According to Martialinfo.com, there are over 30,000 martial art schools in the United States, with a total enrollment of over six million students. Approximately 85% of martial art students are age 13 or younger. There is a good chance that your child might want to try martial arts at some point. With over 30,000 schools representing a myriad of styles, how do you choose where to enroll your child?
To some degree, choosing a martial art school relies in part on exercising common sense. Recognize that if your child happens to develop a long-term love for martial arts, you may be spending quite a bit of money over the next several years, and your child will be investing many hundreds, if not thousands, of hours in training, including lessons and practice. You owe it to both yourself and your child to take the necessary steps to ensure that you are selecting the right school for your child.
The first step is to make a list of all the schools in your area, without regard to style. Look online and in the local phone book for martial art schools. Some schools are businesses specializing in martial arts training. Other schools operate as a subset of another organization, such as a YMCA or community youth program; be sure to include these in your initial list of possibilities.
Next, carefully consider the reasons your child wants to learn martial arts, as well as what your hopes and expectations will be. One school might emphasize basic drills and forms, while another might emphasize sparring. A school might require students participate in tournaments, while another school might not participate in tournaments at all. If your child lacking in self-confidence, you might want a school that offers small class sizes so that your child receives more instructional attention. Keep this list in mind for when you visit and look at schools. Also consider the total amount of money you are willing to commit to martial arts for your child.
Call the schools on your list. Find out when the classes are taught; cross off the schools that do not offer classes at times that would fit your schedule. Ask how much tuition would be, and also ask about other expenses typically incurred, such as registration fees, costs for equipment (sparring gear, weapons, and uniforms), test fees, and any other possible fees. If your income is limited, ask if there are any scholarship programs that you might be able to use.
Visit the schools that remain on your list by yourself first; you will need to fight the temptation to bring your child with you. It is simply too easy to let your child’s excitement distract you from critically evaluating the schools during your first visit. Use the first visit to meet the owner, instructors, and any support staff. Watch how the staff interacts with the students and parents; directions from instructors to students should be clear. Students should enjoy the class while following the training. If students have the opportunity to break out into smaller groups to work on specific training tasks, does the instructor rotate through the groups so that every group stays focused on their assigned task? Does the instructor maintain control over the class at all times? Ask about trial or starter programs as well. Ensure that questions about tuition, fees, and contracts are all answered to your satisfaction. If the school does require a contractual commitment, ask if you can have a sample to read at your leisure. If the school has a contract, but refuses to let you preview it, you may want to cross the school off your list.
If a school guarantees that your child will earn a black belt in a specific amount of time, cross them off your list. Without knowing how well-suited your child is to studying martial arts, how easily (or not easily) your child learns, your child’s attendance and practice patterns, no one can guarantee that your child will earn a black belt, or when that may happen. A school owner may be able to give you an idea of how long it takes the average student to reach the black belt level, but only as a guideline. Be aware that some schools only offer a “junior” black belt to students under a certain age (typically either 16 or 18), and that if your child wants to retain black belt status beyond that, he may need to re-test again, for an additional fee. Also ask if the school’s structure includes a “Black Belt” club. Some schools offer students extra training by enrolling them into a “club” for students who are “serious” about reaching the black belt level. If a school you are considering offers this, you will need to determine if it is something you are interested in. While it can benefit students who join the club (for additional fees) by grouping them with other “serious” minded students, it has the potential to become a clique within the student body – and if your child is outside of the clique, it may detract from his enjoyment of studying martial arts.
Take your time to read through the contracts that you have gathered from your visits. While it is not necessarily unreasonable to commit to pay for classes for a specific length of time (typically contracts are 6 months, 1 year or 2 years in length), avoid contracts that automatically renew. Also look for terms regarding when you might not have to pay; for instance, if you move away from the area, or if your child is physically unable to participate due to injury or illness, some contracts will release you from the financial commitment, while others will not.
Most schools charge test fees. However, you need to find out how often testing is done, and how the fees are set. For example, some schools might require every student to test every other month, while other schools might require students wait a minimum of six months between tests. Some schools’ test fees increase as the belt level goes higher. The increases in test fees can be dramatic, sometimes reaching beyond $500 for a single test. If at all possible, have specific test fees written into the contract, all the way through to black belt level.
One you have reduced the list to those schools where you felt comfortable, know that the contract terms and fees are agreeable, it is time to visit the schools on your list with your child. Many schools offer a trial enrollment period, often varying from one week up to one month, at a reduced cost. Some schools offer for a prospective student to try one or two classes entirely free. Take advantage of such programs to help determine the best match for your child, based on the interaction between your child, the instructor and other students. Often, during this time you can meet parents of other students, and learn what they like – and dislike – about the school, based on their own experiences. That type of information may help you make the final decision about where you want to enroll your child long-term.
Again, keep in mind the goals you want for your child to gain from martial art studies, whether it is to be simply an additional activity for fun, to truly learn self-defense, to learn competitive sportsmanship or values such as self-discipline and confidence. The style of martial art – whether it be Karate, Kung-Fu, etc., – is less important than knowing your goals and the fit between the school and your child.