First let me say "welcome", as your martial arts journey has begun! You might be thinking "How has it begun by just reading this?" I'm of the opinion that THE MOST IMPORTANT part of your journey involves making the right choices. I've seen and heard from more people than you could imagine who made the wrong choice, who wasted lots of time and money, and often they chose wrong due to a combination of factors such as: "convenience", "lack of knowledge in how to make the right decision", "enrollment sales tactics that didn't divulge certain truths", and "contracts". I believe acquiring the information that helps you make the right decision, is of the utmost importance to achieving and experiencing a successful journey in the martial arts. But where and how do you acquire that information? My belief, only someone whose sat on the other side of the desk from you, knows all the ins-and-outs to provide you the information you need about: instructors, schools, styles, and many dark/dirty business-side games/tricks that often aren't divulged...you won't even see coming...or know to ask about. Simply put, you having that information leads to knowledge, knowledge to understanding, and understanding ultimately gives you "power" to decide what's right for you, versus someone not having an opinion and being easily swayed by ruthless sales tactics. Personally, I think many instructors/owners hope prospective students don't know the things I'm about to mention, and want you to remain clueless about them!
What do I mean when I imply "many instructors don't want you to know certain things...and want you to remain clueless about them"? If you don't know certain things, its easier for instructors/owners to set traps for you. A naive and uninformed prospective student typically doesn't ask many questions, doesn't know EVERYTHING they should ask, doesn't know what should be red flags, how to object to certain things, and is thus much easier to sell too (and lock into a contract)! It comes down to this, many instructors run their schools with the same business model as a health club. That business model basically dictates you sign-up as many bodies as you can, you don't care whether or not they truly show-up and train, that it's all about acquiring and maintaining headcount-on-contract! Their enrollment process demands that you set a "business appointment" to meet with them (to be sold), and they know they had better sign-you-up on the spot, or there's a 95% chance you won't come back! And of course they NEVER mention any potential negatives about what they teach, how they do things, or their business practices! So you'll likely meet with someone who tries to engage in the typical sales BS of small-talk, searching for common ground/interests to act like he cares about you, after the chit-chat is over he eventually presents pricing options that are designed to get more appealing, the longer you commit-in-writing to staying with his school. He opens a drawer, pulls out his standard contract, slides it across the table, and expects you to sign it.
Their ability to successfully get you comfortable enough to sign a contract, guaranteeing that you pay them a certain sum of money for a certain amount of time, is directly proportional to how they make you "FEEL" during that initial meeting. Creating positive feelings and establishing a perceived emotional I-care-about-you connection is the basis for them getting what they want (signed contract), and makes it painfully hard for you to come across as offensive by saying "no" or "I want to think about it" or "I want to look at some other schools". Many of these school owners go to expensive sales seminars, specific to running a school, that teach them how to get in your head emotionally, overcome all your possible objections, and many of the seminars they attend GUARANTEE if they use the shrewd sales tactics they teach, they will increase headcount or they get a refund on their seminar money!
Instructors/Owners learn how to emotionally connect with you, often by asking questions to find your "hot buttons" (why you're interested), then they exploit those emotionally to create a sense-of-urgency you want to act upon RIGHT THEN AND THERE (via their contract). Their goal is to break-down-your-guard if you came in with one! Basic Sales 101, they use emotions ("painting a mental picture in your head you crave and want to act upon RIGHT NOW"). Think about this concept, and how you've seen it throughout your life, emotions erase rational thought! What's interesting, one of the martial arts core concepts is suppose to teach students how to not be emotional, yet in the sales process the instructor wants-and-needs you to become emotional, to more easily make the sale! What a paradox! I was once very good at getting students to sign-on-the-dotted-line, likely due to having been a former assistant Dale Carnegie Sales Trainer, and in my best month got over 30 new students on contract! Yet I stopped believing in contracts, for many reasons mentioned here and on other pages at this website! The sense-of-urgency they try to establish TODAY, via feelings, salesmanship, and today-only-deals, so you choose them before walking out the door, has nothing to do with whether or not they can successfully make you skilled TOMORROW. Translation: a good salesman doesn't mean good instructor, yet the salesman aspect is how most students decide! But come TOMORROW, or a few months down the road, should your "feelings" change and you feel you aren't getting "skilled", getting out of their contract becomes difficult. If you think about it, the whole front-end of this process for the student is crazy, and truly only benefits the school. Someone is convincing you to commit too making a monthly payment to them, for a certain amount of time, and you don't know if they can deliver, regarding their ability to make you "skilled". Yet if they can't make you skilled, they want you to still be committed to their contract.
What they hope-to-God the second you walk in the door, is that you're just another naive martial arts consumer, that doesn't know what to ask, look for, or think about, so that you're a "slam dunk", regarding their goal of signing-you-up today so that they add you to their students-under-contract headcount! Their worst fear is that you'll say "I want to check on some other schools". Yet be prepared should you say that for their even more high-pressure tactics in which they use "rebuttals", "closing techniques", and "today-only counter offers", they learned at expensive seminars, so that you sign on their dotted line before leaving. Again, their goal is to do whatever it takes to get you to sign (or leave a small amount of money) before you leave, because statistics say once you walkout that door, there's a 95% chance you won't comeback, and someone else will sign you up, meaning you've become a "lost opportunity" by sales definitions. Due to a lot of low quality instruction I've seen in our area, I think you should walkout of EVERY DOOR that tries to force upon you a CONTRACT to sign.
So with long-term contracts being the norm, combined with 98% of students quiting before making it to blackbelt, you risk losing thousands of dollars and months/years of your time. Choosing the right style, instructor, and school are some of the most important decisions you can make with regard to your martial arts training. You need to make the RIGHT decision, and more importantly you need to spend the time it takes to choose wisely. Otherwise, you could end up being one of the 98% who never reaches his goals and gives up, because you pick one place, telling yourself you're going to give it one-shot, and that place skews your perception of what martial arts should be for adults! So let's explore how style, instructor, and school are all tightly intertwined, and why you need to carefully think about each.
But first let me clearly state this, whether you choose our school or someone else's, I strongly encourage you take the time to continue reading this page, along with the other webpages we list at the bottom. It may take you 30 minutes to do so, but at a minimum you will be more educated on how to pick the right instructor/school/style, which I truly believe will prevent you from falling into numerous hidden traps that may either waste your time (6-60 months), money (hundreds or thousands), or expose you to other hidden agendas that could taint your perception of the martial arts forever. Our information should at the very least help you steer-clear of a myriad of problems, so that you find the right-path-for-you, which I feel is key to making sure you experience the rewarding and incredible journey the martial arts has to offer each of us.
