Choosing a martial arts school is not something to be taken lightly, although it should not be something you worry about either.
Martial arts (be it Taekwondo, Karate, Jiu Jitsu, etc.) have the power to transform a life for the better in almost every way imaginable (confidence, aptitude, concentration, patience, good character …). However, if the right instructor or school is not chosen, the full potential benefits may never be realized because the student will not be enrolled long enough to experience those benefits.
As with anything else, you should not go for option n. 1 without at least exploring other options (like getting a quote from a contractor or lender, going to a car dealership). The way this usually happens is that people just go to the closest martial arts school. This is no different than thinking that all Italian restaurants will be the same, so let’s go to the closest one (especially since it can turn into a 10-year relationship rather than a one-time experience). But often that “bad” experience that the student or parent has with a martial arts school is all that is needed to disconnect for the rest of their life (thus losing everything that could be gained from this opportunity).
So how do you find the “right” martial arts school …? Well ask first (ask your friends / neighbors / elementary schools). In my community, there are martial arts schools in almost every shopping center, so there are usually several options within a short drive.
Also, style is not as important as who teaches. We sometimes hear that you need to find “so and so” style, but in reality, the benefits you want can be found in other styles as well. Instructors’ rank also doesn’t necessarily determine how good teachers they are (although it generally gives you an idea of how long they’ve been doing it).
Most schools have some kind of trial program, be it free or paid, one class, one week, or one month, you should definitely do it. You should try to watch a class or observe the students at school. You will get a good “feel” for a school just by entering. Is the facility clean or dirty, is the staff professional, does the culture fit what you want (disciplined, fun, tough …). Another great thing to look for is how the beginner class compares to the advanced class. If the beginner class is full and the advanced class is empty, it could be an indication of how well they retain students (unless they haven’t been open for a long time).
When I have a student who has to move to another area, I will try to find a school for him. If I can’t, I’ll suggest what I just wrote, but tell them to “follow their instincts” when looking for a school.
Again, you may have the best school you can find down the road. But with so much potential good to come, you may want to drive another five minutes rather than settling for whatever is closest.