This is a wiki page for people who would like to help write the FAQ for the taekwondo subreddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/Taekwondo
Please put your suggested Questions and suggested Answers below. Make each Question be a Heading 2 paragraph type.
Q: How can I find a good taekwondo school in City X? Edit
This is a terrific question to ask in this subreddit, but there's a fair chance that nobody who's currently active in the subreddit will have good familiarity with City X. If nobody has an answer to your question for City X, here are some things you can try:
1. Of course you can use Google Maps or some other search engine to find candidate schools in your area. It might also help you to know that the Kukkiwon maintains a Dojang Finder on their website, that provides a map of schools that have bothered to register with Kukkiwon. Of course, this doesn't list all taekwondo schools, but it's still a useful tool to know about. You can find the Dojang Finder here: http://kms.kukkiwon.or.kr/usr/main.do Click on the map to zoom to your area.
2. Once you have a list of candidate schools in your area, you can limit your search somewhat by visiting the schools' webpages. You should know though that most schools often don't have very informative webpages...BUT...many schools often do have very active Facebook pages and YouTube presence. So don't just look at the candidate's webpage. Also check Facebook at YouTube. YouTube is especially useful because videos of students performing can tell you a lot about how good a school probably is: if the students are performing with crisp, strong technique -- it's a better chance that this is a good school. If the videos show sloppy performance even at higher belt levels -- it's probably not a great school.
As you look at the webpage, the Facebook page, and YouTube, here are some things to make note of: Does this school indicate what style they teach (Kukkiwon/WTF, ITF, ATA, etc.). If they don't, that can be a warning sign -- affiliation with a major federation increases your ability to participate in tournaments, and increases your ability to relocate to a different school later. Does the school have a biography page for the head of the school; do his credentials appear legitimate. Some people prefer schools with a Korean head.
3. All of the above web-searching accomplished only one thing though: to narrow down your search to just a few schools near you. Now the fun part: go visit the schools. See if they have a program that allows you to take a few trial classes. If they don't, that's a warning sign -- good schools know that they can entice you with the high quality of their instruction, bad schools know that a trial class will likely turn you away. Does the school require a multi-year contract (more than one year); again, that's a big warning sign - good schools lock you in with the quality of their instruction, bad schools use a contract to do that instead. Take some trial classes at your candidate schools and see first-hand which school comes closest to what you're looking for.
Q: How can I find a good taekwondo school in City X that emphasizes self defense? Edit
Q: How can I find a good taekwondo school in City X that emphasizes tournament sparring? Edit
Finding a reputable sparring program in your city is not an easy task. I would first do a google search for all the dojangs in your area then look for Facebook fan pages of said dojangs to see if they have any videos or photos that highlight their students accomplishments. If you're in the states, USA Taekwondo has a huge list of all their current and former team members. Look for your state and see which dojang attend. It takes a lot of work but if you're serious about competition, it's the best way of figuring out which dojang is appropriate for you.
Q: Am I too old to start taekwondo? Edit
Nope, you're never too old to train. There are plenty of stories of people starting taekwondo in their 60s and 70s.
Taekwondo is a terrific workout, it increases strength especially in your legs and core, it increases your limberness and agility, it improves your balance and coordination. Taekwondo can be a bit hard on the ankles and knees, so older students should take care not to overdo it, but the light-impact aspect of taekwondo is generally good for older joints. (For older students, light-impact workouts are preferred to no-impact workouts, as light-impact workouts help prevent bone loss.) Also, the increased flexibilty you gain through taekwondo helps prevent injury outside the dojang.
Q: Have I been away from taekwondo for too long to restart? Edit
It is said that it takes an adult student about two-years of training to get their "taekwondo body" -- i.e., enough flexibilty and strength to truly enjoy taekwondo. So if you're an adult who's been away for years, don't be surprised if it takes you a while to get back to "where you were" when you quit. But that's okay! In taekwondo, the journey is the destination.
If you switch to a different school or style, and if youv'e been away for many years, you may want to start over again at white-belt; most schools will help prior practitioners re-advance through the ranks quickly, but there's definite benefit to "starting at the bottom" and working your way back up. Many of us have done that before, and it's actually fun. Plus, you can regale your classmates with stories about how it was done, back-in-the-day...what's not to love about that?
Q: I have been away from taekwondo for a while and I'm about to start at a new school -- will I be able to keep my former rank, or should I start over again at white belt? Edit
There's a lot of "it depends" in this question.
If you were a black-belt in a major federation (such as Kukkiwon/WTF, ITF, or ATA) then you certainly should be able to keep your old rank. Even if you no longer have your dan-certificate, you or your new school should be able to have your credentials looked-up in the appropriate database.
If you were a black-belt at an independent school (not affiliated with a major federation), then recognizing your old rank will be up to your new school to decide. At a minimum, your new instructor will probably want to test you to see how much you remember. If they make you re-start at a lower-rank, don't feel bad...plenty of us have done that before, you'll progress quickly, and it's actually fun.
If you were a color-belt (at any school), then your old rank probably won't be recognized. Color-belt curriculums vary so widely from school to school that it's difficult for your new school to assign appropriate meaning to your old rank. If they make you re-start at white-belt, don't feel bad...plenty of us have done that before, you'll progress quickly, and it's actually fun.
