Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions About the SKA

We’ve had students in their 60’s begin karate with us, and it’s very common for adults in their 40’s and 50’s to join our classes.

Our clubs have many adults in their 40’s and 50’s in class, ranging from senior members to new students, so you won’t feel out of place in the group. As long as you’re in reasonably good health there’s no real upper age limit for starting a karate program but if you have any concerns, it’s best to check with your physician before starting.

No. Unlike many commercial karate schools that focus on children’s programs, SKA clubs are much more balanced with an equal emphasis on adult students and particularly families.


Traditional Japanese karate is a fairly dignified thing – we don’t do all the screaming, yelling, and jumping around that you might have seen elsewhere. Don’t take our word for it – come out and watch for an hour. We’re confident that you won’t feel silly participating in one of our classes.

The short and honest answer is “it might not be” but the best way to find out is to try it.

Shotokan emphasizes fast acceleration, explosive power, straight-in movement, and powerful striking. As students advance, the intensity increases but the focus on continuously refining a relatively small number of fundamental techniques remains the core of our practice. A key principle of Shotokan could be stated that it’s better to develop an exceptional level of skill in a few key techniques than mediocre skills in a larger set of techniques. As such, Shotokan’s repertoire may be relatively narrower than some other styles, but the understanding of each technique goes much, much deeper.

There are a lot of reasons why the Shotokan style of karate appeals to people. Shotokan is a great way to build strength and flexibility throughout the body, particularly in the legs, trunk, and shoulders. Shotokan can be a very simple and devastatingly effective form of self-defense against one or more attackers. The detail, nuance, and depth of study available in Shotokan can keep you challenged for a lifetime – there’s always something new to learn, something to refine further, and something left to discover.

Although we certainly think Shotokan is a wonderful martial art, we realize that some people look for different things in their practice. Some people enjoy the gentler practice of arts like Aikido and Tai Chi, while others look for the extreme intensity of Brazillian Jujutsu or Kickboxing. Tae Kwon Do and Judo have been the only two Asian martial arts in the Olympics and both are strongly focused on the sporting/competitive aspects of performance; Japanese/Okinawan karate will be included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the first time. Tang Soo Do is a Korean art that is very similar to Shotokan, but with a greater emphasis on head-level kicking techniques. Kung Fu is very appealing to many people for its long history and status as the original source of all modern striking arts. Arts from the Phillipines, Thailand, and Indonesia provide unique theories of combat that often include practice with weapons as part of their training.  Modern martial arts like Jeet Kun Do and Krav Maga have expertly synthesized theories and techniques from multiple martial disciplines to focus on effective self-defense.

We’re happy to have you try Shotokan with the SKA. If you think you might be better suited to a different martial art, we’ll be equally happy to help you find a qualified instructor in the area. Just make sure you stay in touch and come back to show us what you’ve been learning!

In most cases, yes. We’re happy to make reasonable accommodations for students based on their unique physical limitations, but students ultimately have to decide for themselves if they will be able to rehabilitate (or work around) their old injuries.

Our advice is to consult your physician before starting, tell us what your limitations are before you begin training, take it slow, and listen to your body.

Prospective students who suffer from severe knee, hip, or back injuries may be better suited to a martial art like Tai Chi that places less strain on the lower body and trunk.

First of all, high kicking isn’t a big part of Shotokan karate – most kicking techniques are targeted to the torso and lower body. Stretching is a key part of all classes, and most adults find that their flexibility can be improved significantly with time and regular effort. Improved flexibility is a tremendous benefit of practice and will help you avoid injuries outside of class as well.

Maybe. Most karate classes are split between teaching and training and it’s the training component that burns calories and jump starts your metabolism. What’s the difference?

Teaching is focused on introducing and explaining new skills and new details about existing skills. It’s a balance between verbal explanation, physical demonstration, and individual repetition and immediate correction. We try to give students as much new information as possible at each class so they can practice properly on their own.

Training is defined as group practice led by an instructor for the purpose of refining existing skills. Some amount of teaching happens at all training sessions, but classes focused on training tend to be far more physically demanding. If you’re repeating a familiar technique or drill over and over again with only brief comments and corrections from the instructor, you’re training.

Practice is the third component of learning karate. It’s what you do on your own, by yourself or with a partner but without an instructor present. This is where you challenge yourself to remember what you’ve been taught and push yourself to make the insights and correction from training permanent. Practice is when you make some of your most important discoveries about karate and when you come up with the kind of questions for your next class that enable you to make real progress. Without practice, karate is just an exercise program.

