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Taekwondo is one of the most popular martial arts styles in the world. People love it for its flashy kicks and insane acrobatic movements, which, when perfected, can turn the practitioner into a lethal weapon. More and more people want to train this martial art, which results in more dojos opening than ever. However, there is a question which is really important for anyone who wants to get into training. A question, which is arguably one of the most important ones to ask before such a journey. And it is: how do I find a good Taekwondo school? That is the question this article aims to answer, so read on if you are interested!
1. Find the School Near You
So first, the obvious. You need to look around your area in search of a Taekwondo school. One of the mistakes people make when trying to find a dojo is that they give in to marketing and bias. It is quite a common story, that the average, everyday person is just walking around the town or city they live in, not suspecting anything when all of a sudden they realize they have been walking past a TKD dojo for the past couple of months without realizing. It has a good-looking logo and an organized entrance, so they take a peek inside to find a good-looking gym with lots of equipment and 20 people training in white dresses.
After getting home, this person will check the dojo on the internet and find that it is a popular Taekwondo dojo in the area, and guess what, they also have an aesthetic website. So they decide to start training. They pay 3 months of membership fees and a beginner’s “profile creation” fee or something similar to that, and off they go.
Now this story can go in one of two directions. The first, and the better one, is that this dojo is an actual, legitimate dojo, and they teach good stuff, and the person learns a lot and isn’t ripped off. Unfortunately, this happens in about 40% of the cases in my estimation, judging from the 10 years I have spent in martial arts in several cities and countries.
Be wary of dojos that advertise themselves too much, which seem too organized or too modern. Often, they are McDojos and they have a lot of money from ripping people off and making them pay for all different types of services and fees in turn for sloppy training. Of course, there is a possibility that the dojo advertises itself and looks very neat and attractive because it is a reputable and prestigious dojo, where people are willing to pay more money for the high-quality service, or they just have a lot of students. If this is the case, great, but often, it isn’t so. And here is where we get to the second step…
2. Research Your Dojo
So you might have chosen a dojo which seems to be the best in your area, or perhaps you just can’t decide between a couple of dojos. This is where our next step comes into play, and that is to do some research on the dojo you are going to potentially train in.
As a general rule of thumb, if the master/instructor at the given dojo can be connected to a great Korean master, or to some big name in the art in less then 4 or 5 steps, you are on the right path. Taekwondo is not an old martial art. Its roots do date back centuries, but the Taekwondo we know of today was formed in the 1950-s, so that means that you can start becoming suspicious if your master didn’t learn the art from some large name. The largest masters of 20th-century TKD still probably have students who are alive and teaching, so it should be normal to have a master who is only one or two steps below them.
As another general rule of thumb, if you cannot connect the instructor or the master to a Korean master, or if they are reluctant to talk about (or post online about) where they got their knowledge from, avoid the dojo. Frankly, nobody who has trained under any prestigious school’s flag or logo will want to hide that, so if you sense something fishy, it is better to stay away. It is better to learn another martial art than it would be to learn TKD poorly and end up being overconfident about your performance.
Aside from the name of the masters, and who they can be connected to, you should also look into some tournaments, video clips, or just some text on a website labeled “About Us”, as it usually is. Find whatever info you can about the given dojo in a day or two, and then you will make a much more educated decision in the end.
3. Look Into the Style
This step isn’t necessarily the third step you should take chronologically, but it shouldn’t happen later than this. It is looking into the specific styles and forms of TKD and the ones available to you. This is a very important point many people miss out on, which is why I include it on our list.
There are many different styles of Taekwondo. It is not a singular entity that can be learned like a mathematical formula, but rather a mountain made up of various hills. All of them are Taekwondo but in a different way. Philosophy aside, different styles and forms of Taekwondo have different applications, focuses, philosophies, or techniques. It is important that you know well enough what you are getting into, since going into your training blindly might not be the most fruitful thing to do, seeing as you are way more susceptible to scams, and you might also waste your time learning something you didn’t really want to.
