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  • What questions to ask before joining a martial arts school?
    It is very important that beginners ask many questions before joining any martial arts schools. This will help them to avoid financial headaches, inappropriate styles, training problems, McDojos, 25 year old Grand Masters, etc.

    What key questions would you suggest that new students ask?

    For example, I would suggest that students ask if the school has a low priced trial period in order to get acquainted with the school, system, instructors & students (before signing any longer-term contracts). Then ask if there is any required contracts (i.e. annual contract, month-to-month contract, etc.) and then ask what are the extra costs (i.e. additional testing fees). Students need to determine the real cost of training and the length of this financial commitment.

    Please help beginners by listing some essential questions that should be asked before joining any martial arts school.

    Will
    Black Belt Wiki

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      • 5
      Al W Questions I would personally ask the instructor of the class
      1: How long have you been training?
      2: How long have you been teaching?
      3: How often should I train?
      4: How much do lessons cost?
      5: How do I pay for lessons?
      6: How much does membership cost?
      7: How often do you grade students?
      8: Is there any extra cost for gradings?
      9: Do I need to purchase a uniform?

      But most of all ask yourself "Is this the Martial Art for me?"
        • 1
        Michael Great post. I can't think of much us to ask other than "What style do you teach, and why did you choose to learn the style yourself?" This both ensures that you get the style name to do your own research and opens up the opportunity for the instructor to explain why their style is the best (at least in their opinion) without undercutting other styles.
        • 1
        Jody Williams All good, but what do you think the answers should be?
          • 1
          Joe Bramblett 1: Since 1912
          2: Since the 1930s
          3: Daily
          4: As a school cannot exist without students, we will pay you a competitive wage for attending.
          5: Through your sweat and occasionally blood.
          6: Years of dedication.
          7: Very carefully.
          8: Of course not; that's when you get raises.
          9: No, uniforms will be provided, as well as a small cadre of concubines to assist with laundry and other cleaning tasks.

          Well, those are the ideal answers. If anyone knows where I can find that dojo, I'll never have time to post again.
        • 1
        Will - Black Belt Wiki Great answer... and no jokes. :)

        Will
      • 3
      ChuckD The thing I like about the school I'm at is people can try a few classes for free. Also there is no contract. The instructor literally said if he is not teaching well enough to keep people there with out a contract then something needs to change. There is a small belt test fee of 20 dollars up to like 30 or 40 for higher ranks but that is only like 1-2 times per year and maybe 3 times a year for an adult.

      I think the best thing is to take a few classes and what how the instructor behaves and how the senior students behave. Are they helpful to new students? Respectful etc...
        • 1
        Will - Black Belt Wiki I like it - free market principles for martial arts instruction. Of course, does this mean the opposite when he is teaching well and retaining/attracting too many students? :)
          • 1
          ChuckD I believe he would cap the class size if too many joined up (that would be a horrible problem :) ). It is fairly traditional and small dojo that he runs on the side. He seems pretty happy as long as there are enough students to cover rent, utilities etc. I've seen quite a few times where people either have their promotion test postponed or failed depending on their performance(no additional fees).
      • 2
      Mike First, are there really schools that won't let you watch before you join? I can't think of one in our local market.
      After a few years in MA, a few different schools and countless instructors the first thing I would ask or at least look for is cleanliness, "do you clean your mats and equipment", "how often", "with what".
      How often do we train with the high belt /master?
      Observation gallery?
      Flexible class schedules?
      Can I train with my wife/kids?
        • 1
        Beth Loomer There really are schools that wont let you watch before joining. Our only true competition wont let you watch a class prior to joining among other shady things.
          • 1
          Will - Black Belt Wiki Amazed that they get any students if new people can't watch what they are getting into. Do they at least offer free trial sessions?
            • 1
            Beth Loomer No they dont and they are very expensive they charge double what we do for one person and it just goes up alot from there.
      • 2
      Beth Loomer Can I watch a few classes?
      Can I talk to some of the students?

      Then if you can do so. If you they would rather you not then I would run, You can tell a lot about a school by the way the instructor/instructors interact with the students or parents.

      Find out about how often a school does tournaments and if they are required in any way.

      How long does it take to promote and what is required of students at promotion?
      Who does the grading at promotions?

      Asking about price, uniforms, gear, when classes are seem a given.
        • 1
        Will - Black Belt Wiki Great observation about instructor interaction with parents & students. Also good point about asking for any hidden costs (i.e. uniforms, sparring gear, testing fees, etc.).
      • 2
      Alex For BJJ specific schools:
      1. How much does it cost?

      2. Does that include all classes (some schools charge differently if you want to have an unlimited amount of class options-my school does not, you pay the monthly price and get 5 bjj specific classes as well as 3 striking classes and two invitation only striking sparring sessions).

