|My youngest, Dy, performing a kata|
at a tournament in April of 2016
Please note that picking a school or dojo is different than picking a style of martial arts for your kid, although at the beginning of your journey if you're not schooled in martial arts, you will essentially pick both at the same time. That is, if you have no clue about martial arts styles, simply pick the best school you can find and go with that.
|KJ studying/watching the match that will |
determine who she will face in the finals.
The Girl on the left is Traditional Karate,
Girl on Right is Muy Thai Style.
This was in October 2016
With this as the background, here are some pieces of advice I'd give anyone who asks me about picking a place for their kid to learn martial arts.
|Dy bringing out her inner|
Animal with her incredible
Coach, Sensei Li Gonzaelz
before a match
- The martial arts school you're looking at actively spars (e.g. at least once a week). Schools that don't spar are like schools that teach words and sentence structure, but not how to have a conversation. Now, if the school has a rule about not sparring until a certain level is obtained, that is totally cool... just be sure that within a year, your kid is sparring every week.
- Ensure that the martial arts school's instructors are not paper black belts. With the online world and paper-mill universities, there are many self anointed Martial Arts experts. Verify that the instructors at the dojo in question have either earned trophies in open competitions (and can show them) or that they have been trained, anointed, and endorsed by someone in the Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
- Be sure the head instructor isn't a dick. The head instructor sets the tone, so if he or she is an asshole, you can bet everyone is too. Take the time to talk with them, ask questions. We've tried schools, experienced this, and moved on.
- Avoid Franchise Martial Arts schools like the plague, especially if you -as the parent- don't have a lot of Martial Arts knowledge and you can't qualify the quality of the instruction yourself. These money models will look polished and slick for sure, but if you really want your child to learn martial arts, you will be disappointed by the end result. I'm all for making money, but not at the expense of my kid.
- Try before you buy. That is, do the free week or month first (if a school doesn't offer this, move on). We've avoided big mistakes by trying for a week, and never going back. The school may be awesome, but you or your kids may simply not fit in. This happened to us. Awesome school, but our world views and social circles were way out of synch.
- Ask for ALL the costs for belt/level testing. You would be surprised at how much these tests
Belt Testing At Our Dojo is No Joke. The Amazing Shihan Gonzalez
doing his thing, pressing these kids to push push push. 5+ Hours:
Conditioning Tests, Skills Tests, Kata Tests, Sparring, Board Breaking
- Find out how frequently belt/level testing is. Some schools use belts and level testing as a critical part of their revenue stream. So, they will have a low monthly tuition cost, but just about every other month you're paying for some form of testing. They may even charge and test for intra belt levels. Intra-belt testing is the practice of adding stripes to a belt, before allowing the student to test for the next level. As an example, a white belt may have to earn 3 ticks on their belt before they can test for yellow. If there is a charge for each tick, you need to know. We attend schools that don't charge for this, but there are some schools that do.
- Don't be fooled by belt progression. If the school brags about how quickly your kid can make it up the belts, you need to show how quickly you can get out of that school. My girls have been training for 6 days a week, with 2 or 3 days being double days, for over 4 years and they are still years away from a black belt at their home dojo. It is always funny when they are matched up at a tournament for skills comparison with a Black Belt, who is their same age, from a quick-belt progression school. The difference is striking (pun intended). While confidence boosting and motivating, quick belt-progression will create an exaggerated sense of ability that will be quickly exposed should they have to apply their skill in a real situation. As an aside, these quick progression schools are derisively referred to as McDojos in the Martial Arts circles to help highlight that things are quick and hardly worth eating.
- Find out about the schools tournament schedule. Like belt/level
testing, many schools use
KJ earning 1st in Continuous Sparring
At an April 2016 Tournament
- Find out if the school goes to open tournaments. Open tournaments allow for the mixing of styles and are open to any school. If the prospective school only goes to tournaments of the exact same style and only to schools within a certain group or clique or franchise, avoid the school. Many weak martial arts schools limit their students to only going to tournaments also done by weak martial arts schools... heaven forbid you see that what your kid has been learning is all bullshit. [please note, I'm being very technical with my terms here .... by mixing of styles, I'm meaning that if your child practices a striking form such as Karate, they should be able to compete in a striking tournament that could have Tae Kown Do, Karate, and even Muay Thai with leg kicks restricted]
- Does the school restrict you to ONLY study at their school? If the school says something like, "you must train only in our school/system", then run away. Sure, you may hear "it will be too confusing to attend multiple schools" which is true, but what you're really after is if the school restricts you or not. You may or may not attend multiple schools simultaneously (and in my opinion your child shouldn't if they have less than two years of martial arts training), but you just want to get a feel for how open the school is. Schools that are closed minded often have something to hide, like their techniques suck.
