How to Find the Best Martial Arts School
Knowing how to find the best Martial Arts school can be a daunting and perplexing task. With a seemingly vast array of Martial Arts ‘styles’, schools and instructors out there, it can often be a case of hit and miss when you’re looking for the right school for you or your child.
The following 8 tips will help you avoid some potential pitfalls so you can avoid joining a second rate school that won’t be a good fit.
1. Deciding on what’s the best ‘type’ of Martial Arts
Basically there are two types of Martial Arts. There’s the wrestling around on the floor type and then there’s the ‘striking’ arts such as Taekwondo. Striking means the use of kicks, hand moves, knee and elbow strikes.
Shire Martial Arts (SMA) students begin their journey by learning Taekwondo, a striking Martial Art that originated in Korea. Taekwondo literally means ‘the art of defending and attacking with the hands and feet.’
2. Choosing sport or personal development?
Within the two main categories of Martial Arts there are two more sub categories. There’s ‘sport’ Martial Arts, where the focus is to train students to become ‘athletes’ or ‘fighters’. The aim of these schools is to encourage students to compete so they may win medals, trophies and titles.
Then, there is ‘traditional’ Martial Arts where the focus is on personal development. Shire Martial Arts fits into the latter category. We don’t send students off to competitions. Rather, we teach our students to compete against themselves, to reach their potential. In fact, at SMA we use Martial Arts as a vehicle for personal development.
We strive to teach the traditional Martial Art of Taekwondo in a progressive way. Our students learn how to effectively use kicks, strikes, takedowns and weapons. The programs at SMA incorporate sparring and practical self defence, as well as non-violent self defence.
Although our students are taught how to well and truly take care of themselves, the main outcomes we aim to instill in them are confidence, self esteem, respect, leadership, communication, resilience and responsibility.
At SMA we believe that these are the real skills that well adjusted people need to thrive in everyday life.
3. Professional or a hobby instructor?
Find out if the instructor at the school you are looking at joining is a full time professional instructor or a part time hobbyist. Gary Simmons, the Master Instructor of Shire Martial Arts doesn’t run SMA ‘on the side’. Master Gary is a full time professional instructor.
Also, Master Gary does not run numerous ‘clubs’ in a string of school halls or community centres. The Shire Martial Arts black belt school is Master Gary’s only training facility. He’s been teaching boys, girls, men and women in the Sutherland Shire for over 20 years. All of Master Gary’s energy goes into running Shire Martial Arts so that it can be the best Martial Arts school it can possibly be. Be assured that Master Gary and his SMA team are committed to your success.
4. Ethical Financial Practices
It’s important that new Martial Arts students check to see if a prospective Martial Arts school has open and ethical financial practices.
At first glance, when you compare Martial Arts schools on price, there can seem to be a significant difference between different schools. The main reason for this is because some Martial Arts schools have a myriad of hidden charges that you don’t necessarily find out about until after you have joined the school.
For example, some Martial Arts schools or instructors charge their students extra for joining fees, annual fees and most commonly for ‘grading fees’.
Unfortunately, these so called grading fees are a blight on our industry. This is where the instructor expects their student to pay a cash fee every time they are supposed to move up to the next belt or equivalent.
Therefore, ensure that you quiz a prospective school about their grading fees. If they do have them, find out exactly how much they are for all belts. Some schools even have a sliding scale where each belt is more expensive than the last. Be very wary of this practice.
Also, avoid instructors or schools who try to charge new students for a uniform.
Remember, it is critical to ask a potential school what their ongoing charges are and how often do they expect you pay them. It can be astonishing how fast these extra charges can add up.
As well as this, beware of schools who have a ‘cash culture’ where they encourage their students or parents to pay their tuition fees or ‘grading fees’ in cash without issuing proper receipts. One of the main principals of Martial Arts is about honesty and integrity. Therefore, be very wary of any school that flaunts this important tenant by taking money ‘under the table’.
