According to one study, somewhere between six and eight million American children practice some form of martial arts every year. That’s a lot of kids! Would you know a good school if you saw one? Here are a few tips to help you find the best school for your child:
1. Is your child physically and emotionally ready for a contact skill?
Karate, boxing, and Taekwondo are primarily stand-up striking arts, concentrating on punching and kicking. Judo, wrestling, Aikido, and jiu jitsu are mostly grappling arts that focus on throwing and joint locks. “Mixed martial arts” is a relatively new term referring to those schools that blend both striking and grappling in their teaching. So, is your child ready for this? My personal preference is that I do not teach children under the age of eight. I have found that a child’s fine motor skills, directional skills, and emotions simply are not ready before that age.
2. What do you want your child to learn?
Discipline and respect? Good! Most schools promote that. However, are you more interested in your children going to tournaments and winning trophies, or do you want them to learn how to defend themselves? Ask the head instructor which they emphasize. Going to tournaments is great, and some important skills are developed there. But unlike defending your life on the street, tournament fighting also has rules. There is a huge difference in practicing for tournaments and practicing to save your life. If you mainly want your child to know how to defend himself, and the school is mostly interested in a sport . . . maybe you should look at another school.
3. Does the instructor have a “safety first” attitude?
Watch a few classes before signing anything. When the students spar each other in a striking art (like karate), do they wear proper safety equipment (gloves, mouthguard, helmet)? Many schools require the students to wear chest protection as well. It is crucial that the teacher takes the right precautions to prevent injuries. I also recommend that students do not engage in full contact striking sparring until they are teenagers. Also, find out if the facility is clean. Do they take steps to regularly clean the mats with disinfectant and keep the bathrooms and changing areas clean? If it is a “dungeon dojo,” stay away.
4. Is the head instructor qualified?
People can make up degrees and mount them on walls. But there are a few clues you can look for to determine their qualifications: Does the instructor ever do public demonstrations of his skills? Does the school have a good reputation in the community? Ask around. It might not be a bad idea to ask the local police what they think of the school. Is the teacher certified by an organization? Some great teachers are independent, but if they belong to a large, reputable organization like the United States Judo Association or the World Taekwondo Federation you can check out their credentials. Is the school known as a “black belt factory” where the students are guaranteed a black belt in two years, or do they actually have to pass rigorous tests and nothing is guaranteed until they earn it? Does the teacher speak well of other martial artists and their schools, or does he/she have a “cultic” attitude that they are the only “true” martial artists? A good teacher is not threatened by your questions.
5. Does the school promote an attitude of encouraging everyone?
If you see older, more advanced students denigrating others and pushing their way around, talk to the teacher about it. If it seems to be a habit, go somewhere else. You want your child to love going to class and learning new skills. A good school always discourages bullying in all its forms and makes sure that the martial skills learned in the classroom are only used for self-defense or tournaments.
6. What’s the price?
It is difficult to determine the right price for everyone. I’ve seen really good schools that charge only $50 a month, and some “iffy” schools that soak parents for $120 a month (or more). You have to determine if your wallet can match up with the monthly fees. Be careful about contracts. I understand that the school has to make money, and this is a way for them to be assured that the students are committed. However, I would not sign a year-long contract; six months is as far as I would go.
The martial arts are a vast world of excitement and exploration! I hope your children enjoy the journey and train hard!