How to Teach Martial Arts

How to Teach

How to Teach Martial Arts

Audio Lessons

Using “Do” vs “Don’t”

Communication Skills 1

Communication Skills 2

Communication Skills 3

Communication Skills 4

Communication Skills 5


Here are some sample speeches to give you some inspiration in developing your own presentations.

How to Develop Self-Confidence

How to Develop Self-Confidence

Martial Arts & Self-Confidence

Martial Arts & Self-Confidence

Text Lessons

Phase 1-2-3 Teaching

Phase 1-2-3 Teaching

By John Graden

Phase One – Learning the Black Belt Attitude

Phase One is the first year of a student’s career as a martial artist. The basic premise is that it’s more important to have a less-than-perfect orange belt in class than to try to perfect a student and have them drop out. The focus at this level is in building the student’s enthusiasm for the martial arts, for his school and for earning a black belt. Most of all, you have to motivate the student to want to keep coming back to class.

This is also a period of education and indoctrination for the student into the traditions of the martial arts. The key is to de-emphasize the physical demands and emphasize the mental benefits of the training. Your job at this stage is to build your student’s confidence so he can see himself earning a black belt.

Your goal is not to perfect the students’ front kick in the first month. The key is retention. You can only help the students who are in class. You can’t help the ones you drove off with demands that were not in line with the students’ confidence, skill or conditioning level.

The emphasis in beginner classes should be about 90% mental and 10% physical. This doesn’t mean the student will be meditating for 90% of the class. It means the focus of your teaching will be in helping the student learn how to learn. Teach your students how to try without getting discouraged — how to stay focused and recover from making a mistake in class. Teach them not to look for 100% improvement overnight. Instead, help them realize that progress will come in 100 different areas 1% at a time.

Most of all, teach them how to take these principles out of the classroom and into their lives. This is the essence of the black belt attitude. The black belt attitude is an attitude of high standards and 100% effort. Excellence is defined in the black belt. How would a black belt sit in school and listen to a teacher? How would a black belt perform his job? Would a black belt complain about a problem or take action to resolve a challenge?

The black belt attitude is one of positive self-expectancy. This is an attitude that says, “There are rewards for my hard work.”

Phase Two – Black Belt Club

Phase Two is year two of the student’s road to black belt. Now you have a student who is in better shape. His conditioning is improved and he understands the disciplines of the art. These students have been training with you for a year. Now they are ready for a somewhat more intense experience. You have to be cautious here because their confidence is fragile. Much of their confidence in their abilities and future is tied directly to their trust in you.

At this stage, you can turn the heat up some and run a more physically and technically demanding class. Good form is the emphasis at this stage. Feet should be bladed on kicks and wrists flat when punching. Nevertheless, you want to keep the motivation level high, so a 50/50 balance between physical and mental seems to work real good here for retention.

Phase Three – Preparation for Black Belt 

Phase Three is years three, four and five. Now the student should be in good shape with good technique. He is in preparation for his black belt exam, though it may be two or three years away. Now, we have to begin the process of developing tenacity, toughness and survival skills befitting a black belt.

The difference now is that these students are ready for it. They are in shape. They’ve been with you for over two years and they are hungry for some advanced training. Give it to them.

Increase your physical demands, but always preframe it by telling them how proud you are of them and that you are going to bring them all the way home to black belt. Tell them you believe in them and expect the highest effort and performance. However, you cannot make demands beyond the skills, strategies and tactics you provide them.

This is an important point. Prepare your students for the demands. Give them sparring strategies for being exhausted. Teach them how to run and then to shadowbox or practice forms or combinations after the run, so they get used to digging deep and discovering the spirit of the arts.

Real confidence as a martial artist comes when you have been tested. Not by some external exam board, but by your own internal doubts and fears. Typically, these arise when faced with a tougher, stronger, faster opponent, and when faced with exhaustion against an opponent that won’t quit. That’s the key. That’s the bottom line. Not everyone can win every fight.

