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I hope this will be a great tool to help you or your child find the right school.
How early should you start your child in the martial arts?
What style should I choose?
What kind of facility should I look for?
How much do martial arts lessons cost?
Do I have to sign a contract?
What if I like the school, but the school insists on having me sign a contract?
What is Electronic Funds Transfer?
What if the instructor wants me to pay in advance for lessons?
What are testing fees?
What belt rank should my instructor be?
Should I find a "champion" instructor?
How often should I go to class?
How long are classes?
How risky is martial arts?
What can I expect to learn?
What kind of physical training do the martial arts teach?
What is better training? Modern or the traditional method?
How do I choose a martial arts school for me or my child?
-How early should you start your child in the martial arts?
While the martial arts are an enjoyable and very worthwhile activity for children, it should be recognized that progress will take consistent class
attendance, some practice and support from the family (kids can't drive themselves to class).
How early to start a child really depends on the individual child and their level of interest and maturity. Many professional schools have age specific
classes and curriculum programs for children as young four, five or six years old. These programs are very popular and can be a great way for a child
to learn concentration, self-control and start to develop more coordination.
Programs for children of this age usually are less demanding than mainstream martial arts programs and bypass much of the serious self-defense
training in favor of more age appropriate and fun activities.
-What style should I choose?
The only style that really matters is the teaching style of the instructor. Yes, styles vary and you may prefer one style over another, but style should
be a secondary consideration. The first priority is finding an instructor that you feel comfortable with and who can motivate you to come to class
twice a week.
All styles have their strengths and weaknesses. While it would be nice to say that your body type or flexibility should match up with a certain style, it's
more important to match up with the right instructor and school.
The most popular martial arts in the United States are comprised from a number of basic systems. These systems are generally referred to by their
Elsewhere in this site you'll find detailed descriptions of each of the martial arts styles. However, you may find a completely opposite experience with
each art than how the art is described in this book. That tends to be the result of the research and modifications made by a school's instructor. This is
by no means bad. In fact, the instructor may have made the adjustments to better suit his students.
Again, you can see how much more impact the style of the instructor will have rather than the style of martial arts being taught.
-What kind of facility should I look for?
Here it's important to trust your first impressions. The modern martial arts school is clean, well lit, spacious and has good family atmosphere. The
floor is clean and the dressing rooms in good order. On the wall you might see photographs of recent school events and outings and there should
definitely be an area for parents or family to sit and watch the classes.
Beware of any school that doesn't allow you to watch the class. Particularity if you are a parent looking for school for your kids, you should have real
concerns about a school that doesn't allow you to watch them work with your child. An instructor might say that they don't want the child to be
distracted by the parents, but the truth usually is that the instructor doesn't want to be accountable to the parent.
Conversely, professional instructors will practically insist that you stay and watch. They know that once you see the positive lessons they are teaching
your child, that you'll be even more supportive of the training. The truth is that the instructor who encourages you to take the time to watch your child
in class is doing you and your child a great service. In today's busy world, the tendency to drop off a child and not take the time to share the
experience of learning a new skill is all to prevalent.
I've always found that the kids whose parents were in class and supportive seemed to do much better and be more well adjusted than the drop off
kids. Children, more than anything else, want their parents to take an interest in them and be proud. Martial arts, taught by a professional, has a series
of "victories" for each child ranging from a new belt or stripe on their belt to other forms of recognition for the child. That recognition is greatly
enhanced when the parent is there to share in the pride.
Consider a professional martial arts instructor as a part of the team whose goal is to instill a strong sense of self-pride and confidence in your child. As
a parent, your presence in that classroom is critical to the success of the team.
-How much do martial arts lessons cost?
While the actual cost per month will vary widely from market to market, this question has to be approached from a slightly different perspective than
money alone. In seminars around the country, I ask the black belts a simple question, "If I could give you $10,000, would you be willing to sell me
back your black belt and the impact that martial arts has had on your life? Would you be willing to erase your martial arts experience from your life
for $10,000? For $20,000? How about $50,000?"
In speaking before thousands of black belts, never has someone offered to accept my hypothetical offer. The point is that whether your classes are
$40, $70 or $100 a month, the value of earning a black belt far exceeds the investment. What is it worth to walk out to your car with a loved one late
at night after a show and know that if something happens, you have the skill to deal with it? What is it worth to a parent to know that their child is
developing the self-pride and inner confidence to avoid negative peer pressures? What is it worth to any of us in today's violent world to empower
ourselves or our children with the skills to handle a confrontation?
