For many people who have an interest in learning karate the first questions is often, where do I start?
One of the best places to start is with family and friends since they would be a trusted source of information. So ask around. You may be surprised by what you discover, since many people who practice martial arts especially often do not make a point of taking about it. Humility after all is one of the hallmarks of a good karate-ka.
If asking family and friends fails to provide you with the answers you are looking for then the next logical step is to look in your local phone book, or on the internet. Most dojo's will advertise in one way or another so locating a few dojo's in your area should not be all that difficult.
It should be noted, however, that the size of a dojo's advertisement does not necessarily have any relationship what so ever to the quality of instruction that you will find there. The ad may be splashy just to get your attention and it may also make all kinds of claims and promises that on the surface may seem enticing to you but, delivering on those claims and promises can sometimes be another matter altogether.
Once you have located a few schools that interest you be sure and visit all of them. In most cases no appointment is required. In fact dropping in unannounced will give you an opportunity to view the facility in its true light, as opposed to finding out later that it had been "cleaned up" just for the benefit of your appointment.
If you decide that a particular school interests you then say so, and ask for as much information as is available, including a copy of any contracts they may want you to sign in order to join. If you have any concerns about the content of the contracts consider consulting your lawyer and having them read over all of the documents prior to sign anything. When you feel that you have found a good school spend a bit of time there before signing up. In most cases a reputable dojo will allow you to watch, or even take part in a class that is suitable to your level of expertise. By observing a few classes, or by taking part, you can get a an up close look at the dojo, the students, the instructors, and how things are run.
Do not be concerned just because you are a beginner. Someone will in all likelihood be assigned to guide you through the steps needed to get you into the class and to help you through the rituals that usually take place prior to the start of any training. You may find that the class is taught by the Sensei (Chief Instructor) or by one of the more senior students in the dojo but, who teaches the classes can often depend upon the size of the dojo and the number of qualified people on hand.
If at all possible try to attend a class in which the Sensei (Chief Instructor) does the teaching, since it is his or her methodology and personal preferences, that will form the basis for the manner in which all of the instruction will be given in that particular dojo. Once you have made a choice and selected a dojo your next task will be to chose the program that you feel is best suited to your current level of commitment.
Some students will sign up for a three month beginners course for example, while still others convinced that they have made the perfect choice will opt to sign up for a year, or perhaps even a longer term, one that may ultimately take them all the way to their black belt grading. It is not unusual for these longer term contracts to offer some sort of incentive, often in the form of a substantial discount in price, to those students wiling to make this type of commitment up front.
If you are sure about your choice of dojo, and sincerely believe you will still be training three or four years from now, signing a longer term contract is often the most cost effective way of amortizing the total amount you will be asked to pay. But be sure this is the school and the program for you since refunds are not always given if you have second thoughts later on.
No matter what dojo you join, or which program you select, there are certain things that you should come to expect from any dojo you join. First, the staff and all of the instructors should all treat you with the same courtesy you would offer to anyone seeking to do business with you, or with your employer. While it is true that karate is a physically demanding art form, where a high level of personal discipline is expected, and while there will be times when you will be pushed to work harder and harder, it should never the less be done for all the right reasons, and with respect.
Secondly, the dojo, the public areas, and the overall surroundings should be clean, well kept, and reflect a high level of personal care and the training program you are on should have some type of structure. This is essential in order that your progress can be measured and evaluated over a specific period of time affording you a reasonable expectation of continued advancement.
Today in a Shotokan dojo the means of measuring a students progress is the colour belt, or kyu belt system. These various coloured belts are a visual symbol of a students advancement and they are used as a way of indicating a students place within the dojo society at any given time. The colours and the number of belts in the kyu system will vary from style to style, but, for the most part between eight to ten levels would not be considered out of the ordinary.
While I could go on at great length lastly I would suggest that you make sure that you are going into karate with your eyes wide open. By that I mean do not be swayed by what you see on television. Karate you see in movies and on television for the most part is for entertainment value only. Authentic Shotokan karate-do on the other hand has a long history and a world wide reputation, no only as a martial art but, also as a means of enhancing the character, as well as the moral and spiritual development of the students who practice it.
So do your homework, then pick a dojo and join the rest of us on a road that will take you to places you never thought you would go.
From my point of view after more than 30 years on the karate road the journey has always been well worth the effort.
Picking the right path to walk is one thing,
staying the course, however, is often for the few.
Part the clouds - see the way.
"The objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
of the human spirit through physical and mental training."
Sensei Peter Lindsay