Teach your students at this level that survival is the key. Survival builds confidence. To know you can face overwhelming odds and not quit. To know, even if you are exhausted and facing a tougher opponent, that although you may not win, you can keep that opponent from hurting you. You can defend yourself. That’s the essence of self-defense. That’s a black belt.

To get a group of students to advance to this level is not easy. Sure, we all have the killer jocks who seem to eat this stuff up. But, can you take a group of 30 brand new students of all ages, athletic backgrounds and confidence levels into white belt class and then, three to five years later, have ten or 15 new black belts? That’s the mark of a pro.

Not everyone can be a black belt. Some people are just not going to make it. However, your job is to get 100% of the students, who by any stretch of the imagination could make it, to black belt.

Like most things, the longer-term your perspective in nurturing a student, the better. Curriculum must increase demands gradually. The opposite is a common error. Unsuccessful schools tend to overload new students with material and then taper off as they progress through the ranks.

The results are new students feeling overtaxed as they are constantly introduced to new, sometimes overwhelming challenges before they can absorb them. Then, when they get to the brown belt level and are ready for big challenges, the curriculum has run out of material. The result is boredom and drop out.

Study your curriculum to see if you too are overloading the requirements at the front end and are too light on those at the back end. Are you overwhelming your white belts and boring your black belts? Most curriculums are. The problem is that there is a common instinct within martial arts instructors to teach the curriculum the way they were taught. This is also a mistake.

You can, while operating within the confines of a particular style, vary the order and the timeline of the material in that style, in order to enhance retention. The only two belts that matter are white belt and black belt. All the rest are “tutti-frutti” belts, so far as I’m concerned. They are designed for curriculum control and motivation. That’s all.

How you design your curriculum between white and black belt is very important. You must feed your students material like it was a food supply for a three-year refuge in the mountains. You have to make it last. Each year, as part of your goal-setting process, take another close look at your curriculum and make the adjustments you feel are best for the student.

Start with a Strong Benefit Statement

“This is one of the most powerful and devastating kicks in all martial arts. It’s called the side kick because it cuts down your opponent and is really hard to block, especially against an untrained fighter.”

Use a “War Story”

Use a “War Story” to Create an Emotional Connection with the Students

“One of Joe Lewis’ instructors in Okinawa got jumped by five guys. He killed 1 and put 2 others in the hospital using only his sidekick.”

Show the Application First

Show the Application of the Technique with an Opponent (Visual and Auditory Learners)“The kick uses the inner area of the shin to strike and cut into the outside of the thigh or knee just like this…”

Clarify What You are Striking with and the Target

(Kinesthetic Learner)“Everyone reach down and feel the inner part of your shin bone. Do you feel how sharp that is? That’s what you are striking with. Now, take your fist and lightly tap this area outside your thigh. That’s the target zone.”

Face the Mirror and Preview

Face the Mirror and Preview What You Are Going To Have Them Do (Visual Learners)

“From your fighting stance, bring your knee outside and around while pivoting the supporting foot all the way around 360-degrees like this. When I say, ‘Out’ pull the knee to this position. When I say, ‘Kick!’ complete the kick like this.”

How to Give Clear Directions

What to Do vs What Not to Do

When giving instruction, be careful of the language that you use. Avoid giving instruction that defines the behavior by the negative. For instance, “Don’t drop your guard” tells the student what NOT to do but doesn’t tell the student what TO do. “Keep your guard up” is a more clear instruction. Better yet, “When I say guard up, think of holding two phones to your ears.

Even when you are using more proactive, positive language the message may still be vague. For instance, “Pay attention!” Does the student understand how to pay attention? Has anyone every taught that to him/her? Does she know your specific expectations for pay attention such as Eyes on You? The command “pay attention” provides little guidance because it fails to teach.

A more clear direction would be to teach students early that facing the instructor at parade rest with eyes focused and remaining silent is how you pay attention to the instructor. This provides useful guidance. It is easy to remember, solution oriented, and hard to misunderstand.

