Karate in Canada is not regulated. This means that anyone can go to a local martial arts supply store, purchase a uniform and a black belt, print a flashy-looking certificate, open a dojo (school), and call themselves Sensei (Instructor) or better yet, Shihan (Master). Once this is done they are open for business and happy to take your money. So how do you know what you are getting for your hard-earned cash?
Karate is a Japanese/Okinawan art. The traditions, values, terms, concepts, and approaches to training are of Eastern origin and therefore foreign to most North Americans. Fortunately, in Canada, it is not necessary to take a karate instructor’s word at face value. Here are a few ways of determining if a karate school is legitimate:
Make sure you are comfortable with the instructors and their pedagogical skills
A good place to start is with your Provincial Sport Organization (PSO). In Ontario, reputable karate schools will be registered with the Ontario Karate Federation (OKF) which is the governing body for karate and therefore members of Karate Canada – the only national governing body for karate in Canada recognized by Sport Canada, the World Karate Federation, and the International Olympic Committee. There is a karate PSO in every Canadian province and in the Northwest Territories.
In addition, the club master, and anyone else charged with coaching duties, should be NCCP certified and hold other qualifications such as First Aid and CPR. A black belt (even a high level) does not guarantee teaching ability. Make sure you are comfortable with the instructors and their pedagogical skills and approaches. You will spend a lot of time with the teaching staff and perhaps one day be among them.
Finally, if it’s classical or traditional karate training you are seeking, make sure that the school can trace its lineage back to Japan or Okinawa and maintains that relationship. In order to preserve the culture and heritage of the art, it is important to have strong roots with the source.
Look for Karate Instructors who are:
As a consumer, you have the right to do your research, ask pointed questions, see accreditation documents, and expect honest answers. If you are not sure about the answers you are receiving or the authenticity of some of the documents (particularly the ones in Japanese) feel free to contact your provincial governing body for clarification.
At the end of the day, however, it is up to you to pick a school that speaks to your values and where you feel comfortable. It is wise to try a few classes to see if you like the atmosphere and are compatible with the instructors and other members. Karate is a beautiful art and a lifelong journey. Enjoy it.
You are invited to visit the Charles Fink Karate Dojo. It will be my pleasure to try to answer any questions you might have or at the very least, have a frank and open discussion with you.