Do Research Before Becoming a Student

<i> Jim Coleman is executive editor of Black Belt magazine</i>

Joining a martial-arts school is a lot like purchasing a used car. You don’t always know what you are getting until it’s too late.

All schools are not created equal.

Teachers do not have to answer to government regulators, and no consumer group acts as a watchdog to ensure the quality of instruction. Anyone, in fact, can acquire a business license, purchase a black belt, rent studio space and, to the unwitting public, appear to be the second coming of Bruce Lee.

How, then, can hands-of-lightning wanna-be’s make a knowledgeable choice? By shopping around.


Like any other product, there are certain criteria that make some martial-arts studios more appealing.

You will, of course, need to select a style to practice. Nearly all martial arts--be they Japanese, Chinese, Korean or American in origin--offer students self-defense training, physical conditioning, artistic expression, philosophy and tournament techniques. Each teacher, however, has a different emphasis and spends more instruction time in one area.

Visit as many schools as possible before making a decision. Meet the chief instructor and ask if it is possible to watch a class or two. If not, cross the studio off your list and move on.

The teacher should have nothing to hide and should not expect prospective students to enroll in a program without first sampling the merchandise. Some instructors may even allow you to participate in a class before signing up.


Pay particular attention to how the instructor treats the students, and vice versa. Do they appear to respect each other? Is the teacher receptive to questions, or do they seem like an annoyance?

Some classes are relaxed; others are more serious and disciplined. One manner of instruction is not necessarily better than the other; it’s a matter of choice.

If the instructor instills fear in the students through intimidation, it is probably not in your best interest to enroll. Good teachers do not rely on bravado or need to have their egos stroked.

All martial-arts instructors have impressive-looking certificates to verify their training and background. The problem is, you have no real way of knowing if such documents are authentic.


Be leery of wild claims and excessively high belt ranks. There are very few legitimate karate instructors above fifth-degree black belt. The real proof of an instructor’s ability is not his or her belt rank, but rather if the students are learning. (Most martial-arts systems award various colored belts, but it takes a minimum of about three years to attain a first-degree black belt.)

Check the school itself. The training area--especially the floor--should be clean and orderly. Does the studio have air conditioning and heating? Such amenities can make a big difference on extremely hot or cold days.

And, finally, inquire about the cost of training. Depending on individual needs and what a school offers, pupils can expect to pay about $40 a month or more. Some instructors require students to sign a contract, binding them to six months or more. If this is the case, find out if the contract has a cancellation clause, allowing you to quit after a short period without penalty. The contract should also allow extensions due to injury or personal reasons.

Besides monthly dues, you may be required to purchase training equipment such as uniforms and safety gear. Fees for belt-rank testing can also drive up the cost.


Make a list, if necessary, indicating the pros and cons of each studio. Then make your decision. A little research in the beginning can save you a lot of time, money and frustration in the long run.