Without telling the student what to do, an instructor can’t really tell whether the student has complied which makes it more difficult to hold him/her accountable. A student may protest, “But I was paying attention!” Students sense and exploit the lack of accountability. The time spent in this void of clarity is a waste of precious learning time.

When the student has clear instructions to follow, compliance is clear and easy to define for the instructor and the student.

Four Keys to Giving Clear Directions

1. Specific. 

Effective directions are specific. They focus on manageable and precisely describe actions that students can take.

2. Concrete. 

Effective directions are not just specific; they involve clear actions that any student knows how to do. When directing a student to pay attention, he/she may or may not know how to do that. But if the instruction is to, “Put your eyes on me,” that is something no student can misunderstand or not know how to do.

If the student appears to struggle, get more concrete: “Turn your body to face me. Look at me with your eyes. Listen to me with your ears. If you have a question, raise your hand.” These are real things: physical, simple, commonplace. There is no gray area or prior knowledge required to comply.

3. Sequential. 

Effective directions should describe a sequence of concrete specific actions. In the case of the student who needs help paying attention, I might advise him, “John, turn your body to face me. Look at me with your eyes. Listen to me with your ears.”

4. Observable. 

The instructions give John actions that the instructor could plainly see him do. This is important. The instructor provided him with a series of steps that were specific and simple enough that any student could reasonably be expected to do them.That leaves John with little wiggle room to stray.

What to Do allows you to distinguish between incompetence and defiance by making your commands specific enough that they can’t be deliberately misinterpreted and helpful enough that they explain away any gray areas.

However, it’s important to distinguish between incompetence and defiance. If I ask John to pay attention or sit up or get on task and he doesn’t, knowing whether he will not or cannot matters. If he cannot, the problem is incompetence. If he will not, the problem is defiance. I respond to these situations differently.

Create a Sound Pattern

Create a Sound Pattern (Auditory learners)

“We’ll do this in four parts. 1-Fold! – 2-Kick! – 3-Refold! 4-Recover.” Repeat that with every rep.

Age Specific Teaching

By Derenda Timmons-Schubert, Ph.D.

Teaching according to developmental levels can make the martial art learning experience more pleasurable and effective for all students. There are benefits for instructors as well. Specifically, the instructor should can create lesson plans designed to meet the needs of students. The better educated martial arts instructors are about the developmental abilities of students, the better the lesson plans can be designed to meet the needs of those students.

The study of martial arts involves thinking, physical conditioning, emotional involvement, and an examination of moral character. For these reasons, this chapter will focus on these aspects of development, and how the martial arts instructor can use the information to design lesson plans which truly meet the needs of students.

This chapter will review the cognitive (“thinking”), communication, physical, emotional and moral developmental patterns of age groups from preschooler to adults. We will explore how these factors influence martial arts training. Furthermore, we will consider special issues such as gender differences, learning styles, and multiple-age ranges training together.

The information presented in this chapter is to serve as a guideline for understanding life-span development. Varying paces of maturation, physical make-up, cultural differences, education, and life experience can affect the pace at which an individual moves through the stages of development. Therefore, consider this chapter your basic guide into child and adult development. To make it easier for the reader to incorporate the information, the chapter has been organized by age groups.

Module 11 – Lesson 1

How Children Process Information 

One of the most famous theorists in the area of cognitive (“thinking”) development is Jean Piaget (pronounced, pee-a-zhay’). His theories focused on how children process information and how that processing changes over time. Piaget demonstrated that children think differently than adults. He was interested in how children acquire and use information about their world and experiences (Papalia & Olds, 1996).

Within the next several sections, Piaget’s work will provide the basis for how children, adolescents and adults think. We will use the research about moral development provided by Kohlberg and Gilligan to understand how people develop a sense of conscience. Research has revealed that cognitive and moral development occurs in a predictable sequence of stages, and no stage is skipped.

Module 11 – Lesson 2

Specific Age Groups: Preschoolers (Ages 4-6)

1. Thinking (Pre-Operational Stage). 

Piaget examined how preschoolers process information and titled this stage the “Pre-Operational Stage.”

