30 Essential Questions

30 Essential Questions to Ask Before Joining a Martial Arts School for Your Child

30 Essential Questions

Hi, this is Brad Scornavacco. I’m the head of school at Scornavacco Martial Arts Academy here in Longmont, Colorado. What I’d like to share with you is a little list I put together called “30 Essential Questions You Must Ask Before You Join a Martial Arts School.”

I put this list together originally for my sister‑in‑law, who lives in Virginia. She was looking for a martial arts school for her son. Because I didn’t know the schools in Virginia, because I don’t live there, I made a list for her, a quick bulleted checklist of things that she should look for.

She could take it to the various schools and see what they had to offer and what their qualifications were. I’d like to share that with you right now.

I divided the questions up into three different categories:

The first one was the EDUCATION and EXPERIENCE of the staff that would be teaching your child, which is the most important criteria to be looking at if you go anywhere. Anywhere you want your child, you want to make sure you have the best staff and the best‑trained staff. To make sure they know how to work with your child.

The first question is do you have an education specialist on staff? That’s important because, when you’re dealing with children, along with question two, which is do you have a child developmental specialist on staff?

You want to make sure that you don’t have adults that are used to teaching adults or don’t even like children and are forced to teach them. You want to make sure they have some experience and background of best practices with how to teach children/

How to deal with children who don’t want to come to class, or having challenges, who are being kids. You want a firm, but gentle, disciplinary style, something that is really important for kids.

In my own experience I have seen adults teach in the military and then try to teach civilians which is really difficult in of itself. Then, one step further, take their martial arts training they learned in the military to children and it doesn’t work very well. They’re very different skills.

A teacher needs to be able to teach all different ages. From children to young children, four, five and six-year-old, all the way up to teenagers into adults. They should all be taught together and they shouldn’t all be taught the same way.

It’s really important that the teachers understand the difference and they’re ready to teach your child in an age appropriate manner.

The third question is do you have a bullying and conflict resolution specialist? That doesn’t come with a black belt.

Somebody who is a black belt doesn’t necessarily understand how to do you de-escalate a confrontation. How children have to go to school everyday. You need to handle kids who are being aggressive and bullying them.

So it’s really important that they have some experience outside of punching and kicking, and how to nonviolently deal with conflict. If you want, I will send you a free copy of my book that I’ve written on bullying, which is called “So I Won’t Have to Fight: Bully Solutions for Martial Arts Masters.”

There’s a lot of good stuff in there that’ll help you without ever having to go into a martial school. Again, that was something I did for family and friends. I published the book and offer it for people in my town and pretty much anybody who wants a copy. You can look at that.

The fourth question dovetails into the bullying situation, which is…Do you have specialized knowledge and skill to work with ADHD kids and other high needs children?

That’s something that I have seen. Students that come to my school from other schools that instructors didn’t even know what Asperger’s was or how to deal with ADHD kids other than to tell them that they have to focus. ADHD is, in particular, something that is not just a matter of willpower.

There are certain practices and behaviors that can be taught to kids that will help them with that. That’s something that is really important. Again, you don’t learn that by learning how to block a punch.

These are different skills other than the technical martial arts skills that should be…any school you go into, the staff should have those skills. That should be a given, going into martial arts school, that they can do that.

Number 5 is, are they CPR and First Aid certified? To be clear, martial arts schools have a really low incidence of injury. Still, you want to make that, if something were to happen in class, at least your child would be taken care of. It is a contact art and some thing seems do happen.

You want to make sure that safety first and that the instructors know that and are prepared for that. If they are certified in First Aid, they have a deeper level of understanding how to take care of their class. A general flow of the class would be such that they won’t be doing things that are too dangerous.

So that’s really important.

Number 6, which is, how long have you been training and teaching? That’s a good question to ask the instructor, and are you certified to teach? Have you been trained how to teach and not just do the martial arts? Again, because doing and teaching are two different skills.

At our school I have…along with my wife, who is a PhD. in education. She’s our education specialist, Dr. Karla. We go through best teaching practices and things that you should do, things that you shouldn’t do with kids. We’re always working and training our staff on a weekly basis on how to do that.

How long somebody’s been doing this is a very important question. I can send this little questionnaire I have for you. Mine says 26 years. I did this about five, six years ago, so I personally am well over 30 plus years of nonstop teaching.

That makes a difference, because experience knows instructor will know how to deal with certain situations with best practices. That brings me to question eight, which is…is continued education required for the staff? My martial arts instructor was a pilot.

You would think that when you know how to fly a plane, you’re done. Even pilots have to keep going and getting checked out and re‑certified and make sure that they’re up to date on the latest practices.

Any instructor, that’s got to be something that students do, so all of my staff, myself, we continually are educating ourselves to make sure that we are prepared to be the best teachers possible.