Further reading: http://taekwondo.wikia.com/wiki/Gup
Q: I’m about to start taking taekwondo classes, what should I expect in my first class? Edit
Q: Soon I will start taking taekwondo classes, how can I prepare ahead-of-time? Edit
Start stretching. The most important thing you can do to get ready is start stretching. A lot of taekwondo techniques rely on leg muscles, and being flexible will make your early taekwondo lessons much more fun and rewarding. The two types of stretches to concentrate on most are [a] hamstring stretches (so that you can kick high in front of you) and [b] splits (so that you can kick high to the side).
Everything else you can do to prepare has MUCH lower priority than stretching, but if you want to do more than just stretch, you can also do some strength training, Specifically, focus on things that promote your ability to jump high (like burpees, squats, and calf-raises) and things that promote core strength (like planking and crunches). A strong core will make it easier to balance on one leg while you kick, and the ability to jump high will help with some of the jumping-kick techniques you'll be learning in a few months. If you plan to do a lot of sparring, starting working on your aerobic health as well: jogging, cycling, etc.
Q: How can I improve my sparring? Edit
Q: How can I improve my flexibility? Edit
Q: I worry that my taekwondo school may not be good. How can I tell? Edit
What's the definition of a "good" taekwondo school? It's a school that you like so much that you keep coming back for years!
Different people are looking for different things in a school, so it's difficult to define what "good" means. That having been said, there are schools with predatory busines practices (such as expensive multi-year contracts), or well-intentioned schools with poor-quality teaching.
Q: Why do different taekwondo schools use different belt colors? Edit
Generally speaking, belt-colors are not standardized in taekwondo. Different styles of taekwondo (Kukkiwon/WTF, ITF, ATA, etc.) use somewhat different belt ranks. And even within a single style, different schools may use different belt-colors. In fact, different schools often have fairly different curriculums as well.
The Korean words "gup" and "dan" are actually much more useful indicators of rank than belt-color. The phrase first-dan means a first-degree black-belt. First-gup means the rank immediately below first-dan; second-gup means the rank immediately below first-gup, and so on. Some schools insert an extra bo-dan rank between first-gup and first-dan.
At most schools (but not all) a beginner wears a white belt and has a rank of tenth-gup. As you increase in rank, you go to ninth-gup, eighth-gup, and so on. There's no standard across all of taekwondo for what belt colors are associated with each gup-rank though. When discussing taekwondo with friends from other schools, you're better off using words like gup and dan than belt-color, to compare your ranks and curriculums.
Further reading: http://taekwondo.wikia.com/wiki/Gup
Q: At my school, black-belt testing costs $X. Is that too high? Edit
The cost of a black-belt (dan) test can vary dramatically from one school to another. A non-profit taekwondo club that meets in a community center might charge only $50 for dan testing. A large for-profit taekwondo school might charge as much as $500 or more. Why such a wide range? Here are some things to consider:
For-profit schools need to make their profit somewhere. Some schools choose to do that via dan testing fees. Other schools make their profit via monthly training fees, by running after-care programs, or via items for sale in the pro-shop. You can’t just look at the testing fees alone to decide if the overall price is “reasonable” – you have to look at the whole package, and recognize that different schools opt to make their money in different ways.
Secondly, dan testing at some schools is fairly elaborate and includes a lot of “perks” that come with the testing. Let’s break down a typical cost using a common example: $70 for a certificate from the school’s sponsoring federation, $20 for a separate certificate from the school itself, $40 for an embroidered belt with the school’s name on it, $70 for a new black-belt uniform – now we’re up to $200. Some schools require special training sessions before dan-tests to get students ready; these sessions are in addition to regular school hours – so the school needs to pay for the salaries of those instructors’ time. The school also needs to pay for the time of the instructors who assist during the test itself. Many schools also choose to have multiple judges at their dan-test, and the school has to pay for their travel and time as well. The upshot is that it’s easy to see how the cost of a dan-test can skyrocket into hundreds of dollars, depending on how the testing is done and what’s included in the fee.
Q: Which style of taekwondo is best? Which style should I practice?Edit
The best style of taekwondo is the one you stick with. Honestly, the point of taekwondo is to make this a long-term way of life for you: something that you practice and enjoy for years. To make that happen, it's probably best to focus on which school to attend rather than which style to practice.
The following generalizations are gross generalizations and are not universally true, but they may provide some guidance:
If you think you'd like to practice Olympic-style taekwondo, then you definitely want to find a school that practices Kukkiwon/WTF-style taekwondo. In this scenario, it'll probably be important to you that you find a school that actually issues Kukkiwon dan-certificates (only about 6% of taekwondo schools do), since that will make it easier for you to compete in a wide variety of Olympic-style tournaments.
If your primary focus is self-defense, conventional wisdom suggests that Traditional Taekwondo or ITF-style schools probably have a higher likelyhood of having a strong self-defense curriculum. These styles also have the reputation of having a bit more emphasis on hand-techniques and grappling techniques. Again, that's not universally true at all...the focus on self-defense really varies more by school than by style.
If you'd like a lot of weapons training (how to use blades and staff, for instance), ATA-style schools generally have the reputation of being more weapons-focused than other styles. Again, that's not universally true...the focus on weapons-training really varies more by school than by style.
Independent schools can be awesome, but these schools can make it harder for you to compete in tournaments. Also, if you ever relocate to another city, your rank is less likely to be recognized at a new school, if your old school wasn't affiliated with some federation.
The bottom-line is that it's probably wiser to shop for a school that you like rather than a style that you like.