I highly recommend contacting the school/instructor before you begin any training program.
First, you want to make sure the program is still in operation. Second, it gives you a feel for their response time and how you interact with the instructor.
Here is a checklist of questions you might want to ask.
Basics About the Program
- My background in martial arts is _______. I am interested in studying your style because I want to learn _____. Do you think this program will work for me? State your background and goals and ask them what they think. Of course, you’re in a sales pitch situation, but the instructor should be able to state why it is suitable for you.
- If you have any physical limitations, be sure to mention them. You might also want to mention your age if you are a teen or elderly, as it may affect how the instructor works with you (teens tend to lack maturity and dedication; elderly people tend to have more physical limitations).
- How many people have you had go through your program and successfully earn a black belt? How long have you been running this program? (The way it’s answered is probably more important than the answer. I wouldn’t be put off by either “we have had over 500 students go through our program since 1996″ or ”we launched this program last year and so far I’ve had eight students”).
- How long does it typically take to earn a black belt?
- What sort of problems do students usually have with your program?
- What happens if I buy your package and then you stop teaching, suddenly die, etc.? In some cases, the instructor is a one-man operation and you should know that going in. In other cases, you’re interacting with a larger school and this is not an issue.
- I calculate the fees to black belt as $X. Is that right? Are there any other fees? (Fees sometimes include: association fees, testing fees, materials fees, required equipment, required Skype or video chat hourly instruction/private lesson fees).
- If the materials are offered as a package, ask if you can buy just the first DVD and then buy the rest at the prorated package rate if you buy with a certain period of time (perhaps 30 days). That way both sides benefit – you get a limited “try before you buy” and the school gets the larger package sale. As a student, this prevents you from sinking big bucks into a program only to find out you can’t understand the instructor or hate the style.
- I have one/some partner(s) who also want to train. Do each student need to buy the materials, or can we share them among the group? Note that testing fees are usually per person, but many programs allow you to share in a group (as long as you’re not making copies).
- If there is not a sample of the program (some video clips, samples of the printed material, etc.) on the site, ask for some. It’s really unreasonable to ask people to buy on blind faith.
- If I have a question, how do I get it answered? Can I video tape myself and send you a question? Are you available by email or phone? Is there any charge if I want to ask you a question or ask you to look at something I videotaped?
- I have no/one/some partner(s) available. Is that OK?
- Do I need a partner to demonstrate in my test videos?
- What happens after I earn a black belt? Is there further training?
- Can you tell me what’s involved in video testing? Do you have a blank grading sheet I could look at? What kind of feedback do you give? Note that some programs have very detailed, multi-step protocols. Others are more free form. Make sure you know what’s required.
- What kind of testing feedback do you give – is it just pass/fail or do you give a video lesson correcting mistakes? Is there a separate fee for a certificate or is that included?
- What is your pass rate for video testing? Ideally, you want something that is reasonably rigorous. If it’s 100%, then it’s a belt mill by definition. You don’t want an instructor simply rubber-stamping your test submissions.
- What formats do you accept for video testing? Do I need to mail a VHS/DVD, or can I put an unlisted YouTube video up, etc.?
- What if I fail a belt test? Do I need to pay the fee for that test again?
- For each belt, do you send a certificate and/or belt?
- You might ask to see a student’s test certificate. I personally like certificates as a full set from yellow to black looks great on a wall. You might want to see what they look like (nicely printed or cheap home printer) and what they say (“International Greenoch Kenpo Association” or “Dojos-r-us.com”).
- You might also ask if there is a discount or different price if you don’t want a certificate. Maybe all you care about is black belt, or maybe you already have some lower belt level certificates in another art.
- Am I required to own a gi or other uniform? Is there any required equipment (weapons, punching bags, dummies, etc.)?
- Even if not required, is there any equipment you’d recommend? At what belt levels?
- Is there a forum, mailing list, Facebook group, etc. for the program where I can interact with other students?
- Can you put me in touch with others in my area (if there are any) who are using this program?
Not Specific to Distance Learning
- If it’s not spelled out on the site, what is the instructor’s background, qualifications, and lineage?
- If it’s not spelled out on the site, what specific style is being studied?
- Is the school part of any kind of national association? Will my belt be recognized anywhere?
You should also understand the style being studied – its strengths/weaknesses, what major divisions exist, what weapons are associated, etc.