The first question prospective students typically ask when calling someplace is "How much are classes?" Although price and having it fit within your budget is important, don't let it entirely decide where an who you choose. There are classes in Dallas that mostly teach kids for as little as $100 a month at YMCA's and Recreation Centers, then there are retail schools that specialize in only adults and charge $150-$350/month! The average for a Dallas school with it's own retail location is in the $150 range. The answer you really want to know is this "are the $150/month schools typically better than the $100/month schools?" I feel they usually aren't. What I've typically found you are mostly paying for when you get one of those fancy $150+/month schools is their $3,000+/month rent for that place. And due to that rent, and another $500-$1000/month in electricity, they resort to the health club type business model of "enrollment fees", "contracts", and they have to charge 2-3x what a place would charge you that didn't have a huge rent issue looming over their head each month. I personally hate that business model of having your own location, cause I don't think the games you have to play in it are fair for students. Its simple to understand why other instructors don't like it either, and that's why many either teach at a YMCA, a city sponsored Recreation Center, or sublease like I do, so that they can pay and charge a lot less than those who have their own retail location. Think about this, when an instructor doesn't have to concentrate on playing games with you and paying huge rent, what can he focus on? What should he be focused on?
Sometimes you'll call a school and they'll say "We don't quote our prices or programs over the phone", or "We want to get to know you in-person before going into that", or "Not just anyone can join, we have an admission process just like an exclusive private school...", and other BS excuses. This most often translates into "we charge more than other places...don't hang-up and call someone else, we need you on contract to pay our huge overhead....come see us in person so we can make you slightly uncomfortable to leave without saying "yes", via our sales process that gently twists your arm into choosing us." They know if they give you all the answers you want over the phone, and if their price is high, then what's the chance you'll come in, versus hanging up the phone and calling another school, and then another. Many school owners go to Karate School Seminars that tell them this "if you charge 3-4x more than a "Y" or Rec Center because of your overhead, don't quote any details over the phone, including price....set an appointment, otherwise you won't sign-up as many students...the mystery of you not giving them the info they want will drive more of them into your school than away". Rent is the biggest issue that drives the business model they must adopt to keep their doors open!
They want to see you face to face, to create a feeling they care about you, to make you feel connected to them and their environment, to give you their sales pitch, with their used car salesman type "today only offers" that everyone gets, and they want to make you feel a bit uncomfortable to say "no", "I want to think about it", or "I want to look around". Its easy to say "no" or "I want to think about it" or "call around" over the phone, yet much harder for you to come off as slightly abrasive/offensive against some karate guy face to face. Think about this, what is the purpose of hiding the money issue over the phone, versus telling you face to face. There is no other reason that's good for you! It is a game they play that originally came from the Health Club industry/chains, that was successfully used to get people in the door and on contract. Personally, I think if they don't quote their price over the phone, you shouldn't go see them! The ones I've found out that typically won't tell you this are the ones who charge the most each month, and they know if they do tell you, you'll hang-up the phone and they won't have a signed contract. No one ever signed a karate or health club contract over-the-phone! They always want to set an appointment for you to come in and see them, to get you to sign.
"Whats your price, do you use contracts, enrollment fees, or finance companies?"
Write that down and ask it word-for-word when calling around. The answers to that, or even avoidance thereof, will tell you whether or not your just another dollar sign to whoevers on the other end! If they say "yes" to any of it, I say hang-up and call someone else. If they dodge the answer or won't clearly tell you where they stand, again hang-up, because you're smart enough to know what that means. Their answer should simply be "we don't don't do any of that"! And definitely hang-up on the ones that constantly answer your question with another question, saying something like "Is that the kind of stuff you want to avoid? If so, I completely understand. That's exactly why you need to come see me. When would be a good time, tomorrow at_____or the next day at________". They basically haven't given you a yes-or-no to your question, meaning its more likely the answer is yes. They've simply turned-the-tables on you by letting you assume the answers you wanted, putting you at-ease, re-establishing control of the process, all the while weaseling themselves into setting an appointment with you. Once you show-up they'll spring all that on you when its uncomfortable for you to call-them-on-it when you're face-to-face! They know that most people will be uncomfortable face-to-face, giving a supposed expert in Karate an answer he isn't shooting for. Again, its much different to establish that over-the-phone, which is one of the reasons why they want you to come see them! I once went to the same sales seminars they did, I know the sales psychology of that process, how uncomfortable a student is in front of their possible future instructor, and the games that allows that instructor to get away with!
I publish everything about what we do on our website. Our school is $100/month, meets 2 days a week, no contracts, no enrollment fees, no kids, uniforms are optional. If the answers aren't that simple and straightforward, or someone says "it depends, because we have different plans", that usually means they have "several contracts" based on different lengths-of-time you're willing to commit to staying-with-them ( 6 mos, 12 mos, 24, 36, 48, and yes even 60 month contracts). The goal there always being "the longer you commit to being on-contract, the cheaper your monthly rate".
Another one of the worst ways to choose a school, especially for adults, is by location/convenience. Did you know statistics have proven that over 80% of martial arts students pick a school thats within 3 miles of their home? Yet if you're an adult over 30 yrs old and followed that statistic, chances are you'll end up picking one thats teaching adults stuff that only kids can do! My opinion, the 3 mile rule doesn't apply to adults. I've talked to instructors in some other cities that teach realistic techniques for adults, and several of them have told me they have students that travel 30-50 miles from their home, 2-3 times a week, to train with them because no one any closer teaches realistic techniques to adults!
If you just signed a contract and want out, you may be able in many states to take advantage of whats called the "3 Day Law", regarding being able to cancel your contract within 3 days of signing it. Some people say this law came about due to the health club industry! I don't know, I'm not a lawyer, and don't construe what I'm saying as legal advice. Get a lawyer if you need one, or sign-up for one of those $30/month "Prepaid Legal" services before signing a contract, and then cancel "Prepaid Legal" in a month if you want to keep the contract!