One of the other reasons I included this point is because I have made this mistake in my personal life. I have trained Aikido for about 2 years earlier in my life, and I went into it thinking only about Steven Seagal movies. I thought it would teach me how to fight properly and to defend myself as well, so I went. However, I didn’t know at the time that the branch of Aikido that I trained in (it was the only option available) was Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido. Now, Shin Shin Toitsu is one of the more traditional styles of Aikido, and the founder, Koichi Tohei was only 2 steps away from my Sensei, but the problem was with the style itself. It is an Aikido style which is almost half Yoga. Of course, that isn’t accurate, but there are actually some ties between the two. SST Aikido focuses a lot on the mind-body relationship, on using Ki, on keeping balance, on breathing techniques, etc.
This is not bad, and I have learned a lot, but there is no fight or self-defense scenario which I would win using my experience, even though I have 2 whole years of it.
This is the reason this point is emphasized. Try to know as much as you can about what you are going into. That way, you will get the most out of the art, you will enjoy it more, and you also won’t get scammed.
4. Go On a Test Class
In most dojos, just like in gyms and most fitness-oriented communities, you can go and take a free class before signing up or becoming a dedicated part of their team. If this option is available to you, and you haven’t yet made up your mind after the research you have done on the school, definitely go for it. It will give you the best feel of the dojo, the atmosphere, and the people there. What’s more, even if you have made your mind up, we would recommend you not to sign up before taking a “demo” class, since it is the final thing to check off the list when searching for a good school.
At the end of the day, you shouldn’t attend classes and training where you don’t feel comfortable. Even if there is a dojo with a great reputation and history, you might go in the doors, dress up for the first training, and then be so disappointed and disheartened from the experience, that you won’t sign up. History and prestige aside, how you feel, and whether you connect with the place and the people is also something that matters tremendously.
Tips on Finding Good Schools
We have gone through a couple of the most important steps when it comes to searching for a dojo that will not rip you off and will also teach you some proper, traditional martial arts skills. However, there are a couple of things that weren’t mentioned in that part of the article, and those we will share with you here.
One of these tips which can make the search process easier is to look out for WTF, ITF, or ATA signs or logos. These are some of the largest Taekwondo organizations worldwide, and any dojo which is a part of them is likely to be a legitimate one. This is like searching for a Michelin star when searching for restaurants, like a guarantee of quality. Although you must keep in mind that not all of the dojos under these names will be good, and even the ones which are might not fulfill your needs.
A tip that connects to this previous one is to look into the way schools teach. If you go to a WTF, ITF, or ATA school, you will likely learn real TKD, but that real TKD might not have the same goals as you want them to. These TKD organizations have over time turned into sports organizations much more than martial arts organizations. This means that learning under these associations would mean that you are training for points in a sparring match and not the real Taekwondo which would protect you on the street.
Decide whether you want to take part in championships and competitions or not. If you like the competitive spirit and would like to get to a high level in the sport of Taekwondo, you cannot really go wrong with the aforementioned names. However, if you really want to learn the original, authentic, physical, violence-based Taekwondo, which was developed for self-defense and for powerful strikes, you would do better if you searched specifically for a traditional TKD school. These schools are rare, but they also come with the advantage of usually having some punching and grappling in their “curriculum” as well.
Another detail that can help you determine the quality of Taekdonwo education in the given dojo is to watch an advanced class and see how many kids have black belts. The fact is, if you want to be a black belt in real Taekwondo, you need consistent training for up to 4 years, and you need to be strong enough and old enough to sparr and properly understand the techniques you are working with. What many McDojos do is that they push children through all the belt exams and get them up to black belt degrees when they are 14 years old.
This is just as ridiculous as it is unrealistic, but it does show a couple of things. The obvious reason behind this “force-feeding” process is to squeeze out as much money as possible out of every child before they grow up, attend competitions and realize that the quality of the classes is low. If you enter a dojo and you see children with black belts around their waists, you can be quite sure that there is something scammy, suspicious, or just unusual. In the case that you do encounter such situations, what you must do is do more research and keep an eye on how the dojo works, so you can be aware if there is any scam going on that you should be worried about.