Some beginners are quite nervous to start Karate: Am I fit enough? Will I get hurt? Will I embarrass myself? First, your level of fitness will be noted by your instructor, who will make sure you do not over-exert yourself. Second, while Karate (like all martial arts and sports) carries the risk of injury, your instructor will take every precaution to keep you safe. Third, no student should feel embarrassed - we were all beginners once!

What should I expect at my first lesson?

Some aspects of Karate training may seem a little strange on first encounter - people kneeling and bowing; wearing white uniforms with coloured belts; students calling instructors Sensei and saying Oss! - but these are the characteristics that separate Karate as a martial art from combat sports like boxing and MMA. Master Funakoshi (widely acknowledged as the father of modern Karate) once said that the ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants. By this he meant that Karate practitioners should not rely on technique alone - striking, kicking and blocking - but must also nurture the spiritual and cultural aspects of the art.

Of course, beginners are not expected to be familiar with Japanese culture, language or martial arts protocols. In this regard, the best advice is to simply follow along with what everyone else is doing and to ask your instructor if you are unsure. That said, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Karate practise begins and ends with Rei, which simply means respect. In Japanese culture, respect is demonstrated by bowing, in a similar way to Westerners shaking hands. Bows can be performed from Seiza (kneeling) or Musubi-dachi (standing) position - the former is usually reserved for the ceremonial opening and closing of the lesson, while the latter is typically used when greeting a new training partner.
  • Karate instructors are called Sensei, which simply means the one who went before - that is just to say that they learned Karate before you did. Karate students acknowledge their Sensei's instructions by saying Oss! There is actually no literal translation for Oss! - probably the closest approximation in Western culture is the Hooah! acknowledgement sometimes used in the military, which means anything and everything except no.
  • There is no need for you to wear a Gi (Karate uniform) to your first lesson - track pants and a t-shirt are quite appropriate. Please remove your shoes before walking onto the training floor to avoid tracking in dirt from outside. Please do not wear any jewellery or watches, as they could be broken or even cause injury during training. Please bring along a drink bottle, as you will be given occasional drink breaks.

Shotokan Karate training comprises three core elements:

  • Kihon - Basics, characterised by deep stances that provide a platform for powerful strikes, kicks and blocks. Techniques are developed through a holistic approach to building core strength, speed, flexibility, fitness and coordination.
  • Kata - Forms drawn from the arsenal of Kihon, in essence representing a fight with an imaginary opponent. The SKIA syllabus includes 26 Kata, the first of which is Heian Shodan. Kata practise develops agility, balance, control, timing and correct breathing.
  • Kumite - Sparring with a partner to develop fighting spirit and an understanding of distance, angles, awareness and self-defence principles. Kumite is introduced in a gradual and controlled manner, starting with simple Gohon Kumite (five-step sparring) and progressing through another three levels before the pinnacle of Jiyu Kumite (free-fighting) is reached. You will only advance to the next level of Kumite when your instructor believes it is safe for you to do so.

Ready to take that first step?

When you're ready to take the first step on your Karate journey, all you need to do is locate your nearest club using the Club Finder tool on this website. The club instructor will be able to tell you everything you need to know to get started and will be pleased to answer any questions you may have. If you're still unsure, you can always email us at

Joining from another style or moving from overseas?

Many experienced Karate practitioners come to Shotokan Karate from another style, or as a result of moving to Australia from overseas. SKIA recognises Kyu Gradings from SKIF affiliates and most traditional Karate styles, although a confirmation grading will be required for non-SKIF practitioners once the syllabus is known. SKIF recognises JKA, ISKF and ITKF Dan Gradings via a simple registration process. Dan Grades from other styles will be required to undertake a confirmation grading once the syllabus is known.