In clubs where most of the focus is on training, students may get a more sustained cardiovascular workout that can lead to weight loss. Likewise, students who practice karate on their own with long enough periods of sustained intensity can expect to realize some weight loss benefits.

Probably. Devoting some time each week to any mentally and physically challenging activity will reduce your stress levels. Giving yourself a couple hours to break from your normal routine and forget about everything except what you’re doing “right now” is a great way to recharge your batteries. A good instructor can help you focus intensely on one or two elements of performance at a time during class; as you get better at doing that, you’ll probably find that your concentration at work and/or at school improves as well.

It should, but you’re going to have to have enough self-discipline from the very beginning to get yourself to class each week! If you end up enjoying karate so much that you work harder to complete your regular obligations on time so you can attend class, then that will have a positive effect on your self-discipline. If you decide that you want to improve your stamina for karate more than you want that extra jelly donut, you’ll be able to say that you’re becoming more self-disciplined.

Self-discipline describes a pattern of behavior that supports achieving a goal, particularly when the required behaviors are more difficult than what we’re naturally inclined to do or less pleasant than the behaviors we’ve chosen in the past. Achieving a goal is a progressive series of cause and effect relationships where the “cause” element is your own behavior.

Cause and effect relationships tend to be separated by a great deal of time in our everyday lives. If we don’t study hard in September, we fail a test in November. If we overeat for a couple weeks, we’ll find out later that we’ve put on ten pounds. In these two examples the consequences of bad choices and undesirable behavior are deferred, so the incentive to do the right thing isn’t as strong. In karate, cause and effect often happen within seconds of each other. We choose correctly or we don’t and the feedback is usually immediate. Having this concrete model to understand cause and effect can help students generalize the lessons of karate to their everyday lives, improving the choices they make and leading to a more self-disciplined character overall.

It will take a while. For most people, the underlying question here is “will karate help me be less fearful?” Few people actually ever want to be in a situation where they have to defend themselves, and in reality, very few normal adults will ever have to punch or kick someone in self-defense. However, one of the most significant benefits of karate practice is that, over time, you will become more confident as you realize that you can effectively respond to physical violence if necessary. You’ll also be learning how to avoid many of the situations that can lead to a violent encounter. These things lead to less fear overall – less fear of meeting new people, going to new places, or trying new things.

To answer the original question, it usually takes at least a year for most students to feel that they’ve been able to incorporate enough karate into their existing defensive instincts to improve their self-defense skills under pressure. If this seems like a long time, just remember that being able to perform techniques in the controlled environment of class is not the same as being able to perform while a real attacker is really trying to hit you!

Students who have earned rank in other clubs or other styles are usually welcome to join an SKA club at their old rank if they wish to. If you want to continue working toward a higher rank in Shotokan, we’ll be happy to work with you as you learn the details and nuances of our style. When we feel you’ve reached the same level of Shotokan-specific ability as any other candidate for the higher rank, you’ll be invited to test for the higher rank as a member of our organization.

Yes. Students are invited to participate based on their skill level, the amount of time they’ve trained, and the specific requirements of their club.

Students always know exactly what is expected of them before they test; we don’t throw in any surprises at the last minute. Before being invited to test, we make sure that our students are thoroughly familiar with the material and have demonstrated the ability to consistently perform at the required level in class.

Testing is an opportunity to formally demonstrate your progress to your instructors, your peers, and yourself.

Yes, but you work your way up to it in stages. Shotokan kumite begins with very carefully controlled partner drills. Over time, these drills are performed with fewer limitations and restrictions until you reach the level where you are permitted to freely choose the techniques you use and the timing of your attacks.

Like any other activity with physical contact, minor bumps and an occasional bruise are part of the training. We supervise all kumite practice carefully to be sure that students are maintaining control of their actions and emotions. Excessive contact, bullying, and recklessness are not tolerated.

No, not if you don’t want to. We encourage students to challenge themselves at least once in the environment of a tournament competition, but it’s not the focus of our practice and it’s not required to advance in rank. Less than half of SKA students compete in tournaments.

When starting out, a t-shirt and sweatpants are usually fine. You can purchase a karate uniform (gi) at any time, but most clubs require a uniform to test for the rank of 7th kyu.  Sleeves and pants should be hemmed or rolled so we can see your wrists and ankles when you’re training.