      3. Who did you get your belt from? This question is extremely important, since the popularity of BJJ in the US we have seen a number of fake black belts. Every person who trains BJJ will know their lineage at least to a certain point. If they can't tell you who promoted them or who promoted the person who supposedly promoted them then more than likely they aren't someone you want to train under.

      4. When can I start sparring? Some schools have different opinions about this so it's important to know where a school stands when you first start. You don't want to be disappointed if you can't spar from day 1.

      5. If you're a woman who is looking for women's only classes to help you get into the sport it would be wise to ask this right away. Neither of the schools I train at have women's only classes but they are amazingly welcoming so we've just never needed them to get women involved.

      6. If you know a little bit about BJJ you may want to ask about competitions. Are you required to do them? Encouraged? etc. I would say if you are discouraged from doing them, that you should NOT train at that school, there is usually a reason they don't want you to go to comps and it usuallty stems from them not being legitimate. If you don't want to compete don't sign up at the school that requires it to get promoted.

      7. Do I have to buy a school uniform: some BJJ schools require you to only buy their gear. If they do require it, it is not necessarily a sign of a bad school, but they definitely care more about making money. Our school has school gis if you want them, but no one is forced to buy them. We wear whatever gi/no gi attire that we want. It can get very expensive if you have to buy a school uniform so if you're a bit strapped on cash I would pass on a school that requires that you only wear their gear.

      That's all I can think of at the moment.
      • 2
      David Ianetta I think before asking questions of the school, it's important to ask questions of yourself. For example, what is it you want to get out of your MA training? What are the most important aspects to you? Are you looking strictly for self defense? Are you looking for more of a traditional school? Are you looking for mental discipline as well as physical? Do you want to eventually train with weapons? Are you interested in the spiritual aspects of training in MA? Do you want to compete?

      Knowing clearly why you want to train will go a long way toward finding the right school for you.
        • 2
        Andy @David Ianetta, well said! I completely agree! I would also add that it is nowadays much easier to find information on various martial arts as there is lots of excellent information available online (such as this site for example :) which makes choosing a martial art much easier than it was in the days when myself and other older practitioners first started. Unfortunately there is also a downside to internet related martial arts information (as so excellently demonstrated by @Al W's recent post) in that there is way to much complete BS online perpetuated by people who haven't got a clue about, let alone actually trained in any of the 'ineffective' traditional martial arts that they so glibly write off in favour of current trends such as Krav Maga and BJJ! No disrespect intended to Krav Maga or BJJ by the way, they are both excellent martial arts with some highly skilled practitioners but both are in my opinion overrated and there are some equally skilled and excellent practitioners in various other (innefective) martial arts!
        Sorry I have gone a little off track here and most of this should have been posted on Al W's thread! :)
        • 1
        Will - Black Belt Wiki Excellent response! Beginners should definitely consider David's questions before joining any martial arts school.

        Will
      • 2
      Al W Ask them "Can you teach me the No Touch KO?"

      If they say yes then run, run far away and never look back
      • 2
      Andy As [171668,Will - Black Belt Wiki] and [242184,Guillaume Chan] have done such a good job raising some pertinent questions that you SHOULD ask when seeking a good dojo or martial arts class,
      here are some questions that you should probably avoid :)
      Why do I have to wear pyjamas to train?
      How long do I have to train before I can do Hadouken fireballs?
      Can you catch a fly with chopsticks?
      Why did the Ninja cross the road?
      Could Bruce Lee have beaten a Tyrannosaurus Rex?
      If moths love light so much, why don't they come out in the daytime?
      Is there really such thing as a Chuck Norris?
      Do I really have to train for years to become a blackbelt? Can't I just buy one on eBay?
      What is the most amount of Dan grades I can get away with claiming at 32 years of age before I look like a complete fraud?
      Why can't Sharks swim backwards?
        • 1
        Andy How many chucks would a Woodchuck Chuck if the first Chuck that the Woodchuck came across was Chuck Norris (who then got angry at trying to be chucked by a Woodchuck and subsequently beat every single living Woodchuck to death with Nunchucks)?
          • 1
          Will - Black Belt Wiki Of course, I need to link this to the wiki page on Chuck Norris "facts" :) - http://www.blackbeltwiki.com/chuck-norris

          Will
          • 1
          ChuckD I have often pondered this.....
      • 2
      Guillaume Chan Good topic.

      I think it's essential to get some informations about the background of the school master. This will help you determine if the school is legit or not. What's his career in martial arts ? Has he trained in only style or many ? For how many years ? What about the other instructors of the school ?
      If the school is part of a federation, it might be a good thing but not always. If this is the case, take a look on how serious is this federation in checking its schools quality.

