Like with anything in life, you get versions of things and then better versions of things. A lot of the time to the untrained eye, it's not always that easy to figure-out what is of a good standard and then what is not so good. This is commonly the case within the Martial Arts industry.
Martial Arts offers loads of different benefits to everyone who practices them. Therefore, before you visit a club, you should have a rough idea in your head of what you're looking achieve out of training in Martial Arts. For example; looking to build your confidence, want to learn to defend yourself, find an alternative way to improve your fitness, share a common hobby with your son/daughter, become a professional fighter etc. Once you've established that, then you're ready to look for a club that will suit you.
Here are 5 things to consider when choosing a Martial Arts Club/Gym to train in...
1 - What is the Atmosphere & Customer Service like?
Have you walked in to a 'Fighters Club' or a 'Family Club'? It is important to distinguish this from the outset. Most clubs will be either one or the other. The main differences will be that a fighters club focuses more on an adult demographic and a family gym more so on a younger demographic - as a guide. There are some gyms who do both very well but they are few and far between. Whatever type of vibe you get from the first 10-15 seconds of walking in the door will usually establish what type of club you've entered. A few key things to look out for are:
How are you greeted, if at all?
Does someone take the time to answer any questions that you may have?
Do current members make an effort to introduce them self and get to know you or do they stick with their clique?
What type of music is playing, if any?
What type of language is being used by the Instructor and current members?
2 - Is it Clean?
This is a massive gripe of mines personally because there are many many gyms and clubs that I've trained in over the years that just aren't clean. If you're going to be barefoot and/or rolling around on the floor as well as using the toilet and changing facilities then you surely want to ensure that the place is clean and tidy?Yes, it's a gym so there will be times where there is a lot of traffic coming through the door and muddy shoes and sweat etc around the reception area and training areas BUT it's very easy to tell if somewhere is maintained well or not. Standards are important in order to maintain quality and hygiene standards should be high on your list. Some people are looking for the old-style 'Rocky' gyms that are a little rundown and have their original equipment in them but times have moved-on now and for the majority of us, we are looking for better standards.
3 - The Standard of Coaching
This is one of the main reasons why people will choose a club. People buy people and if you like the Instructor(s) and their style/methods of teaching then you're likely to stay or at least give it a good go. You may have turned-up based on the club's reputation. So make sure that you find-out for yourself if the person teaching the class is credible. Don't just take someone's word for it. Do your research; check the club's website and social media, ask around, speak to the other members and get their thoughts and opinions, even speak to the Instructor them self too and ask them questions, most of them will be happy to help. Form that, you'll then get the vibe if this place is genuine or not. One thing to remember though, not all Instructors have to be Bruce Lee to be a good Coach. So ask yourself these questions:
Are they good at explaining things simply and clearly so that you understand what's going on?
Do they have any formal qualifications?
What rank are they or what accolades do they hold if any?
Do they cater the class towards everyone in it or do they just focus on the 'talented' students?
Do they have a theme or a plan for the class or are they just "winging-it"?
Do they look out for the welfare of everyone in the class - for example, putting restrictions on the levels of contact for sparring if necessary.
4 - Class Structure?
The type of classes or programmes that are run at a club will help to distinguish if it's what you're looking for or not. Martial Arts requires a wide variety of different skillsets in order to make progress and become proficient, regardless of style. You have to develop awareness and assertiveness skills, technique skills, fitness and flexibility levels as well as being challenged in different environments and settings - e.g. examinations, tournaments/events, interclub training practices etc. Clubs that keep themselves to themselves behind closed doors are often nervous of being compared to other clubs that are out there due to feeling inferior or under-confident in their own standards.
Some things to consider are:
Does the club you've visited have a variety of class options?
Do they split their age groups or ability levels up or is everyone lumped in together?
Do they have extra options for more training such as; competitor/fighter sessions or Private Tuition for those who are more keen to develop further/faster and/or take things to a higher level through getting more focused practice?
Do they do extra events e.g. holiday camps or awards evenings to help create a tight-knit community?
Do they invest in good equipment and facilities?
Do they attend external events or cross-train with other clubs? e.g. tournaments, fight nights, sparring sessions and so on.
A club with a clear pipeline of progression for students to go from complete beginner to a competent and advanced Martial Artist is a good sign of whether or not the club is operating at a high level or just at a recreational standard. It shows that they take what they do seriously and make an effort. Now that doesn't mean to say that they are aiming for all of their students to become elite level athletes or fighters but it is a good sign that you are in a club that is legitimate and has a high standard or progression available.
5 - Insurance & Background Checks
Finally, another important point to note to find-out if the club is legitimate or not is to check if they hold insurance or are affiliated to any official bodies. Also, are the staff/coaches background checked? This isn't a legal requirement to run a club but it helps to quickly identify those who value what they do and the safety of their students and those that don't. It demonstrates professionalism and gives new members and parents/guardians peace of mind when training at the club.
To summarise, you wouldn't buy a house or a car without looking at a few different options first, so why do so many of us only go to only one Martial Arts/Sports Club and make a final decision based on that single experience? My recommendation is to try at least 2 or 3 before you commit as then you can make a more informed choice based on what you've seen and experienced.