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Finding A Martial Arts Instructor

By Gene Roos

Finding a legitimate martial arts instructor is not often easy. Most beginning students just don’t know enough to judge what they should be looking for and what to avoid. Here are a couple of suggestions.

Things to be careful of in terms of rank

1-Be careful of anyone who claims to be a high rank in multiple arts, such as a 9th or a 10th dan (degree black belt). It takes a lifetime to become an expert, no less such a high rank such as this in one art, much the less in a second.

2.Be wary of a high rank in one art (such as Judo) and years later is the same rank in another art, such as Jujitsu. There have been cases of certificate swapping by different organizations. That means for a fee, if you have a rank in one art, someone is willing to sell you a certificate for a second art, along with, of course, a little training.

3. Look out for “boy or woman wonders.” These are people who claim advanced ranks, such as 8th, 9th or10th Dan (black belt) at a comparably young age. A 9th or 10th dan, for example is rarely obtained under the age of 50, and an 8th dan under 35 years of age.

4-Ask about the teacher’s length of study and affiliation with his or her organization and be sure his or her rank is issued by that organization.

Who Is Issuing The Instructors Rank & What Is Taught

With the Internet there are many teachers and organizations willing to sell rank for a fee. This can be problematic. While some unaffiliated instructors may not have a source of advancement even though their expertise and time in their art warrants advancement, there are also a host of others who just buy rank without sufficient training or credentials.

1-Ask the teacher what organization he is affiliated with and who is his teacher. You might then go on the Internet and check out that organization and see if the teacher is actually affiliated. Most organization websites have a listing of their affiliated teachers and locations.

2-Feel comfortable not only with the teacher, but with what he or she is teaching. While this might be problematic for new students, they can feel confidence if the organization with which the teacher is affiliated has a history and tradition that is least 30-50 years old, or older. Watch out for the teachers and styles that claim that they have taken “what was best from judo, jujutsu, karate, etc.and combined them into the ultimate style.” Remember, few people have in depth experience in multiple arts, so it is unlikely that your new “Super” teacher does, unless he or she has devoted decades to the study of each.

3-Check out the claims and statements of a prospective teacher. In one case I am aware of a well known Sensei (teacher) stated that he spent two months with a Federal Enforcement Agency and had a high rank in a Judo. While employed with the same Agency, I checked his statements and there were no two-month programs. I also wrote the Judo organization and there was no record of him. If you catch the instructor in misstatements, be very careful.

4-If you are looking into a judo school, for example, and its terminology does not follow that of the Kodokan (assuming it is a Kodokan school), be careful. Any school representing a larger organization to which it is affiliated, should have common terminology. Of course, this is very difficult for a new student to determine. But, if you are experienced in the martial arts and are looking to expand your training this should not be difficult to check, especially via Internet.

5- Be sure the teacher’s certificates match the organization that he claims to be associated
with. Again, this is more of a suggestion for an experienced martial artist than a new student.

Promises, Claims and Degrees Offered

1-Be careful of instant certification. In one instance an organization offered a two hour course in their techniques, and for so much money, would issue you an Instructor’s certificate for that course. No one, and I mean no one, can take two hours of instruction and learn the material. There are too many nuances and all techniques require practice and correction.. In addition, without continued training it is almost impossible to retain techniques. Then there are “Masters” who advertise issuing you a black belt if you buy their video/DVD course. In one ad the teacher said, “I trust you will study the material.” Trying to learn from a video or DVD is almost impossible. You need a trained eye to pick out what is important, how people move and what is actually happening. A beginner will see one thing, or think they see it, and an expert will see something entirely different. Thus while video/DVD instruction might benefit someone studying technique he or she is very familiar with and have practiced, it is little use to the uninitiated.

2-Be careful of those who claim that his is system is the only one that can protect you in a fight situation, or that the system is the only one that really works on the street. A variation of this approach is often seen in martial arts magazines by “Masters” who state
that their system teaches “devastating techniques that will instantly defeat any aggressor,” or something similar. Martial arts take time to learn, and effective techniques take training and a lot of practice.

Look At The Teacher’s Students

Watch several classes at any prospective teacher’s school. A good sign is that there are many senior students and those with advanced rank who are still studying. If the classes are all junior grades, ask yourself why? If all the black belts are still kids or close to it, ask yourself questions.

Obligations And/Or Contracts

1-Be careful of long term contracts, or black belt programs, such as a guaranteed two or three year black belt program, where you pay for a couple of years or a required number of lessons up front.

2-Make sure your prospective teacher isn’t gouging you with fees or other charges. Check to see what the better schools in your area charge and make sure what you are being ask to pay is not out of line with the average. Also, check on promotion charges. Some schools charge reasonably on a month-to-month basis, but have a periodic examination and/or promotion fee schedule that adds a disproportionate extra cost.


Carefully observe a number of classes to be sure that the instructor and school puts a high priority on safety. I have seen karate schools where students are almost beat up, or protective equipment is not used when it should be, especially with children. Ask when a student starts to practice fight. In some schools it is immediately, or soon after they begin. Beginning students just aren’t trained to fight correctly or safely, because they haven’t mastered the basics or control over their technique..

If it is a judo, or jujitsu school, is the instructor careful of his or her students and is the class careful to avoid injuries from falls that are too hard? Some teachers try to impress their students and show off their ego with hard techniques. In these situations the students often suffer. Injured students are not likely to be training in the near future.

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About The Author:

Prof. Gene Roos, 10th dan Ju Jitsu, and 4th dan in judo, is a member of the Board of Directors for the America Ju Jitsu Association. He is a frequent contributor to In 1958 was awarded Shodan (Judo) and won the Regional Judo Champion. In 1958 & 1959 was Judo State Champion. His instructors include: Harold Brosious (Ketsugo), Dennis Palumbo (Hakko Ryu Ju Jitsu, 8th Dan), George Kirby, & Shizuya Sato (Ju Jitsu), Wally Jay (Small Circle Ju Jitsu), Dr. Sacharnoski (Hard Style Ju Jitsu & Ki) and Master Mochizuki (a student of Funakoshi, Kano, & Ueshiba). He is also the author of a series of upcoming books on Aiki jujitsu as well as a number of videos including: "Aiki Jujitsu" (a three video tapes series with manuals); "Deadly Attacks" (defense against 30 knife, gun, stick and empty hand attacks); "Deadly Attacks- part II" (defense against an additional 30 knife, gun and empty hand attacks); "Deadly Attacks III" and "Devastating Throws and Other Deadly Attacks " (defense against 30 advanced combat throws, knife attacks, stick, and a rear shotgun attack), For more information see:

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

studying martial arts,martial arts teachers

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