Lots of families would like to find a martial Arts club for their children, many adults are also looking at martial arts training for physical, mental and spiritual health reasons, and of course for self-defense.

Martial arts training can be a fantastic way to get fit and stay fit, gain self-defense skills, and build self-esteem, self-confidence, humility, compassion and be a great way to release some energy, make new friends and much much more.

How do you know which martial art dojo is a good dojo? How do you know if the martial art is going to be good for you or a family member? How can you tell if the instructors are good at their martial art?

Some of these questions are hard to answer for the uninitiated. This article will attempt to give you insights into the world of martial arts training, martial art dojos and the business side of martial arts that you should be aware of.


KNOWING what you want:

  • Traditional or sport / competition. Most traditional martial arts are not “sports” and do not involve competition. Japanese Martial arts come from the Samurai. Each feudal lord had a group of Samurai, a class you were born into, these individuals would start their training, at a very young age, they had to master many martial skills, sword, jo, archery, staff, horsemanship and open hand techniques, to name just a few. Back in this time the martial arts were entirely focused on the martial side, Samurai were taught how to kill and survive in a battle. As time passed and the feudal era ended, the samurai, as a lords personal army were no longer needed. Some samurai started to teach their techniques to the general population. The need to focus on killing was gone, the martial (killing) focus changed to self defense and to personal improvement. This is were the “DO” comes in, DO means way or path. Karatedo, kendo, judo aikido are all paths (DO) to self-defense and personal improvement.
  • Some Martial arts or styles have moved from traditional training into sport: Judo, wrestling boxing, Mau Thai, kick boxing, sport jujitsu, karate are some examples of this. This is not necessarily a bad thing, some people really like the competitive aspect, some like to say that this is the only way to “pressure test” our skills.  Most traditional martial arts instructor would argue with the concept that the only way to know if your good is to pressure test in a fight or in the ring. The other draw back to the conversion of arts to sport is that all of them loose parts of the whole. There are rules and regulations weight categories, age categories, boundaries, referees etc..in all competitions. Dojo that have converted to sports may not teach everything, if a certain move, attack, defense is not allowed, why spend time teaching your student how to do it.
  • The bottom line is that if you or your child excels under pressure, in competition, a sport version of the martial arts might be right for you
  • Traditional Martial Arts tend to stay away from competition. Students learn and improve techniques on their own or in pairs over time. Most of the pairs training is done in cooperation with another student. Both doing and receiving the techniques are practiced by both people.


What you SHOULD look for:

  • Happy satisfied children and parents
  • Friendly safe environment
  • Background checks for all instructors / volunteers
  • 1st Aid training for all instructors / volunteers
  • Being able to watch as many classes as you like.
  • Being invited to try a few classes for free (at least 1 or 2)
  • Being able to meet and speak to the head Instructor / senior instructors.
  • Head or senior instructors are teaching your child.
  • Chief instructors and other senior instructors have decades of experience (not years)


What you should be AWARE of:

  • Dojo fees, of course there will be a monthly tuition fee, and perhaps an initiation and insurance fees, they should be reasonable given the dojo location number of available classes etc. Many Martial Arts instructors love their art, but not chasing people for monthly dues, they may have automatic payments Credit card or debit) this is normal and a modern way of doing business. Make sure you can cancel your payments at any time without repercussions.
  • How many tests will you or your child do to achieve a black belt, there should be no more than 20 tests (MAX) Most dojo break down the curriculum into smaller chunks for children and youth. It easier to learn this way and children see progress happening.
  • Testing fees should be minimal, starting at $10 or $20 for the 1st few tests and increasing from there. As you approach black belt testing fees will go up but not beyond $200.00. Black Belt test will be more than this.
  • “lifetime membership” it usually a lot of money, (5 or 6 years’ worth of monthly dues) and you won’t get a refund if you quit. Be very weary of this.
  • Shodan means 1st degree black belt, this is not your goal! “SHO” means beginning or start, Shodan is the beginning of your learning, all the stuff before was the basics! Your teachers should know this.
  • The dojo should be associated with some provincial, state, national or international federation / organization that certifies the Dan ranks and Instructors. Ask what organization the dojo belongs to and google it!
  • No one’s “hands” are registered as lethal weapons in Canada.
  • Master and Grandmaster are not traditional titles used in Japanese Martial Arts
  • It takes (or should take) more thana decade to reach 3rd, 4th or 5th Dan (perhaps 15 to 20 years) higher ranks will take even longer (5th Dan, 6th, Dan, 7th Dan 30 plus years) Check to see the rank of the instructors and how long they have been training.
  • 10th Dan is the highest rank, and is reserved for those who are recognized as the head of their martial art – worldwide. There are 1 or 2 recognized heads of martial arts outside of Japan. If someone claims to be a 10th Dan be extremely cautious, any claim of a rank higher than this…. run away.


Signs of a McDojo

A McDojo, is a term that has in part been borrowed from McDonalds. This is because many McDojo’s will be part of a franchise system. Charismatic students are brought through levels quickly, and a Dojo is prepared for them, all the systems (payments advertising etc) are centralized. The product is not great, it may seem convenient and cheap, but you may not like how you feel after a meal or training there. This is NOT the type of martial art dojo you want to be associated with in any way.

If you see any of the following, turn around and leave, walk or run out the door!!

  • You can not watch or see videos of any of the classes.
  • You are not allowed to try a few classes.
  • You visit the dojo when classes are not scheduled, you can’t talk to the school’s students.
  • You are told that the techniques are so deadly that only registered students can see them or be taught.
  • If there is any mention of specialized training for individuals who show exceptional promise. The special classes are part of the regular schedule, but it costs extra.
  • Lots of badges
  • Teenagers or young 20 something year old teaching most of the classes or appear as the head instructor.
  • Many tests and stipes and awards (all with a cost)
  • If your payments are made to specific martial art funding companies be careful. Some of these companies might just be processing payments, that’s ok. But others assist the dojo with extremely aggressive marketing campaigns, and the contract you sign will lock you in. You will have difficulties if you try to stop payment, you will not be speaking to your instructors but to the billing companies’ collections department.
  • If the dojo guarantees you or your child will be tested every 2 or 3 months, it is a bad sign.
  • If you ask how long it will take to achieve a black belt, and you are given a specific time line i.e 2 years or 3 years, run away! You might as well just buy a black belt from your local martial arts store it will be worth the same, (nothing) but will be cheaper for you ($20.00 instead of thousands.)
  • If the dojo is pushing you to sign up right away or after watching or trying one class, this is a warning sign. No matter what they say or how you feel; go home and think about it. The “special deal” they are offering “today only”, will be available later.


Most importantly, take your time, do some research. The best martial art for you or your child is the one you really love doing! If you love the art, and the sensei, students, parents and atmosphere of the dojo, you will want to go and train regularly, and make it part of your life. This is when you will receive ALL the benefits of training in a martial art.