Educational backgrounds are important in martial arts skill because it helps to see where their life experience comes from. There are people I know who do martial arts because they don’t have any other abilities. They haven’t had any education outside of the sweating it out and learning the martial arts skills.

For example, my background, my training is in philosophy and, oddly enough, economics, but that was really important. It was my training within my martial arts ability. My wife being a PhD in education was two things mesh really well with being instructors. I have been teaching since I was in fifth grade.

Not just martial arts, other things. The amount of time and experiences is an important factor. Not to say the people who are new shouldn’t be given a chance, but it’s something to look for.

Number 10 is, has your entire staff gone through criminal background checks? We have had a few people at my old school, coming in and asking us that. The answer is yes, because I have to. I am a provider for a charter school in town that deals with high‑needs kids.

And we all have to be criminal background checked from them. I’ve had that myself and an outside source has criminal background checked my staff. It’s another layer of protection for you as a parent. That’s something you should do and ask for.

We won’t be offended, but wherever you take your child you should know about that. Being a martial arts school and self‑defense school, it’s obviously something that we would want to foster. Is your staff trained to properly work with children? That’s another good question.

We have very stringent standards on how we touch children, where we touch children to make sure that there is nothing inappropriate happening. In my school, we have one big room, pretty much outside of somebody going to a changing room…everyone can see what is really going in on in my school.

Which is really important, so there are no hidden rooms or anything. We don’t do private lessons without a parent present. We also make sure that there is more than one adult in the school, and that’s precautions that we take. We set it up that way, the school.

As far as working with children, my staff I train them all to make sure they know touching the shoulders and the arms, from knees below, and the head, and we stay away from the body. Even such things as tying belts, when we have to tie a child’s belt. We do that so everyone can see where our hands are.

It’s something to make sure that everybody understands our respect for our students. That leave no answer the question, is there anything inappropriate happening?

Number 12 is about extensive knowledge of safe body mechanics. In the martial arts there’s a lot of movement, obviously, and the instructors need to understand how the body works, how it doesn’t work and not have students do exercises that hurt them while they’re training.

It’s supposed to be self‑defense, not self‑destruction and you don’t want the actual training going against standard exercise physiology. That’s something that’s really important, because there are out‑loaded martial arts ideas and practices that with the advent of sports science.

There are really good school that have put that stuff aside to make sure that students are moving bio‑mechanically correct. It’s really important, especially with so many more children doing sports and being involved that they need to make sure that their bodies are moving with proper form and proper posture.

So they don’t get hurt while they train.

Finally, 13 down here is, is there someone of staff that’s going to answer questions, help me? Can you get a hold of people at the school for what you need? The staff needs to be available.

For example, we have people on our phones from 9:00am to 9:00pm and we also answer emails and text messages and anything we can do to help our students. You want to make sure that you’re treated with respect from the staff that they will be there before the class, after class.

If you have to make an appointment where you can come in and talk to somebody, I can do those possibilities and opportunities to do that. This was the first 13 questions and these cover pretty much education experience and staff.

The next category is CURRICULUM and TEACHING.

This is all about what’s going to happen when your child is out on the mat and how that is structured so you can understand what your child is going to go through and needs to learn to advance.

Number 14 is, is the disciplinary style kind and nurturing? Traditionally, martial arts is very regimented and military‑like where nobody laughs, nobody smiles, which is very much stone‑faced. Children were taught like that. It’s not the best way, in our opinion, of how to teach children.

You want somebody who can have more of a nurturing style to kids, to inspire the children, at the same time to make sure that the respect is given to the instructors and the students know how to behave in a class. That’s a fine line because it’s easy for adults to yell and make them be afraid, so they listen.

That doesn’t allow the children to internalize the sense of discipline and how they should act. It’s more than being afraid. When you teach somebody how to fear, as soon as the person who is making the child be afraid leaves, then the child will act differently. That is not the best recipe for long‑term success with a child.

Number 15 is, is the student‑teacher ratio small enough? For example, at our school, we try to keep at least three adult instructors on the mat, plus a couple younger assistant instructors who are going to help us. I’ve had people come to my school and say that they’re sitting in a class of 30‑40 kids.

There’s one instructor and I don’t understand how a student could learn technical martial arts skills faithfully intersecting with that few adults. Such is my opinion.

I would always ask people to look for that teacher ratio. It’s not that the class itself has to be small, but there have to be enough adults who are watching the students. It goes the same for adults.

Number 16 is, are any classes age‑specific? The reason that you want to look for age‑specific classes is because…I said earlier that you have to teach adults generally what they teach children at different ages.

If you looked at the school systems, our kindergartners with high school students, and 8th grade students, and middle school students. That would be a disaster, if you did that.

In a martial arts school, if you have…Somebody comes home from work, and he comes into a class with a six‑year‑old, that’s not good for either one of them, because they have different needs. Adults don’t want to have to be stood up and sit down like children.

