10 Tips To Spot Bad Martial Art Schools For Beginners


Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mmachannel.com, its affiliates and sponsors.

There’s an increasing demand for martial arts classes due to the mainstream rise of MMA. Martial arts business is booming and we can see new schools opening on every corner. 

But, as in any business, you have good and bad products and services. So martial arts schools are no exception. As we know, when there’s money involved, there’s a risk of dishonest people trying to scam you. 

That said, not every gym offers the same learning and overall quality experience. As we are about to see in this article, many factors separate good gyms from the bad ones. In martial arts community, bad schools are also known as McDojo’s and it’s not that hard to spot one if you know what to look out for. 

If you are about to start martial art class as a beginner, you should know what I’m about to tell you because it will help you spot signs of a bad school so that you can make the right choice in choosing the best martial art school.

10. The main Instructor is not there as Advertised

Many schools are advertising their classes as the best since the famous coach is leading the classes. So, it’s normal for you to expect to see the same famous coach teaching the classes. But in a lot of gyms, the reality is a bit different. 

Once you join the school, you may see that the “famous” instructor is there once a week or much less. This is because he/she is usually teaching in many schools around the town. While they are going from one school to the other every other day, their “certified” assistances are actually teaching. In other words, this is misleading.

An increasing number of schools use this type of misleading advertisement to attract more students from schools in different locations with the same famous instructor implied as head instructor. This doesn’t mean the school is bad but it’s clearly misleading. Logically, most people are expecting to see the famous coach be there every day and teaching when they sign up. 

To prevent this from happening to you, make sure to gather all the information about the school before joining the classes. If you see this type of advertisement, be cautious. You must ask how often the main instructor actually teaches in the class.

If you ask me, I personally won’t sign up at all since this is a huge alarm for me that something is not right. I would move forward and look for another gym where the main instructor is there at least most of the time.

9. Additional Fees (Hidden fees) 

Some of the martial art schools advertisements are not completely transparent about the fees they are charging. Thus, don’t be surprised if you arrive at the school and see that the amount you have to pay is higher than the one in the advertisement.

When you arrive at the school, they might not tell you about hidden fees at first. But when you are about to sign up and pay, they will request additional fees. For this reason, make sure to ask if there are any additional fees before you sign up.

Some of these schools might try to charge you for administrative fees, yearly fees or other similar things. Since these extra fees are often not mentioned in the advertisement or on their website, you should be extra cautious. 

Like in any business, they are using creative ways to collect more cash out of your pocket and this is perhaps the most common one. 

In many schools, some fees might be legit if they are optional such as exercise equipment fees. As long as these are optional, there’s nothing wrong with it. But there is a big difference in paying to use their service and paying extra fees they insist for.

8. Automatic Withdrawal

Giving your bank account to those you don’t know well increases the chance of accidental withdrawal.

I have heard stories, where the schools have withdrawn the money from the student’s account long after they left the school. What’s more, these students had a hard time trying to recover their hard earned money and stop schools from withdrawing the money again. 

I personally have not run into any school that insists on setting up automatic bank withdrawal. But if you run into this, then you don’t need any other reason to leave the facility and train somewhere else. 

This might be ok if the school gives you an option to pay with cash, card or set up the automatic payment. If you do decide to set up automatic payments, make sure you have some type of banking protection from accidental withdrawal. But under any circumstances, they should not insist on setting up the automatic bank withdrawal payment.

7. Questionable Credentials

There is nothing worse than training with a teacher who pretends to be a martial arts expert.  Many instructors proudly mention their past accomplishments such as winning a big world tournament or former champion to imply that they are experts in their profession.  But you can’t always take their words at face value.

If an instructor can’t prove their martial art background, stay away from that school. You should be able to verify their accomplishments when you search it online etc. You can go here to verify your BJJ instructor’s black belt if it’s certified. Learning from a certified BJJ black belt is much more important than you think. For this reason, read the full report on why it’s important to verify BJJ black belts.

As is usual, good coaches have a lot of combat experience and some type of accomplishments that make them credible to teach other people. 

Even if the school looks professional, don’t let this overwhelm you. A good school doesn’t necessarily need to look new and has the most expensive equipment. Sometimes, they try to hide the lack of integrity with a professional look. State of the art equipment doesn’t mean a thing without a skilled instructor who knows how to teach other people

6. The Lack of Hygiene In The School

The lack of hygiene is synonymous with bad schools. Dirty mats could lead to many serious infectious diseases. A good martial art school should care about the student’s health. They must clean and disinfect the mats on a daily basis. 

MMA or BJJ training includes a lot of close contact between the students. It’s fair to say they come in contact with mats more than other martial arts training. During the sessions, people sweat, bleed and contaminate on the mats. 