      And I agree with your question. If there is no trial (which can be possible for administrative of security reasons), the student should at least be able to watch.
        • 1
        Will - Black Belt Wiki That is an interesting question - How serious are federations/associations about kicking out problem schools?
      • 1
      AbhishekTripathi Do u know the condition in indian sub-continent..?? So called karate schools and NGO's delivering black belts mearly in 1.5 yrs..,:(
      • 1
      Trevor Hill What insurance do you have?

      Am I expected to compete?
      • 1
      Andrew Brown Best method I found is use the free classes as much as possible. If you have multiple schools in your area, do the free intro to >=5 schools.
      Feel free to post school info, ask for opinions, watch their videos (most schools post videos now).
      Make sure you mesh with the school before signing up. I have quit after 3 months multiple times; coach was not what I need, fellow students don't have enough skill to support each other (ie. belts do not indicate ability), students are clicky,
      • 1
      Jody Williams It occurred to me that it is only now, after 5 years of training, that I have the knowledge to be able to judge a good school versus a mediocre one. Sometimes you have to "Suck it and see" as we like to say in Oz.
        • 2
        Andy [235677,Jody Williams], good point! And to extrapolate on that point, there are a lot of people currently training in mediocre (or even downright complete BS) schools who have been training for many years and have no idea as to the validity or effectiveness as to what they are supposedly learning as they have never been in a position where they are called to actually utilise their MA training! All (or most) MA techniques work great in theory or even in dojo practice with friendly/compliant training partners, it is a different story when dealing with actual violence!
      • 1
      Trevor Hill What possibilities are there for competition? Are your assocs grades recognised elsewhere?
      • 1
      Trevor Hill What is your insurance policy?
      • 1
      Arthur Dent What is your lineage? Who did you gain your black belt under? How long did you train by him?
      Then you have to research the lineage when you get home.
      • 1
      Andy I am loving this thread and all of the posts/questions that have so far been added! As I am currently in a deep philomosophical mood :)
      The very nature of the practice and principles of martial arts/warfare and pretty much every other human endeavour (or for that matter evolutional advancement from prehistoric pond slime to presently evolved life forms (and then back to pondslime as far as politicians and bankers are concerned :) has always been about questions and answers! How do I adapt to this situation? is the ultimate question and is and has always been the driving force behind pretty much everything in the Universe! Martial arts are no different and how to answer the question of a physical attack is the very essence of all MA training! Ok deep philosophical crap over with, now back to Woodchuck, moth and shark jokes! :)
        • 1
        Andy PS, for anyone wondering what the answer is to my question of "why did the Ninja cross the road?" It was because he was on a highly secret clandestine mission to discover the Colnels secret recipe and was disguised as a Chicken! :)
          • 1
          Ralph Now I am trying to get that image of the ninja chicken doing a flip over a fence of chicken wire out of my head...
      • 1
      Superamazingbadgerman I think what you need to ask depends entirely on what you want from the school and how well you understand what you're looking at. I'm gonna go ahead and write a book about this right here.

      You'll want to know about the teacher, the style, and the school's policy.

      Let's say you're like me and you're an independent thinker who wants the freedom to explore all the different ways you can accomplish any given task. Maybe you want to become this type of person. You also want to get as realistic of a depiction of a violent situation as you can, but still have an opportunity to train slowly so you can see how you can solve your problems with tools other than blind aggression.

      For the style, you will be looking for what I've heard termed as a "backyard" style. These are basically obscure, loosely interpreted styles that you might expect to find being taught out of someone's backyard in some village somewhere.

      Obviously, you won't be going to obscure third world villages just to study martial arts, but you can get similar kinds of instruction with any style open to or encouraging you to challenge the curriculum. For example, if you challenge the way I apply a principle in RMA or FMA or HEMA and do it differently (or maybe use a different principle entirely), you're still doing that martial art. If you challenge the technique of Taekwondo or Karate or Aikido or Jiu Jitsu or BJJ, you're not doing that martial art anymore. It's a formal art with a curriculum set in stone.

      So, that's the first question. Will this martial art give me the freedom I want? The discipline? The kind of sparring I want? Is it a hard art? Is it a soft art? Do I get to hit things a lot? (whatever quality you most desire, you can ask about right away, just like this)

      This also gives you the first red flag you can watch for. If someone is an instructor of a formal style and they claim to have the kind of training you want in this particular case that I outlined, they are actually lying to your face. If they try to pressure you into giving up this point and accepting something else, THEY are the thugs you may be asking to learn to protect yourself from. Unless you want to learn how to deal with it through exposure every class, don't sign up.