You can’t have children attacking adults, for example, on the physical part. In a self‑defense or in school, it’s very difficult to be…as an adult training practicing against a child. It’s better if you can have the ages separated out.

Pre‑school aged children, older children, teenagers, twins, and then the adults, together. That way students will be taught the way they need to be taught.

17 is, is any co-operation oriented…Little League Syndrome? It’s not that competition is bad, per se, that students get that everywhere and especially in American society, everything is a competition. A child can go to any sport, any activity, at any age, and be put into this competitive grind.

They need an alternative to that and in a martial arts school each child should be able to advance at his own rate and to be able to achieve things without having to fight someone for it and lose all the time. It’s not that it’s an “everybody wins, everybody gets a ribbon for participation.”

But it is something that everyone can achieve. For example, everybody in a graduating class can graduate out of high school or get their bachelor’s degree. There’s not just one degree and you’d have to beat everybody to it.

It’s a different focus on that and in martial arts school the students are helping each other excel, and helping each other know about their bodies, they’re helping each other understand how to interact with other people. They’re learning how to bring the best about themselves.

So when they do go compete they have the physical ability to compete, but they also have the mental and psychological skills to deal with winning and losing and to understand it on an emotional state. Having an alternative to that is really important.

I say that because I had Little League Syndrome. I did Little League the whole time I did martial arts and I saw that intense competition. What got me through it was my martial arts training. If you’re looking for an alternative to that, but at the same time something that can cross‑train your child and get them ready.

So they do compete, ready for rigors of competition, for the stress of it. Then that’s something that you want at a martial arts school.

Number 18 is, is there a well‑structured curriculum with clear expectations and rewards? There are martial arts schools, and I’ve seen them…You don’t know when you’re supposed to test, you don’t really know what it is that’s on your test and then the instructors tell you when it’s time for your test.

Or sometimes they don’t even have tests. They say you’ve been in the school long enough, so you’re ready for you next step. It’s really hard to learn something when you don’t know what’s expected of you and you don’t know what you’re going to be tested on.

When I was in school I had teachers who would always teach us and then they would put on something of a test that we never even talked about. I always felt cheated because I did my best to study and to learn what the curriculum that gave me and then to throw something out left field, I felt that it wasn’t fair.

At my school was a well‑structured curriculum to make sure students know exactly what they’re going to be tested on and we want them to excel at that because those are the things they need to know. If they do, they’re going to do really well in school.

That’s really important that you know what your child needs to learn and you have the help of it. We have DVDs and training opportunities and things written out, special classes to help the students with anything they need help with.

It’s important to know what’s expected of you. I would think that that would be standard, but it’s not.

Number 19 is, unity of a private studying opportunity, which is good to have, a something above and beyond regular class. Sometimes you need a little bit of extra time. For example, at my school, sometimes I’ll do that when you’re sitting in class.

I would have an instructor take a student aside, usually on a regular basis. We’ll give the person a mini‑prize within class time to make sure that they’re caught up. You want to make sure that you can get back fast onto that training.

Number 20 is, are instructors full‑time professionals? The reason this is important is because, the reason I gave this to my sister-in-law, is because, I personally spent a lot of my time being a part time instructor. I’ve taught in gymnasiums, churches, basements, garages, backyards, part‑time schools.

And full time schools of all sorts. And I can tell you that all the times I’ve taught that I wasn’t a full time instructor, I had other things pulling me away from being the best instructor that I could be. Some of that was mental, some of that was physical.

When I shared spaces with other people, I always had other people coming in our classes and we would have conflicts and so I had to cancel classes. This wasn’t an ideal situation. When an instructor is a professional, that’s what they do, that’s what you want to look for because they have all of their mental faculties in the day to devote to being the best teachers they can be. It’s really important to have full time instructors.

Number 21 is just a fun one, do you offer special events, other workshops and training opportunities. There is a world of studying martial arts and there is so many different things that you can focus on. If you have a full time school, if you have a full time instructor then they usually would have different events.

Sometimes tournaments, different workshops and seminars. I do bullying workshops, I do defense workshops for the community. You want to make sure that you can expand your training opportunities. If you really want to get into training martial arts you want to make sure you do as much training as possible.

Number 22 is about studying and time management skills, because the belt system is really a wonderful, unsurpassed. People take it and use it in other venues. I’ve seen people in music classes using belt system and all this other different people because it works really well.

Because you know exactly what you’re going to learn and you know how to devote your time and energy to achieve those goals. So you want to make sure that your instructor can show you at least some method of starting and achieving goals and developing good plans of actions for that on a daily basis.

23 is do they offer community building events. This is important because you have children coming to martial arts school and they want to be part of something, they want to be part of a positive community and they want to make friends.

And so the social aspect of martial arts that I have found over the years which is really powerful and especially for training, one can choose their friends they want to go with, come to class even if they are not motivated.

