Hallmarks of a Good TKD School

dancingalone

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 7, 2007
Messages
5,321
Reaction score
278
A parent recently asked me how they could find a quality school to enroll their kid in. I mused on this for a while. We often say that students should look for the best teacher they can find, regardless of the style. True enough in my opinion, but what signs or indications should be present when a lay person like a parent is visiting schools and trying to pick from the countless thousands of competitors out there?

We're talking about taekwondo since I put this post in the TKD forum, but I won't be upset if someone wants to add some characteristics of good schools in the other primarily striking disciplines suck as karate or whatever else.

I may add some of my thoughts later, but I'd like to hear yours for now.
 

Tez3

Sr. Grandmaster
Supporting Member
Joined
Oct 13, 2006
Messages
27,386
Reaction score
4,702
Location
England
Good question! When I first started in martial arts the first place I trained at I thought was brilliant..that's because I didn't know any better!
 

harlan

2nd Black Belt
Joined
Oct 31, 2006
Messages
886
Reaction score
42
Location
Massachusetts
For the complete noob, with no idea of what they are looking at:

1. A fit teacher that trains/leads the class is mandatory. If it's student led, and/or the owner/teacher is in the office, leave.
2. Parents are allowed to stay, watch, and join.
3. No required tournaments/teams to progress. (Same applies to BB 'clubs', special classes, etc.)
4. 'Free nunchaku if you bring a friend.' Run away!
5. Crisp technique evident green belt and above.
 

StudentCarl

3rd Black Belt
Joined
Nov 19, 2009
Messages
935
Reaction score
30
Location
Grand Haven, MI
I look at how they teach their youngest and most challenged students. I also look at how effectively they communicate when they teach technique--the explanation should be plain english and result in the desired change in student movement, and neither too much nor too little information.
 

Cyriacus

Senior Master
Joined
Jun 25, 2011
Messages
3,827
Reaction score
47
Location
Australia
I watch the Application.

I figure, that if about 80% of the Higher Ranks are doing a damn good job, something led them up to that point.
The second, is the Syllabus of Training. This, I find, has a huge effect on what is Trained, and how.
Lastly, the quality of the Instructor. But suffice to say, I can find that out in a Trial Class, if Im still there.
 

cdunn

2nd Black Belt
Joined
Apr 27, 2007
Messages
868
Reaction score
36
Location
Greensburg, PA
I usually advise the simplest: Look at the senior students. Watch how they behave, how they move. If that's what you want to look like, then you have a place to start.
 

oftheherd1

Senior Master
Joined
May 12, 2011
Messages
4,685
Reaction score
817
For the complete noob, with no idea of what they are looking at:

1. A fit teacher that trains/leads the class is mandatory. If it's student led, and/or the owner/teacher is in the office, leave.
2. Parents are allowed to stay, watch, and join.
3. No required tournaments/teams to progress. (Same applies to BB 'clubs', special classes, etc.)
4. 'Free nunchaku if you bring a friend.' Run away!
5. Crisp technique evident green belt and above.

No bad answers by anyone so far, including the answer by Harlan. I was curious though, how/if you might bend on anything you posted Harlen? For instance, if the student training is a BB, is that OK? I would expect an owner to be able to see from his office anything that goes on in the dojo. As to the "Free nunchaku," I would agree about a nuchaku, even if it is taught. But things like a free uniform for beginners might be OK, just to stay competitive if many other schools in the area are also doing it, or maybe signs explaining why the school's rates are lower as there are no "free" giveaways. Other than that, I like and agree with your examples.

One thing that turned my off from a school in my general area was its lack of politeness to visitors. I walked in to the school as I thought it might be sufficiently close to what I had studied (Hapkido), and wanted to check it out. A student paid much attention to who he was talking to, glancing at me from time to time, but not communicating in any way. I didn't expect to steal him away from the person he was talking to, but after 5-8 minutes, I thought it impolite not to acknowledge my presence and offer to help when he was done, or call another person to greet me. Some time later, my GM told me he went there also. He was treated the same way. Neither of us ever darkened their door again.