Also, if you or your child should ever decide to leave the Martial Arts School, make sure that you are clear on what the ‘exit’ policy is. Unfortunately, some schools have a policy of ruthlessly locking their students into 6 or even12 month contracts with no way out.
At Shire Martial Arts we build all of the costs of training into our tuition fees. There are NO hidden costs or extra charges. This means that once you join us there is “no more to pay”.
New Shire Martial Arts students are given a free uniform to begin their training. The only exception is for safety gear. Once a new student earns their first belt they do need to get some basic safety gear. We always give out receipts for every transaction and if a student decides to leave, they only need give us one week’s notice.
In the Martial Arts industry there are a myriad of styles and associations. This can make it difficult, if not impossible for prospective students or parents of students to ascertain what a bonafide or recognised accreditation is and what is not.
The vast majority of Martial Arts styles are controlled by a leader who, depending on their style, resides in either China, Japan, Korea, United States or Brazil. Most ‘style leaders’ are part of a family dynasty who invariably pass the running of their style to their family members. The family then nominates a representative of that ‘style’ into other countries such as Australia. This representative then forms their private ‘national association’ for their particular style. This ‘association’ then becomes the conduit between the grass root student and the ‘style leader’.
Taekwondo is unique because it is not controlled by a ‘style leader’. Instead, the technical aspects of Taekwondo are controlled by a government controlled world headquarters in Seoul, South Korea known as the ‘Kukkiwon’.
The reason for this is because on a global basis Taekwondo is a huge organisation with over 85 million members in over 180 countries worldwide. The officials of the Kukkiwon and all other Taekwondo bodies are appointed by elections. Taekwondo is managed on the ground by an organisation called the ‘World Taekwondo Federation’(WTF), which is made up of 180 or so member countries, including Australia.
The WTF has regional associations such as the ‘Oceania Taekwondo Association’ and national association such as ‘Australian Taekwondo’ (AT).
To get government recognition and funding, organisations in Australia such as AT must be compliant to strict standards so they are able to be part of institutions such as the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) and the Australian Sports Commission (ASC).
The Shire Martial Arts black belt school is a member of AT and Master Gary is an accredited 6th Dan Black Belt with the ‘Kukkiwon’ and the WTF. The Shire Martial Arts team are also fully accredited.
When you make an enquiry at any Martial Arts school it is important to find out exactly where the school owner(s) earned their first black belt or relevant qualification. It takes a minimum of 10 years to become a fully accredited instructor, so make sure you find out how long it took them to earn theirs.
Also, find out the name of the instructor who trained them. If they try to avoid these questions or answer in a vague unclear way, be very wary.
If you are looking at Taekwondo schools in the Sutherlan Shire, chances are the instructors and in some cases the school owners were trained by Master Gary Simmons.
6. Is there an inclusive learning environment?
The biggest fear for most new students going into a Martial Arts school is that they’ll be put up against bigger, more experienced students and get smashed!
At Shire Martial Arts our focus is on safety. We have a no contact rule (giving and receiving hits) for white belts (new students). Then as a student progresses, we gradually introduce them to drills that involve making light contact.
We also ensure that students wear appropriate safety gear. Most importantly for safety sake, we ensure that all of our students are rigorously supervised.
We also provide our experienced students with special advanced sparring and self defence classes. We’ve found that this helps our more advanced students fulfil their potential in an appropriate environment.
Unfortunately, there are some less professional instructors out there who tend to have their ‘favourite’ students. At Shire Martial Arts, EVERYONE is a favourite.
To facilitate this, all students are placed in one of our two ‘teams’. Either the Red team or Blue team. The idea is that when a student shows, a) improvement in a technique, b) if they are respectful or c) do something worthy of praise, they earn points for their team rather than receiving individual glory. This encourages and highlights the importance of making a contribution to the greater good of their team. It’s also a great way to develop humility and it gives students a sense of unity with their team mates.