But if you try to cancel a contract you just signed on your own, don't be surprised if a school has a salesman do their student sign-ups and cancellations. They of course often get paid a commission for the people they sign-up! But be prepared, because cancellation in most schools typically means you have to go through what they designed to be an even more uncomfortable process, their "retention" speech to keep you, that they learned at an expensive Karate seminar. See, if a salesman has already been paid commission on you, and you cancel, they are often hit with what's called a chargeback. Meaning, since the student gets his money back, the salesman has to give back his commission. FYI - salesman don't like chargebacks, as this takes money back out of their pocket. Some schools have the salesman handle your cancellation. Often this becomes a game in which the salesman goes through his "retention spiel", wants you to "think about it" another day or two, or tries to avoid you, hoping he gets past the 3rd day with you, so its too late for you to officially/legally cancel.
FYI - you typically have to provide your "3 Day Cancellation" in writing, and prove that you got it in their hands in time, via some proof of delivery, or written proof from them you've been released! I've heard lots of people tell me they tried to cancel verbally, and that the manger/salesman/instructor/owner of the school played games avoiding calling that person back, knowing if they did so for 3 days the contract was still valid. If you're on the last day, I'd personally pay a $20-$50/courier to hand deliver it and sign for it, if that counts as proof-of-delivery (notification) in your state/area! Otherwise, look into doing that in-person, and getting them to sign/initial something that its cancelled, or maybe try USPS or one of the overnight companies. These are just general guidelines and not meant to be construed as legal advice. It would be best for you to consult an attorney about these sort of matters, or to sign-up for (1) month of Pre-Paid Legal before signing a Karate contract! Heck, maybe a Pre-Paid Legal company can help you get out of one you're already in, if you join them...maybe you can claim they weren't able to make skilled, or they didn't divulge certain things upfront, etc. Again, talk to an attorney, I'm not one, and this is not sound legal advice.
Funny thing, I heard of one student that got-the-better of an overpriced contract-hungry and enrollement-fee type school by asking for an extension on his contract, when in fact he wanted to cancel it altogether. He was a few months into his current plan/contract, and told them he wanted that longer-term one with the slightly better pricing he had originally been offered. He was smart and told them that he would sign the new one, but only if he knew for sure they would first void out the previous one. Of course that type of school was watering-at-the-mouth thinking they'd just been blessed with an easy upgrade that got them more money over a longer period of time. The student signed after they had officially cancelled out his previous contract, and guess what he did on the 2nd day of the new contract?...LOL! I love it!
There are many factors to consider regarding each of us finding the-right-path such as:
1. Is the school more focused on kids or adults? - how many adults do you see there?....few schools have an equal number of both...wherever the numbers lie, so typically is their focus, because thats where they make their money and thats what pays a majority of their bills....at our school we only teach adults!
2. What type of techniques do they teach adults? - do you see lots of ridiculous jump kicks 4 ft off the ground that risk injury as one gets older, and few adults over 30-40 could do, or begin learning to do?
3. Are they more sport-oriented or street-oriented? - we believe adults don't have time for lots of weekend sport-type tournaments, nor do lots of them want to wait around 3-4 hrs at one twiddling their thumbs until their division starts at an unspecified time...we keep hearing adults say they want things more street-oriented, and that keep them in-shape...if someone does want to participate in tournaments, we say that's fine in our school, but it is optional not mandatory.
4. Do they teach techniques you can become good at quickly, or techniques that take 2 yrs or more to become good at? - unlike a lot of places that focus specifically on long-term techniques, so they can get your money as long as possible before you get good and leave, we simultaneously teach both. If a place focuses entirely on techniques that take 2 yrs or more to become good at, what are you going to do during those 2 yrs if you have a street confrontation?
5. How many adults your age, and older, do you see at this (or your current) school? - very important...where will you be as you get older under their type of instruction?...do you mostly see kids, or people in their 20s?...where are their 30 and 40 yr olds?...is their training realistic for people that age?...if you are in your 20's at a place like that, and you don't see numerous 30 and 40 yr olds there, your time doing that type of training, and those techniques, may be shorter than you think?....are you wasting time, money, sweat, and effort in a place that once you hit 30 or 40, is teaching techniques you physically won't be able to do?...if you are in your 20's now and think your body is bullet-proof, believe me, in a few years that thinking will change....maybe you'll end up with chronic injuries and unable to continue...there are tons of blackbelts sitting at home because they were told to continue doing techniques that weren't good for their bodies, as they got older....example: jump kicks, acrobatic turning kicks, trying to do kicks too high as they got older, etc, that blow out ankles, knees, back, and hips...they likely should've at some point started doing lower or fewer kicks, and focused more on hand techniques, which is something we encourage our aging students.
6. Traditional style, Mixed style, or both? - we feel its best to teach both, a traditional style as a core, that allows the freedom to add other techniques outside of the traditional ones to it (thus "mixed").
7. Do they just teach 1-2 fighting ranges (punching/kicking) or all 4 fighting ranges (close and grappling too)? - we think it makes more sense to teach all 4 fighting ranges, so that at any distance/range someone might attack you, or if surprised/tackled from behind, you can appropriately deal with it.
8. Back-Up plan to kicking, should you not be able to kick one day? - unlike lots of local TKD schools, and 2 well-known TKD associations that pretty much only teach kicking (one fighting range), we teach 3 other fighting ranges, including lots of hand techniques, so that our students are better equipped to handle themselves should they one day become physically challenged to do kicks! Why throw all your eggs in one basket, investing tons of time, money, energy/effort in just learning to kick, especially if one day kicking unexpectedly becomes very difficult or near impossible for you?
9. Does the instructor have a black belt in just one style (one dimensional fighter?), 2 or more? - our Chief Instructor started in the martial arts 37 yrs ago and has REAL black belts in 4 different styles.
10. Is the schools instructor a nationally known authority in the martial arts, regarding his expertise/opinion? - our is and he's well-known by many active martial arts instructors and seminar providers....our Chief Instructor has a website that's nearly 10 yrs old, and that 10,000 people a month visit to gain information and advice related to martial arts training. He's likely had more in-depth conversations and discussions with a larger and more diverse audience of instructors and students, than many other instructors have.
11. Is the instructor still well-liked and respected by those he previously earned his rank from? - our instructors own teachers approve of his traditional/mixed approach!