For schools that deal with children, look for proper dojo discipline. That has to come early. Green belted children walking around dragging their belts on the floor would make me leave.

There is an instructor in my general area who seems to enjoy working with kids. He does keep proper dojo discipline, but in a gentle, leading way. He also requires kids to keep up with their school work, to include seeing grades on papers, and report cards. He prefers to see parents at the dojo and keeps them informed. He is just good. The kids love him and wish to please him with their learning both in the dojo and at school.

EDIT: cdunn - you may have some of the best advice. I like that. But I think other things are important too, such as what the teacher/instructors demeanor is.
 

harlan

2nd Black Belt
Joined
Oct 31, 2006
Messages
886
Reaction score
42
Location
Massachusetts
Oftherd: thanks. :)

Free uniform, free lessons, free testing...bonus! My beef is with the 'enticement' aspect and more so as it uses weapons training. I recently interviewed a TKD school using the exact ploy...and they simply didn't 'get it'.

As for 'politeness', if one drops into a dojo/dojang without asking first, I would expect to have to wait until a break in class to be acknowledged. Your example was with a student led class. If the teacher was leading, he/she could have motioned for a senior to take over in order to acknowledge you.

As for deciding if a school is good or not based on discipline, that would be a harder call for me. I know of a great little TKD school, that is small and cheap, but has a mixed class due to the economy. Adults, kids, parents, brown belt to white. It is a challenge to run a class like that, especially when TKD appeals initially to parents that want to use it as a daycare. Not my call.

And as for 'friendliness'...it's a plus. Not a necessity. Plenty of friendly pedaphiles out there.
 

wushuguy

Purple Belt
Joined
Jan 20, 2008
Messages
378
Reaction score
7
Location
NYC
I also would like to add, that hopefully the owner would also still be practicing. Some TKD school owners/masters don't practice with their students, or on their own, or with their peers, just coaching once in a while. And yeah, if by 6 months of classes and the students still can't tie their belts, or do so very sloppy, something is still missing.
 

Tez3

Sr. Grandmaster
Supporting Member
Joined
Oct 13, 2006
Messages
27,386
Reaction score
4,702
Location
England
How would a complete beginner know though about some of the things mentioned in posts here? How do you know the techniques are good, or that the movements are crisp? Syllabuses nearly always look good on paper, how can you tell whether they are or not if you have never had anything to do with martial arts before?
 

harlan

2nd Black Belt
Joined
Oct 31, 2006
Messages
886
Reaction score
42
Location
Massachusetts
Don't know about the syllabus, but 'crispness' is readily evident. I might not know a darn thing about good movement, or efficacy of movement, but I can see the 'difference' between a local pipe band and the Black Watch when they are drilling. I can hear the difference, even if I can't play a musical instrument. As a noob, I'd simply see it as evidence that the students are getting attention and not being passed up in grade because of a parent's purse.
 

Tez3

Sr. Grandmaster
Supporting Member
Joined
Oct 13, 2006
Messages
27,386
Reaction score
4,702
Location
England
Don't know about the syllabus, but 'crispness' is readily evident. I might not know a darn thing about good movement, or efficacy of movement, but I can see the 'difference' between a local pipe band and the Black Watch when they are drilling. I can hear the difference, even if I can't play a musical instrument. As a noob, I'd simply see it as evidence that the students are getting attention and not being passed up in grade because of a parent's purse.

Lol, the Scots Guards are better, the Black Watch fight too much.

I think though you are still speaking with the voice of experience, what if you didn't know what grading is about? What if you had only seen the local pipe band and had nothing to compare it with?
 

harlan

2nd Black Belt
Joined
Oct 31, 2006
Messages
886
Reaction score
42
Location
Massachusetts
Well, I pity the child whose parent is so lacking in perception that they can't note discipline in an unfamiliar environment.
 

