Unfortunetly, there is no one absoloute litmus test for a good kung fu school. The best we can do is offer you some guidelines of what to look for and what to beware of. Most of these are in fact universal to all martial arts, a few are slightly more specific to kung fu. Use this as a check-list as you check out schools you're interested in; it will help you objectively gauge how schools stack up to one another. Things your future kung fu schoold should have: 1. Progressive resistance training. Explaination: All kung fu is going to involve forms and some drilling. The question is what place those forms and drills occupy in the training spectrum. If the form is used as a basic textbook to teach methods and techniques, then those techniques are broken down and drilled individually this is good. If there is any semblance of the idea that just learning the form well enough will teach you how to defend yourself or even vaugely use the technique, this is a very bad sign. Further, just pulling out individual moves and combos is not nearly enough. They should be working these individual techniques and ideas into pad work, bag work and drills that come progressively closer to sparring. There should be a fairly clear line of progression from the text book of the form to the open aplication format of sparring. This leads us to requirement number two: 2. The school must spar, full or heavy contact on a REGULAR basis. Explaination: There's just no way around it. If you want to learn to fight, you must do what most closely approaches fighting, and that would be sparring. You don't need to jump into the deep end first class (that would likely be counter productive), but within six weeks, you should be sparring. Ask the instructor about this directly. How often does the class spar (once a week is a bare minimum. Every class is better)? What are the rules of sparring (the more open-format the rules, the better. Obviously, there have to be limits, like no eye gouging, but less is more in this case)? How long can you expect before you start sparring yourself (if the answer is more than six weeks, be concerned)? Is sparring required for advancement in the class (it should be)? 3. The instructor should spar with his students Explaination: If he doesn't it's because of one of two reasons. One, he's injured, and this is a temporary situation. Or, more likely, two, he's afraid he will loose, and has serious doubts about his own ability level. If he does, so should you. My instructor sparrs with every student, every class. He's not worried about loosing (frankly, it's just not likely to happen, the guy is good at what he does. Some of us can give him a run for his money, but he's a craft (not to mention rediculously strong) old coot), instead he's worried about loosing his edge and knows he needs to be pushed whenever possible to keep his own growth going. This is the attitude you should be looking for, leading into the next requirement: 4. The attitude of the instructor should be "pro-fighting". Explaination: That doesn't neccessarily mean he is a pro fighter, it means he should basicly work from the stand point that this "art" is to teach you how to fight effectively. If he talks about every other benefit under the sun (all of them likely legitimate but secondary), except learning how to fight, well it's quite possible his priorities are in the wrong place if you're looking for someone who can teach you to fight neh? Schools that enter full contact competitions are a bonus though they're frankly hard to find. 5. When students spar, they should look like they're applying what they learn in class rather than completely changing styles to bad kickboxing. Explainaiton: If you're taught to use swing punches and forearm strikes, while using a rapid, solid-base footwork, but when sparring starts, everyone bounces around and throws boxing combos, avoid the school. There's nothing wrong with boxing combos and footwork, the problem is this isn't a boxing coach. Clearly this instructors students can't apply the mateiral at all so they're reverting to something more natural that, though they likely have little knowledge of, at least feel can be made to work. You train the way you fight, you fight the way you train. If things are any other way, the training is ineffective. Move on to somewhere that does not have such problems. 6. The techniques must be workable, and should fit into an overall, coheasive strategy of fighting. Explaination: This tends to be a problem with the psudo fu crowd. These are the people who aren't teaching a legitimate style of kung fu, they've just grabbed some things from here, a bit from there, given it a chinese sounding name, and dubbed themselves grand-master. This is a bit hard to discern if you have no experience in the martial arts, but it becomes more apparent as you move along. At least this criteria may let you know if you've been succered sooner rather than later. A legitimate kung fu style will have a basic fighting strategy, and the techniques and strategies of the style will tend to support that basic fighting strategy. The teacher should be able to explain this strategy clearly to you and it should be apparent how the methods of the system support it. There are some things you can watch out for that are dead giveaways of psudo fu. For one, a style trying to cover too many bases. Chinese kung fu, even the styles that are enormous in content still tend to do a few things well rather than all things poorly. For example, Choi Li Fut has (in some lineages) in the neighborhood of a hundred forms. However, in prety much all of them the ten seeds of CLF are prevelent, and the forms are basicly providing context for using what the style is based on and good at rather than trying to add material ad-infinidum. Other of the more obvious giveaways include claims that all arts are contianed within this one art, or moves or even entire forms that are completely incongrous with the rest of the style. 7. The instructor should be able to state a clear lineage and the style should be recognized. If you're teaching a legitimate art, you should be able to clearly state (and prove) whom you learned it from. Further that person should be able to prove they legitimately learned the art and are qualified to teach it. What's more the style sould be recognizable, and there should be other, researchable and recognizable schools elsewhere in the world. If the instructor you're considering is teaching Hung Gar for example, that would be a well recognized style. There are plenty of other hung gar schools out there. The style is legit, now you just have to check that the instructor is legit and up to snuff. However, if you're checking out a school that teaches "Bob Gar" and the instructor Bob, is the grand master, and further, there are no other bob gar schools anywhere except for his disciple who teaches on the other end of town, well, this is probably a bogus style. Even with styles that are very small, closed and rare it's not too hard to verify the style actually exists. I study Lung Ying, of which there's only a half dozen teachers in the US, probably one of the more rare styles out there, yet you can still google the style and find other schools, and even histories of the style. The other style I train is Mok Gar, of which I think there are two or three teachers in North America as a whole, and it is still researchable. This being the case, if you google bob gar and the only hit that comes up is a link to the school you checked out, cavet emptor. Somewhat more subtly, if a style simply can't be verifiably traced backward past a single, living individual, this style is probably fraudulent. 8. The attitude of the students should be pro-fighting. Expination: The students of a serious, legitimate kung fu teacher will be there to learn to fight. They will tend to be in good shape (particularly at the more advanced levels), they will want to train hard, and want to spar and even enter fighting competitions of some form. If the students are generally of the attitude "kung fu isn't about fighting" or "fighting is for thugs" you're certianly not going to find many useful training partners there. Further, it's likely that the attitude was learned from the instructor so listen carefully to what the students say, it may expose an instrucors half truths. 9. The instructor should answer your questions clearly and directly. Explaination: If you feel the instructor is dodging the question, or dancing around it, or if you just generally get the impression that he's not being completely honest with you, go somewhere else. It's probably not even worth taking the free class. A legitimate instructor is going to be straight and to the point, and not make bones or qualifications about what he does or how he does it. 10. The style should be free of the trappings of Japanese arts. Explaination: Legitimate chinese styles shouldn't wear japanese gi. Nor should they call their instructor "sensi." The moves should not have japanese names and the class should not teach japanese weapons. These are dead giveaways of a bogus style. Some legitimate chinese styles have adopeted colored belts or sashes in the last few decades, but even this is not universal. Belts alone aren't a big red flag, but combind with other things, watch out. If you want to learn a japanese art, go study a japanese art, not something half japanese masquerading as a chinese style. That's all the basics, though there are other things that can be added to the list. Not all schools will meet all these guidelines, but the better, legitimate, more fighting oriented ones will. If you have specific questions beyond this or on a particular school, post them on this thread, and I'm sure the folks around here will be happy to help out where we can. Good luck in your search.