12. Is the instructor "naturally talented" and was becoming great at martial arts easy for him? - if an instructor was a natural, that should be a RED FLAG to you. I'm of the belief that if an instructor made it on pure natural ability, and never struggled at becoming good, then it's very likely he'll struggle in trying to figure out how to make the hardest cases, other"unathletic students", become good. Why? How can he understand what he never experienced? Our instructor will be the first to tell you "I was born extremely unathletic, there are certain things I had to really struggle at more than others to become good at them, and there are certain things I absolutely still can't do, then there are things I figured out shortcuts on how to get good at". Our instructor focuses on what he can do and uses that way of thinking to explore with each of his students what they can-do.
13. Are you being taught techniques that work for you or work for your instructor? - There's a big difference! Again, your instructor may be able to do certain things you may NEVER be able too, and vice versa. A good instructor recognizes this and will individualize a persons arsenal of techniques around their limitations! I can't tell you how many instructors I've seen that try to create exact replicas/robots of what they are/were, and fail miserably time-after-time trying to do so! Why do they fail? Because we all have different body types along with physical strengths, weaknesses, and sometimes even injuries that create limitations. Add to that, fast twitch and slow twitch muscles, along with different levels and types of natural flexibility, and it becomes more diverse. A good instructor should recognize this and tailor each students training around it, especially when it comes to adults over 30 yrs old.
14. Do you have to sign a contract or can you pay as you go? - No contracts with us!. Due to numerous instances in which our instructor has seen low quality local instruction, and how people get locked into contracts that have no recourse, exposing students to collection agencies and bad credit ratings, along with noticing how many places teach adults hollywood-type street-unrealistic techniques that either won't last long for them (often not past 30 y.o.), or are likely tearing up their body past 30 y.o. to perfect/maintain, he doesn't believe in Contracts and thinks you should avoid them.
15. What if an instructor can't make you great and you're stuck with his contract? - Getting out of a fitness industry contract can be difficult, unless you know the ways out. This is why you should never sign one! However, there may be hope. See our article "Karate Contracts"
16. Does the the school focus more on forms, tournaments, sparring or street-defense? - we focus more on sparring and street-defense...feeling the 2 are closely related. However a couple of our students seem to like participating in tournaments and we're okay with that.
17. Does the school belong to national association or are they independent? - Gaining rank from independents can create issues for your rank recognition, should you one day move due to job or family issues! We belong to a couple of national associations.
18. Is it a fun-friendly atmosphere? - we believe that making friends who share the same interests adds to ones journey in the martial arts. The students and instructors frequently get together for different activities outside of class.
19. Are uniforms optional or required? - during our day-to-day workouts they are optional.
20. Do you have the Head Instructor/Owners home phone number? - if you don't have that, how do you know you're not just a dollar sign to him?...if he isn't also a friend, who interacts with you outside of the classroom, how do you know he really cares about you and your martial arts success?...are you afraid to call him or talk to him?...does he only call you if its about money?...each of our students has our Head Instructor/Owners home number!...if an instructor you're considering won't give you his home phone number, and he uses contracts, that should tell you everything you need to know about what you are to him!
21. Are you treated like you're insignificant and don't matter to the instructor, and that you need to constantly prove yourself as being worthy of his time and attention? - If you've tried martial arts before, you've probably run into at least one egotistical instructor thats treated you like you're an insignificant insect crawling around the ground by his feet? If you haven't seen it, I promise you its out there, and not hard to run into. Personally, I feel the student is more important than the instructor. Why? Because without students, there would be no one to instruct! Many instructors brush-over key concepts, and won't explain well why you should do something. They simply say or imply "do it because I said so". For some people, they perform better if they understand why they are doing something. If you're in a school and an instructor doesn't explain well the concepts behind the techniques, maybe he really doesn't know them! With some instructors, its easy to feel lost and confused about what you're doing, and why, yet too afraid to ask! My opinion, that is not a good environment for many types of students.
22. Regarding your uniform and gear purchases, are you paying less than catalog prices for them? - our students pay LESS THAN retail...ask this before joining!...if he says "you pay the retail catalog price", you are nothing more than a dollar sign to him!...all schools get a pretty large whole discount from Century, AWMA, Masterline, etc!...if he's getting a break from the manufacturer, why aren't you? Are you just a walking dollar sign to him?
23. Cost of classes? - Is it cheap, reasonable, or astronomical? We know the high-end and the low-end of the local pricing spectrum in our area, and we're right in the middle! We're of the belief that if its cheap, they might not be around long, and should that happen, often the rank you've earned may be difficult to transfer somewhere else, and you may have to start from scratch! If the classes cost too much, you're likely being gouged, and you're nothing more than a dollar sign to the owner!
24. Is this school part of an association that Copyrights the forms/techniques they teach and Franchises their schools like McDonald's? - For some of you, this will seem like one of the most unbelievable things you've ever heard, but it is indeed true, and it has incredible long-term effects on your martial arts training. There are a couple of VERY LARGE martial arts organizations, with multiple locations in certain major cities, who have copyrighted everything they teach (forms, one-steps, self-defense, names of each, etc). Why would they copyright what they teach? It insures they own the rights to who can use their material, and how, and that you can't ever publicly practice it, or teach it to someone else, unless you have their approval to do so, or you're subject to being sued. Their approval for you to teach their material often goes hand-in-hand with you being a franchise (or under one) that's kicking back to them a portion of revenues, and allows them to demand and treat instructors/schools however they'd like too (often not well, in my opinion). Personally, I don't believe in belonging to organizations like that.
So what really gives them an advantage in Copyrighting their forms and techniques? Prior to blackbelt, students have to invest thousands of hours learning the system an instructor teaches? If they control who can use or teach that copyrighted material, and a blackbelt or instructor starts thinking they don't want to be with them anymore, then that person faces having to spend thousands of more hours, re-learning something else! Basically, they think it's smart business for them to copyright EVERYTHING they teach! Think about this, if you become a blackbelt (instructor) of theirs, and you've invested thousands of hours learning their unique way of doing things, they can treat you however they want, pressure you however they want, and financially demand from instructors whatever they want. How do they get away with that? Because the system they've created is so detailed and time intensive to re-learn somewhere else, that blackbelt instructors would have to experience great time consuming pains-of-change to re-learn another system (and hopefully a non-copyrighted one)!