KELLYG

2nd Black Belt
Joined
Apr 16, 2008
Messages
717
Reaction score
21
Location
North Carolina
Some of the things that I would notice or want to see. A clean environment with no obvious issues that could cause injury. How the students respond to the instructors and how students respond to each other. The classes are run in an efficient manner that every one is getting an equal share of attention. Yes I would also compare lower belts to higher belts with a critical eye to how on average students are transformed from belt level to belt level. I also would want to get a feel of the vibe of the place and compare it to what you are looking for. Lastly recomendations from students and parents of students.
 

Tez3

Sr. Grandmaster
Supporting Member
Joined
Oct 13, 2006
Messages
27,386
Reaction score
4,702
Location
England
Well, I pity the child whose parent is so lacking in perception that they can't note discipline in an unfamiliar environment.

You can have good discipline in the class but they could be doing lousy techniques, bad sparring or none at all, allowing people to grade when they don't know enough or can't do the techniques correctly. Good discipline doesn't mean it's good martial arts.
 
OP
dancingalone

dancingalone

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 7, 2007
Messages
5,321
Reaction score
278
These are some of the things to look for to determine if the teacher is in 'control' of his audience or not. I don't mean in a drill instructor, Private Pyle sort of way either.

* Are the students are attentive and engaged into the activity or are they visibly bored and counting away the minutes?

* Do the students move promptly when given direction by the instructor or is everything a beat slow as they mill around?

* Is the instructor able to keep the class moving for those who understand the drill while teaching/acclimating the less seasoned students or does everything come to a standstill during the instruction?

* What is the longevity of the student base? Does the school have long term students who have been there 7-8 years and more?
 

Manny

Senior Master
Joined
Apr 30, 2007
Messages
2,563
Reaction score
125
Location
Veracruz,Mexico
My criteria forselection a master/dojois the following:

1.-Competente sensei/sambonim/sifu.
2.-Nice and clean training hall.
3.-Adress of training hall.

1.-About the master/sensei/sambonim/sifu.- Forget about the ones who holds several black belts in diferente martial arts, when I was a kid I remeber going to a karate dojo where the master had black belts certifications on Kung Fu, Karate, Vee Jitsu, Judo,etc. I thinkks this is toomuch for asingle person to achieve and this yells FAKE to me.One thing is to be a 4th dan in TKD and a 2nd dan in HKD but stating the sensei is master in severalkorean martialarts for example does not bite me.

I like to see how this sambonim conducts his/her class, how he/she manages the students,I see maners too,the sensei must be clean with his gi clean too, exesively raged gi or belt is something I don-t like,the sambonim o senseimust be ssen like a pronot like a bump.

In the beginin I knew nothing about certifications but now I can reconize some of the organizatios,once I was on an aikido dojo where the sensei was about 18-20 years old and he had hanging on the wall a vey weird aikido certificate that states this sensei to be a 6th dan,cmon a 6th dan at 18-20 years old??

The techs displayed for the sensei must to be good, an awfull reverse punch or a horrendous side kick can say soo much.

2.-About the training hall or dojo it does not be soo much big, but it has to be adecuate for the number of students per class,it must to be clean and well care or maintained,the students MUST wear the same uniform,I am not talking about brands I am talkin allmust wear the same typeof uniform, white full dobok or all black karate-gi,nothing of mixing clothes only uniforms,allmust be clean.The area must be well ventilated.

3.-Adress.-No matter the dojo ir run by Benny Urkidez if the dojo is one half hour of my office or home in car then is too away and I would rather train in dojo with a decent sensei near.

I must say it is the experience over the years what has show me who is who in the martial arts society in my city.

