At least once a month someone tells me they are moving out of town and asks for a recommendation for kids martial arts in that area. I am usually at a loss to recommend anyone because I don’t network much outside of my base in Sydney, Australia. Although sad to see them go, I am happy give them a bit of information that I have acquired over the years to guide them in their search. There are lots of things to look for in a martial arts school, but I feel these are the most important.
Determine Your Needs and Your Child’s
Determine why you want your child to take part in martial arts. Is it fitness, confidence, self-esteem, discipline, or competition? Different things will be emphasized at each school. Why does your child want to take part? This is the most important question, because many children drop out if their needs are not met. Children might want to start just to have fun and make friends–that’s ok.
Visit Schools in the Area
If a school does not allow you to observe at least a few of their classes before you enroll, walk away. Most likely they have something to hide. Talk to other parents at each school about their experiences.
Discipline in the class is important. If kids are running amok, doing what they please without any class structure, there is a problem. The instructor should be strict yet fair. An instructor should never strike a child.
Classes should be divided according to age and experience. Kids should not be in the same classes as adults. With children, the moves should be broken down into the most simple elements. If there are only a few kids in the class it’s not a good sign. A bigger class has a better vibe and is a sign the school is doing something right.
Ask to observe a sparring session, where the more advanced students practice against each other. Is it strictly supervised by black belts? Is control enforced? Do the kids enjoy it? Is proper safety gear worn? Head gear, gloves, mouth guards, shin/foot protectors are a must for kids and adults alike.
Look for schools that have been in business for at least a few years and have a good reputation in the community. The two usually go hand in hand.
Is the location convenient for you? If you have to drive all the way across town to get there, you will probably drop out.
Find the Best Instructor
There is no such thing as a “best style or system”. There is such a thing as a “best teacher”. It is essential that the instructor embodies the important things in the martial arts like respect and kindness.
The chemistry between teacher and student is crucial. If your there is no rapport between the child and the instructor it will be an uphill battle. Are the kids truly enjoying themselves in the class?
Recommendations from other parents are an excellent way to find good instructors.
Terms and Costs are Important
Lock-in contracts are not a good idea, unless you’ve had time to assess the quality of instruction.
Find out what the total costs are. Grading fees, registration/membership fees, uniforms, mandatory equipment–it can all add up. If they are unable to give you a straight answer, find another school.