Being a martial arts instructor, I’ve been asked many times; “How can I find the right studio for myself or my children?”
I’m glad you asked! With decades of training and teaching under my belt — here are my recommendations.
Check the clientele. Is your demographic represented well there? If you’re a 40 year old woman and the studio is full of 9 year old kids? Probably not a good choice. Look for diversity in ages and abilities.
Look for affiliations. If you’re serious about studying the arts, you should look for a studio that is at least nationally accredited; worldwide if you can find it. This shows long established patterns of success and growth over time. It shows commitment by the organization. It will also be extremely useful if you have to move or relocate — most large accredited organizations will recognize your rank, allow you to “visit” while traveling, etc.
Sit in a typical class. If they tell you that you can’t, leave and look elsewhere. How many people are there watching? A large group of parents, guardians, spouses indicate a tight knit family organization that helps to vet the studio.
Don’t be afraid to discuss fees right up front. Start up costs, monthly costs, “special programs” costs, testing/promotion costs. Every studio has to make a living; pay rent and employees — but you’ll get a feel how much flogging is going on and that might give you some insight on how they train.
Meet as many instructors as you can. The life’s blood of any studio is the quality of the instructors.
Ask about class sizes vs. available nights to train. Many studios are part of a bigger organization to save on rent/space. YMCA, fitness centers, etc. may all have really good third party studios working under their umbrella. This could also have the side effect of limiting the number of days you can train, and the class sizes (which could affect the quality of training). Expect to pay MORE at a “private” studio than one that exists within another facility.
There are really four types of studios I’ve seen overall.
The “pay to advance” studio is one where everyone passes every test — no one is held back. If the check clears, the new belt goes on. Contact is forbidden — even between senior ranks. Nothing remotely unsafe happens (mat work, floor work, weapons, etc). These are commonly called “McDojos”. They are often after school babysitters for parents to drop the kids off before dinner. There is a place for these, but serious applicants need not apply.
The “death” studio. This is where men are men and if getting the crap beat out of you isn’t on the agenda, you need not apply. Young males loves this sort of thing — and for those looking to really get physical, you may want to consider this. You’re going to learn to take pain and probably get some good street value out of it. Could be fun — if this is your thing. Don’t look for anything spiritual here.
The “competition studio”. I don’t like to bad mouth any art, but Tae Kwan Do loves its competition. They aren’t typically about the betterment of the student; they are about the reputation of the school and the trophy case in the waiting room. I’m not a fan of this type of studio. Too much emphasis on competition, not enough interest in the art.
Look for the proper blend. A good studio won’t have trophies in the waiting room. They won’t try and upsell you on everything. Listen for key words like “discipline” and “respect” and “history”. Ask how old their art is. Ask the instructors why they chose to stay in this art so long and what they take from it.
Feel free to ask any further questions. This can be a life-long involvement so be sure to make the best choices possible.