Funny thing, I've never heard of any school that teaches Copyrighted techniques, telling a prospective student before they sign a long-term contract with them, "Once you sign this, everything we're going to teach you is copyrighted, so you can't ever do it in public, or teach it to someone else, should you ever leave or quit us". In my opinion, its a failure-to-disclose on the front-end that's designed to basically own your martial arts career, once you become involved with them, or, to make the pain-of-change so burdensome that maybe you'll instead decide to stay at home/retire from martial arts, versus re-learning another systems techniques and opening a school that competes against them! How dirty and shrewd is that business design? Some of these organizations ex-instructors have told me there's another reason they do this, saying it creates an internal self-perpetuating structure that insures loyalty, through which their corporate organization/association continues to grow. Versus thousands of hours re-learning another style/systems, it forces their blackbelts to remain loyal and stay with them, even if they don't want too, and of course steers many who hope for some freedom, towards opening a franchise, which constantly kicks money back to the corporate association (via franchising fees and/or percentages).
Just imagine a litigious corporate entity, who via a copyrighted and tightly controlled curriculum, perpetuates a monopoly upon the masses they teach (via new blackbelts every few months), and takes away freedom-and-control from the instructor, to where he can't easily break away from their corporate claws. Compare the Copyrighting of techniques/forms to a fast food chain protecting their own secret recipes. Yet, isn't America about freedom and competition? When did learning and teaching one how to defend themselves become an almost patented process. Has America gone too far? Yet, there really are a couple of franchise-based martial arts associations that want to take your freedom to "continue on without them" away, or make it extremely painful to continue on, once you become highly skilled under them! Them not not fully disclosing all this to students prior to signing long-term contracts, is why I despise a couple of well-known franchise-type "Commercial Dojo's". In my opinion, it's just not right!
These kind of organizations/associations don't want competitors coming from within, and they want to make sure no one ever wants to rebel/leave/become independent, without forcing them to painfully and time intensively re-learning thousands of techniques, which they hope many likely won't, should they not want to not follow the corporate associations money-grubbing tactics, or demands. With those kind of organizations its all about: money, power, control, and trying to own each blackbelt/instructor they create for life, especially if that blackbelt wants to continue training or teaching their techniques/materials! Think, if you can't practice what you've learned, and it takes more than 1 person to practice many things you've learned (sparring, self-defense, etc), where are you going to practice it if they can dictate via potential lawsuit under what guidelines you can? You either play their game, their way, quit playing altogether (watching your skills slowly waste away), or you're forced into a painful change that will cost the average blackbelt hardship beyond belief! Some schools are brainwashed into accepting their associations rules about this, thus they fall into the same trap, where eventually everything they do becomes about money, so they can meet their corporate association demands. And guess what that does? Makes their Head Instructor/Owner more focused on association business matters, and their demands, than on being on-the-floor teaching his students!
So be sure you ask about "copyrighted" techniques before you start somewhere, and be sure to ask, "if I become a blackbelt one day, can I become independent and teach your material to anyone I want, without becoming a franchise and kicking-back money to their corporate association! FYI - I don't teach materials that are copyrighted, and refuse too, because I personally feel its immoral to spring-that-surprise on students once they hit blackbelt, thus trying to snare them into an instructional or financial trap for some self-serving corporate association/entity!
25. Convenience - Did you know that MOST STUDENTS choose a school/instructor/style due to convenience (worst way to choose) instead of going through any real point-by-point checklist like suggested above? Statistics show that most students live within a 3 mile radius of their school. Funny thing, most of the students of our school come from outside that 3 mile radius, many of them from way beyond that radius! The question one should ask is "why"? My opinion, it's because they've done their homework, gone through a checklist, and realize our way of doing things makes the travel-time worthwhile.
26. Instructors Rank - From what I've seen over the years, after a certain point, black belt rank has nothing to do with ability. Meaning, just because a person claims to be a 9th Dan, doesn't mean they have more speed and power in their techniques than a 3rd Dan. Quite often, I've actually seen the opposite, due to injuries, wear-and-tear, and aging. Meaning, a young 3rd Dan can actually have more speed and power in his techniques than a 9th Dan. In my opinion, most blackbelts reach their physical peak somewhere between 1st-5th Dan (degree), and/or between 25-30 yrs of age (regarding speed, power, agility, etc). Compare it to the average age of professional boxers or other types of professional athletes. What does happen as a person gets older, they get more experience, sometimes better at their timing, learn how to be sneakier and more deceptive, setup their opponents openings better, even becoming more confident/ruthless/brutal. A few might even look at gaining more knowledge by training in other techniques/styles. Yet I've more often seen locally some 9th degrees that don't know any more than 3rd degrees. Meaning, all they did was keep doing the same thing over-and-over again since 3rd degree, until someone promoted them to 9th degree.
Let me explain how one typically attains the higher blackbelt ranks. Many styles have formal tests up to 3rd degree black belt. In many styles/associations, there are no official tests after 3rd degree, and promotions after that are often time-in-grade (time since previous promotion), or based on a point system related to certain activities/goals being meet, sometimes they are simply meritorious, or due to someone remaining active in the martial arts, and/or their specific contributions to the martial arts. As for 9th and 10th degree, if someone is under the age of 50, they more likely attained that by creating their own martial arts style, and once they've done that, a styles founder can declare himself a 9th or 10th degree. Where issue comes with that is when someone gets there 1st degree, and/or is under 30 yrs of age, and creates his own style and declares himself a 9th or 10th degree. Why is that an issue? Because many "old school" instructors don't believe someone is worthy of a 9th or 10th dan until they are at least 50 yrs old, and/or have 30 yrs or more of martial arts experience!
I heard from what I'd classify as a reliable source that a group of 3rd-7th degree blackbelts, many of which hadn't been actively involved in the arts for years (retired), were all promoted on the same day by one well-known guy to 9th degrees! What's interesting is that many of these guys all use to run around for years making fun of, and pointing fingers at, people from other styles who claimed to be 9th degrees. Now they themselves all proudly run around wearing their new 9th degree blackbelts. How does the saying go...."don't throw stones from glass houses"...lol. Oh, what a tangled web we weave! This and similar stories I've heard is why I think rank after about 3rd degree doesn't mean a whole lot, regarding a persons current physical ability.
