Guidance on Choosing a Tae Kwon Do School
There are a lot of factors that go into choosing a martial arts school. Unfortunately, there are many schools that are more interested making money than in teaching martial arts,
How do you find a school that gives you (or your children) belts based on the progress of their ability, rather than ability to pay? How do you avoid a school that teaches you a watered down version of a martial art? Today we focus on issues that are specific to Tae Kwon Do schools
Look for discrepancies between the art and the school. A complete Tae Kwon Do curriculum includes: philosophy, meditation, basics, forms, self-defense, sparring, breaking, stretching, leadership skills and fitness. A school that doesn’t strictly adhere to this curriculum or to Korean traditions and standards in general, may still be a good school. But, the further it strays from tradition, the more careful you need to be in judging the school. At the very least, inquire as to why these discrepancies exist, and expect an answer that checks out.
- Tae Kwon Do is a Korean martial art. In Tae Kwon Do there are weapons such as staffs, kamas, nunchuck, etc. that may be from other martial arts, but it is okay that many Tae Kwon Do schools add weapons training as a way to supplement a curriculum.
- Traditional Tae Kwon Do uses a white uniform called a dobok. The white uniform symbolizes purity and perfection of character that Tae Kwon Do students are expected to strive for. It is common for schools that do not understand the philosophy or history of Tae Kwon Do to utilize a lot of colorful uniforms, stripes and patches, so look for tradition and not flashiness in their uniforms. Advanced students may wear an all black uniform.
- Tae Kwon Do teaches self-defense. Physical fitness is a pre-requisite for self-defense but each person should allowed to progress at their own pace Limited contact sparring is also an essential step to learning adequate self-defense skills. Beware of Tae Kwon Do schools that do not practice sparring, use only non-contact sparring or avoid competitions altogether. Competition, not isolation, breeds excellence.
- Tae Kwon Do is distinctly and proudly Korean. In Korean a Tae Kwon Do school is called a “Dojang” and sometimes “Kwan”. The Korean terms for instructor “Sabonim” and “Kwan Jangnim” for the person in charge of the school. Beware Tae Kwon Do schools that use the Japanese or Chinese terms such as “Dojo”, “Professor”, “Sifu” or “Sensei” since these are not Korean terms that would be part of a Tae Kwon Do school.
- Tae Kwon Do is a martial art, not a sport!Tae Kwon Do sparring is an Olympic sport; however, sparring is only one aspect of a complete Tae Kwon Do curriculum. A school that focuses only on sparring is incomplete just as a school that does not include sparring is incomplete. The main training consists of: Sparring, workouts, stretching and playing educative games.
Research the instructor.
- For WTF Tae Kwon Do: The South Korean government recognizes the Kukkiwon in Seoul Korea as the World Tae Kwon Do Federation Headquarters. The Kukkiwon issues international black belt certification, instructor certification, publishes the Kukkiwon textbook, sets the standards for techniques and forms and holds an international tournament each year called the Hanmadang. Many unqualified WTF instructors do not even know what the Kukkiwon is.A WTF instructor who is not certified by the Kukkiwon may still be qualified, but they should at least be familiar with the Kukkiwon; their qualifications can be judged by the remainder of the steps below…
- For ITF Taekwon-Do: Does the instructor claim to ‘do ITF Taekwon-Do’ yet is not qualified by the ITF. The ITF has split into 3 factions; however anyone teaching ITF Taekwon-do should be recognized by at least one of them. The ITF set the technical standards and approve grading.
- How long has the instructor been practicing? What is the instructor’s rank? For WTF Tae Kwon Do, the Kukkiwon recognizes 4th degree black belt as the minimum rank required for instructors. This usually takes a minimum of 12 years of training.
- Find the instructor’s certification and research the organization that issued the certification.
- Get professional references and verify them. Other reputable instructors that can vouch for the instructor is a start. Professional associations are another place to check.
- Do a criminal background check. This is important! A lot of people that have martial arts background but fail to legitimately make it in the business world will turn to martial arts as a career because it is not regulated by the government. It is relatively easy to fool the uneducated public about martial arts qualifications. Would you trust this person with your child/wife/husband? Some instructors abuse their position of authority and trust by treating children and women inappropriately. Remember that instructors aren’t regulated, so it is up to you to decide whether this is someone you trust your loved ones with.
- A real master is someone with an unusual level of skill that is usually accompanied by an unusual level of humility and dedication to serving others. In WTF Tae Kwon Do the rank of master is given to 5th, 6th and 7th Dans, and the title of Grandmaster is given to 8th and 9th Dans.
- See if the instructor has a Facebook or other social network profile. Beware the instructor who has filled this with foul language, insults of other martial artists and other examples of lack of respect.
Research the students. Always watch a class at the school you are considering before joining. If possible, watch a promotion test / grading. A good school has nothing to hide and will allow spectators. Are the students happy? Disciplined? Competent? Physically fit? Well groomed? Well spoken? Tae Kwon Do is about discipline…a good Tae Kwon Do school should have very well behaved students that speak politely, treating others with a level of respect sadly lacking in today’s society.
- Watch other area martial arts classes and watch videos on Youtube. How do these students compare?
- Find out how many black belts the school has and how long it has been going. Large numbers of black belts, especially very young ones usually means very low standards, unregulated by genuine associations.
- A good school is clean and solemn. There should be sense of dignity while class is conducted. The students and the spectators should be well behaved. Teachers should not tolerate rowdy behavior.
- Beware schools that look like day cares. If it looks and smells like a day care go elsewhere. Undisciplined children running about are a big warning sign.
- Ask the instructor to show you the practical applications of the techniques you are being taught. If they don’t work then find another instructor who can show you how to do them so that they work.
Study the costs. Some schools place more emphasis on profits than on discipline and skill. Sometimes there are associated fees that you won’t find out about unless you ask: belt test, association membership, and long-term contracts. It’s not unusual for the school to ask for an annual contract (especially since most people quit within 6 months) but some schools will say that you can break the contract if you want, then when the time comes, they are uncooperative; and some schools have a “bait and switch” program in which they let you pay on a monthly basis for a certain amount of time, then require that you sign a long-term (2-4 year) contract in order to advance in rank. A good school should never have to resort to these tactics in order to gain students.