You decided to join a martial arts school and do some training, but now what? In a large city you might have many options, which can make the decision more difficult. You also want to avoid a bad school that will sour your training experience. This article aims to help you in your decision process.

Learn about available styles

What style are you interested in studying? There are a myriad of choices such as Kung Fu, Karate, Jui-Jitsu, Tae Kwondo, Aikido, Boxing, Krav Maga, Kendo, Tai Chi, Muay Thai, and many others. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is also very popular, as it allows mixing elements from a variety of styles and has a lot of media coverage.

There are many sites with background and information on styles of martial arts, and it is worth studying some of the basics before selecting a style. is a good starting point if you are completely unfamiliar with the available types, and is another great resource.

Don't get distracted by arguments over which martial art is better than the rest. It's more important which one most matches your abilities and preferences (although availability and convenience are also important factors). Unless you're very excited to learn a specific style at this point, keep your options open as you go through the other steps to select a studio.

Some things to consider about the styles (and the focus of the studio) include

  • Is the style focused more on defense, offense, or a combination of the two?

  • Is the level of physical exertion to complete each class a challenge but achievable for you?

  • Does the style include striking (punches, kicks, etc) or grappling (throwing, pinning, holds)?

  • How much physical contact is there (some studios don't involve making any contact at all when sparring, which yields a completely different training experience)?

Decide what your goals are

You should have a clear goal. Maybe you want to

  • Get into better shape

  • Feel more healthy

  • Learn to defend yourself

  • Gain self confidence

  • Meet like-minded people

  • Have a healthy outlet for stress-relief or aggression

  • Achieve a respected accomplishment, such as a black belt

  • Participate in tournaments

  • Learn to handle weapons used in martial arts

Deciding what goals are most important to you should help in evaluating studios that you contact or visit, and in selecting what programs to participate in at the studio you select. Don't let the instructors or marketing material tell you what your goals are, or you might get sold on something you aren't personally driven to do.

Decide your level of dedication and availability

How much time can you commit, and for how long? It might be worth dedicating a smaller amount of time that you know you can keep up with, and go more often as you get more involved in your training and are excited to do so. Don't burn out by going every day until something happens and you loose your momentum.

Also consider the travel time. Are you able to commit the time to get to the studio, or will that strain your schedule? The closest studio may not be the best, but an hour drive may reduce your desire to go as frequently.

Say NO to mandatory contracts and "Black Belt Factories"

You might not have many options available in your area to avoid contracts, but be VERY cautious of this business practice. An honest school with a valuable product should be able to sell you the product without locking you into an expensive 3 year contract. You KNOW that a multi-year contract is used because they expect you to want to leave before that time frame is over.

An alternative to that business model is... having a product that's good enough for people to want to come back over and over again.

On that note, a muti-year contract shouldn't include the time frame to get any particular level of achievement. Everyone works at a different speed, and life changes might affect how much time you can dedicate at a point in time. I wouldn't want to be held back if I was a quick learner (although it turns out I'm not a quick learner in martial arts). I also wouldn't want to study at a place where students are given their black belt after they've paid their dues for three years.

I've been thrown makeup counter sales pitches such as "Don't you think you're worth it?", and "Have you made the decision to take charge of your health?". I was a little insulted but mostly I was given a clear warning sign. Don't do business with any place with high-pressure sales tactics and shady business practices.

Try before you buy

Every studio or school operates a little differently, but you want to find a way to evaluate the instructors, the facility, and the training. If you call, you might speak to an instructor or to an assistant (or possibly an answering service). If you don't speak to an instructor, you will hopefully get that chance when you visit.

You may want to ask some questions, such as how their school works, when classes are, the general range of rates, the types of services offered, etc. What they avoid saying can be as important as what they do say, but if it seems worth investigating further you can find more information at the studio.

When you visit, you should be able to watch a class of the type that you would be participating in. Even better, you should be able to actually participate in that class so you can actually feel how it would go. Some places do charge for a single lesson, which may be reasonable. If you are excited about what you have seen so far, it is probably a good investment to see if this is the place for you.

Observe how the students interact with each other and with the instructor, and think if that is an environment you want to spend a lot of time in.

Again, be wary of demands to sign a contract the first day you are there. A month's payment if you are excited to join is reasonable – that's hardly a long-term commitment. Unless you're comfortable making such large decisions (and commitments) immediately, don't get bullied into signing a multi-year contract on the spot.

If you enjoyed the class and there isn't an unreasonable commitment, it might be a good fit. If your questions have been answered to your satisfaction and you think this is the place, don't hesitate to sign up that day! Don't deliberate further after you've made your decision, you're ready to train!

If things don't go as planned

Hopefully the training will become a cherished part of your schedule as you improve your skills and health. However, if you decide after training for a while that the school you selected isn't for you, then shop around again. Hopefully you didn't sign a long contract – if you did, you might be able to get out of it within the first month (even if they try to convince you otherwise).

Good luck, and have fun!