Locating a Quality Martial Arts School

Dr. Chuck Cancilla Psychologist Dacula, GA

I am a clinical psychologist, school psychologist, and veteran with 6 degrees in psychology and 25 years of experience—20 with Gwinnett County Public Schools. I specialize in conducting evaluations and treating ADHD, learning challenges, anxiety, and behavior concerns.   Just as children should see a pediatrician rather... more

Locating a Quality Martial Arts School for Your Child


First and foremost, it is of critical importance to recognize that martial arts are

NOT about fighting but rather about self-improvement.


Dr. Chuck Cancilla, ASP Instructor


Children can begin martial arts as early as age four, yet some children may not be developmentally ready at this age. If the youngster is enrolled and continues to struggle across several sessions, a good instructor will discuss options with the parents. Four and five-year-old children should not be mixed in with much older students, classes specifically for this age group should be offered to be of value.

Begin your search by asking others (e.g., family, friends, and coworkers) about martial arts. Your child's teacher may be an excellent resource too. Most teachers have had students participate in martial arts and may be able to offer feedback on any benefits he/she observed or guide you to a particular school that made a difference. 

Visit and observe classes at several martial arts schools in your area. All should have a spectator gallery where you may observe classes. While at each school talk to several parents, students, and instructors about their experiences. Ask for both positive and negative attributes of the school. Visit each school's website afterward.

Google different styles of martial arts via national or worldwide organization websites. Choosing a style of martial art (e.g., Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Kung Fu, etc.) that fits your specific interests or needs is important, yet much less so than finding a school that provides the highest quality instruction. Tuition, location, and style of martial art are of no match to superior instruction—this makes a world of difference! Mixed martial arts have become very popular, yet research strongly favors traditional martial arts for children (e.g., Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Kung Fu, etc.).

With regard to instructors:

  • Interview instructors as if you are hiring for a job -- because you are.
  • Some instructors may have poor English. Do not let this be an issue—your understanding will improve.
  • Ask each instructor for his/her professional background, qualifications, and certifications to teach.
  • Instructors should be black belts with a minimum of five years of training. 
  • An instructor with a higher degree black belt is best, preferably a fourth degree or higher.
  • Be aware that a black belt is no guarantee of teaching ability or connection with children.
  • Ask how long the instructors have been teaching children.
  • At no time should an instructor inappropriately raise his/her voice to a student.
  • Instructors should enjoy teaching, be patient and encouraging, and model positive behavior.
  • Instructors should thoroughly demonstrate and explain the basis for each technique during class.
  • Instructors should provide some individual training and guidance to each student during class.

With regard to the school

  • # 1 Rule: AVOID BLACK BELT FACTORIES. If that is all you seek you are wasting your time!
    • This is a direct gauge of the level of quality instruction. Ask about time in rank!
  • Students should not earn black belts in less than 3 years—preferably 5 years.
  • Importantly, are the instructors friendly and focused on teaching rather than business and money?
  • Memberships to worldwide martial arts organizations may reflect the quality of instruction.
    • What organizations does the school belong to?
  • Does the school feel inviting and appear neat, clean, and orderly?
  • What additional styles, practices, or disciplines are offered at the school?
  • What type of floor does the school have?
    • Preferably, the floor should be sufficiently padded with tight joints between mat sections. 
    • A spring-loaded bare wood floor is traditional, but I personally do not like this for children.
  • What is the teacher-student ratio? Some individualized instruction should be expected in class.
  • Is the school large enough to provide ample learning space to each student during classes?
  • Is protective equipment required? If so, what kind and what is the cost?
  • Are students encouraged to participate in tournaments? If so, for what reasons?
  • What are the costs involved with tournament participation?

With regard to classes:

  • Is parental involvement encouraged? Was this clear from your visit?
  • Ask about age divisions and skill levels for classes. Make sure your child is appropriately placed.
  • What is the length of a class and how many classes per week are permitted?
  • Do classes seem fun, yet highly organized and structured, or do the instructors merely babysit?
  • Large class sizes may reflect popularity, but quality cannot be inferred based on class size alone.
  • Likewise, small class sizes may reflect poor marketing, but instruction quality may be exceptional.
    • Class size should not solely be used as a quality gauge. Ask questions and think for yourself.

With regard to behavioral expectations:

  • Importantly, ask how traditional martial arts discipline and etiquette are emphasized.
  • Manners, rituals, and customs should set the tone for the discipline and self-control that is taught.
  • Do students demonstrate great respect toward one another and to all others present in the school?
  • Are appropriate home and school behavior emphasized by the instructors? How?
  • Do instructors downplay the aggressive side of martial arts and deter students from showing off? 

With regard to fees:

  • Are trial lessons offered prior to a longer-term commitment? If so, take advantage of this.
  • How much is tuition and what does it include? On average, schools charge over $100 per month.
  • How much are belt test fees and how often does promotion testing occur? 
    • Consider this in addition to the monthly payment (i.e., $100 + ?? each month).
  • Tuition may be reduced by signing a contract committing to an extended period of enrollment.
    • Upon initial enrollment DO NOT sign up for a multiple year or black belt contract.
  • The length of the contract is determined by the school and may be negotiable.
  • Contracts save you money but keep in mind that few children maintain interest in one thing for long.    
  • Though contracts can be broken, doing so may be a challenge and/or involve a fee. 
    • Cancellation may need to be initiated by the instructor. Inquire about this.

Contract vs. monthly tuition

  • Both options result in monthly payments.
  • “Monthly tuition” will be paid at the beginning of each month at the school.
  • “Contract tuition” is like a car payment, with a monthly bill mailed to you by an independent company.
  • If choosing a contract read it carefully and determine the following:
    • Are you signing up for a specific period of time or a series of lessons?
    • What happens if you or your child do not wish to continue classes?
      • Are you still obligated to pay the remaining time under the contract?
      • Are there any penalties for breaking the contract?


Although the school earns less money with contracted students, schools typically prefer this as commitment and dedication toward self-improvement are crucial in martial arts. Before enrolling make sure to thoroughly discuss your goals and expectations with the instructors, ensuring a proper match with those of the school.

Keep in mind that as with anything else, you get what you pay for! Therefore, it is strongly encouraged that you shop around and familiarize yourself with what is available.


Good luck in your search!


Chuck Cancilla, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist, School Psychologist, & Martial Arts Instructor