How Do I Choose a School?
Kung Fu Magazine's Guide To Starting Kung Fu Training
There is no single answer to this potentially complex question, but there are a few things that are important to look at in the process of choosing a school:
- The instructor
- The people that will be your partners
- The environment where you'll learn and train
- The logistics of the school
The instructor is the person who is going to be guiding your development as a martial artist. You need to feel comfortable with him or her, and feel secure in receiving instruction from them. This takes, at a minimum, a certain amount of trust. If you have some unease or personality conflict with the instructor(s) you might want to look elsewhere.
Do the students get personalized attention?
This will be a good judge of how valuable your time will be. If there is a good amount of instructor to student attention there will be more value for you.
Does the instructor differentiate between forms and function?
Another good indication is to find out if the instructor(s) differentiates between form and function. In other words do they do it "because it looks good" or "because it works." This may not apply if you are looking for a martial art as a performance art or as an exercise (though then you want to look at the efficacy of their exercises).
Does the instructor(s) differentiate between tournament and self-defense?
As above, your reaction to this question's answer will depend on what you're goals are. However, there is general agreement that tournament training and self-defense training, while highly related, are different. If the instructor does not differentiate the two, that may be a danger sign!
Violence in the class
If you see an instructor hitting students, or a senior student hitting students, be very clear that it was appropriate before you consider that school. Though be aware - if you are unfamiliar with the art, medium or full contact sparring may seem overly violent to you. Violence as discipline is to be avoided.
Are adjustments made for students of differing body types and limitations?
Another good sign is if the instructor adjusts the training of his or her student's physical realities: telling a slow person to work contact, a fast person to work ranges, a heavy person to work leverage, a light person to work speed, or, conversely, concentrating on their weak areas to compensate.
The people that will be your partners
Visit local schools and watch some classes (without participating), then ask to participate. See if the behavior of the students changes by the fact that there is a new person in their class.
What follows is a quick and dirty check list, to which you can add your own points, based on what you consider important. Remember: these questions and suggestions are just guidelines, not hard and fast rules. There will always be exceptions.
How good are the students?
This is more of a measure of the quality of the students as students than their skill at martial arts. See if you can picture yourself training with these people. Are they attentive, respectful and interested in being there? Those are all good signs.
Is there a mix of upper and lower ranks?
This is not always obvious in the styles without belt rankings. However, it is generally a good sign if advanced, intermediate and beginning students are practicing together. Check the approach the higher ranked students take to you. Their help will probably be very important in your advancement in the style you choose.
Is there a mix in the type of people in the class?
Although this doesn't necessarily mean anything if it is not present, it is a good sign if there is a mixture of males and females, older and younger people in the class. It is a pointer to the efficiency of the style if it can teach a wide variety of people together.
Do the students move the way you would like to?
This will give you some sense of what you can achieve. Look to the senior students and see if they move the way you want to move.
Do they help one another?
In a small class this may not apply, but in larger classes it is a good sign if the senior students support and assist the junior students. This kind of personal attention will aid you greatly in your training.
Do the senior students seem fit and relaxed?
This will give you a sense of the atmosphere of the school. If the senior students are uptight, nervous, unfit, out of shape, or unhappy, it may be a sign to move on. However, do not be put off by a single occurrence, i.e. because on THAT day the senior student was in a poor mood. It should at least prompt you to look carefully though.
How common are injuries?
As most martial arts involve vigorous physical activity and contact, injuries will occasionally occur. However, if injuries are common and/or serious, there is likely a problem in how training is supervised, and you will probably want to look elsewhere. It will be difficult to tell what the frequency/severity of injuries in the class is in one or two visits. Ask the instructor.
The enviornment where you will learn and train
Don't get impressed by the size of the place or the number of trophies in the case by the front door. The most important aspect of a training hall is that you feel comfortable and "at home" there.
If you are not allowed to watch any classes, you may not want to invest your time and money. Without seeing a class you will not be able to get a good feel for the school.
Ask questions! Don't worry about looking stupid or asking the "wrong" question. They are going to be teaching and training you. You want to get any concerns or considerations you have out before you commit to anything. If you feel bullied or threatened in any manner, look somewhere else.
The logistics of the school
By "logistics" we mean all the practical issues such as cost of classes, location and curriculum.
This is an important element to be clear about. You don't want to commit to a school if you can't afford it. It is impossible to address what a reasonable price would be here, because the benefits offered, the local economy, the quality of instruction, and the amount of instructor time are all variables in the equation. Find out up front if there are extra charges for going up in rank, if there are organizational dues, tournament fees, mat fees, etc.
Do not be upset when a Kung Fu instructor charges money; they need to eat and have a place to stay, too. Also, the costs of a school, equipment and insurance are frighteningly high. The best way to determine if a school is charging a reasonable rate is to compare what they offer for the price compared to what other local schools offer for their prices.
If you are intending to spend a lot of time at the school you want it to be accessible, and convenient enough for you to get their after work, on weekends, etc.
Another thing you want to be clear on is when you can go to the school and when classes are scheduled. Some schools are open almost all the time and have lots of classes. In some schools you can only come when an official class is being held. An open school is usually better for obvious reasons: convenience, practice time, access to mats, etc.
Commitments and Promises
This is an important thing to know about any school you will be joining. Be very clear on what they will expect of you and what you expect of them. Some teachers want to teach only people who are willing to commit to them and their style; some are willing to introduce you to their style and
let you dabble; some will teach you as long as you show up. None of these are intrinsically better or worse, but you want to know where they are coming from so neither of you are surprised later.
Find out if you are required to attend classes, find out about being late, find out what the policy is on school rules of behavior and etiquette. Find out how you are supposed to interact with the teacher and other students. There are many styles for all these things so make sure you find out. The easiest way is to ask these questions.
There may be other questions you want to look at and specific questions you have about an instructor, school, organization, or style you are looking at. Know the questions you want answered and you will find the perfect school for you!