It's worth a lot more than it costs to gain the knowledge. With the huge variance in the instructors, facility, and atmosphere of one school to the next,
you should never shop for the martial arts based upon price. Schools tend to charge what they think they are worth. If a school is charging $30 per
month, there is a reason it's so cheap. If a school is charging $85 per month, there is usually a reason the instructor feels it is worth more.
What's interesting is that, in most cases, the schools that charge a little more for the quality of their instruction tend to be bigger and have many more
students than the bargain-basement schools that charge apologetically.
Most good schools will charge anywhere from $60 per month and up with a small registration of about $149. This registration might include your
membership in the National Association of Professional Martial Artists, your first month dues and, possibly, your uniform.
-Do I have to sign a contract?
This depends on the school and your situation. Many schools do not require any contract or agreement. However, signing a contract for lessons is not
always a bad idea. One advantage to signing a contract is that you are locking in the tuition at the current rate and can avoid increases. The key is to
not sign for more than you're confident you can follow through on. Since earning a black belt should take three to four years, you should avoid any
kind of long term agreements over four or five years.
However, if you know you want to earn a black belt, it makes perfect sense to lock in the lowest tuition possible for that time period. There are some
additional items to consider when faced with an agreement for lessons. Check with the local Merchants Association, Better Business Bureau and
Consumer's Affairs or Consumer Protection agency to see if the school has a history of litigation or complaints.
Many schools use the agreement only as a way to clearly spell out the arrangements for the relationship between the student and the school. They will
not enforce any type of hard collections that may damage your credit or harass you. On the other hand, there are certainly schools that will attempt to
collect on the contract and that could be a real problem for you.
Other schools go as far as to sell the contracts to a third party. This third party will aggressively pursue the collections whether you are in class or not.
This selling of the contract to a third party should definitely be avoided. Find out what the school plans to do with the paperwork before signing on the
However, it's perfectly reasonable for a school to employ a tuition billing company to process your payments. This is very different from selling them
your contract. In this case, the third party billing company simply accepts your payments, keeps a small percentage as a fee and then sends the school
the remainder. Martial artists don't always make the best bookkeepers so it's a good idea for them to hire the processing and posting of payments to
-What if I like the school, but the school insists on having me sign a contract?
If you are uncomfortable signing a contract for yourself or your child, tell the school that you're uncomfortable and seek out an alternate arrangement.
Most schools will work with a student in order to provide the training. However, other schools will turn the student away if he is not willing to commit
to training more than a month at a time.
Also, state laws can affect what type of arrangement a school can make, so find out ahead of time what to expect from a school.
-What is Electronic Funds Transfer?
Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) is a simple and effective method of insuring your tuition is paid on time each month. The exact amount of the tuition
is automatically withdrawn from your designated bank account each month on the same day and transferred to the school.
While the thought of someone pulling funds from your account each month may seem uncomfortable to you, the truth is that it is the safest and
easiest method of payment available. In actuality, no one is going into your account. It's really just two computers talking to each other. Only the
exact amount can be withdrawn, not a penny more. Furthermore, no one can access that account or peek around to see how much is in there. It's all
The reason I'm making this point is that your relationship with the instructor as you pursue your black belt should be as pure a possible. Your
instructor doesn't want tuition hassles interfering with your training any more than you do. EFT makes the whole process easier by guaranteeing that
the student's tuition will be made in a timely fashion each month without any problems. The student also remains in full control of the EFT and can
cancel it at any time should there be any challenges.
-What if the instructor wants me to pay in advance for lessons?
There is a big difference between being offered the option to pay for, say a year in advance for a discount, and being told that advance payments are
the only option. If a school insists that you must pay for more than 30 days in advance, do not enroll. This is a school, usually, that has a very high
drop-out rate and they know you may not stick around for long so they are going to try getting as much money as possible from you before you leave.
Most schools have a standard payment plan and then a small discount of 15% - 20% if you want to pay the amount in full in advance. This is a
reasonable option, simply that, an option. Many people prefer to pay in advance and that option should be available.
However, if you decide to pay in advance, make sure you have a written agreement that's signed by the instructor as to what is being paid for and
what would constitute cause for a refund. This is an example where signing a contract may be in your best interest. For instance, if you are in an
automobile wreck or are transferred, is that cause for a refund? Your attorney would have the answer based upon the state you live in so be sure to
investigate that and protect your investment before making advance payments.