Also, I have seen some martial arts schools that are regularly cleaning the mats but their bathroom is filthy. A good school must maintain high hygiene in every corner of the school and there is no argument about that.  

If you step on the mats and see they are dirty and not disinfected, avoid that school before it’s too late. It’s a clear sign that they do not care about the safety of their students. 

5. Making You Buy Their Gears 

Some martial art schools insist on buying their gear and equipment like Gi or boxing gloves. They will offer you various stuff such as Gi that can cost you hundreds of dollars. But you may find the same or similar Gi in the online market for a much better price and there’s nothing wrong with it

But in some bad schools, they refuse your wish to bring your own gear and train in it. This is a clear sign they are only interested in squeezing more money out of you and they clearly don’t care about your financial situation. 

You need to have an option to buy the gears either from the school or in some other store on the market. Why would you buy the equipment at school when you have an option to find it much cheaper on Amazon or other stores? 

What’s more, there’s no difference between expensive and cheap gear when it comes to beginners. The only difference is it saves you a lot of money and the school should not insist on buying their gears. 

4. Fast Track Promises

If someone offers you a quick road towards the black belt or gives you any other unrealistic promises, be sure that it is a bad school. A black belt is more than a piece of cloth and you have to earn it. It represents a journey of the martial artist, his dedication and sacrifice. Thus, you can’t buy such a thing. 

Just like in college, a student must put a lot of effort and prove that he/she is worthy of getting that degree. 

If the instructor says you can earn a black belt in a short time span, you are at a bad school. We even heard there are schools with the “Guaranteed Black Belt” signs at the front doors. 

Also, if you see plenty of black belts walking around the gym, that should raise your suspicion if those black belts are actually legit. The requirements for promotion through the belt ranking system are probably very low. 

The same stands for the combat styles that do not include the belt ranking system. In MMA for instance, we sometimes hear about the schools that “guarantee” you a spot in the UFC. If they give you such a promise, ask them about the fighters they have produced and fought in UFC.

3. Instructor Not Sparring With Students

If you notice the head instructor is never sparring with the students, this might be a sign they are maybe scared to reveal their true skills which are probably very bad. Of course, we can understand this if the instructor is old or has some health issues. But other than that, there’s no reason why the instructor wouldn’t spar in the classes. 

The instructor’s main task is to teach the classes and sometimes spar with the students. In my school, for example, we can sometimes see the main instructor sparring with the best students and presenting great martial arts skills. In some way, this reminds us that he is a legit martial artist and that we are in good hands.

If the instructor is young and healthy and never spars, there’s a good chance he/she is hiding the lack of skills. You won’t learn much from this type of person, so you make sure to not waste your money on their classes.

2. Asking You To Sign A Contract

Some martial arts schools insist on signing a long term contract which obligates you to stay in that school for the next year or more. Usually, longer contracts include lower monthly fees and the month-to-month may be more expensive. But if the school tries to convince you to sign a contract instead of explaining why you should join them, don’t waste time going any further. 

Like some other things, this one also must be optional. Every school has to offer you an option to sign a month to month deal. Forcing beginners to sign long term contracts is absolutely pointless and everyone should avoid signing with this school. 

There are many reasons why singing such a contract is bad. For instance, if a student wants to leave the school and train somewhere else, they are still legally obligated to pay off the remaining months under the signed contract term. Thus you are far better off signing up for monthly membership so you are not obligated to stay long term nor be financially obligated should you decide to leave the school.

Thus make sure to watch out for this type of legal contract and avoid schools that are insisting on signing them.

1. Bullies In The Classes

The moment you see a senior student berating a newcomer, be sure to pack your bag and search for another school. Bullying in the classes denies everything martial arts stand for.

The best schools include a high level of discipline and respect between the students. Instead of feeding your ego, martial arts schools are places in which we all look to support and help each other. That should be the fundamental base for any school.

It all begins with the instructor’s authority and their ability to keep all in order and discipline. When you see a bully inside the gym, be sure that it is entirely the instructor’s fault. He shouldn’t allow that type of behavior to even exist inside the gym. To avoid this, ask for free trial classes so you can observe the atmosphere of the class to see if you are comfortable learning there. Do not just assume that all martial art classes are any different than a hostile work environment.

I mean, martial art schools are places in which you learn how to defend against bullies, not to learn how to become one.

Many of the well-known MMA fighters have been bullied in the past and they have overcome by learning martial arts. You can read about these top MMA fighters who were bullied.

Clay E

Clay E is a MMA/Muay Thai practitioner who was a collegiate wrestler at James Madison University.

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