Finding the best martial arts school to join is a daunting task, especially since most U.S. cities accommodate a variety of schools that teach all different styles of martial arts. Simply selecting schools that have won the most awards, have the largest student body or train the most successful competitors could easily lead you to join a school that is not even close to meeting your particular needs. Simply looking for the "best" martial arts school is not really a helpful or applicable goal; rather, you should look for the best martial arts school -- for you.
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Before you can find the best martial arts school for you, you must decide on your purpose or goal for your training. You may want an effective workout that is less tedious than an hour on a treadmill, a social outlet with like-minded people, a means of learning self-defense skills, coaching to eventually compete in martial arts competitions or any number of other reasons. If you are like most people, your purpose will probably be a combination of multiple reasons like these.
Once you have a good understanding of your purpose in wanting to learn martial arts, you can decide which style of martial arts you want to learn. Not only does the world of martial arts include many broad categories of styles such as karate, kung fu, kickboxing, and grappling, but these categories can include many different specific styles. If you are a first-time student of martial arts, you may not necessarily be sure which style you want to learn ahead of time. The best schools should allow you to try introductory classes before requiring you to sign a membership agreement.
Regardless of your specific purpose and style goals when you begin training martial arts, there are also a number of more indefinable factors to consider. Jamie Ridgeway is the owner and head coach of the Renaissance Academy of Martial Arts in Lynchburg, Vir., a school that has won multiple "Best Of" awards. When choosing a martial arts school, Ridgeway says, "I personally think the values are more important than the actual martial arts."
It is a rather surprising statement when you consider that individuals who train at Ridgeway's school have been extremely successful in grappling, Muay Thai kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts competitions, even winning regional and national championships. However, Ridgeway feels that good values and quality instruction are both critical components of the best martial arts schools.
Not only do the best schools focus strongly on the values of their students in addition to their techniques, they also make the values of their instructors a top priority. Tom Callos is a professional martial arts school consultant who has helped make many different martial arts schools more professional and successful. He agrees with Ridgeway's opinion, saying that the specific style you learn is not as important as the people teaching the classes. The staff at the best martial arts schools should treat you with respect and professionalism both before and after you enroll and should expect and encourage the same from you.
Regardless of any other factors, Ridgeway and Callos both believe the single most important consideration when finding the best martial arts school is character -- character of the staff, character of the school as a whole and character of the students. In Ridgeway's words, "The martial arts are fighting arts and the leadership must be responsible and persons of integrity and discipline -- or else avoid that school like the plague!"