How to choose a martial art school

 in Sparks - Shin Gan Dojo

How to choose a martial art school…

Karate, Jujutsu (Ju jitsu), Ninjutsu, Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do, Tang Soo Do, Shotokan, Goju, Shorin Ryu, MMA (mix martial arts), sport fighting, self defense oriented… the list go on.

They are all good. Some are geared towards self-defense, some for competition. Some are suitable for kids, some not. The search can be confusing.

You may be asking yourself, just how do I choose the right martial arts school?

Here are some things to consider and some questions to ask when searching for the right school. It should help narrow your search.

Keep in mind that most parents will look for a school inside a reasonable driving distance of their home.

Adults will usually find a martial art system they think will fit the bill, and then commit to that school regardless of distance (within reason).

The first trick is to find the best quality instruction you can.

The next trick, for parents, is to understand that kids will want to do the martial art even if they don’t understand that the school has little discipline or actual instruction going on. It’s a time to play and have fun. That’s all they will care about.

So be careful of the trial period. Check out each one before committing to a trial period. Kids will hook on the first one they try, because it’s fun, not because they understand the bigger picture.

All of this will mean little if you have one or no school in your area. You’ll be stuck with the local school unless you are willing to drive further distances.

So lets get into the things we need to consider or ask the school…

Mixing Kids with Adults…

Some martial arts schools can teach kids and adults together in the same class. Some cannot. In fact, not every teacher can or even likes teaching children. Special kids and difficult children pose a challenge for the inexperienced teacher.

If the training doesn’t necessitate working with a partner then mixing children with adults isn’t an issue. For instance, when a martial art system is solely based on memorizing patterns in a solo exercise called Kata, the whole class can be taught as a group regardless of age, aptitude or physical size.

On the other hand, if the martial art system you seek requires interaction with fellow students then mixing kids with adults isn’t ideal.

When a martial art program pairs training partners together, the exercises are called Waza. The class participants are grouped by size, gender, age, experience or some combination there of. Because one cannot predict the body type of a real life attacker, one will want to be able to perform the exercises on a variety of people, even those who are bigger, stronger, smaller, stiffer or more flexible.

But there is little value in adults performing these types of exercises on children, and it’s near impossible to for children to perform them on adults.

So, ask…

Does the school teach kids?

Is the teacher and instructors good with kids?

Are the kids grouped with the adults?

If so, what is the age cutoff?

At the Shin Gan Dojo we group our kids with other kids of the same ages. Kids age 4, Kids 5-6 Kids 7-12 Young Adults 13-17 and then Adults 18+. On Saturdays we mix young adults with adults so the young adults have a chance to train with more mature and experienced practitioners. Otherwise, kids stick with kids, adults with adults.

Sport Fighting versus Self Defense...

Do you want to prepare for real life encounters or competition fighting?

Each has their pros and cons. Typically, sport fighting has rules and boundaries whereas self-defense does not.

The person who shies away from competitive / team sports usually excels when they themselves are the only person they are competing against.

That’s not to say that competitive people aren’t found in self-defense arts, it’s only to say that competition isn’t the main emphasis, survival is.

If the thrill of winning, competing, trophy or reward overrides the desire to learn, cooperate, harmonize and study then a competition-based martial art would be the better choice.

Be aware that when the participant’s goal is to win over their opponent, care for the training partner diminishes and potential for injury increase.

Once having decided which style you are interested in, ask the school representative which style they emphasize, competition or self-defense?

We are a survival art, not a sport art. We have no forbidden targets or rules to memorize. That means the only safe way to train is through slow and controlled repetitive motion. The better you get, the faster you can train without injury to yourself and others.

Class size determines Quality Control…

Large classes offer a higher level of excitement when compared to smaller classes. Smaller classes offer more individual attention. Larger classes are fun but less instructive. Contrarily, the less attentive person will bore or lose focus in smaller, more academic classes. If you or yours need the focus, then the small more academic classes will fare better.

Because the size of the class determines quality we need to know…

How many students are being taught at one time?

Will the student get the attention they need to improve?

Are the kid classes taught with structure and discipline?

Do the children act like they are on the playground or daycare center?

Are the single instructor classes capped to manageable sizes?

How many instructors are present during the larger classes?

What about the instructors?

Usually martial arts schools have a main instructor, one they call Sensei (Japanese) or Sifu (Chinese).

Some schools have assistant instructors who either assist the main instructor or head their own classes.


If the school you are inquiring about has assistant instructors, ask these questions:

Are the instructors mature?

Do they have any real life experience?


Are they merely kids with no life experience passing on more inexperience?

How much martial art experience do they actually have in the martial art of choice?

If the school you are inquiring about has just one sole instructor, ask these questions:

Can the instructor handle the size of the current class?

What is his max capacity?

Are the students who need more care falling through the cracks?

The simple fact is this; quality is higher when the student body is smaller. Quality diminishes if the instructors are too young or inexperience or are simply not present. The quality of instruction will increase along with the amount of qualified assistants.


We are staffed with two part time instructors, one full time dojo manager who assists with everything from signing new students to coordinating special events and myself the primary instructor.

Commercial Locations versus Other Locations...

There was time when teaching students from the park or garage was prevalent. (Not so easy here in Reno or Sparks Nevada.) Usually that is only suitable for adults, as the teacher taught after his day job work hours late in the evening.

YMCA’s or after school programs are still a common option for kids.

The benefit of the non-commercial locations is the price. $50 per month is average for once or twice a week. But there are many potential problems to watch for…

If the teacher has a job, will it ever interfere during the very hours they promised to be teaching?

Will the pursuit for higher pay lead to class cancellation?

In such a case, can the instructor find someone qualified to cover the class?

There are problems too when a martial arts group is subletting from a dance hall, yoga studio or even another martial arts school…

If the martial art school isn’t the main business’ focus, problems like shutting down, moving the business, changing hours, switching rooms and even lack of interested students can plague the student body and potential student.

Will the owner / manager of the business even know you exist?

On the other hand, the drawback of a commercial location is higher prices. However, the benefits out weigh the detriments…

Having a commercial school dedicated solely to the martial art usually means a more professional and courteous staff and atmosphere.

The commercial school will usually have more classes throughout the day and week to accommodate a variety of people and their schedules.

The commercial school is less likely to shut down for trivial reasons.

Larger schools will be staffed with instructors and assistants.

We are a commercial school with a track record of being in business at this specific location for over 10 years. We teach adults and kids, men and women. We have regular hours and a healthy class schedule to accommodate morning classes and evening classes…

This should help you build criteria for your search. If still in doubt, feel free to email me at: I’ll gladly answer any questions you might have…

Sensei Brian Simmons

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