27. Tournaments, Trophies, World Championships, etc - If you walk in a school and see 100 trophies everywhere, don't let that be a deciding factor on whether or not you as-an-adult, want to take classes there! I've personally seen multiple instances in which a person goes to a tournament, there's only one other competitor in his category/division (maybe sometimes 2-3), he wins, and gets a 6 foot trophy. So if often there are only 2 people competing, he had a 50-50 chance of winning a 6 foot trophy. A lot of the trophies you see in a school could've been earned that way (with a 50-50 chance of winning)! Also, 90-95% of most tournament participants are kids. I've typically found less than 10% of adult students participate in tournaments! Many have families they'd rather spend time with on the weekends, other activities, or simply want a break on the weekends!
Now onto claims of "World Champion" titles "World Rated", etc. I remember a few years ago I opened up a Dallas Yellow Pages, looked under "martial arts", and I saw multiple ads from different TKD schools/instructors in our area, each claiming to have won a former "World Champion" title....lol. Wow, so out of over 1 Million TKD practitioners worldwide (real number btw), Dallas is the "world home" to numerous TKD World Champions...lol. Come on, don't believe the hype, and that person actually competed against thousands of other people to get that title! Funny thing, I've had to do lots of business travel all over the US. Each time I'm in a hotel room in a US city, I pick-up the yellow pages in the room, flip over to "martial arts", and guess what I see? Typically anywhere from 1-6 "world champions" in that yellow pages! I have quite literally seen that in hundreds of cities all over the US.
Remember what I said about having a tournament, and only 1-2 competitors shows up? Anyone can put on a tournament, or create a small kickboxing association in which only a few dozen or hundred people nationally compete out of millions, and claim that whoever wins is "World Champion". All one has to do is send out a few fliers to a small handful of other schools announcing that tournament, and afterwards slap the label of "World Champion" on the winner! Then instructors try to parlay that "world champion" title into some implied "worldwide known expertise"...lol! What's funny is lots of stories exist about supposed "world champions" in a certain art being defeated by street-fighters or "world champions" from another style. Just look at the UFC and other types of NHB-oriented events, in which "world champions" in one style are defeated by "world champions" in another style. A real street fight will likely be "no rules", lots of dirty fighting, and can likely have various types of striking and/or grappling involved. You better be exposed to all types of fighting, and know how to quickly end what you hope is the other guys "limited" fighting style, if you want to survive! Read the next topic, and you'll begin to understand how some people get away with these type of BS "world champion" claims and lots of other things they can claim.
28. Martial Arts is unregulated in the U.S. - there are no Federal, State, or Local government entities that set certain standards for instructors, what they teach, how they teach, what rank they claim, how quick they make someone a blackbelt, etc. It is literally up to an instructor, or the association he belongs too (at least others decide this way), to come up with their own standards. Some instructors are independent, meaning they don't belong to any association, and thus don't want to answer to anyone! Personally, I think its best that a school belong to some sort of a "reasonable" association, that tries to establish across-the-board, some set of standards. You may want to ask about that before joining a school.
29. Penalized for Absences? - Another school that states on their website they demand a certain amount of attendance per month. This of course could be construed to imply they will penalize adults for not maintaining that, I guess either via probation or either kicking them out permanently! Come on...adults go on vacation, they have business travel, get sick, have surgeries, have family matters to attend too, there's a multitude of valid reasons they might miss class! Just imagine signing a contract with someone like that, being kicked-out, and their contract has some tiny print or verbiage that can be interpreted to say "if you are dismissed from our program due to breaking our rules, you are still obligated to pay for your contract". Not sure about that school, but I've heard some other schools actually put "no fault you still pay" type clauses in their contracts! NEVER sign a contract for training!
30. Cussing, Screaming, Belittling, etc - When I read this one I couldn't believe it. One school implies on their website adults can expect to screamed at, belittled/demeaned, and it sounded like cussed at too. If an adult is trying their best, and they still haven't gotten a certain technique down, I don't see how screaming at them, cussing at them, and embarrassing them in front of others is going to motivate them. To me, that type of coaching seems counterproductive, inappropriate and unprofessional. I can't picture many with strong moral or religious beliefs, nor adult females, putting up with it. I was very curious about back-tracking and finding out if this was something unique that this school does, or if its origin came from higher up the food chain. I asked someone else who was very high ranking in TKD, who had some exposure with Jhoon Rhee (who is credited with first introducing TKD to Americans), if Mr. Rhee would have ever cussed at and treated students that way. The answer I got "absolutely not, he never did that, never would, and that goes completely against all core values and character building concepts of not only TKD, but most any martial art". Of course I thought and hoped that was the answer I'd hear, but I wanted to double check. I can't help but wonder if students wouldn't equate this type of treatment to the "Cobra Kai" type of instructor in the "Karate Kid" movies, or, like the instructor Joe Piscapo portrayed in the Chuck Norris movie "Sidekicks".
31. Interior/Exterior of School - did you know that some of the best professional boxers learned in some of the worst hole-in-the-wall locations? Yet for some reason martial arts consumers seem to be heavily influenced by lavish interiors/exteriors, and all the additional amenities that are provided. If you think that equates to an instructor that can make really make you good/great, your wrong! Don't let the inside/outside of the studio effect your purchasing decision. Think about the movie "Rocky", and the gym they showed! In fact, some of the best instructors I've seen, teach in places you could almost classify as less-than-diserable! Why? Because its more important to them to focus on teaching, than rent/business issues!
32. Paying more and getting less? - When you see lots of extras such as amenities, guess whose really paying for them? You are! If a school has a beautiful building, great location, lots of stuff on the inside for your convenience, I can almost GUARANTEE you they will require contracts! Financially they have to do contracts, to pay for that stuff and exorbitant rent costs! Contracts become a game they must play, with you being the loser (stuck with their contract if you don't like them or they can't make you skilled). But how do you feel about paying some landlords exorbitant rent costs, versus jut receiving the best training at the best price? Here's how that works financially. If you were to pay an average price in your town for lessons from someone, it almost always gets pushed up to the top of the pricing range, if they have to cover premium rent costs.
