So you think you have found the activity for you, karate! Maybe you've watched the hit show Cobra Kai on Netflix? Or have always been a Karate Kid fan but never found how you can get involved. Or, like I did as a child, want to be a Power Ranger! Maybe your child has suddenly got the urge to try karate. GREAT! Go for it!
BUT (there's always a but) where do you start, how do you know that the club you're about to go and start a lifetime journey at is any good? What has the instructor done to help you with your journey, and most importantly, how can they keep you or your child safe?
There are some easy and quick ways to tell if the club and the instructor are serious about the safety and wellbeing of everybody that would be attending their sessions. Some of these I believe are not only best practice, but essential to be able to run any activity in England, not just karate. (For further guidance, see https://www.ukcoaching.org/resources/topics/downloadables/coaches-minimum-standards-for-active-coaches)
Insurance - this can take many forms, but as a minimum the instructor should have Professional Indemnity insurance, and usually tagged along with that is Public Liability insurance. Now, I'm not an insurance salesman or expert, so I won't go into the details of each and what it will cover, but with these two forms of insurance you are at least covered if you were to injure yourself through either poor instruction, or even by tripping up and injuring yourself during a session (providing it wasn't your own fault).
Individual Licence/Membership - this is something I see as a very important aspect of martial arts in general, the 'licence'. This doesn't mean that you are "licenced to kick butt", but it is another form of insurance to ensure your own safety, and the safety of the people you train with, as well as covering you for certain competitions, events and courses. This often provides you with "member to member" cover, meaning if somebody else was to injure you, or you injure them during the course of training, you have some form of insurance to claim against.
First Aid training - there should be somebody at the session that is first aid trained, preferably the lead coach, but it can be an assistant coach or volunteer at the club who is at every session, or all of the above (the more the merrier). This is vital if there was a serious accident and first aid was required, but it is also necessary for the minor incidents as well. It is also usually a clause within the instructors insurance that they need to be first aid trained.
Safeguarding - if you are attending kids sessions, then it is vitally important that the instructor and any volunteers at the club have been through some form of safeguarding training. These are usually provided by National Governing Bodies, but can also be found by many training organisations or County Sport Partnerships. These sessions will help the coach understand their role in keeping children safe, not only in their sessions, but outside of the club as well. Another good indicator that they are serious about safeguarding is if they have achieved the Safeguarding In Martial Arts mark (https://www.safeguardingcode.com/)
DBS - the old CRB. Again, if the club has children attending, then the instructor and any volunteers at the club should have an up to date DBS check (usually within the last 3 years). This is a criminal history check to ensure that they have not committed any serious crimes that would preclude them from working with children.
CPD - Continuous Professional Development. What actual training in karate has the instructor done? Do they hold a black belt and can provide a genuine certificate to prove it? Have they done subsequent training since then? Do they have any coaching or teaching qualifications? These are all questions that you can ask an instructor and they should be more than happy to outline their own training and development including anything they have done recently. The last thing you want to see is the last bit of training they did was back in the 90's, as this shows they aren't willing to develop their self, so what chance to their students have?
With all of these aspects, you should be able to ask the coach to see any or all of it, if it isn't already on display in the club. If they are resistant, or cannot provide any of the above, I would be very wary and possibly look elsewhere. Within my own club, Soaring Eagle Karate, we have a number of policies and procedures that are readily available on our website at https://www.soaringeaglekarate.co.uk/links-and-documents, these are under constant review to ensure we are up to date on all the latest guidance and best practice.
This is just a quick snap shot as to what to expect as a minimum from a karate club, there are many other things I could add to this list, but I'd be delving into the realms of writing a book, not a blog post! Stay tuned for my next post!