How to Choose a Martial Arts School

By Sifu Mark Moy  ©2007

You’ve decided that you’re ready to fulfill a childhood dream and take a Martial Arts class.

Your child is being bullied or has trouble focusing.

You want your teen to hang around a healthy peer group and learn how to set and achieve goals.

You’re tired of the same old workout routine at the gym and want to get strong physically and mentally.

You watched the Ultimate Fighting Championship and want to “train for real.”

Now what?

Open the yellow pages or go online.  Either way, you’ll be overwhelmed by all the choices.

Here are some suggestions on how to sift through all of the advertising and promises that are made.

First a quick overview of the world of Martial Arts:

  • The curriculum in schools will focus on either sport and competition, or on self-defense.  Aerobic workouts, strength conditioning, and flexibility are common benefits in all schools.

  • In general, there are only two things that occur in hand-to-hand combat – striking or grappling (wrestling).

  • Most schools will also teach some form of defense against weapons (knife, club, gun), some will teach classical weapons (staff, spear, sword), others will teach offensive use of weapons (impact or edged).

  • Facilities will have a very traditional atmosphere or a modern sports club feel.

  • If you’re interested in sport / competition you’ll find point-sparring (light contact) to full-contact kickboxing.  Arts that specialize in takedowns and throws, to arts that are proficient in a ground-fighting situation.  There are also competitions that combine kickboxing and grappling / wrestling.

  • Although sport martial arts instructors will say that their techniques would work in a self defense situation, the training mindset is completely different in competition (where there are rules and referees) vs. a life and death situation.
    If you want to compete, then find a teacher that will help coach you to becoming successful in that event.
    If you want to learn how to defend yourself, then find a program purposefully designed to teach you how to deal with situations ranging from a bully / jerk – to a life and death attack.

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Step 1 – Decide on a specific, short-term goal.  What are you hoping that training will do for you?

Step 2 – Be willing to commit to 4 – 6 weeks of classes.  Each school should have some Trial Program available.  I don’t suggest signing a one-year, or longer, contract until you’re sure that’s where you want to train.

Step 3 – Visit some schools in your vicinity.  Although I have students that drive 60 – 90 minutes to train with me, they are the exception to the rule.  The closer to your home the better.  The school should be within a 20-25 minute drive of your home.


Here is a Checklist of Points To Consider, listed in order of importance (#1 is the most important):

1) Character of Head Instructor
Is that instructor someone whom you would want to influence your child?  Would you feel comfortable introducing them to your mother, father, or sister?  Do they bring out the best in you?

2)  Certifications and credentials of Head Instructor
Does this person have a legitimate certification to teach that martial art?  Will their program and the style they teach help you achieve your personal training goals?

3)  Ability of the instructor to clearly communicate the curriculum
Is the instructor a ‘good’ communicator / teacher?  Do they assess the learning styles of their students and teach in a manner that ALL of their students understand?

4) Location of the school
Is the drive-time to the facility doable?

5) Clean facility
Is the facility clean and well managed? Do they have the proper equipment that allows the students to practice the drills? Are there clear safety and training guidelines that the instructor enforces with the students?

6)  Cost vs. Value
Your choice in a Martial Arts School should not just be based on what they charge for tuition.

Yes, you should train within your budget.  But, don’t pick a school just because they have the cheapest tuition, nor think that the school that charges the most has the best program.  When in doubt read Checklist Points 1-3 again.

Besides the monthly tuition, what are the additional fees?  What gear is required, cost of uniform, testing fees, association membership fees, competition / tournament costs?  What is the tuition and contractual-commitment for upgraded programs?


Actually, a better title for this article would be “How to choose a Martial Arts Teacher.”

As you can see, Checklist Points 1-3 have to do with the Head Instructor.  Your entire training experience will be based on a relationship with that individual and the attitude that they model.

My students often hear me talk about the importance of healthy relationships.  I’ve had students start with me when they were five years old and train until they graduated high school and went to college.

Whether you train to accomplish a short-term goal, or decide that practicing “The Martial Way” is integral to your long-term purpose in life – I wish you, and your family, the very best.

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Call 360-573-2367 for more information.