Is the level of contact you’re proposing suitable of the age and experience of your students?
This sounds basic, but it’s surprising how often it’s overlooked by lead instructors. Quite simply, is contact really necessary? Do you have to introduce physical contact or sparring?
Sometimes the answer will be yes and this is okay, absolutely. It’s a key part of so many sporting based martial arts clubs, as well as some reality self protection skills too. The key consideration here is both the age and experience of your students.
As an association we do not recommend any head contact for any persons under the age of 16, full stop. We can’t force a club to follow this guidance, but we do feel it’s very imprudent not to take heed of such a stirn warning.
Beyond the age of consent as an adult (18) you have the ability to ask your student to give an informed assumption of risk. This isn’t about signing away their life on the dotted line – it’s about making them aware of the specific risks, and allowing them to knowingly assume these should they wish.
Making sure you have the numbers to pair up students with a like for like student is also very important. A 9th Kyu against a 1st is far from a fair fight, so you’ll need to closely control any competitive interests when practicing if there is a skill or grade gap.
Remember also that alot of people will never have been in a sparring environment before, and will likely have no real idea of what it’s like to be kicked or punched – even if only to a sporting level. When you’re introducing newbies to sparring for the first time, especially when you require controlled tag fighting, you’ll need to take the time out to double check their competency before ringing the bell!
Are you suitably qualified/experienced, and can you prove this?
Ultimately your students will look up to you and your guidance for what is and isn’t safe. Parents will trust you to make a sensible decision on their behalf, and older participants will expect you to help guide them only to spar or compete when it’s safe and beneficial for them to do so. If your judgement is ever called into question – especially in the event of an injury and any ensuing insurance claim – you may well be asked to justify your actions. If you’ve never competed in competitions which can be proven, nor received any sort of formal qualification for your refereeing or coaching, you could find yourself in a tricky position legally.
Is your insurer on-side, and what extra requirements do they impose?
Some out-and-out insurers who cover the martial arts market perhaps don’t fully appreciate what is involved in everyday martial arts practice. It’s possible that whilst their policy sounds all-encompassing, it may not have a specific provision for sparring or the supervision of ‘tag’ fighting. Any grey areas with insurance make for an uneasy nights’ sleep! Take the time to speak with your insurer and gain clarification in writing (e-mail is fine, by the way) that what you intend to do at club level is acceptable.
Ask if there are any special requirements in place that you must meet to support sparring too. This might be enforcing certain student ratios, the use of gum shields or specialist matting. Get the facts up front so you can make an informed decision.
If you’re dealing with an association and their group cover policy, this information should be readily available to you.
Do you have the competency to deal with a potentially life-threatening complication?
This might sound a little over-dramatic, but it’s something you should really consider now rather than after the event. Whilst serious injury is (thankfully) rare in the arts, when it goes wrong it has the potential to go very, very wrong. If you’re actively permitted head striking this is even more the case.
You must ask yourself the hard question; if somebody was to collapse or sustain a serious injury during a class, do you have the staffing power, expertise, equipment and training to deal with it effectively? This is your responsibility as the instructor with a duty of care to keep your students safe.