When I’m not being an internationally renowned blogger and lifestyle Instagrammer (did you catch that picture of my soup yesterday? Genius, I tell you) I teach kids who are learning English as a second language. I was astonished the other day when one of my students, from China, told me he did taekwondo. “But aren’t you…shouldn’t you… don’t you do Kung Fu?” I asked awkwardly, assuming that in China, they wouldn’t do a Korean martial art in favor of a Chinese one.
He doesn’t have enough English yet to explain to me the reasons, but it made me think about why people choose one mode over another. If you are shopping for a martial arts school, for yourself or your kid, here are some things to think about.
Disclaimer- many of my examples I give here are specific to Taekwondo, but I don’t have any particular agenda in spreading the Taekwondo way. I just have things to suggest.
Brand: Kung Fu, Krav Maga, Karate, Tae Kwan Do, Jiu Jitsu, fencing, and boxing are all martial arts. There are others I don’t know how to spell, and others I probably don’t even know about. If you live in a small town, you may have only one choice.Bigger cities, the choices may be overwhelming. Some schools emphasize culture more than others. For example, in the Dojang I belong to, we bow to the flags, we use Korean, and have a high level of formality. Other Taekwondo schools have much less of that. One young student last week told me his mom didn’t like it when we made him bow. If that is the kind of thing that bothers you, maybe shop around for a less formal school.
Goals: Is your goal fitness? MMA championships? Self-defense? Self-discipline? Different schools lean different ways. Some have very strong tournament components, some emphasize sparring or bully-proofing. Some schools have a strict schedule for testing, with a clear path of advancement in belt ranks, some emphasize that less. I have read that one reason Taekwondo has become more popular than Karate in the US is that there are more color belt ranks as students move up from beginner levels- suburban parents apparently like the regularly scheduled advancement.
Community: even though I am the very definition of a suburban parent it wasn’t the regularly scheduled advancement, that has kept our family at our school.It was the sense of community. When I say we belong to our dojang, I mean it, we really belong. Visit classes, and observe how people interact. Do the people who have just spent an hour kicking each other seem to like to hang out with each other? I understand that with kids there is always an element of being dragged to lessons, whether it is soccer or piano or a martial art. But watch the kids who come for class- do they seem happy to be there? Also, check the number of teen black belts. Once people become black belts, do they move on, or do they continue training for second and third degrees? Out of all the activities that teens can choose from, they are choosing martial arts- that is the sign of a good school.
Size of School: Think Goldilocks for this- big enough for a variety of classes and options for class time, with reasonable numbers in each class. If you are an adult looking for an activity to do with your children, see if there is a family class option- it is how I started, and why I continue. It is just fun being with my kid and other parents and kids.
Affilation: The Kukkiwon is located in Seoul, South Korea, and is the governing body of the World Taekwondo Federation. Taekwondo is also an Olympic sport, and as such, there are rules and regulations meant to maintain standards. Other martial arts have similar organizations.When you are considering a school, check that they have affiliations with a larger organization. We all love The Karate Kid, but it might not be the best idea to study with an old guy who makes you wax his classic car collection. Just sayin’.
Cost: I take yoga classes at a variety of places, and it costs from $8-11 per class. Memberships at athletic clubs in my area are around $60 per month.Our classes at the Dojang are roughly $60 per month, and we can take as many as we want. The minimum attendance is 2 per week in order to be eligible to test, but we could go 5 days a week if we wanted. Per class, this winds up cheaper than yoga or spin or barre. Activities for kids vary in cost as well, from the super cheap, “go play outside!” to the crazily expensive traveling sports teams. Please don’t let cost be the deciding factor in what community to join for Martial Arts. When my daughter was first interested, we decided to let her get her feet wet at the recreation center, with a basic Taekwondo group class. I honestly don’t know what she learned. Looking back, I wish we would have joined our school sooner.
I keep talking about our Dojang, and how much we like it. If you are in the Northern Colorado area, and want to check us out, we would welcome you. Here’s the link, drop in to observe a class and ask questions. .