Schools: What is the primary focus of training? ie. self defense, tournaments, sporting competition, etc.
What is the history of the style? ie. Hard style versus Soft, Chinese, Japanese, Israeli, Brazilian.
What are the physical requirements? ie. Conditioning, flexibility, expensive equipment.
What type of location? Private facility, commercial facility, community center
Instructors: How many instructors are present in class?
What is the experience level of each instructor?
What is the age of the instructors?
Have the instructors had a criminal background screening?
What are the costs for private instructions?
How long does it take to become an instructor?
What first aid training is required?
Tips for Beginners: 1. Talk to as many schools as possible and ask "Dumb" questions because good teachers expect beginners to ask simple questions and are patient with beginners.
2. Find out who will actually be teaching you. Many schools have high ranking black belts but you may find yourself in a class with a person teaching who is not him/herself a black belt.
3. NEVER sign a contract that requires you to continue to pay for lessons for extended periods of time even if you quit. (Military: ask for a PCS or Deployment Clause to release you if you move)
4. Never leave your minor child alone with a new instructor or allow them to take private lessons at the personal residence of an instructor without your presence.
5. Do not allow the school to set up electronic drafts from your account. Pay them with cash or check each month.
6. How often is testing and what is the cost? Some schools charge a low monthly fee then hit you with a $250 testing fee and test you every 3 months. The cost can rise faster than your rank!
7. Instructors are people with bills, in-laws and problems just like everyone else so don't confuse good martial skill with good life skills because some of the best martial artists are often not good decision makers in interpersonal matters.
8. Good teachers have a special blend of confidence and humility. Look for equal parts of both.
9. Watch the beginner class and then go back for the advanced black belt class because it is a showcase of what you will become if you stay with the style.
10. Ask the instructor what the pass/fail % is in their testing at various ranks. If no one has ever failed a test, (easy way to find out, ask a few junior black belts which test they failed) then the school is probably a belt mill and you will be throwing money away and learning little to be proud of later.
11. Religion has a place and it is not in a martial arts school. Some schools are used to recruit children into the predominant religion of the school. There is nothing wrong with expressing your beliefs so long as you do it outside the classroom.