Many states prohibit any advance payments for more than thirty days, so talking with an attorney is always the prudent thing to do when it comes to
-What are testing fees?
Some schools charge an additional fee when you take an exam to move to another belt. These testing fees can run as high as $40 - 75.
Some schools are charged a testing fee from their association, who in turn, supplies the school with certificates. Also there are some additional
expenses associated with testing for the Instructor; belts, boards for breaking and the instructor’s time.
The only test fee that virtually all schools charge for is a black belt test. A black belt test is much more involved exam and often have a number of
expenses tied to it for the school. For that reason you can expect to pay $150 - $300 for a black belt exam. This money offsets the additional
preparation the school has to make in order to promote someone to black belt and is a fair charge.
-What belt rank should my instructor be?
In most styles of martial arts, there are ten degrees of black belt. A new black belt earns a first degree and then it works up from there to tenth. The
problem is that with the lack standardization in the arts, what defines a fifth degree black belt or a seventh degree black belt varies so drastically, that
the rank doesn't really convey a meaning to the general public.
There is a saying by Joe Lewis, one of the legends of American martial arts. Lewis, when asked what degree black belt he was, would answer, "There
are two types of black belts. Good ones and bad ones. I'm one of the good ones." The point of the statement is that beyond earning a black belt, rank
has little if anything to do with quality of instruction.
This is a critical point to understand. Just because someone has received a high rank within an art doesn't make them a good teacher. Indeed,
sometimes the opposite is true. Some black belts are more focused on their own achievements instead of helping the student achieve.
It's very hard to say what rank beyond black belt a professional martial artist should be. Clearly, a school owner or chief instructor should be a black
belt or the equivalent depending on the art. Also, if your goal is to earn a black belt, then you have to have an instructor that is at least a second or
third degree, so they promote you to first-degree black belt. A first-degree black belt cannot promote someone to first degree black belt. In most
systems you have to be one or two degrees higher to promote someone. For instance, an instructor would have to be a third degree or fourth degree
to promote a student to second-degree black belt.
Beyond that, the rank of the instructor will actually mean very little to your classroom experience or the quality of your classes. In fact, when
choosing a school, you should probably avoid schools that use their ads to tell you all about the ranks the instructor has. What he has accomplished is
not as important as what he can do for you, so don't be mis-lead by claims of grand master or 10th degree black belt. That's not as important as
finding an instructor who cares about his students and makes that his focus instead of seeking all the attention himself.
-Should I find a "champion" instructor?
Looking at the phone-book ads, it's almost impossible not to find a champion. It seems harder to find an instructor that doesn't claim to be a champion
of some sort. Like rank, tournament titles mean very little if anything to your experience. Just because someone has won an event, doesn't mean they
can teach you or your child.
In fact, the hard-core competitor often has a difficult time toning the training down for the novice or for kids. For instance, John McEnroe is a great
tennis champion, but I don't know if I would want him as my child's tennis coach. That's not to say titles are a bad thing. It's just not an important
aspect to look for or be concerned with. Since just about everyone in the phone book is a champion of some sort, simply ignore the claims and focus
on what they can do for you.
-How often should I go to class?
For the first few months, resist the urge to go more than two times a week. Most professional schools will restrict your attendance in these early
stages to twice a week while you evaluate your training. Then, after you've trained for a few months, they may make more classes available for you
as part of a special program such as the National Black Belt Club.
Note: Be careful though, some instructors place an emphasis on attendance. Only coming twice a week could hurt your Child's chances for
advancement so it’s best to talk to your instructor.
This is a good method for both the student and the instructor. The student is prevented from overdoing it at first and helps him to avoid injuries and
burnout from an over-enthused start. Then, as the student gets in better shape and understands the training, the instructor can better determine if the
student should be given the opportunity for additional training. This is usually a privilege reserved for students who have made the commitment to
earning a black belt.
Since a new student couldn't be expected to understand what it takes to earn a black belt, the early restrictions on attendance serve to slowly
indoctrinate the student in the martial arts and to evaluate its potential benefits before setting a goal of black belt.
-How long are classes?
This usually will depend on the age of the class. For most classes targeting 4-6-year-olds, the class should run 30-45 minutes at the most. For classes
targeting 7-12-year-olds, 45 minutes is usually about right with a one hour class for the brown- and black-belt children. Adult beginners classes can be
45 minutes with an increase to an hour upon graduating to the next belt level.
Schools that are still running two-hour classes tend to burn their students out very quickly. In today's world, it's just very difficult to devote more than
an hour to an activity for any length of time and studies on attention spans have shown that 30-60 minutes is about the max for most people
depending on their age.
