Finding a Quality Dojo

You’ve seen the martial arts in movies, on television, and possibly at a dojo (karate school) in your community. Maybe you know someone who’s had some training, or maybe you’ve had a lesson or two yourself. Having been exposed to the martial arts, you may also have found yourself toying with the idea of trying it out. There are probably several dojo located close to you, and all will tell you that their program is the best. How, then, do you find the one that fits your needs?

This part of our web site will help you to ask the right questions when sorting through the myriad of martial arts schools and instructors out there to find one that is right for you.

What is this karate stuff all about?

Karate is a martial art. This means that karate started out as a means of survival, and has evolved into a form of art.

Most people understand karate as it is presented by the entertainment industry: glorified violence as a means to an end. True karate, however, is much different. A true martial artist understands the moral and philosophical responsibilities that go with the techniques. Might does not make right, and the greatest knowledge is how to not use one’s karate training.

Why, then, study karate? The benefits are diverse. Most obviously, the study of karate is a wonderful exercise program which engages both the body and the mind. In time, students develop greater self-confidence and self-discipline, as well as a better understanding of themselves. Karate is also a window to another culture, which allows us to consider new ideas and new ways of doing things.

On the other hand, karate does have its origins in ancient fighting systems. It is an excellent form of self-defense, and students are taught how to use it as such. Even though students are taught to avoid potential confrontations, they gain self-confidence knowing that they can defend themselves if this should become necessary.

Someone once said, “I study karate to learn how to live properly.” If you are considering karate training, you should be aware that it will influence your life outside of the dojo. Karate has been known to reduce stress, to increase self-confidence, and to improve fitness. These things, in turn, help martial artists to live longer, healthier, and happier lives.

Asking the Right Questions

The problem that most people face in choosing a dojo is that they don’t know the right questions to ask. Here are a few of the major points to look for.

The Instructor

What rank does the instructor hold?

Most people do not realize that a black belt is not just one rank. There are, in fact, several degrees of black; often as many as ten.

A good rule of thumb is that the head of a dojo should be at least a 3rd degree black belt.

If you are not familiar with black belt rank requirements, it is easy to be misled by the different degrees. Also, since the requirements for each degree changes from school to school, the instructor’s rank becomes less important compared to his or her experience.

How many years of experience does he or she have?

While there are many good, quality martial arts instructors out there, there are also many who have been permitted to skyrocket through the ranks without acquiring any but the most superficial knowledge of their art.

Generally speaking, someone with at least 10 years of training will have a broad, firm knowledge base. Allowing four years for him/her to reach black belt, he/she should also have been teaching for at least 6 years. Do not be afraid to ask where he/she has trained and/or taught before.

What is he/she doing to further his/her understanding of the art?

Consider this: an instructor may only promote a student up to the rank directly below that which he or she holds. If I am a 3rd degree black belt, I can only promote my students up to 2nd degree black belt.

While this probably will not be an issue for several years, you should be careful not to get into a “dead end dojo.”

When was the instructor’s last promotion? What is he/she doing to work towards his/her next rank? Who would promote him/her? While the answers to these questions will vary depending on individual circumstances, you should be satisfied that the instructor has a plan and that you will not be trapped in a dead end by joining his/her dojo.

The Dojo

How long does it take to get a black belt?

This is the question that’s on every student’s mind. You would be surprised at how much the answer varies.

There are schools out there that will issue you a black belt after one year of training. There are also schools that require three or four years of training. Which do you suppose would be turning out better martial artists?

I like to compare a black belt with a high school diploma. Most people make it through high school in four years. Some put in extra time and make it out sooner, while some take a little longer. While understanding that everyone learns at their own pace, a good rule of thumb is four years of training to earn a black belt.

Is the dojo licensed/accredited?

Although not all schools are held to the same standards, there are several organizations that set standards for curriculum, safety, and instructor qualifications. Shidokan International, the Okinawan Karate Federation, and Jundokan International are all organizations which license martial arts schools and certify the ranks issued by those schools. A dojo that is not affiliated with this type of organization is not being held to any set of standards.

What is the dojo’s philosophy?

The movies often portray the martial arts as glorified violence. This is not, in general, an accurate portrayal. Many martial arts schools have a set of rules that outline acceptable behavior. Some may even have a “dojo creed.” A quality dojo will always require its members to use their knowledge responsibly.

How long are classes?

Class lengths vary depending on student age/ability, style of martial art, and preference of the instructor. More important is what happens during a class. I have been in classes where I was exhausted after half an hour, and I have been in 3-hour clinics where I could have continued for another 3 hours.

A good way to tell if a particular program will fit your needs is to watch, or even participate in a class or two. Many schools will offer “introductory” programs to give you an idea of what they are like. You may also have the opportunity to observe a class in action. Do not let yourself feel pressured to join a dojo “sight unseen” – take the time to feel out if the atmosphere is right for you.