Children in this stage demonstrate the ability to understand information in concrete, simplistic manners. They exhibit the ability to use intuitive thinking, also known as “doing what feels right.” They can engage in pretend play and imitate behaviors that are not being demonstrated in front of them. Since pretend play is such an important element of the preschool age, they exhibit limited ability to separate fantasy from reality.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that children in this age range are just understanding at the age that things can be reversed (that is, doors open and close; people can jump up and down). They also have a tendency to attribute human characteristics to inanimate objects. Sophie, a five-year-old martial art student, told her instructor that her teddy bear wanted to take class to learn how to “do kicks”.

Tip: Preschoolers are attracted to animals as characters in their books, stories and movies. A martial arts instructor can take advantage of this interest by incorporating animal images in the teaching. For example, instruct children to “run like cheetahs,” “jump like frogs,” or “reach tall like giraffes.” Children will enjoy the playfulness and think you speak their language.

Preschoolers tend to focus on details of objects, which is why they can get stuck on the color, shape, noise, or fancy move of a new technique, uniform or toy. One child I knew was squirming in class so much the instructor thought he needed a bathroom break. Upon investigation, it was discovered his uniform tag was scratching his back! The instructor gave a sigh of relief, thinking he may have been cleaning up a different kind of a mess.

Additionally, children in this age group have a limited ability to understand the perspective of others. Therefore, the child will not understand why the instructor is losing his/her mind when the five-year-old is running laps (giggling the whole way) around the instructor’s legs.

Six-year-old children are typically trial-and-error learners. They attempt a skill, it works, and they do it again. If it doesn’t work, they might try the skill in a different way. Six-year-old children can state their age, print simple words, and know the difference between day and night.

2. Physical. 

A four-year-old child can run as well as control stops and turns. The four-year-old can jump 24-33 inches. They can hop four-to-six steps on one foot and descend a staircase alternating feet. Four-year-olds can jump, run and throw a ball. Four-year-olds are beginning to learn how to skip (Papalia & Olds, 1996).

A five-year-old is able to run with skill and hop and jump rope. While playing a game, five-year-olds are able to start and stop. They can easily hop a distance of 16 feet and use alternating feet without help to descend a staircase (Papalia & Olds, 1996).

A six-year-old child can jump rope, trot, climb, hop and gallop around the training floor. Six-year-old children begin to use their hands as tools, as seen in their ability to tie shoelaces. They can skip on both feet alternately and hop on one foot for ten feet. They are able to walk heal-to-toe in a straight line and catch a bounced ball (Papalia & Olds, 1996).

Tip: Energetic preschoolers love to run, jump and hop around a training floor. Take advantage of this energy by incorporating these skills into warm-ups and skill-training exercises.

Tip: The game, “Alligator Pits,” is a fun way to incorporate physical and cognitive skills. Place five or six shields on the floor in a straight line approximately five feet apart or in a random pattern. Instruct the children to jump/hop over the shields (alligator pits) with feet together. For a variation, ask the children to hop on one foot or jump side-to-side over the shields. If the student lands in the alligator pit, he or she does two-to-five “fun-ups” (push-ups).

Tip: Each instructor holds a foam-padded “blocker” and the children form lines in front of the instructors. The instructor moves the blocker left and right, low to the ground, and the student is expected to jump over and out of the way. The instructor also moves the blocker vertically and then horizontally at the student’s head. The child is instructed to duck a horizontal blocker move and move side-to-side for a vertical blocker move. As the children become more familiar with the activity, the instructor can speed up and vary his/her blocker moves.

3. Social/Language. 

Preschoolers are a talkative group of people. One mother commented that on a stressful day, she felt her preschooler’s incessant talking was comparable to Chinese water torture!

Preschoolers begin to explode with language abilities and the excitement that they can communicate and express themselves in a way that is understood by others. Plus, their growing awareness and curiosity about the world around them gives them much to talk about. They can express themselves, but they may not understand complex questions.

As an example of the difference just one year makes at this stage, by the age of five, children have a vocabulary of over 2,000 words; they can repeat sentences of ten syllables or more. Six-year-olds can understand 2,500 words.