-How risky is martial arts?
Past insurance ratings ranked martial arts over golf in the number of injury claims. That doesn't mean you're not going to get sore or occasionally
bruised, it just means that serious injuries are not very common in the martial arts in most schools. This is particularly true for schools belonging to a
professional organization like the National Association of Professional Martial Artists (NAPMA).
Most schools are very safe and go to extreme lengths to insure the safety of its classes. Other, schools are rougher and can have a military-like
atmosphere where only the strong survive. These schools can be recognized by an almost exclusively adult male student body and a gym-like
Any school you attend should have age-specific classes and utilize all possible safety equipment when sparring. The striking pads should be new and
in good shape and the instructors should belong to an organization like NAPMA to insure they are receiving ongoing information in the latest methods
While claims against schools are very rare because the training is very safe, many schools are not insured, which is a mistake. Make sure your school
is insured and the instructors are attending seminars and workshops on teaching.
-What can I expect to learn?
This is an exciting question. Contrary to the media's image of a tough drill sergeant-like martial arts instructor, today’s professional is well schooled in
positive motivation, modern training methods and character development.
The schools will have special programs built into the curriculum on goal setting, self-confidence, how to avoid violent confrontation and other personal
This emphasis on personal responsibility and successful attitudes was introduced into the martial arts classroom in the mid-1980's and has come as a
pleasant surprise to many students who feared that martial arts would be an "only the strong survive" experience.
Students of all ages and athletic ability are now able to train in the martial arts without the fear of injury and humiliation associated with the so-called
"dungeon" schools of the past.
-What kind of physical training do the martial arts teach?
In terms of the physical aspects, there are two primary areas of physical training in the martial arts. First is the traditional arts and techniques of the
style taught at the school. This is known as the "Do" or "The Way." These techniques and forms are not made up by the school, but are passed down
from instructor to student through the years. Students honor the art by adhering to its traditional principles.
Traditional training is the most difficult to understand and to execute. However, the process of traditional training develops outstanding discipline, self-
control and coordination. The other aspect to physical training is a more modern, practical science of self-defense. Here the focus is less on adhering
to an ancient art than practicing what works and discarding what may not work as much.
There is tremendous scientific data that comes to us at a phenomenal rate these days, which continually improves our understanding of how the
human body works. And with that understanding of how the body works comes a better philosophy and, hopefully, better practices about how to
condition the body so that you're not hurting it. This is the basis of the modern method of martial arts training.
-What is better training? Modern or the traditional method?
Modern training is much more adaptable to an individual's needs since the training can serve the student rather than the student serving a particular
style. While this may sound more appealing, many of these schools are more gym-like than school-like. With the lack of traditional ideals, there can be
a lack of decorum within the school. While this is certainly not always the case, respect, courtesy and discipline are important elements of the martial
Most professional schools have a very effective mix of the traditional arts and modern applications. The school's exams and lesson plans will be
balanced between the traditional forms and basics and the more modern self-defense and fighting applications. The atmosphere is warm and family
oriented with a strong sense of courtesy and respect throughout the student body.
So, you can look forward to learning the foundational techniques of a traditional style, the practical applications of the modern strategies, and the
personal development skills of self-discipline that work as the glue that holds it all together and makes a black belt.
-How do I choose a martial arts school for me or my child?
The principles are the same for choosing a school for yourself or your child, so I will address the answer for parents, as there are a couple of special
considerations when children are involved.
Step one in choosing a school is to clearly understand what you want you or your child to gain from learning the martial arts. Is it a light recreation?
Then a community center program may suffice. Is it self-defense or personal development? If so, then a full-time professional school will be more
suitable. Many parents view the martial arts as part of their child's educational development. With a good professional school, this is very possible.
Step two is to recognize that choosing a school is really choosing an instructor. Be sure to visit the school and watch the instructor work with other
children of the same age. Every school is very different because every instructor is different. Don't get confused by claims of black belt degrees,
tournament wins or martial art styles. The only style that matters is the teaching style of the instructor and how your child will respond to him or her.
Finally, trust your instincts. A professional school will have a family atmosphere, lots of smiles and be well kept. You'll feel comfortable with the
personnel and the facility.
While this may not end up being the closest school to your house, when it comes to your safety or the safety and education of your child, an extra ten-
minute drive can make a world of difference in the outcome.
All excerpts are taken from the frequently asked questions section on the NAPMA web site.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS