Congratulations on choosing Taekwondo as your Martial Art. This is an amazing art full of dynamic powerful kicking, beautiful poised movements that represent elements of life for each belt level, and above all a great journey to embark on. Challenges will be there, but rewards are waiting at the end as you journey from white to black and beyond.
Now that you’ve officially decided on Taekwondo, the next step is choosing a Taekwondo school and it is no easy task as there are many to choose from and they are definitely not all created equally. Here, we have compiled a list of tips which we hope that you will find useful as you begin your search.
1. Decide on a style of Taekwondo
There are two styles of Taekwondo, WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) and ITF (International Taekwondo Federation). A quick Internet search “difference between WTF and ITF Taekwondo will yield many results.
2. Check Instructor Qualifications
Is the Instructor Kukkiwon Certified? This is the official certification for Black Belts from Korea. This certification should be clearly displayed somewhere in the club. If it is not, don’t be embarrassed to ask to see it. If they are unable to produce it, then they could just be a “club black belt” and anyone can get one of these.
What other qualifications does the Instructor have? In Canada all coaches / Instructors should have completed some level of their NCCP (National Coaching Certification Program). This certification will soon be a mandatory requirement.
3. Try some classes (or at least observe!)
The fact is…it’s people that make a martial arts school great. Great Taekwondo schools are led by passionate instructors who in turn attract passionate students. There is a huge difference between an instructor who claims to have been doing martial arts for 35+ years, has certificates and medals on walls but never shows up to teach the class personally or hires instructors who clearly lack motivation and passion.
Observe the instruction and ask yourself the following questions: Do the instructors get involved in demonstrating the techniques, explain the reasoning behind them, the mechanics behind the technique, or do they just stand and yell orders and expect everyone to know how to execute the techniques? Do you like the instructor’s style of teaching? Are instructors positive role models? Do they seem to inspire their students? Do you think they are someone you and your family can train with week in, week out?
Don’t be shy to talk approach some other members and other spectators/parents to get their opinion of the school.
4. Look for discrepancies between the art and the school
Taekwondo is an unarmed Martial Art. In Taekwondo there are no weapons such as staffs or nun chucks. Unqualified Taekwondo schools may add weapons as a way to supplement an incomplete curriculum. However, some schools will add weapons or introduce other styles of Martial Arts once Black Belt has been reached to expand the students Martial Arts knowledge. Or, weapons may be offered as a totally separate program or as an optional add-on to regular membership and this would be more acceptable.
Traditional Taekwondo uses a white uniform called a Dobok. The white uniform symbolizes purity and perfection of character that Taekwondo students are expected to strive for. It is common for schools that do not understand the philosophy or history of Taekwondo to utilize lots colorful uniforms, stripes and patches.
Taekwondo teaches self-defense. Physical fitness is a pre-requisite for self-defense. Limited contact sparring is also an essential step to learning adequate self-defense skills. Beware of Taekwondo schools that do not practice any sparring. Also beware of schools that do not participate in competitions. Competition, not isolation, breeds excellence and brings out the full potential in all students.
5. Study the costs and be aware of additional costs
If you choose based on the lowest price alone, there is a good chance that you will not get the quality of training you are entitled to. Know also that just because a membership fee is lower at one school, does not necessarily mean you will end up paying less overall! Here are some additional fees to inquire about:
Grading fees are not included in membership fees. This is because not everyone will be ready to grade at the same time and it would not be fair to charge the same fee to a student who grades 4 times a year and to one who grades once a year and would put undue pressure to grade on those who may not be ready. Make sure you know the proper belt system (refer to the next section) and then find out if and how often you are expected to grade and what the fees are.
Protective Gear (Sparring Equipment):
Find out if you will be required to purchase protective gear. Some schools require everyone to purchase full gear without exception.
6. Other red flags to look out for:
Schools that look like day care centres or run huge after school programs
Their priority may not be teaching Taekwondo. There are a lot of reputable schools with well structured Taekwondo after school programs and others that put emphasis more on general child care services and all but ignore the Taekwondo training. Always do your own research and keep in mind undisciplined children running about is a big indicator of the quality of the program.
Schools that promise a black belt in less than 3 years!!
These places are known as “McDojo’s” and are “Belt Mills” where you progress through the ranks every month or two, or there are numerous coloured belts in between (i.e. light blue, dark blue, etc.) and additional coloured tape / stripes that have to be earned at each belt level before promotion. For most people, on a normal training schedule, to reach any kind of decent standard in martial arts takes far longer than a couple of years.
Non-standard belt systems (in other words, made up!) and frequent grading requirements
Make sure you know the belt system: Some clubs will use 10 solid colour belts and others will use a combination of solid and striped colour belts. Both systems are perfectly acceptable, however no matter what system the club uses, make sure that there are only 10 belts before black!
On average, grading should take place about every 3-6 months depending how often a student comes to class. This is a guideline as progress varies from student to student. Be very suspicious if a club has a 20 belt system and requires grading every 4 weeks, for example.
We hope this information helps you in your journey to finding the school that’s right for you. What other tips can you add for choosing a school? Please comment and share.