Eight things to look out for when choosing a Dojo
remember when I first started Karate nineteen years ago. I was young, martial arts obsessed and desperate to learn. I spent months trying to find somewhere to train, well I was nine years old so finding somewhere to train was me asking my parents to do it for me... The only problem was neither me nor my parents had any clue what we were looking for. The only reason I ended up at the right Dojo was pure luck. We ended up driving past a Dojo in my home town and that was it, I was in.
Many years later and with a black belt around my waist, I now know what makes a good Dojo and how to find one. So below are my top tips for choosing your perfect Dojo and what questions to ask when making the big decision.
1: What style of Karate does the Dojo Practice?
You can think of Karate styles like different flavours of ice cream. They are all made from the same ingredients, just with chocolate sauce or sprinkles mixed in. Styles have been formed over the years when students branch out from their masters or a Sensei has added in his or her own techniques and skills. This has caused many different styles to pop up all with their own strengths and weaknesses. Usually, whatever style you start out in is the one you stick to for most of your life and people tend to get pretty loyal to their style and want to defend it till the cows come home. I encourage you not to be like that. Try a few different styles and see which one resonates with you. Shotokan, Goju-Ryu and Kyokushin are three of the more popular styles. Dojo's usually advertise their style freely so you should be able to find out and do some research.
Black Belt Wiki has a great page that lists all of the styles and gives you more info on the lineage of each one.
2: Are they registered with the right governing bodies?
A great way to verify a Dojo's legitimacy is to check what governing bodies they are associated with. Most reputable Dojos will have affiliations with Regional, national or worldwide organisations that provide support, regulation and access to tournaments. A couple of examples are the WKF (World Karate Federation) and the JKA (Japan Karate Association). A great way to find Dojos in your area is looking at these association's websites as they usually have lists of associated clubs. Just google Karate associations in your country.
3: Does the Dojo have its own space?
More often than not, when a Dojo is just getting started they will rent a space in a school hall or community centre. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this but it's definitely something to keep in mind. If the Dojo outgrows the space they may have to move to somewhere more permanent, and that might be further away from you.
4: Are they competition focused or more traditional?
This all depends on what your goals are. You might want to be chosen for the Olympic team or you might want to focus on tradition. Some Dojo's lean more towards either tradition or competition. You can get a good idea of what a Dojo is about by looking at their social media and website. If they post a mountain of photos from tournaments or have their trophies lined up in the dojo, they're probably focussed on competition. Either way, when you go to a trial class you will know if the focus fits your goals or not.
5: Is the Sensei reputable?
Let's talk about McDojos for a minute. In the last twenty years or so there has been an increase in less than reputable Dojos popping up around the world that are teaching their own blend of made up techniques and vague tradition. Usually characterised by multicoloured belts, excessive shouting and spinning stick around in no conceivable pattern. Be aware! If you are ever unsure about whether a Dojo is reputable or not, try and ask someone that's experienced in Karate for their opinion. Please get in touch if you have any questions about a prospective Dojo, we can check it out for you.
6: Is the Dojo insured?
Karate is a contact sport and there is always the chance that you will get hurt. Sports and recreation organisations MUST have adequate insurance to protect their students in case of injury. The policy should cover the students during recognised competition and club approved training. When you sign up at a Dojo, you will have to pay a yearly premium, usually around $50 although some clubs may vary depending on the policy they have chosen. If you enrol at a Dojo and you didn't have to pay an insurance premium, it's a good idea to ask your Sensei if you are covered by their insurance.
7: Do you feel welcome?
Joining a Dojo can feel pretty intimidating and you shouldn't be made to feel unwelcome. Unless your local club happens to be a Cobra Kai branch, the Sensei should welcome you into the Dojo with open arms and make you feel like a part of the family. The Sensei's job is to create an open, safe space to learn and grow and I think sometimes this is replaced with an environment full of clashing egos and intimidation, in this case, run for the hills.
8: Don't be afraid to give it a try
Most clubs offer a free trial class so you can jump in and give it a go. This is going to be your best bet to figure out if you want to choose a Dojo. Just remember that you don't have to lock anything in when you go. Try a few classes and see which one you like best.
That's it! If you follow these guidelines you will be able to make an informed decision on where to train and be ready to train. Welcome to the family!