Preschoolers can answer questions beginning with the phrase, “What do you do when you are scared, cold, happy. . .? Six-year-olds use all types of sentence structures and use pronouns (for example, I, you and we) correctly (Papalia & Olds, 1996)

Preschoolers can dress with little supervision. They can separate from parents fairly well. Preschoolers like to succeed at all they attempt. When frustrated, the child may exhibit a temper tantrum or cry when things do not go his or her way.

Preschoolers respond well to praise and encouragement. The use of external rewards, such as stickers, can have a positive impact on the children. Stickers and patches may serve as concrete symbols of accomplishment.

They are able to play cooperatively with others in imaginative or pretend play. Also, they are able to develop relationships with relatives and believe that death is reversible.

Tip: Preschoolers enjoy playing with other preschoolers. The martial arts school is a natural place for positive preschool interactions to occur. They are talkative and curious. Consider asking them questions about their strengths (things they are “good at”) and weaknesses (things they wish they could “do better”).

Incorporate how rules of respect and self-control they learn at the school can happen at home, too. They will try their best to impress you with their skills, and their parents will appreciate the teaching of important life skills.

Tip: Team Work Drills are popular ways to incorporate cooperation and interaction between children. The drill, “Pass the Ball,” requires the children to stand in a straight line all facing the same way. The instructor gives the first student a ball and the child passes the ball over his/her head. The ball is passed down the line in this manner. As the ball returns to the first person, it is passed between the students’ legs. To increase the difficulty and challenge, incorporate two or more balls into the game.

Tip: “Kick the Balloon” is another Team Work Drill. Break children into smaller groups of three or four. Each group is given an inflated balloon. The children are in a circle. The instructor throws the balloon into the middle of the circle, and the children are instructed to keep the balloon in the air by using a specified kick. This is a popular and fun activity. It gets rave reviews from the kids!

Module 11 – Lesson 3

School Age (Ages 7-12)

1. Thinking (Concrete Operational, 7-12 Years Old). 

Piaget studied elementary school-aged children to understand how they gather and make sense of information. He called this stage “Concrete Operational.”

He discovered that children in this age range take in information, transform it, and manipulate it so that it makes sense to them. They can classify information putting ideas and facts into categories and sets (Papalia & Olds, 1996). Instructors can teach martial arts in sets by grouping skills. For example, the instructor might teach all of the blocks one week and all the kicks that move forward the next week.

Tip: Elementary-school kids (ages 7 to 11) organize information in categories and sets. Organize your lesson plans by focusing on one skill area for each class. Too many different, disconnected skills will confuse and frustrate a school-age student.

For example, cover blocks by teaching the specific block, then explain the purpose of the block. After you teach the block, have the children pair up with partners and practice the block. Have the children take turns defending against the block and then, exhibiting the block.

Children within this stage can understand sequencing (Papalia & Olds, 1996). More specifically, they know how to think of things in the following logical manner: first step, second step, third step, etc. Martial arts training is inherently sequenced-based, from forms to sparring. Thus, children in this age range can thrive in the martial arts-training experience.

Children in this age range also understand comparisons of size, such as big and small or big and bigger, or kick high, medium and low. During this stage, the growth and development of intellectual skills supersedes physical development.

2. Physical. 

Seven-year-old children enjoy high-energy sports as well as sit-down games. Because of their more developed physical abilities, these children begin to display the ability to execute accurate jumping jacks. Their gross motor abilities are so well-developed they are able to ride a two-wheel bike successfully.

Eight-year-old children further develop their bike-riding, running, skipping, jumping and climbing skills. An eight-year-old child’s movements are more graceful than younger peers. They exhibit skill in using their eye-hand coordination. Thus, children are often taught cursive writing (handwriting) at this age.

Nine-year-old children become skilled in active physical play. They experience well-developed hand-eye coordination. During this stage of development, the children reach a growth plateau.

