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Choosing a Martial Arts School, part 3: Visiting Schools or Clubs


In our previous articles, we looked at the different arts to study, and located some schools. Now it's time to visit the schools. For a refresher, once again here's the steps in our "Choose the right martial arts school" process:

  1. Choose an art to study
  2. Find schools that teach that art
  3. Visit the schools
  4. Start training!

3. Visit the Schools

Now that you've completed your research from the previous article, you have a good notion of the martial arts you might want to study, and the locations of several schools in your area. Now's the time to check them out. Here's what to do:

Before you visit:

While you're on the phone, ask about other issues, like costs. Most schools will let you visit for free, so it's the monthly school tuition or club dues that you'll be more interested in. How much is too much? Well, it depends. Bruce Lee used to charge $100/hour in 1970 for private lessons in his backyard -- that's more than $400/hour in 1998 dollars! However, you can get decent training from nonprofit or university clubs for as low as $35 for a 19-week semester.

Ask about additional fees, if any, such as fees for each belt test, fees for mandatory club tournaments, and so forth. You'll need to buy a uniform eventually, but in most cases you can take your first few classes in sweatpants and a t-shirt. In some schools you'll also need safety equipment for sparring, such as a mouthpiece, groin protector, and foam head, hand, and foot guards.

Visiting the schools:

Other amenities, like weight-training equipment, a Jacuzzi spa, or showers, are welcome perks, but remember, the costs for those items come out of your tuition, and they're only peripheral to getting good martial arts training. Some pieces of equipment are pretty essential for certain arts, such as a wooden dummy for wing chun gung fu, or heavy bags for kickboxing. But for the most part, you just need a big space to work out in. Bruce Lee would teach Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Joe Lewis, and other famous students in his backyard.

You'll probably see the students warm up with calisthenics and stretching, then begin their technique instruction and practice. At this point, you might not know what's going on; don't worry, you'll pick it up soon enough once you start training yourself. Instead, think about the exercises and moves you see people doing--would you feel comfortable doing the same things? For example, in some jujitsu styles there's a lot of ground grappling, which can look to the uninitiated like two people hugging each other and rolling around on the ground.

Also watch the students' attitudes. Are they dead serious with an almost military discipline? Or is the class a bit more loose--people are smiling and laughing? There are good points to either environment, and the fit of the class to your personality really depends on your personal preference.

In a lot of schools, the beginner's classes aren't taught by the head instructor. Not that this is always bad; junior instructors are often eager teachers and go out of their way to help new students. Most will model their teaching style after the style of the head instructor, so try to catch a class or two that is taught by the head instructor to get a feel for the school's philosophy of training and overall vision.

As we mentioned in the previous article, the instructor's rank is less important at this point than his or her teaching style. As a beginner, you're mostly concerned with picking up the basics and laying down a good foundation for future training, and if your beginner's class is taught by a good junior instructor, that will be just fine.

Signing up:

4. Start training!

After you've attended a few classes at a number of schools, it's time to start training. When you sign up to join the right school, it's like joining a family. The shared experience of your martial arts training and the growth you'll experience together will give you and your fellow students a strong bond. I'll admit, some of my strongest friendships are with my mates from my martial arts workouts, and that's something I'll never want to give up.

Check out these links for more information on beginning martial arts training:

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