[If you have anything you want to add, reply and let me know ] N.B most, if not all, of this information is also applicable to non-llamas. One of the toughest things to do when you first start a martial art is finding a good club. I would wager most of us simply fell in to our local club and got lucky. Others don't have a choice; there may only be one club in the area. But for those of you who are lucky enough to have a choice to pick from, it's important that you make an informed decision. We get a lot of questions from beginners asking us is this club any good, or have you heard of so and so and so on. We help out the best we can, but there's not so much we can do from behind a computer screen. Websites for karate clubs are usually badly designed and don't show off the club in a good light. After all these people are instructors, not web designers! I've seen a few photos of black belts who look so dodgy I think to myself I wouldn't train with him/her in a million years when it's most likely the case that the club doesn't have many photos and is just putting up the ones they have to give you an idea for the place. The best advice we can usually give to the beginner is go try it out for yourself and see how you feel. Hopefully this guide will help you make an informed decision on how you feel and if you've chosen the right club for you. The guide is split in to three sections: The Website | The Instructor | The Club The Website For lots of us the website is the first taste we get of a club, especially if we're the kind of people who hang out on a martial arts forum! Taking in to consideration the fact that most of these sites are pretty poor quality, there are a number of things you should check for. Number one: Affiliation. Any club that is worth its weight in salt will let you know straight away what association or group it is affiliated to. This is very important. The association not only ensures a certain level of instruction is maintained, but it also deals with liability insurance. So if you accidentally kick someone in the temple and their eye pops out, thee will be no court case, and there'll be no horrendous compensation claims to pay as it is covered by the club's insurance. You can also be assured that if the club has insurance it means the instructors are qualified to teach. The main associations in the UK are: KUGB Karate Union of Great Britain JKAe Japan Karate Association (England) EKGB (English Karate Governing Body)/Karate England SKIF Shotokan Karate International AMA Amateur Martial Association (made of independent clubs) BIKO British Institute of Karate Organisations JKF Wado Kai WIKF Wado-Ryu Renmei BNMAA (British National Martial Arts Association) ESKA (English Shotokan Karate Association) TASK (Traditional Association of Shotokan Karate) ine Sei Kai USANKF - United States National Karate Federation [Others to be added] These are all highly respected organisations that can be trusted to provide high quality teaching. Bear in mind many associations also have groups attached. For example my old association, the SSKA, was affiliated to the EKGB but is now affiliated to WUKO. If you can't find any information on the association, make sure it's one of the questions you ask your instructor before starting. Number Two: Credentials The website should not be afraid to publicise the head instructor's grade and experience. It is important to know the credentials of your instructor. Watch out for: People who tell you that they are world champions. You'll get alot of people saying so and so was five times world champion in so and so, take this with a pinch of salt. World champions seem to be ten a penny. This doesn't mean they're not good at what they do, or that they're lying; because there are so many associations, there are plenty of world championships. Don't start thinking that a) this guy is the best in the world and b) this gives him/her the ability to teach. Be sure to check out all credentials first. Instructors from certain associations for example attend intensive instructors courses every couple of months to ensure a blanket standard is being upheld Number Three: Knowing what to expect Good sites will explain what karate is and how that club practices the art. It will tell you straight up what the club will expect of you, and what you should expect of the club. A pretty good rule is that if you stumble across a site that says COME L34RN T3H D34DL33 K4R4T3! ITS T3H R0XX0RZ you should probably avoid it like the plague. Examples of club websites: Shimeijurasan Sheffield This is a nicely designed, easy to read website with lots of information. You know as soon as you go on to the site it's affiliated to the JKAe. It has all the information you want it to. Except it doesn't publicise the instructor's grade, or even the instructor's name. However, this isn't a massive problem for a number of reasons: a) it is affiliated to a respectable organisation who don't let any dude from the street teach deadly ninjer skills and b) the site is pasted with contact details. It's obvious the club isn't trying to hide anything. They admit it is a young club, so it's possible the instructor may not be a massively high dan grade. That doesn't mean the teaching will be bad however. Get in touch with the instructor and see what you think. This website is not as well designed, but it has a dedicated instructors page. This