SKA students typically wear a plain white cotton gi with no patches, insignia, or other markings.  You may be used to seeing stripes on belts, school logos splashed across the back, and a variety of other decorations but we believe that solid fundamental techniques, crisp and powerful movement, and strong posture are the best way to “mark” ourselves and make our affiliation and skill level known to others.

SKA karate-dō is about the performance – not the paint job.

In 1886, Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, began the modern ranking system by requiring his students to wear a colored belt on their kimono to indicate their skill level. The idea came from public pools and gymnasiums in Japan, where lifeguards would use belts to grade swimmers so they knew who to keep a close eye on! In Okinawa and Japan, prior to this, there was no special outer designation of rank. In fact, the idea of “displaying” your presumed skill level in any fashion was considered to be in very bad taste – contrary to the principles of humility and etiquette that are the core of authentic budō.

Unfortunately, as karate and other martial arts spread throughout the world, the idea of “teaching karate as a business” took hold. Today, some commercial karate programs offer as many as 25 different colored belts, along with club patches and other various decorations for the belt and uniform. Children are offered “promotions” as often as every few weeks, with the excuse that it keeps them motivated to continue training.

The problem is that the idea of multiple, meaningless short term rewards is completely contrary to the serious study of a martial art!

With the SKA, moving from one belt color to another represents a clearly observable change in skill level. In a lot of commercial karate clubs, there’s not a big difference between a “camouflage belt with one stripe” and a “camouflage belt with two stripes” other than the kid with two stripes has paid an extra $50 or so in testing fees and related charges.

Karate-dō is not Pokemon; you don’t get prizes every time you play. Both school and adult life require the discipline to stay the course when working toward important long term goals; an authentic martial arts program teaches kids (and adults!) how to sustain their motivation in a way that builds character and produces lifelong benefits.  Shotokan karate-dō is about what changes inside of you, not what changes on your uniform.

For most students of normal ability, with reasonable effort and regular attendance, it takes about four or five years to develop the skills associated with a first-degree black belt (shodan). If you practice less frequently, you can expect it to take a bit longer.

Every instructor, every club, and every organization that offers classes in Shotokan karate has unique insights and perspectives to share, but overall the curriculum is very similar no matter which group you practice with. Some organizations use the exact same syllabus for every club, while others (like ours) allow each club to adjust the syllabus to suit the needs of their students and the individual instructor’s preferences. For an example of how a Shotokan syllabus may be organized, click here.

Children & Karate

Yes, absolutely. There is less uncontrolled physical contact in karate than in football, basketball, or soccer.

Children are closely supervised during class and all partner exercises are done with proper safety equipment at controlled speeds.

The three biggest reasons children struggle in school are (1) they don’t have a good attention span, (2) they don’t have strong socialization skills, and/or (3) they lack general confidence.

Karate can help with all three issues. The next three answers explain how.

Karate has a natural appeal to many children that helps keep their attention when they start taking karate lessons, so karate may be the perfect way to help your child increase their attention span.

Our children’s classes are organized so that at any given time there is only one thing to concentrate on. Over time, as children increase their ability to focus on this “one thing” during each drill in karate class, some parents find that their kids are able to use the same approach to improve their attention span at home and in school.

Becoming successful in karate gives kids the confidence and added skills to try other sports and activities, which in turn helps them build better friendships with their classmates.

Skill in karate builds up from very simple movements and positions that any child can learn. Over time, karate will help improve strength, balance, coordination, and timing.

For many kids who are smaller than their peers or a little less physically coordinated than other kids their age, karate can be the perfect way to build confidence and stay fit.

Yes. Kids who have had bad experiences with bullies are often embarrassed to tell their parents about the experience or ask for help from an adult. Children can become depressed over the bullying and end up being afraid to go to school.

We teach children to follow the rules for reporting such behavior while in school, but bullying can carry over to the neighborhood playground, the bus stop, or the walk home from school. Sometimes there are no adults to intervene and children need to feel that they can handle bullies on their own if necessary.

Children become less fearful of the school environment as they learn to defend themselves effectively and as their confidence grows they are less likely to be the target of bullies.

We encourage children to participate in all school activities and sports. Taking time off from karate to play another sport or participate in another activity is perfectly acceptable.

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