Published on January 8th, 2016 | by Christopher Abraham

What to expect at your first karate class

If push came to shove – or even a punch or two – could you defend yourself?

It’s a question we all ask ourselves at some point, and one I decided to address by having a go at one of the most popular forms of self defence, karate.

The word itself is Japanese for ’empty hand’ and the discipline dates as far back at the 14th century in Okinawa.

These days, it’s practised all over the world and is, of course, an Olympic sport, so we’ll be seeing plenty of it in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

The venue for my first lesson was the Shotokan Karate Centre in south London, where taster sessions are offered for complete beginners like me.

Beforehand, I contacted the teacher to get more information about what I needed to take part. I was told to just wear some loose clothing, be ready to train barefooted, and have some water to keep hydrated.

On arrival, I introduced myself to some of the students who varied in age, gender and size and were all at different grading levels. Beginners wear white belts and progress through the ranks until they are black belts.


We started the lesson with a warm-up, doing a light jog around the hall to get the blood flowing, followed by stretches. I noticed that a reasonable level of fitness is required but you don’t necessarily have to be super fit.

The first thing the instructor showed me was the most basic training stance and how to move across the hall. I must admit this felt pretty silly at first, but then I began to see how these movements help with your balance and composure.

Stance is a vital yet simple part of karate that you learn before moving on to strikes and kicks. These include the snap punch, where you have your guard up and strike with your left hand, and the reverse punch where you have your guard up and strike with your right hand while pivoting on your right foot.

Karate involves a lot of patience and attention, and what I found difficult was picking up the correct combinations of punches and kicks. I occasionally got them mixed up and the timing wrong but obviously improved with practice. I certainly got more confident as the session went on.

We then got into pairs to practice blocks on each other and takedown moves, and here it was important to be partnered up with someone of similar weight and size so it would be safer when doing kicks and punches.


The most enjoyable part of the session was sparring, which involved us wearing headguards and pads. Again we did this with partners, with points awarded for successful combinations, which appealed to the competitive streak in me.

Halfway through, the session was slowed down so we could work on our breathing as I was told that you can’t do those combinations effectively and with the correct timing unless you are breathing in and exhaling at the right time.

What I admired a lot about the culture of karate and what I found challenging about it as a sport was the discipline involved.

The class I joined in with is primarily taught for self defence, and if it was found out that a student was using their skills and techniques to hurt people unprovoked then they would be kicked out. Showing respect for others is a vital aspect of this form of martial art.

Overall, I would fully recommend karate as a good way of keeping healthy, becoming disciplined and gaining confidence in your abilities as well as achieving your personal goals.

As well as teaching you how to look after yourself, it’s great training for fitness, mind and body conditioning, hand-eye co-ordination and an effective way to develop a strong mental character.

For more information visit the Shotokan Karate Academy website.

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