is a good sign. Traditional Japanese Shotokan Karate Academy Reading area This isn't the best designed website in the world, but it has all the information you need, and it is very upfront about it. http://www.rising-spirit-academy.co.uk This is not only a bad site, it's also setting alarm bells ringing in my head. Everywhere you go you're not told about the 'karate' but the no obligation free trial. Bad bad bad! The Instructor If you can, meet or talk with the instructor before you start training. There are number of reasons for this: firstly it shows respect towards the club and instructor (traditionally, you are supposed to ask for permission to train), and it means you can get a feel for what the teaching may be like. Karate is an art built upon respect and humility. If your instructor has an ego the size of the Goodyear blimp, the class probably won't be that good you won't be able to question explanations as your instructor will want them taken as Gospel. That isn't conducive to good training. You also want (imo) an instructor with a sense of humour. No one wants to stand around for two hours deadly serious. Doing that is very tiring! Remember, the majority of us are not training primarily to defend our lives. Whilst we should approach our training with the utmost seriousness and commitment, we are also there to enjoy ourselves. If you can't relax while training, you'll burn out after not too long. The instructor should not hesitate at all to discuss credentials with you, especially if they are not on the website. If you ask my sensei what grade he is, and what experience he has, he will tell you he's a third dan in Shotokan and also used to train in Lau Gar for many years. He won't beat around the bush trying to feed you some nonsense story. A good instructor has nothing to hide. Remember: he might choose whether he wants to train you or not, but without his students an instructor is nothing. In reality, you won't get a good idea of your instructor's ability until after a few lessons, so if you're unsure, stick it out for a bit. A good karate-ka isn't necessarily a good instructor. There's no shame in not wanting to continue training. If you've just started, you don't even have to explain to the instructor why you're not coming back if you don't want. However, if you do leave it's more respectful not to bad mouth the club. Other people obviously like training there, and it could simply be a case of horses for courses. Also, instructors talk. You don't want to jeopardise your training at another club because you opened your mouth one too many times! The Club What is the atmosphere like in the club? Is it tense? Is it happy and relaxed? Does everyone get on well with each other? Do people notice that you're new and welcome you? These are the first things you should look for in a new club. Right from the beginning a good club wont treat you any differently than they would any other member of the club. You will get the same respect as everyone else. The instructor will make you feel at ease. Our instructor makes sure that beginners know they will go wrong, but it's ok because everyone was a beginner once, and if the black belts can't even do it yet, why should you? (he appreciates us really...) The cost of lessons vary from anywhere from a pound to a fiver a lesson. I would consider anything in this range normal. Some clubs prefer to work on subs and let you train as much as you like within a month. This is also normal. What isn't so normal is a contract, and you should treat clubs who use them with suspicion. Contracts are very good ways of getting lots of money for substandard teaching. You don't have to do anything to keep your students if they are tied down to a legally binding 12 month contract. And ok you might be able to train as much as you like, but what about if the club only puts on two lessons a week and you can only make one? Or what about if you do shift work and can't guarantee you'll get your moneys worth? Contracts scam you out of money, and if an instructor needs to use contracts to ensure an income, you have to wonder if the club is good enough to keep its students if there were no contract. Is there a high turnaround of new students? Are people constantly coming then leaving again? Do students show little respect for the instructor and vice versa? If you answered yes, these are warning signs. A good club will always have a fair turnaround, because a lot of people soon realise martial arts simply isn't for them. But any decent club will have its backbone of students and its old guard, who you can rely on to turn up regularly. The higher grades should be karate-ka you look up to. They are there not only to train but to set the example of what good training looks like. In a good club everyone teaches, no matter how small the contribution is. Even if a middle to higher grade repeats something the instructor said to you, it's because they are more experienced than you and have noticed something in your technique. This isn't an insult. If anything, it's a compliment. It means they are actually paying attention to what you're doing and are actively interested in your progress. So now you should hopefully be able to do the basics of club recognition. As long as these basics are present, the rest should follow. And remember a good club (especially if it's a small club) isn't just a club: it's a family.