Type of Taekwondo Training
Some dojangs stress "traditional" Taekwondo training, some stress "point" Taekwondo training, some stress "Olympic" semi-contact Taekwondo training, and some stress "full-contact" Taekwondo training. Full-contact training is tough on the body and it takes a tough personality. Point training is similar to flag football. You get to play the game and get an ego boost without having, or ever having had, the desire or ability to play real football. Semi-contact and traditional Taekwondo allow you realistically test your skills on a daily training basis with little chance of serious injury. You should choose a dojang that uses the type of training that fits your personality and goals.
Yellow Page Ad
Yellow page ads are not free. Just a quarter page ad may cost hundreds of dollars per month. This mean the school must have enough students to pay for the ad. Therefore, the size of the ad will give you some idea or the number of students in the school and/or the cost of classes.
Look at the class schedule. Make sure classes are offered at times you are able to attend. Depending on the size of the school, there may be separate classes for beginner, intermediate, and advanced, so consider that your class schedule may change as you advance.
Class Age Groups
See if classes are separated by age and/or belt level. Adult students may not appreciate training with children, some of whom may be able to execute the techniques better than they can. You may find yourself as the only adult in a class full of much younger students, and the different maturity levels could prove distracting to both you and them.
Who teaches the classes? Does the head instructor teach most of the classes or does he or she only teach the advanced classes? If assistants teach beginner classes, what are their qualifications and experience? Ensure you watch classes taught by the person who will be teaching your class. And who will you be spending most of your class time with?
Size of School
Taekwondo schools come in all sizes. Some are part of a large chain, others are small operations run by a single instructor. The quality of instruction you will receive at a school is not necessarily related to its size. You can receive poor or excellent instruction both at a small school and at a large school. Although large schools may have better equipment and nicer facilities, smaller schools offer students more personal attention.
A school's proximity to your home or work should be taken into consideration prior to signing up. Although an hour commute to class might not seem too bad at first, keep in mind that you will be making that drive two-to-three times a week for the next several years. Find a school that fits your needs, but is also within an acceptable driving distance.
Take notice of the school atmosphere, the attitudes of the students and instructors. Are they friendly and respectful toward one another? Do they appear to be having fun while free-sparring or do they show irritation and anger? Does the instructor appear to enjoy teaching? Are there an unreasonable number of injuries in class caused by a lack of control? Overall, does it seem like a place you would like to spend 3 to 4 nights a week for the next several years?
If you see students engaging in sparring and smiling and laughing at the same time, there is too much sport involved and not enough serious training. If they never smile, then they are too serious and probably not having fun. If everyone laughs and talks all the time, the school is most a social gathering, not a serious Taekwondo dojang. When someone does something dumb, such as falling while trying to kick too high, the students and instructors should laugh with, not at, the person.
Observe how injuries are handled by instructors and students. Injuries should be ignored if minor, endured if minor and painful, and immediately treated if major.
If weapons are displayed, do they look frequently used or just for display. If you are interested in learning weapons and you see shiny nunchaku with gold colored chains or brightly painted shuriken, it probably means real weapons are not taught at the school.
Schools vary in the type of equipment and amenities they offer. Some are large and modern, and provide weight-training equipment, showers, and lockers, while others do not. Remember, students are paying for these extras; it is up to you to decide what is most important and necessary for your training. All schools should offer basic comforts, adequate equipment, and learning essentials. Depending on your location, air conditioning may be a must. A pretty school is not necessarily a highly functional school, and vice versa.
School Business Procedures
Personally, I feel the best Taekwondo dojang is one with a good instructor who is affiliated with a "traditional" organization and operates a non-commercial dojang that is affiliated with a college, YMCA/YWCA, or other community organization. A commercial Taekwondo dojang is a business and must make money to stay in business.
At a minimum, commercial dojang owners must pay the lease, energy costs, insurance, etc. If they are full time owners, they also must make a decent salary. If they are part-time owners, they must make enough salary for the effort to be worth their time. There is nothing wrong with a commercial dojang, but, if the owner is to cover the expenses of business, the monthly student payments must be much higher than for a non-commercial dojang.
Most of the expenses of a non-commercial dojang are covered by the organization under which it operates, such as a college. A good instructor does not necessarily need a commercial dojang to train quality students. If you do not mind paying for the "extras" of a commercial dojang, then by all means do so. However, do not feel you are getting less than the best if the instructor does not operate a commercial dojang.
Quality of Students
The quality of instruction in a dojang may be judged by the quality of the students. Observe classes held for students of different belt levels.
Do the students appear to:
- Enjoy their training at all belt levels.
- Act friends with each other during and after class.
- Show respect for each other, the instructors, visitors, and the art of Taekwondo.
- Show the level of expertise expected of a student of that rank. If you saw the students training while not wearing any rank identification, could you accurately guess the belt level of each student, or would you be surprised to learn that a poorly performing student was actually a high ranked student.
- Student respect and discipline may be forced or natural; watch how the students react when the instructor is not within sight. If they step languidly through the motions or chat with one another, their previous show of respect and discipline was a facade.
- Talk to several students. Ask them how long they have studied at the school, what they like about it, who teaches most of the classes, etc. Do not ask them what is wrong with the school; that puts them on the spot to criticize their school and instructor. It will make you look bad if you attend the school. Just ask what they like about the school and read between the lines the best you can.
- At tournaments, how does the proficiency of the students rate against students of other dojangs? When sparring, how do the students react with they lose? What loyalties do the students feel toward the instructor and the dojang?