Most well balanced adults understand that living in community cooperatively and harmoniously improves the quality of life for everyone. We know what we stand for at Shire Martial Arts. Our ethos is summed up by the aphorism “The rising tide lifts all ships”.
At Shire Martial Arts we believe that each and every student has an inherent potential within them. It’s just waiting to be nurtured, guided and acknowledged. Due to this belief, we have systems to identify those students who need more one on one guidance to succeed. To this end we have a mentoring system in place. We also provide regular drop in tutorial classes where our students can get some one on one help at no extra cost.
Then conversely, we have another system in place for students who we recognise as needing to be challenged more. These students are invited to apply to join our accelerated learning program called the ‘Black Belt Club’ (BBC). Again, there is no extra charge for being in our BBC program, it’s all about effort, attitude and a willingness to strive for excellence.
Another thing to look out for in Martial Arts schools is to ensure that they are equally accommodating to male and female students because this is indicative about how inclusive they are. In a traditionally male dominated environment, Shire Martial Arts strives to train and employ as many female instructors as we can. We also try to make our female students feel welcome and to let them know that they are a valuable part of our community. Our male students are also taught to be kind and respectful towards our Shire Martial Arts women and girls.
7. What does the school stand for?
It starts at the top. Beware of school owners and instructors who seem to be ego driven. Look out for instructors who project an air of arrogance or self importance. An instructors job is to serve and bring out the best in their students… it’s not about them.
Observe if the school is full of trophies and memorabilia about the instructor’s career. Check to see if their websites and marketing material is all about the instructor and their glory days. Also, gauge what sort of attitude their senior students have. Are they friendly and welcoming to the newer students or are they full of themselves?
All Shire Martial Arts team members are highly qualified, skilled, friendly, respectful and hard working. They participate in regular and ongoing professional development with Master Gary. The entire team aspire to provide a training environment that’s inclusive and of the highest standard.
Check out some of our videos:
Our program for 5-6 year old kids is called ‘Little Dolphins’. Find out about it here.
Our program for 7-10 year old kids is called ‘Big Dolphins’. Find out about it here.
Before you join a Martial Arts school, check to see if they have an introductory program instead of just offering something like ‘the first 2 lessons are free’. This is important for you or your child’s success because a structured introductory program helps you to get a feel for the school. It gives you a chance to check if the type of training and the environment is a good fit, or not.
All prospective new students start at Shire Martial Arts by completing our 3 class introductory program. In our ‘Intro Program’, all potential new students receive some one on one coaching before they commit to join. They also get to experience training within the class dynamic. If an Intro student or parent thinks that a few more classes would help them or their child feel more ready to make the commitment of joining our school, we are usually happy to accommodate this request at no extra charge.
Another thing to observe is to see if the school sells sugary drinks, lollies, chocolate or junk food to their students. If you think about it, any organisation who strives for health and fitness wouldn’t dream of offering fizzy drinks or junk food to their students. A Martial Arts school should be junk food free and promote a healthy lifestyle and diet for both kids and adults. Be very wary of those that do.
8. Is the school clean, tidy and managed well?
Professional schools have systems in place for everything, including how the premises are maintained, to how the programs are run.
You can tell a lot about a school by the way its maintained. Is there air-conditioning? Are there change areas? Check out the bathrooms, are they clean? Look at the mats, check to see if they free of dust and debris. Is there a comfortable viewing area for family members and guests?
Once you get to a Martial Arts facility, take the time to check out the above details. A lot of people pass through a successful Martial Arts school each week. So, if a school is not properly maintained, it indicates that there are not enough systems in place for the school to be run successfully. It’s important that the school you are going to join takes hygiene and safety seriously.
The way a school operates on a day to day basis provides a good indication of this ethos.
The systems at Shire Martial Arts have been designed and implemented to create the best possible training experience. Our facility offers a comfortable training environment for our existing students, prospective new students and their families.
Find out for yourself. Go to http://www.shiremartialarts.com and enroll in our Introductory Program today. Due to our high instructor to student ratio, places in our Intro Program are limited.