Manny
 

Kong Soo Do

IKSDA Director
Supporting Member
Joined
May 17, 2011
Messages
2,419
Reaction score
329
The answer may also depend upon what the student is looking for in a TKD (or any other) school. Is it an adult or young adult looking for a good sporting competition school? Then perhaps a school with a good record for producing excellent competitors. Perhaps with an instructor with practical competiton experience. Not necessarily a ton of trophies in the window, but rather a training structure and philosophy that produces excellent competitors.

Is the student a child? Then perhaps one that provides a safe environment with instructors that genuinely care about the children. Not just a kiddie-karate daycare. One that teaches things like bullyproofing, danger-avoidance, stranger-awareness, parental/child codes for safety and of course discipline and good morals.

Is the student in need of solid self-defense skills or are they a high liability professional in need of realistic gross-motor skills? Then an instructor with some practical real world experience. They don't need to be Rambo or the badguy from the Karate Kid. But a former (or current) police officer, corrections officer, corporate security, bouncer etc are areas of high liability that often can go hands-on. This type of experience is always useful. Some highlights from a thread I authored on that particular subject snce it is my specialty;

When discussing self-defense training, how and where do you train? Important questions that need some serious examination. Here are some considerations;

1. Lighting. Many if not most 'incidents' happen in dim lighting conditions. Is at least some of your training in dim or even no light? If its not, I would challenge you to begin immediately. Things can appear quite different at night or in a dim light area.

2. Terrain. I would say that your chances of being attacked on a soft mat are pretty slim. Out on the asphalt or concrete might be a more likely spot. Or gravel. Dirt. Grass. Sand. Wet and slippery. Training on different surfaces and different angles is a plus to your training.

3. Position. Do you always train in the 'combat stance'? How about training in a chair? A car? A hallway or stairwell. How about your own bed? In the real world people have to fight in all sorts of odd places and positions. Most fights don't start with both people standing six feet apart wearing training gear with a referee. You might want to expand the horizons a bit when it comes to position and place.

4. Clothing. Ever been attacked in you bare foot in your Gi? Probably not. Might want to institute a 'street clothes' night. If you train military or Officers, get them in their gear. Get some shoes on while your at it.

5. Improvised weapons. There all around us. Do you train to use them? A pocket full of change or keys thrown in the BG's eyes. Grab a lamp of the night stand and put it upside his head. How about a knick-knack or chair? Look around you.

Seems to me I remember something about situational awareness/awareness of one's surroundings.

Things to think about for your next training session because your next session might be the one that preceeds a life or death assualt....

Situational awareness i.e. be aware of your surroundings.
Factors such as avoidance, evasion, escape and de-escalation need to be taken into consideration and trained for where appropriate.
Where there is no referee enforcing rules.
You are likely alone and/or at some sort of a place or position of disadvantage.
There are no rules.
There are no breaks, water, advice or anything to assist you.
The assault can occur in a parking lot, elevator, side street, your car, your bedroom, in the woods etc. It will likely occur in dim light conditions in any type of weather.
The attacker may be armed, and should be assumed to be armed.
The attacker may have friends more than willing to jump in.
There is no safety gear, but likely a plethora of person-unfriendly objects like broken glass, traffic, walls etc.
The attacker is looking to cause as much damage to you as humanly possible in the shortest amount of time possible.
To quit is to die (or something possibly worse i.e. rape, love one killed etc)
The goal is survival, the method is whatever it takes and is appropriate to the situation.
Do they always 'go for the knock-out', for points, for a submission? Is so, they've limited there response options.
Do they have the option and/or opportunity to avoid or evade the potential conflice. Or escape or practice an verbal de-escalation skills?
Do they have the option of using an improvised weapon?
Does there opponent have the option of pulling a weapon (planned or improvised)?
Does there opponent have the option of having his buddies jump in to help?
Is the student required to observe certain rules?
Do your students always train inside the Dojang? Are opportunities provided to train inside a vehicle, stairs, elevator, hallway, small room, on grass, on asphalt, on a sloping or wet or slippery surface?
Do your students always where their uniform? Are they familar with what it would be like to be wearing tight clothing, foot wear, shorts and a T-shirt, a dress etc? Tt is one thing to be warmed up and stretched out and wearing loose clothing in the Dojang. It is quite another to try it in a dress in high heels, a pair of tight jeans, with a handful of groceries, a duty belt etc when you're not warmed up and stretched out.
Have they ever trained in dim light conditions?
Have they trained with visual/auditory distractions?
Do we always use a closed fist when striking at the head while wearing gloves and padded helmets? A blow to the head with a fist in a SD situation may not be the wisest tactic. The chance of injuring the hand on someones head is fairly substantial even with a well-placed strike. That is why boxer as an example tape their hands and wear gloves. I'll say it again; the chance of injuring your hand on someone's head/face is fairly substantial. If this occurs, depending on the severity of the injury, it could very well limit your options for further SD. Anyone here ever try to manipulate a weapon with broken knuckles? Or a cell phone, or car keys? I've broken a knuckle before and my range of motion in that hand was limited for an extended period of time. Given that manual dexterity is already limited while under duress, you've just made it even harder by busting a knuckle or two, or spraining your wrist on someone's face. And there is no way to know ahead of time whether or not he'll actually be knocked out.