Rule-of-thumb about retail commercial space, the better the location, the more it costs! On one side of town it might be $10/sq ft and on another it could be $20-$30/sq ft! Cost is often decided by the age/condition of that space, the location, the economy of that area, the quality of other retail shops around you, and the volume of drive-by traffic, etc. Actually, I've more often found that the better the location and amenities, the lower/worse the instruction. Some may use that impressive outer/inner appearance to hide behind, or the instructor/owner is constantly so focused on matters related to paying those bills, such as recruiting-and-selling to cover those costs, than he is on teaching you! And guess who gets the least amount of his attentions when he's more focused on acquiring new students, or he's more focused on his bills/overhead, than he is on teaching classes? If an owner/instructor spends a lot of time talking/visiting with prospective students while a class is going on, this should be a RED FLAG, as it clearly states where his interests lie! If he's in the building while a class is going on (and if he isn't where is he?), in my opinion that instructor should be "unavailable" and out-on-the-floor teaching!
33. Beware of full-time schools/instructors - most of the quality schools I've seen in my area are run by people who teach part-time. FYI - a Karate school is 90% of the time an after hours business, after 5PM and weekends. If you're thinking about a certain school, ask if you can schedule a visit between 8-3PM/M-F ! That should clue you into whether or not they're a full-time or part-time business. Heck, don't be scared to ask "do you teach karate full-time or do you do something else?". I've noticed that there are quite a few lower quality schools in my area that try to make a full-time living at running a school. Often these are also the ones who rely on contracts, or have their own expensive retail location. If a person is trying to make a full-time living at teaching martial arts, be ready for them to be at the VERY TOP of the pricing range for your area!
Because a school owner charges more, doesn't mean he's a better teacher, could be because he has 2-3 other mouths at home to put food in besides his, and he's too lazy to do more each day than run a karate school 3-4 hrs/night, so that he can offer you a better rate! How would it make you feel to know you might be paying more than you should to cover not only his expensive location, but however many are in his household too, and he only works 3-4 hrs/day while you work 8 or more to pay his astronomical prices? Is it more reasonable to charge students a fair/middle-of-the-road rate for instruction, or for your monthly rates to be jacked-up so astronomically that you're helping pay for his kids private schools, and the his-and-her luxury cars they drive? Important clue about whether or not an instructor is all about money, say this "i've been thinking about getting a new car, what kind of car do you drive"? If it's one that's tough for you to afford, and he's full-time instructing, charging you somewhere between $150-$350/month for classes, guess whose paying for that car? Heck, you can go to your cities property tax records (many are online), find his address, and see the value of his house compared to yours! I hear a couple of multi-location karate school owners live in half million dollar houses! Now think about his car and house, in relation to if he's teaching martial arts full-time, take his number of students, times the monthly tuition, minus the rent (find a similar size location and ask landlord about price on phone), and then all that locked-in by guaranteed payments each month via contracts! Bottomline, try to figure out if this guy is all about money, and if he cares about money more then he does you!
34. Creating wealth by owning 1-8 Karate schools - I've yet to take one dollar out of my school bank account and have no issue proving that to any student that asks! Why is that a big deal to me? I know of too many people who own anywhere from one to several schools, and to me it looks like they aren't doing it so much for the love of the arts, or to provide hands-on instruction, as they are to simply create multiple locations all producing simultaneous streams of income! They figured out if they advertise a lot, use aggressive sales tactics, with contracts, it equals LOTS of students/money! There are a couple of guys here in Dallas who charge OUTRAGEOUS monthly fees for their classes, and guess what, they have multiple schools! There are instructors/owners quite literally making a $5K-$40K/month income off each school they own, because of how they GOUGE the students with their contracts and excessive monthly fees! Think about this, no head instructor/owner can simultaneously be teaching at two places at once, and if he can't be, then what's his real motivation for having multiple locations? Would you rather train with someone that loves to teach and is hands-on at one location, or makes it obvious he loves money more by spreading himself thin amongst multiple locations?
35. Enrollment Fees and Admin Fees? - I've heard of students being assessed a so-called "Enrollment Fee" of anywhere between $100-$500 during their initial signing-up! My opinion, this is BS. Wake-up, I've never seen a tangible enrollment fee anywhere, that was truly paying for something! Its just another way for a school to get extra money out of you they really don't need, or that goes directly into the instructors pocket as a commission for getting you on contract, or that goes into the owners pocket so he can buy himself a nice steak dinner for his family/friends that night! I DO NOT believe in taking advantage of students this way, and I suggest you refuse to pay this stupid fee to anyone who asks for it!
36. Finance Company Kick-Backs - As if charing the highest rates in the city for classes wasn't enough, along with Enrollment Fees, here they come again into your pockets with this one! You go to visit a school and they tell you "our minimum program is 36 months...if you could pay by check or credit card today I could get you a discount so all you have to pay is $4,680...if you don't have that, then we have a finance company we can set you up with, and you can get it for $162/month through them". Now wait a second, that 2nd figure is 25% more than the first one, so there's interest of $1,170 added to your $4,680 if you don't have it today! I've heard that some finance companies kick-back a portion of that extra $1,170 to the school!
37. "36 months or Blackbelt, whichever comes first" - A huge nationally franchised association will try and pull this one on you and its another HUGE REASON that I hate martial arts contracts. The wording of their contract is such that they are done teaching you, once you've either hit 36 months or blackbelt. Doesn't seem bad, but it really is, because in your mind you're thinking "okay, I'm paying for 36 months of lessons". You're wrong! What they try and do once you sign is rush you to blackbelt in 18 months, by encouraging you to test every month for their next belt! That way they've cut the time they have to spend with you in half, in relation to your contract amount! Yet you have to keep paying, especially if you signed up with a financing company. Basically, they are done with you once you hit blackbelt, unless you sign another contract! Your best bet, amend their agreement by hand in front of them and say "drop the word blackbelt in that phrase, and lets just call it 36 months and whatever belt I've attained by that time".
38. Double Contract/Obligation and Upgrades - So you're at 18 months, you've paid $160/month for classes, $50/month averaging your testing fees, and you just made it to blackbelt. Likely looking no better than a green belt at a real 3-4 yr school. If you used a finance company under # 36 from above you still owe them $2900 at that point! They tell you that now you can sign up for the "Masters" plan, a new 5 yr contract, and if you do so they'll roll that $2900 you owe into it, and to get you to take the bait for that, they offer to significantly discount the "Masters" plan "because we like you". Often, you're now paying double, or if you're lucky you're now running a factor of 1.25 to 1.5 of your previous $162/month obligation, but now for a new term of 60 months! And on an interesting side-note you'll often be told "your next rank requires that you've clocked-in thousands of teaching hours". Basically, you as a new blackbelt start teaching classes, not only for free, but you're paying them over $200/month to do so, because it's a requirement for your next rank to have taught an ungodly amount of hours! Tell me that's not a shrewd business design! Now you're not only free labor, but worse, you're paying him to work for him, for your supposed "next rank". Guess what? Often this is when you start seeing a lot less of the owner/instructor, because he figures why should he come by if you're paying him to teach his classes? He feels like he deserves a break now and that you should pay him for that!
