Maybe you’ve moved, maybe your first school closed down, or maybe (and this does happen) you’ve learned all you can where you are. Whatever the reason, it’s time to hunt for a new martial arts school. I’m going to go through some of my personal experiences (and the experiences of people I know) when it comes to finding a new school. This is all subjective, take from it what you will.
For this article I’m assuming you’re looking for a school that is similar to your previous one. A lot of this won’t apply if you’re going from a striking art like Karate to a grappling art like BJJ.
You Will Be Frustrated
Beyond any other emotion (except maybe excitement if you’re a die-hard optimist) you will be frustrated. Every school is different, both in terms of vibe and content. Every school you try will have things you like and things you don’t. There is no perfect school and the sooner you accept that the better. Remember every school has something to teach.
You Will Be Tempted to Settle
On the other hand you need to keep your standards high. If you watch a class and the highest ranked students are uninspiring, move on! Just because you miss training in a class doesn’t mean you want to train in THAT class!
You Might Try a New Style
It’s easy to just look for a new school in the same style you trained in previously. Just because it’s the same doesn’t mean it’s a match though. Attitude, intensity, and the quality of the people are all more important than the style. Keep an open mind!
You Will Know More Than Them AND Less Than Them
Every school and every style is different. You might walk into a school and see someone who barely knows how to get out of a simple wrist grab, but they may be able to kick you across the floor in sparring. It’s important to remember that just because you do something better than someone doesn’t mean they can’t do something better than you! Be patient, listen, learn!
The Little Differences Will Be the Most Annoying
A big difference is easy to see, a little difference isn’t. If you’ve spent years (or decades) fine-tuning a small detail like the way you chamber your punch, trying to change it will be a grueling process.
I started in American Kenpo and more recently started training in Taekwondo. I can safely say I’m having an easier time learning a jump 360 sidekick than I am preparing a basic block – BECAUSE THE KICK IS BRAND NEW. I’ve spent almost 20 years preparing a block one way, so I’m fighting a habit. Meanwhile I’ve never done a jump 360 sidekick so I’m not fighting any existing habits. These little differences will be the hardest.
You Might Have False Starts
Ever had a bad rebound relationship? Searching for a new school will lead to some of those too! Say you moved to a new town and tried a new school. The first class was exciting, the instructor was nice, and you can’t wait to sign up! A few weeks later the newness wears off and you realize the classes are shallow, you aren’t being challenged, and the instructors don’t make you feel the way your old instructor did. You’re at a rebound school.
Remember, the more time you spend at the wrong school, the less time you’re spending at the right school that’s out there somewhere!
You Might Need Multiple Schools
This is where it gets both pricey and time consuming. If your previous school did several things well, it might take several sources to get the same well-rounded training. Some schools are great at sparring, some are great at self-defense, and some are great at forms. If you want it all, you might not be able to get it all from one place.
If cost is a factor, check out clubs, community centers, universities, and schools that offer drop ins. You might be able to have a primary school for some things, and drop in elsewhere to cross-train.
Don’t Give Up
If you’re reading this, you love martial arts. The right school is out there, just remember that right doesn’t equal perfect! Find a place with a positive attitude, that challenges you, and that you can be proud to train at.