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The Better Dojo Bureau

How to choose a martial arts school.

Choosing a martial-arts school is highly personal. What are you looking for — competition or discipline? Self-defense tactics or a killer workout? Once you've decided, there are some things to avoid if you want to find a traditional dojo. They include:

Guaranteed Black Belts. If a school guarantees you a black belt in a set time period, be skeptical. You wouldn't enroll in a university that promises a degree in four years — regardless of the course work you put in.

Immediate Sparring. Avoid this for your own protection. It takes at least a year of regular practice before you can defend yourself.

Unsafe Sparring. Don't go near a school where the students seem reckless or look like they're out for a fight.

High Turnover. The school should have a core of students who have been studying there for at least five years.

No Affiliations. An affiliation with a well-established governing body or martial arts association offers at least a partial guarantee that there are standards and supervision.

Mixed Styles. Martial arts are founded on centuries-old traditions. You won't benefit from them if the school combines, say, elements of T'ai Chi and Taekwondo.

Out-of-Control Classes. Do the students seem to respect each other? If not, the instructor is failing.

Poor Demonstration. The instructor should do a great job of demonstrating techniques — it's the best way to learn.

A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1996 issue of Fast Company magazine.