from a school near a person's home to a school of their choice, would probably amount to less than 15 or 20 minutes. The added knowledge and better instruction you will receive is more than worth the trade off. You should consider it a bonus, if the school you decide on is close to your home.

 

What is your overall impression of the head instructor?

  • Does he seem knowledgeable about his art?

  • Does he express himself in a manner that students will easily understand what he is saying?

  • Does he make you welcome to watch a class?

  • Do you feel comfortable with him?

  • Does he give you sincere answers to your questions?

  • Does he apply pressure tactics to get you to join his school?

  • Is he up front about fees and additional expenses?

  • Does he try to sign you to an extended contract, or life time membership?

  • Does he use gimmickry to entice you to join?

 

 What is your impression of the art and how it is taught?

  • Does it look to be an effective means of self defense?

  • Are the movements practical? Will they work?

  • Do the movements require extreme flexibility to perform properly? E.g., a flying kick to the head.

  • Are the movements geared towards tournaments?

  • Will you receive instruction from qualified instructors?

  • Are there a flood of kids in the adult classes?

  • How many of them are black belts?

 

 What is your impression of the facility?

  • How long has the school been in operation?

  • Is there sufficient room to allow for the amount of students in an average size class?

  • Is the training area kept clean?

  • Is the equipment safe to use?

  • Does it have clean and adequate lavatories and shower facilities for men and women?

  • Is there a semblance of neatness and order?

 

Which martial art is best for me?

 

All  martial arts are good. Certain arts favor different techniques, and may be more suited to your personality and body make up. For example, many kung fu arts feature the movements of animals, Tae Kwon Do favors kicking, while judo employs grappling techniques. You can eliminate a great deal of ground work if you know in advance which art you wish to study. However, the best advice I can offer anyone just looking to get involved in martial arts training is, do the research, check out the schools that interest you, find a good instructor, and study with him.

The answers to the above questions, and any more that involve you personally, should be answered before making a decision to attend any school.

 

 Sifu Norman Mandarino

 

CHOOSING A MARTIAL ARTS SCHOOL

 

 

590 Cayuga Road, Buffalo, NY 14225 Tel: 716-631-3004 

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