So you're thinking of starting karate, or your kid has suddenly asked to go. You've watched the movies, seen the tough macho image that the karate man always has, and, honestly, you're unsure what to expect if you turn up for that first class. Am I going to get my butt kicked from wall to wall? Is my child going to be safe? Is the instructor going to shout at me? Am I fit enough to do karate? These are understandably questions you may have, as the martial arts are usually depicted in this way, and if you've been keeping up with the hit series "Cobra Kai" that perception is still being kept alive.
However, signing up to karate shouldn't be a stressful thing to do. Most clubs (there are always exceptions) are open and friendly places to go to, where the instructors will introduce themselves and others, and answer any questions you may have. Don't be put off asking questions, as this is a great way to find out if the club is right for you or your child. Instructors should be open and honest, with easy to follow answers for your questions. Some things you should consider asking are: How long have you been training? How long have you been coaching? Do you have any coaching qualifications? Are you a member of any organisations? Do you have any safeguarding training? Do you have professional indemnity insurance? Without straightforward answers to these questions, it may be worth considering looking elsewhere for you or your child to train, let me explain why.
Karate isn't something that can be learnt overnight, it takes time to develop technique and understanding of how that technique works before being competent enough to teach somebody else how to do that technique, this goes beyond a simple punch, as karate encompasses throws, locks and holds as well, so having trained for a minimum of 3 or 4 years should be enough time for somebody to start coaching, and in the majority of cases, a minimum of 1st dan black belt.
Coaching is a skill that has to be developed over time, just because somebody has achieved their black-belt, it doesn't make them a good coach. Any coach should be happy to be undertaking continual professional development to keep their coaching skills current and relevant, as a lot of practices have changed over the years.
Clubs do not necessarily have to be part of a larger organisation, there are plenty of great instructors out there that aren't for various reasons. However, when a club is affiliated to a larger organisation, it does provide accountability, and a pathway if there are any issues. There are hundreds of martial arts organisations out there, and you can easily get lost in who is in what organisation. For example, we at Soaring Eagle Karate are members of the British Combat Karate Association, which in turn is a member of the English Karate Federation, one of the largest bodies for karate in England.
If a club is working with children, then it is very important that the coaches at that club have undertaken Safeguarding training. I have already written an article on this, which can be found here: soaringeaglekarate.co.uk/single-post/keeping-safe-in-karate
The correct insurance cover is absolutely vital for any club or coach running any sessions. As a minimum a coach should have professional indemnity insurance and depending on where they are coaching, public liability insurance. As an extra, especially in martial arts, member to member cover is always worthwhile and usually comes in the form of a 'licence'. All of this ensures that whilst training, everybody is covered for any injuries that may occur and have a safety net to cover them should they need to make a claim.
Being "fit enough" to start karate, or any other martial art, shouldn't be a barrier to you getting started either. Getting fitter is a by-product of the training you will do in karate, and is part of your journey. There is no pre-requisite fitness levels to get started, nor will anybody judge you for being 'unfit' when you start. Every single person in a martial arts club has been in the position of just starting out, and fully understands what it means to be in that position.
With these points in mind, you should be better poised to make an informed decision on which club may be the right fit for you and is looking after your safety whilst training. Finding the right space for you is an important first step on your journey through karate, and I hope that this will help you on getting started and lead to a lifetime of practice and training in karate!