There is more that’s binding them to doing positive activities, we do…some fundraisers and different things we do at our school and movie nights…are different things that the kids can do because they really like to see other kids their age. And it’s a really positive part of a school if they have that.

Number 24 is, do you offer leadership training? and a lot of students do come for that after a while, we have at our school, we have students who excel in school, we helped them make excel in school, they want to continue to be leaders and small group leaders.

And do different things within their academic school around their sporting team. So will teach them on how to deal with small groups, one on one, bigger groups and we have an entire curriculum for that. That’s an element of martial arts [inaudible 22:24] so that’s something to look for.

Number 25 goes back to what we had earlier, they teach them to deal with bullies without violence, and physically, if you need to do it. Like I said in my school, I’ve written books about it and we do that constantly of how to deal with the situation. So we put them in the scenario, so they can practice verbally they can practice physically.

For the physical martial arts will work in a humane way so that they don’t hurt the person permanently so they can stop bullies. And I have to read my book, I’ve got tons of stories of my kids who have done that and they’ve physically stopped the bully in a way that it didn’t hurt them.

And in a verbally de-escalated situation. That’s really important otherwise you have kids who want to go out and fight and martial arts focus is on self defense and not fighting. And if you use it you have a school that’s promoting fighting, you’re going to get students without morals.

They have all the physical ability and if they don’t have the psychological maturity then they’re going to hurt people. It’s really important that you have a school that, really fosters that and some people get all the physical ability and they don’t get the maturity to handle it and you don’t want that for your child.

So that’s teaching and the curriculum.

So the last few questions are all about the FACILITIES that you are going to train in.

Question 26 is, can parents watch class? And it seems a little odd but there are places that refuses parents to watch. And again as a self defense instructor, on the safety part.

I always want to be able to watch my children. Even it is from the other side of the class or from some sitting area, I need to be able to see what people are telling my child, how they are interacting with my child, how they are touching my child.

That’s really important not to just to learning but also for safety’s sake. If somebody is telling you that you can’t see what they are doing with your child for an hour, I would never let my kids do that. Make sure that it’s somewhere you can watch a class. You don’t have to be in a class, I am on the map.

So you can see it. Some places that the schools are small so they don’t have a place. I know, my first school in Longmont years ago the school, was so small that there was small sitting area and I really needed the parents be quiet.

Which is one of the reasons why people don’t want parents to watch because they don’t want them to interfere with class but that’s no reason to not be able to watch at all. You can sit quietly and not interfere with the class.

Number 27, “Does your equipment meet safety regulations?” This is another important one for safety’s sake because if the gear is old, disused and everybody is using everyone else’s gear that’s something that could lead to injury. You want to make sure that they have enough gear and that you can use it safely.

Number 28 is,” Is your training area matted?” This is a bone of contention with martial arts schools because adults like hardwood floors and some people train on carpet that’s over concrete, some people train on really hard surfaces and it’s good for adults and that’s a whole other issue.

For children and some people you want to have some type of matted floor because while it’s true that a hard floor will help you learn quicker as far as rolling and falling safely, children are going to run and jump and fall a lot while learning and they need to have some type of injury prevention.

Its best and industry martial arts standards is well matted floors in training.

Number 29 is, are younger families allowed to wait in the school? This is an important question asked for logistics sake, many of our families have multiple children, some of them are multiple students, some them go over to the gymnastics school and come back.

It helps a lot for parents if you can wait and work in class, we have places with WiFi where parents can work and not just get distracted and disrupt class. It’s the same with other family members, you can be other family members.

Sometimes it’s a half hour that they need, before they get to something else, another activity, another tutoring or something. But that’s a logistic consideration it helps out a lot if there is a place that you can eat in the school. You can sit and watch class do homework stuff like that.

The last question asked sums everything up.

Is this school dedicated to martial arts training and character development? Are you sharing it? If you’re taking your child to a place and you’re sharing the space with the gym, a rack center or a dance studio other activities, it’s going to lose its focus.

So if you really want the benefits of martial arts school, everything that we as martial arts are known for you really want to place it dedicated specifically exclusively to teaching that because that’s the type of school that going to do it best.

I hope going through these 30 essential questions will help you pick a school. If you have any questions you can email me brad@scornavacco.com. You can call us at 303‑455‑425 and will be happy to help you out. If you happen to be one of those people who is looking at this and you’re in the area.

We’d love to see you come in and try a free class. We are at 1830 Boston Avenue, Street F and like I said you can call me you can call Ms. Michelle, you can visit our website at www.scornavacco.com.

If you’re stuck spelling it Google will fix it for you, you don’t have to worry about spelling my last name but I will spell it for you S‑C‑O‑R‑N‑A‑V‑A‑C‑C‑O and hope this helps. Thanks a lot.