- Watch out for sentiments like, "Our style and approach is unique, and you can only get it by only learning here" or "we've developed our own style." It is VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY (get the point) rare that you will meet a person who is not only qualified to invent their own system, but who actually has. Over the many years of my own training, I've only met one such person and he doesn't have a school nor does he teach children. I could gush on and on about this guy, and what it was like to have him directly coach me (boarding on bromance), but the point is, if you're being told that the school has a system they created, run away!
- Ensure that the location of the Martial Arts school you attend is a
place you are willing to drive to a lot. Sometimes this point gets
lost, but there will be days you simply don't want to drive to the dojo
for your kids, so if it isn't convenient or easy, you will find a
reason to not go. After a few of these "let's skip the dojo" in a row days, it will be very easy
just say, "yeah, we're behind now ... we should find something else to
Both Sisters Walked Out With
Lots of Hardware in this
March 2016 Tournament.
- Do they allow Kids to train with Adults. Our society has made this a taboo in many cases because of all the sickos out there, but it is good for children to have to train with adults periodically. The power and speed of an adult in a dangerous situation can create fear and panic in a child, so having the opportunity to practice with a variety of adults will help remove some of this. At my dojo, I'm asked to spar kids in a variety of age ranges and abilities, and of both genders. I do so for the kids benefit (I'm a 6', 200 lbs, fit, bald, male). In a ground fighting grappling situation, this can be uncomfortable for parents (especially of girls) to watch when their kids have to wrestle a grown man. Let your parental instincts judge the interactions. The instructors will also help ensure such sessions are productive and appropriate.
- Cleanliness is critical. In a good dojo, the students will produce lots of sweat and tears with the occasional drop of blood. Staff infections are always a possibility, and colds and the flu spreads easily in an environment like this, with all the body contact. Walk the dojo, touch things. Are they nasty? If so, move on to another place. How do the bathrooms look?
- Mirrors are important. Ensure that there are plenty of mirrors in the dojo, ones that allow you to see your entire body and even the entire class. Regardless of the style, watching yourself in the mirror as you train provides huge benefits. Even in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools, where there is a lot of ground level action, you should see mirrors aplenty. Mirrors also let you watch the instructors from many angles. As a move or sequence is demonstrated, with mirrors the students will be able to see what's happening from all sides.
- Ensure the school has at least one female instructor on staff. This piece of advice applies if you have sons or daughters, and the reasons behind it could be a blog post of its own. That said, the finesse, grace, and speed of an expert female martial artist is incredible to experience first hand and eye opening. Regardless of their size or strength, through their skill they can handle other fighters aptly helping to keep egos in check. You will also find that their demeanor and approach will many times be different than the guy instructors, and their unique approach or view ends up unlocking some skill or technique your child just couldn't get.
|Some of our Dojo Family after a tournament. These are our brothers and sisters.|
If you want a real-life example of a martial arts school that does all of the above, you should visit our home dojo in Winter Garden, Florida (www.wintergardenkarate.com/) . The school opened in 2004 and has since brought the hundreds of families the beauty of Martial Arts in central Florida).
If you decide to incorporate Martial Arts into your life as we have, show your child your commitment by being a full on family member of the dojo. That doesn't mean you have to take classes too (even thought that would be awesome), but you need to demonstrate your support by doing things like buying t-shirts from the school, asking about private lessons for your kids, and serving as a parent representative of the dojo at local school or community functions.
Your dojo has financial commitments itself, like rent, insurance, and payroll that has to be made regardless if you're there or not. If you're going to miss a few weeks or a month, but plan on being back, the school still has to cover its costs so you should still pony up the money to keep the place in business even if you're on vacation.
You can also help the school by doing social media posts with pictures of your kids and their martial arts achievements while tagging the dojo or publicly thanking their instructors. Offer to clean the mirrors in the dojo, or mop the floor for the school and let your kids see that. You can take the Shihan, Sensei, Head Instructor, Coach, Professor, or whatever to lunch once and awhile. Most of these folks don't make a lot of money, and your generosity will be appreciated. I've learned a lot about how to help my girls improve over such lunches.
Yes, a martial arts school is a business, but it can be so much more. Find the more, and give your kids a gift that will benefit them the rest of their lives.