The martial arts is a fantastic way to gain control of your life and transform yourself into a healthy, confident person. However, the martial arts is also an unlicensed profession. There are hundreds if not thousands of various styles and interpretations. Here are some things to consider whether you are enrolling yourself or your child.

While earning a black belt is an honored achievement, there are no universal standards for obtaining the coveted rank. There are also no professional or educational requirements to open a school. Someone could come out of college with an MBA and open a school and someone could come out of prison and open as well.

The Only Style that Matters

When it comes to choosing a martial arts school, it’s all about the instructor. A martial arts school is first and foremost a personality-driven business. The atmosphere, attitude, and makeup of the school is a reflection of the owner/instructor. While there are many martial arts styles, it’s the teaching style of the instructor that counts. He or she must teach a class that you or your child look forward to coming back to each week. ALWAYS, watch a class or two before joining. It’s a good idea to watch the beginners class that you will start in and also the advanced class, usually a brown and black belt class that you will aspire to. They should be impressive in their skills, fitness level, and mutual respect and conduct.

Define Your Goals

Clearly define what you want you to gain from learning the martial arts. Is it a light recreation? Then a community center or YMCA program may suffice. However, if your goal is the personal development of mind, body, and spirit, then a good full-time professional school will be more suitable. Students who join with a goal of earning a black belt get the best results because of the motivation that a goal like that creates. Students who just go class-to-class are typically a class or two away from dropping out.

If you are seeking self-defense, then a martial arts school is probably not your best bet. Most schools spend 97% of their classes teaching traditional martial arts skills, forms (a dance like series of techniques meant to simulate a defense against multiple attackers), and sparring. For self-defense, look for a self-defense centric school. These schools do not follow martial arts protocol. There is no bowing, uniforms, or belts. An excellent example is a COBRA-Defense school. COBRA is a law enforcement based curriculum that is like a police academy for civilians. It’s a ten-week course and you are finished or you can repeat it.

What to Look For

Because martial arts is an unlicensed practice, you want a school that is committed to continuing education. For instance, schools that are members of the Martial Arts Teachers’ Association (MATA) are schools that are keeping up to date with best practices for teaching, classroom management, and safety. MATA is the largest organization specifically focused on instructor education and offers the MATA Instructor Certification Program. Look for MATA Certification as an indicator of the schools’ commitment to continuing education.

Look for a school that is clean, uncluttered, and has a track record in your community. When you consider
a school, look at it as a place you will spend at least 2 – 3 nights per week for the next three years as you pursue your black belt. You want to feel comfortable enough to look forward to class and inspired enough to work hard.

If you want to get into good shape, look at the brown belts or other students and instructors who have been there for at least a year. Are they in shape? Are they friendly and respectful to others? Do they look skilled? Those three areas are key to a good school.

A school of athletes who are not nice people is not a martial arts school as much as a martial gym. Other schools can be like motivational centers with everyone bowing and showing respect but the students look soft and unimpressive. It’s the combination of skills, fitness, and respect that makes a martial arts school attractive.

Evaluate the Leadership

Choosing a martial arts school is really choosing an instructor. Be sure to visit the school and watch the instructor work with other students your age. Most all schools will allow you to take a free or inexpensive trial course. Every school is different because every instructor is different. Don’t get confused by claims of black belt degrees, tournament wins or martial art styles. The only style that matters is the teaching style of the instructor and how you will respond to him or her.

Just because someone is a champion doesn’t automatically translate to being a good teacher or that you would enjoy learning from him or her. Mike Tyson was a champion, but I wouldn’t want him as my instructor. Instead, look for a commitment to continuing education.

Finally, the best school for you may not be the closest or cheapest school. That is a decision you have to make, but in my experience a little extra drive and a few dollars more a week are often the ingredients to a short-term pain for a long-term gain strategy that pays off in the long run.

What’s a Good Age to Start?

Some schools have pre-school age programs for ages 3 and up. These programs are typically more focused on gross motor skills and personal development than earning a black belt. Pre-school classes usually run 30-minutes with other classes lasting from 45-60- minutes. Most children’s’ programs are for age 6 – 12 years.

How Much Does Martial Arts Lessons Cost?

Tuition will typically run anywhere from $89 to $249 per month depending on the location. Many schools will require a contract of at least six months for a beginner and 36-months for a black belt program. Students advance in belt ranking by taking a belt exam. Belt exams usually have a fee attached ranging from $25 – $99. Students will also need to purchase sparring equipment and a uniform, which runs from $100 – $200.

How Often Should I Attend Classes?

Plan on attending twice a week and set aside 20-minutes a day to practice between classes.

What Should I Do if my Child Loses Interest?

This is a family question. We suggest that before enrolling, the family have a meeting to discuss the importance of commitment and quitting. Explain to the child that you are making an investment into this program and if the child wants to learn martial arts, there is no quitting until the initial time period is complete. So, if you enroll in a six-month program, make it clear to the child that he or she will not quit until it is complete.

Quitting is an easy habit for kids to pick up and it’s a bad habit.

Are There Competitions?

The martial arts has plenty of tournaments with various divisions for Forms, Sparring, Board Breaking, Weapons etc… Some schools are competition oriented. Competition can be a great motivator to practice. Of course, there is an expense of travel and registration fees.


John Graden
John Graden

John Graden is widely credited with leading the martial arts school business into the modern age. He is the founder of the first successful professional association and trade journal. MA Success editor John Corcoran first called him a “visionary” in 1995. Martial Arts World magazine dubbed him, The Teacher of Teachers. Mr. Graden’s leadership was recognized in many mainstream media outlets including a cover story on the Wall Street Journal, documentaries on A&E Network, and as a guest on the Dr. Oz Show and many others.