Some schools will have multiple programs/plans they offer, sort of like a health clubs. What often happens is a few months before the end of your current program/plan with them, they'll request a time to meet with you one-on-one. This is their chance to try and sell you on an upgrade! They'll either try to sign you up on a new plan before the one your on ends, thus extending your length of obligation with them, or, upgrade and cancel out the plan you are currently on. Often you'll here things like "Bill, we've really grown to like you here and you're a real asset, and we'd like to keep you, thus I'm going to make you a very special offer financially and here's how that works.......". If someone throws this spiel at you, I say run, cause guess what they're after?
39. 18 months to Blackbelt? - If you've haven't had a lot of exposure to the martial arts, 18 months to blackbelt can look very attractive. But this kind of goes hand-and-hand with # 28 above, "Martial Arts is Unregulated". Anyone can open a school, claim to be whatever rank they want, and claim to create blackbelts however fast they want! The problem myself and other "quality schools" typically have with that, a blackbelt should possess skill that's not only as good as a blackbelt at most any other school (or better), but he should in my opinion be able to destroy any novice or intermediate type of fighter in the street! Personally, I think if another national association came back and said "Huh, 18 months to blackbelt, we'll do it in 12 months", that 12 month association could in 10 yrs be very large in the U.S. Humans want things quick-and-easy and will often opt for that, versus what's truly best for them! Basically, we live in a world that tells us "if it's faster, it's better". Most instructors believe that's not true when it comes to the martial arts. Basic principle, "the more time you spend doing something, the better you'll look at it". When I first started in TKD back in 1980, I stayed at yellow belt for over 1 yr!
The typical standard to blackbelt at what many consider to be reputable schools is anywhere from 36-60 months! Bottomline, you can't cheat time with regard to it making a students performance look better. Most people will tell you that an 18 month blackbelt at that associations schools looks no better than an 18 month Green-or-Blue belt at another associations school. It's not that this particular association is able to create in 18 months blackbelts that perform as good as 36-60 month blackbelts elsewhere, its that they've lowered their standards, and what they're calling an 18 month blackbelt literally performs like a green-or-blue belt at a 36-60 month blackbelt school elsewhere!
Due to martial arts not being government regulated or having any "all schools agree upon this" type-standards, anyone can say they create a blackbelt in whatever amount of time they want, but I've personally found that the longer it takes to create one, the higher skilled they look, the better they perform, and the more respectable and unquestionable that school/association! NTFA, the association I'm with, suggests 42 months to 1st Black - Decided! Should you earn a blackbelt from one of those 18 month schools, and ever decide to try and transfer your 18 month blackbelt into a school that's not associated with them, you will likely have an uphill battle! Most quality schools/instructors will be thinking "you perform no better than our green and blue belts here, sorry, but we can't accept you in our school as a blackbelt". Wouldn't it be interesting if that association that creates blackbelts in 18 months knew this would likely happen, and by design they knew this meant their students would stay, or came back to one of their schools, because they're schools are the only ones that would accept that rank at 18 months! Light bulb moment...if they lower the standards to where no other school would accept an 18 month blackbelt but their own, only do contracts, and combine that with copyrighted curriculum, someone's just created a very shrewd backdoor-type loyalty/retention plan for all their blackbelts, and that plan also has extremely positive long-term financial effects! Has any association I've heard of done this? Yes, I can think of a huge one that has!
If I were creating a checklist for visiting a school, the following 3 items would definitely be RED FLAGS: 12-24 months to blackbelt, contracts, and copyrighted materials!
Closing thoughts - It's easy to choose convenience, become swayed by sales tactics that lock you into a lengthy contract, realize 12-60 months into that contract you're not progressing as well as you'd like, feel pressured to keep paying on that contract and attending anyway, but as time goes by you become more frustrated feeling you're just wasting lots of time and money, you eventually quit, and thereafter have a tainted image of the martial arts forever! It does't have to be that way, and I personally don't want adults to experience that, and if even one adult is saved from that by this info, then its served its purpose! Yet I'm convinced 90% of adults that try martial arts do indeed experience a lot of the problems mentioned above! Why? Simply, a multitude of wrong choices on the part of students who don't have the necessary information to make the right choices, combined with instructors they run into who either care more about the almighty dollar than they do them, or, who don't make their training/techniques realistic for adults!
Adult students over 35 y.o., are in my opinion, often taught the wrong techniques (not realistic for their age or body type), and they get locked into a contract that doesn't easily allow them to escape, once they've noticed they're unable to become good at techniques instructors demand they become good at for rank requirements. Certain adults just don't physically have the body types, either once they reach a certain age, or possibly never, to become good at certain techniques! Some techniques they either won't be able to do, or will struggle beyond reason to try and do. This can vary from adult-to-adult, but the important part is many instructors don't take this into account, and their mentality is you either sink-or-swim, often trying to force adult students to become good at what they're great at (or were!). FYI - you may never be able to become great at certain techniques your instructor is, and vice-versa. I've seen many instances in which instructors don't realize this, and its as-if they take adults over 35 y.o., and try to cram a square peg into a round hole, forcing upon them certain techniques that only someone under 25 yrs old could likely become great at! You know what happens to the edges of a square peg when you force it into a round hole? That's what they're doing to an adults body!
Over half of the adult students in our school have tried martial arts somewhere else and now feel they found a real home with us! Our goal, to make our students skilled in techniques they can realistically do, in case we're the last school they try! I really don't think most other schools care about adults as much as we do, nor seriously look at each adult with the mindset "we will make this work for you, in case this is the only school, or last school, you try". It's a different way of thinking at our school, with the focus on individualizing techniques for each student, so all of them experience success! At our school its not about money, its about making adult students highly skilled as quickly as possible, by individually having each of them focus on techniques they're realistically able to do, based on their age and body type!
Hopefully this information has given you some ideas what to look for and what to avoid.
Whatever and whomever you choose, we wish you the best.