Are all Martial Arts schools the same? How to choose a school.

The big Questions....

Today there are martial art schools at nearly every corner and shopping center, and the options in some cities are limitless. So how does one choose the correct school? Does one simply choose the closest school to their house for convenience and start there?

These are the questions that every parent or student will face when searching for a school near them. Hopefully this article can serve as a guide to understand what to look for, and how to save yourself time, money, and energy. A martial arts academy is defined by it’s instructors, their program, and their facility.  Simply putting yourself or your child into a school because it is close to you is a major risk. “Very few instructors have developed their skills at the highest level and learned how to teach as well as how to do the techniques. The secret that most schools don’t want you to know is that you can achieve more and learn faster when you have the backing of a proven system of training and support that is focused on your goals.” - Sensei Guillobel


In the book “The Ultimate guide to getting started in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu” by Sensei Paulo Guillobel, he outlines multiple things to look for when selecting your potential school. First he suggests that you research the instructors who will be teaching your classes. How long has this person been practicing Jiu Jitsu, and how long have they been teaching Jiu Jitsu? Not everyone that practices Jiu Jitsu has the experience, leadership or communication skills to teach Jiu Jitsu effectively. Research information outside of the schools website, as anyone can make themselves look good on their own website. It is also important to research who they learned Jiu Jitsu from, or did they magically become an instructor over night? Beware of fake black belts, or people earning black belts from MMA gyms. Instructors at MMA gyms are average at each martial art and never truly master one art form. Top level Jiu Jitsu instructors will always come from Jiu Jitsu specific schools like Ribeiro, Guillobel, Atos, Art of Jiu Jitsu, Checkmat, etc. Especially in California you want an instructor who came from these specific schools because their systems have been tested year after year in competition. Research will show you that these schools produce the highest level of competitors and over all Jiu Jitsu practitioners because their level of instruction is far above the rest. 

'Don’t be a price shopper' when it comes to selecting a martial arts school. Calling and asking for the prices of each school near you and choosing the cheapest one is dangerous, and a huge waste of money. 9 times out of 10 the cheapest martial arts school will have the least qualified instructors. Sensei Guillobel again talks about this in his book when he talks about a story of a student in his academy. The student had been training for 6 months when he sparred with a friend who had been training for 2 years at another near by school. The student that trained 6 months easily beat the student who had been training for 2 years. So while the student that trained for 2 years may have found a school with ‘cheaper tuition’, he could have saved one and half years of his life and money training at the better school. I’m not suggesting the most expensive school will always have the best program, but price shopping martial arts schools is never the correct path.

The next step is to search for “Trial classes” that the school offers so you or your child can try it out. If a school doesn’t offer a trial period it may be because they want you to commit before experiencing their program. Sensei Guillobel says that this is a bad sign, and it should set off red flags. The best way to see if you like a martial arts school is to try it out for yourself. If there are multiple schools in your area with good instructors you may want to try them both out before making a decision. If you feel pressured into signing a contract or agreement without being 100% sure that you like the program and instructors walk away. 


What type of facility will you be training in? Do they have professional mats to ensure you can be safe while practicing the martial art? Is the school clean? These are just some of the things you should take note on while visiting the school. Are the bathrooms clean, is the staff warm and welcoming? Do the classes feel organized and structured? Do they start on time? These are all questions you can run through your mind to make an educated choice before committing. You want yourself or your child to be safe and healthy while practicing martial arts, so make sure to choose a professional facility that guarantees your safety. Which brings us to our next point…Are the instructors first aid certified? Are they able to deal with an injury if it was to come about within their facility?  

Do they offer a money back guarantee? Sensei Guillobel says in his book that most professional schools will offer some sort of guarantee when signing up or becoming a member. This is always a good sign that you are 100% covered if you start getting bad vibes from the school. Normally a school that offers this guarantee will have professional service with extremely talented instructors and staff. It’s important to make the correct choice the first time through proper research and trials but having this additional benefit is a great backup. 


Asking around will always give you additional insight into the school you are interested in joining. Have any of your friends or family trained at that facility in the past? If so, reach out to them and ask for their unbiased review on the school. Check the school social media pages to get a sense of their professionalism. Do they have professional content, are they putting out an image you agree with? While this may sound weird, sometimes you will discover things you really don’t agree with right off the bat by researching a gyms social medias. Are they promoting violence, religion, politics, or some agenda you’d rather do without while practicing a martial art? If you want to take it a step further research the instructors social media pages and get a feel for them as well. 

This topic could go on forever, but I hope it gives an example to the amount of research necessary before selecting a school. Choosing a school without research is dangerous and could be a huge waste of time and money. Driving an extra 30 minutes or more to a school with superior instruction, and facility isn’t a hassle, it’s an investment in your future. Beware of fake belt belts and people who do not have the experience or skills to teach you. Making the correct decision when selecting a martial arts school isn’t hard when you take the time to look into your options. Once you find the correct school for you or your child you will know you are learning real skills from qualified instructors, and can begin to invest in your future. 

Chad Keel