      Now for the instructor. You mostly just want someone who's not excessively neurotic. I know that gets advertised as "detail oriented" and "conscientious" and all that stuff, but it has no place in a place of learning where EVERYONE is not just welcome to make mistakes, but expected to do so. When you have a neurotic instructor, this person will likely find a student or a fellow instructor and hammer that person and EVERYTHING they do until their panic attack is over. If they don't single out one person, their attention will jump from small thing to small thing and industriously try to fix whatever happens to be in their tunnel vision at the time, whether it's an actual issue or not. They overwhelm themselves needlessly to the detriment of their class.

      Some of these people are VERY good at hiding this. To tell if they may be one of these people, you can ask them pretty much any question (how much will my classes be? how long would my contract be? how much work would I have to put into it? what kind of stuff do you do in this martial art? how many days per week? will you be collecting my social security number? did Jack Bower complete his mission today?).

      If their answers to, I'd go 3 or 4 questions, seem scripted or off to you, they're thinking about something other than answering your question. They may just be having a bad day and can't focus very well on you, or they have a personality type that would be unfortunate for your training experience.

      I understand that we also have to watch out for people on the extreme opposite side of the spectrum. This same battery of questions will weed them out. They will either be dismissive or aggressive towards your questioning, and too lazy to get you answers. Often times, they will be great at non-answers or lying to your face. If you have something obscure you're into, you can weed this kind of person out by talking about it and seeing if they pretend they know exactly what you're talking about. "That's crazy, man" is a modern classic sales sloth line, so if they break it out, don't let it get to your head.

      Now, we have a style that will give us what we want and an instructor that can give it to us.

      Even with these things in place, you want a school whose policies allow you to do the things you want to do. If all you want to do is spar, and the policy says they can't put you against an opponent as a white belt-orange belt, their hands are tied no matter how good you make a point of being. If you want to get familiar with pain and see the limits you can endure, you don't want a school whose policy is to never EVER let you get hurt.

      To learn about this kind of thing, you can watch their beginner/intermediate classes and see if you're happy with the level of violence you see. This will also give you a taste of the instructors' teaching styles. I suppose you could ask something along the lines of, "how soon will we be doing full contact?" or "what kind of contact do we get to do?" or (if you're feeling especially immature) "can I hit people?". That way, they will indicate (directly or indirectly) how much contact you should expect.

      So now, you know what kind of art you're trying to get involved in, what kind of people (well, close enough for our purposes) are teaching it, and what the school policy is for how classes are conducted. All you need now is how much it costs and how big of a commitment you will be signing for.
        • 1
        Superamazingbadgerman TL;DR
        What do I want out of martial arts?
        What kind of people run this place?
        What is the school either willing, or not willing to do to/for me?
        How much?
        How long?

        I think how you can go about answering those questions is pretty fleshed out through this whole thread, so yea! :3
      • 1
      Will - Black Belt Wiki I hope that people will "Up" vote this topic so that beginners can find it on the Top-Rated page. The Up/Down vote system (3^0v) is located at the bottom of the post before the comments start. Thanks.

      Will
      • 1
      KSP08 I think Alex had a good answer.

      Our first experience with martial arts was with my five year old son, and i think all I asked was how much does it cost? and could he be excused to go to the bathroom if needed during class? After participating personally, these are thinns i would ask:

      1. Expenses?
      2. Minimum training time requirements to advance in rank? And more importantly, how often can I train?
      3. Level of contact in sparring? Taekwondo has two different styles of sparring and the contact is different.
      4. What is the class discipline structure like? Especially for kids
      5. Who teaches the classes? How often will I get to work with a senior/master instructor? What is their background? My instructor has special training working with kids with ADHD, autism, physical limitations etc
      6. I would like to try a couple of classes before committing- is that possible?

      A side note to the uniform-
      Our school is traditional and we have to wear the same type uniform with the school logo on it (or on some days, a school tshirt). I am not aware of anyone buying a dobok off site and getting the logo applied but that could happen, J guess. We can choose from a variety of uniform brands, fits, and prices, but they are all the same style. Sparring gear, however, has to be purchased through the school for insurance reasons, because some students bought gear online and it had dry-rotted in the warehouse and was unsafe.
        • 1
        Will - Black Belt Wiki Good point about the level of contact. Potential students need to understand that some martial arts (i.e. Tai Chi) involve very little contact and others (i.e. BJJ) involve tons of contact. With many martial arts styles, students will be need to be comfortable with being hit, grappled, punched, etc. They will also need to know if it is no contact, light contact or full contact (full power strikes).

        Will
          • 1
          Will - Black Belt Wiki The contact question is also important to ask in terms of martial arts training for your child. Some martial arts schools use full contact sparring regardless of age.
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