This also doesn't touch on the possibility of blood borne pathogens the bad guy may be carrying. And now you've put yourself in a position of cutting your knuckles on his teeth or 'bleeding' him from the mouth or nose.



Is the student (or the instructor) well versed in the state statutes of force and deadly force? In consideration like bodily harm, great bodily harm and/or death? Subject factors? What a reasonable person would do in the same situation? Are you required to retreat in your state? Does your state have a 'Castle Doctrine'? An instructor doesn't need to be an attorney, but providing the resources for the student to check into it and touching on some of the topics during class time.

Is the student (or the instructor) well versed in the O.O.D.A. loop? Fight or flight? Flinch resonse? Adrenaline responses such as tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, loss of manual dexterity in the extremities? Considerations can include;

  • Even powerful strikes in non-lethal areas can fail.
  • A situation which starts out at less-than-lethal levels can quickly escalate.
  • A proper joint lock, at the appropriate time, 'can' immobilize even an EDP (emotionally disturbed person) even if strikes fail and if properly applied.
  • Be as patient as possible for the situation, look for openings.
  • The attack will probably take place at the most advantageous time to the attacker and the least advantageous to us. We may be tired, sick, distracted etc yet still be forced into a situation.
  • Some of these predators come in packs which backs them bold. And even being physically big isn't always a deterent.

Physical conditioning is also helpful during training, or at least encouraging it. Being physically fit can help us in several areas of a SD situation. It can also help if an injury has been sustained.

That is hopefully a good start for consideration/discussion. Be safe.
 

harlan

2nd Black Belt
Joined
Oct 31, 2006
Messages
886
Reaction score
42
Location
Massachusetts
Agreed. But the original post seemed to infer that the parent would have no knowledge of good vs. lousy techniques. And to be fair, what exactly is a 'good' school? Some parents just want a safe place and a physical activity. Others are happily buying into the 'wholesome, family activity'. Others want their TKD with Christ. *shrug* Considering the number of happy parents that I've seen that love their schools, even though I know the school to be empty of technique, I only posted a baseline of what I think they should look for. I do NOT believe that every school should attempt to be the right school for every person. I'm actively for discouraging people actually.

Now, if we are talking about a GREAT school... :)

You can have good discipline in the class but they could be doing lousy techniques, bad sparring or none at all, allowing people to grade when they don't know enough or can't do the techniques correctly. Good discipline doesn't mean it's good martial arts.
 

Earl Weiss

Senior Master
Joined
Jan 27, 2009
Messages
3,265
Reaction score
647
True enough in my opinion, but what signs or indications should be present when a lay person like a parent is visiting schools and trying to pick from the countless thousands of competitors out there?

.

Diffcult question. Like telling a blind person how to pick the most beautiful flower.
 
Top