Parents - Is Karate Expensive?

So, your kids want to take up Karate? They've seen some TV show, or their friends have started and they want to give it a go. Fine, but how much will it cost?

At a quick glance Karate can’t cost that much – after all there is hardly a lot of expensive equipment to buy and the club in town only costs a few quid a lesson. It’s got to be cheaper than buying a pony or a playstation 3 with a truckload of games. Yes? No?

On the one hand yes. If the club is local, your child trains a couple of nights a week, and if the club has access to discount equipment you'll be fine. A Karate Gi (suit), some mitts, a licence and few other bits and bobs could be yours for under £75.00. Two lessons a week will be around £35.00 to £40.00 a month. Gradings will be a couple of times a year and at around £10.00 a time shouldn't break the bank. Add a bit of petrol, say £5.00 tops a week and you’ll get way with less than £700.00 in the first year.

By any standards that’s not bad for a potentially important part of your child’s education, especially since it develops physically fitness, confidence, respect and hopefully some useful self-defence skills. It’s a jolly site cheaper than ballet lessons – after all you need a 4-wheel drive for those! Um, no not quite . . .

Our daughter does ballet, tap and modern, that’s three separate classes, and we live in one of the most expensive parts of the UK in sleepy Surrey. You usually do all three dance styles at a young age to ensure your skills are developed in parallel to wider future options. We’re not boasting, not in the least, and we certainly don’t have a 4-wheel drive. We have roads and so generally don’t require them. These ‘middle class’ lessons cost just over £100.00 per term, 3 times a year with 3 exams per year under some impressive sounding Royal School of something or other at £35.00 per sitting. Adding the same amount of petrol and we are looking at about £700.00 per year.

I often hear the words ‘blue collar’ associated with Karate and martial arts in general. I really don’t want to get hung up on outdated class distinctions, but you do hear these terms, either directly or implied. On the whole nice kids do ballet and the others do Karate – that’s a good stereotype. The top people in martial arts are usually from ordinary backgrounds and though smart, highly trained and often deeply spiritual, they are not the same as the top folks in the pure arts. Few Billy Elliot's rise to the top of ballet, and equally as few to the upper echelons of classical music (my area of work). It’s not a difference in skill or ability; it’s just a more likely difference in social background. Yet, it can cost more to send the young one to Karate compared to ballet – and to avoid sexism, my son did ballet and was ear-marked for a Billy Elliot future, but took up Karate instead.

So that’s that myth shattered.

Now, what happens if the young one is a bit annoying and shows some real talent? At first you are filled with pride – what parent wouldn't be? Then the competitions and special training starts. Most Karate students start out on the club competition circuit locally then build up to representing their association. From there it’s national level.

Depending where you live your travelling will vary. We’re in the South East, which is not as ideal as the Midlands, but could be worse. Our typical competition route in one year has included Wales, Birmingham, Nottingham, Liverpool, Scotland, Sweden, London and Bristol – some more than once. We budget around £100.00 for the typical day out - £40.00 petrol, £30.00 entry fees and £20.00 for coffees, snacks, and all the other general rubbish you pick up at service stations. Oh and anywhere from £5.00 to £12.00 for parking – thanks London for the latter rip off. Plus, now competitions are part of your social calendar you’ll need competition gi’s - £100.00 should do. 10 competitions - £1000.00 a year.

Some associations pay your entry fees – our first didn't - our current one does. The cost depends on how many categories you enter – we typically enter 3 – Kumite, Kata and team Kata. These are between £5.00 and £10.00 depending on the size of the competition.

If we add international events to the list . . . well, how much will it cost you to get to Canada, Sweden, Japan or anywhere else on the planet and stay a few days? Your child might get heavily subsidised, but as a parent you can’t expect that.

Having got used to the sound of clanking metal as you depart the event hall the next bit kicks in. Talent needs nurturing. Our kids seem to have a bit of it and so we go to lots of extra training sessions with as many top instructors as we can find, plus there are the national try-outs and then the national training sessions. We are not alone – far from it – a national squad training session can attract dozens of students. Once you start on this route there is no way back unless the talent dries up – if you get selected you have to be 100% committed.

Specialist training can see you driving up and down the country weekly where ever you need to be. We get through another £2000.00 a year on this aspect. Not too is to miss out on something invaluable and unique. As mentioned, talent needs nurturing.

OK, we have 2 kids doing Karate, but the cost for 2 is only a little more than 1 when they attend the same lessons. Overall I’d suggest we are spending around £5,000.00 a year on Karate for our 2 kids & that’s conservative. We drive around 15,000 miles a year purely for Karate. So, you can add a set of tyres once a year, not to mention other running costs.

Our daughter was once offered a place at one of those fancy Royal Ballet Schools in London. At the time I gulped at the thought of £500.00 per term plus the trip up every Saturday. Now I realise it would have been the cheaper option.

The point is this - Karate is not expensive when you look only at the detail. The top instructors are providing incredible training for not much money. Few of them are rich and if they are they have not made a fortune from direct Karate teaching. If they have then their prices were too high, or their practices questionable. However, if you look at the bigger picture it can quickly add up and challenge your finances. It has ours - to the extent that we sacrifice a great deal for our kids.

Add up the thousands upon thousands of Karate parents around the country and you’ll see that millions of pounds are moving around in the art. The next time some says ‘lessons are only a couple of quid’ think again . . .

It’s really important to understand that this is not saying Karate clubs are taking too much money – quite the opposite. We know for a fact that many only break even and their prices are usually very reasonable. Many instructors make their money from day jobs – right up to the highest Dans. Some do well, but it depends on their marketing skills and personalities.

You just need to be aware that to do Karate seriously needs a commitment financially – but then again what doesn’t?

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