Most people when they look at a Martial Art sort of pick what's first in a Google search or whatever they see a sign for across the street. But this is often a commitment of years, sometimes decades of your life, so it's important to take your time to get it right the first time. Unfortunately, in an age of instant access, now we have choice overload, so we need a way to filter it down with educated intelligent decisions.
Here's the Top 5 Things You Should Do in 2022 Before Signing Up
Start by figuring out your needs. Most people assume that martial arts schools are sort of one size fits all, but it's actually far from the truth. Most schools actually only specialize in a few things and the rest they aren't very good at. So you should start by ranking the importance of the following goals. Once you have this, it should eliminate roughly 2/3 of the schools in your search results
Fitness level - There's getting in shape and there's getting in shape. While all martial arts will help with your fitness, some may be only be some light cardio, while others might be a very serious grind equivalent to an iron man competition.
Child Emotional Development - Some programs should really advertise this as their primary skill. There are a lot of chain schools that people call "mcdojos" because their level of self defense is very low. But what they offer is child development of things like discipline, attention, social skills, confidence, and other attributes that your promotion is more tied in with attitude.
Family Activity or Adult - Sometimes you are just looking for a thing to do together as a family, and martial arts seemed fun, so why not get into the experience. Other times, people want an adult training environment where things are taken a bit more seriously.
Effective Self Defense - Surprisingly few martial arts actually offer this, though they all claim to. The best way to be sure is look at the amount of time they spend pressure testing through sparring, how open the rule set is, and how much time they spend practicing to defend high percentile attacks like a basic left right.
Competition - If you are looking to compete, you need to go to a school that specializes in this, plain and simple. There's no use wasting your time on things that don't directly relate to competition if that's your number one goal. Most schools will tell you they can prepare you for competition because they are lying either to themselves or you.
Level of Difficulty or Toughness - Not everyone wants to be John Wick or Jon Jones. Sometimes the idea of crushing pain or getting your shins kicked in repeatedly is not for you. Some people thrive on the challenge and desire to prove themselves. You need to know where you stand on this before you pick a program.
Community - If you are mostly looking for a social activity, that's totally cool too. A lot of people are more interested in belonging to a community than the actual training. So be honest with yourself. It helps you find the right school and have realistic expectations to your experience.
The Experience - Speaking of the experience, sometimes that's what people are really looking for. If you are interested in wearing a uniform and doing things that are straight out of your favorite movie, cosplay, or anime, whether you want to feel like a Samurai or a Shaolin Monk, it's good to know that ahead of time.
Mental Calmness - Some people just want to get Zen and have a nice meditative experience.
Now that you know your goals, it's time to pick a style of Martial Art that helps you fulfill them. So here's some things you can look for in a Martial Art in addition to your goals to help you refine your search result.
Type - Are you looking for Striking, Grappling, Takedowns, Weapons, Joint Manipulation, or some combination?
Level of Contact - You should decide if you are looking for something with little to no contact like forms, or if you want lots of light contact, or if you want to feel like every class is a war.
Culture - The culture of the program can make a big difference in the way they train. Japanese schools for example are often very rigid and formal, locked in tradition, while Brazilian are more beach culture flow. Some people are also drawn to a particular art because of their own culture. For example, many Jewish people are drawn to Krav Maga as an Israeli art.
Traditional or Modern - This is going to vastly change your experience. A school focused on modern training versus the old ways is going to be important for you to decide.
Promotion time - Some people are driven by the black belt. There's nothing wrong with that, and it's a sign of recognition by peers or instructors that you are developing. In some arts you are looking at a black belt in 2-3 years and others its 15-20 years. What do you want your belt to be worth versus how much time do you want to commit to achieving it?
Next, you want to start to determine what you are looking for in the program.
Are you looking for a big class that you can blend into or maybe make a lot of friends or are you looking for a small program you can get more personal attention.
What is your price point and are you willing to pay a lot more per month for the perks of multiple high level instructors, more classes, and nicer facilities with lots of equipment, or are you looking to keep it in more modest price range. You can spend anywhere from $50-$200/month per person depending on where you choose, so this is important to know before you shop around.
What type of class culture do you want and what style of instruction do you learn best from?
Step 4 ***Where the Really Important Stuff Gets Ignored a Lot***
A lot of people do online research because it's easy, but sort of slack off when it comes to doing a little research on the school itself. Once you are leaning into a particular school, you need to do a little bit of research into the specifics. Look for red flags.
Find out if they have a bunch of extras in the contract or if it locks you into a commitment for several years.
Find out the extra costs they like to tack on for uniforms, locker room, equipment, test fees, in house tournaments, patches, and the like. The answer might surprise you and this $100 a month starts to look more like $150 a month with all the extras that keep popping up.
Also, watch the professionalism of the instructors and talk to the students. Some places mostly ignore people unless they show talent. Check out credentials and who gave their certification. Lots of martial arts schools offer cross training in areas they don't know anything about, like Taekwondo schools that offer BJJ, Krav Maga, and Kickboxing even though they don't know anything about these arts. It's super common.
Look at things like retention and see how long the average student is there.
Look out for anything that seems weird, like grooming behaviors or abusiveness toward the students.
Look at the cleanliness of the program, not just superficially, but find out how often they clean the mats or if they require students to wear flip flops to the bathroom and wash their uniform after every use.
This is a thing most people don't take advantage of. Literally every school offers about a month of free training. You should pick your top 3-4 choices and try each one out for a few weeks to see how it fits. Find out if the instructor is to your liking and if you fit in with the other students, and how the class culture feels. It's like test driving a car. Don't just take the first thing you see, but try it out and you can always go back to it. But chances are you are going to be doing this for a long time, so why just take the first place you see.
Once you make your decision, you should do a background check on the instructor(s). I'm sure he or she seems very nice, but there are a lot of pretty sketchy people out there, so this last step is worth it just to be on the safe side.