Ten to 12-year-old children possess good muscle control. Their manipulation skills are almost equal to those of adults. Manipulation skills refer to the use of hands, arms and legs to move or control an object. Dribbling a basketball or using nunchaku are examples of manipulation skills.

Between the ages of ten and 12, gender differences become more pronounced. Girls have a tendency to lag behind in physical strength. Children within this age range experience a growth spurt. This growth spurt is observed in girls sooner than in boys (Papalia & Olds, 1996).

Tip: School-age children possess physical abilities, which allow them to be successful in the martial arts. They are able to demonstrate good eye-hand coordination and an interest in physical sports.

Incorporate multi-skilled activities into warm-ups, such as running to one wall, jumping over shields, and punching a heavy bag. The kids will enjoy the variety and physical requirements of such a drill.

3. Social/Language. 

Seven-year-old children use language to share their experiences with others. Eight-year-old children use many words and sentences and adjectives appropriately. By the age of nine, children demonstrate well-developed use of language and sentence structure.

Seven to nine-year-old children are increasingly self-sufficient, as evidenced by their ability to dress and undress themselves. They begin to utilize social skills, such as manners, on a more frequent, independent basis. Seven-year-olds begin to enjoy some time alone. They will typically have a best friend.

Eight-year-old children begin to develop a variety of friendships. Seven-year-olds begin to note differences between themselves and others. Eight-year-old children are concerned with others’ opinions of them. Nine-year-old children become less influenced by their parents and begin the journey of defining their own values. They also start to become more friendly and engaged with others.

For ten to 12-year-old children, their peer group is extremely important. They prefer to play with their own gender. Children in this age range make comparisons about others based on psychological characteristics, such as nicer, smarter and funnier. The most important social influences are people in the neighborhood and school. The children monitor their behavior to avoid feelings of inferiority. The developmental social task of children within this age range is to master social and academic skills (Papalia & Olds, 1996).

Tip: When talking to children, consider the language you use. The younger the child, the shorter the sentences and the more simple the language. The older the person, the longer the sentences and the more abstract, philosophical you can be. Also, look the children in the eye, by kneeling down to speak to them. Convey respect, model positive social skills, and you will increase the probability of attention and self-respect.

Module 11 – Lesson 4

Adolescent (Ages 13-17)

1. Thinking (Formal Operational, 13-18+ Years Old). 

Piaget identified the final stage of cognitive development as the “Formal Operational Stage.”

The Formal Operational Stage extends into adulthood. During this stage, people develop the ability to think abstractly and consider hypothetical situations. When given a premise or issue, they can logically develop a conclusion. Thus, they have the capability of debating and considering philosophical issues. Because of this newfound way of analyzing information, adolescents can appear indecisive and hypocritical.

The skills of the Formal Operational Stage allow people to consider alternate explanations for observed events. Also, individuals develop an awareness that one must anticipate, formulate and develop strategies for dealing with problems (Flavell, 1977). Cognitive (“thinking”) maturity occurs because of the internal and external changes in the adolescent’s life. They are being exposed to more experiences, and the brain matures.

Tip: The “Tunnel of Doom” exercise can promote thinking development. The Tunnel of Doom requires the students to stand in two lines facing each other. One student is asked to close his/her eyes. Then, the instructor chooses several students to grab the identified student. The child opens his/her eyes and walks down the Tunnel of Doom. The identified attackers grab the student, and he or she must react with a self-defense technique. This activity can also be used with adults.

It is estimated that half of the adult population reaches the Formal Operational Stage of development (Papalia & Olds, 1996). Many people do not reach the Formal Operational Stage of development because of limited exposure to advanced educational challenges (that is, college, graduate school, travelling to different countries/cultures). Therefore, most students will be operating in the Concrete Operational Stage of development. Presenting information in a straightforward, concrete manner will be a successful teaching approach. With further cultural and educational challenges, the adolescent and adult can promote advanced formal reasoning.

2. Physical. 

Adolescents experience rapid maturation and physical development. In both genders, the growth spurt impacts all skeletal and muscle groups (Papalia & Olds, 1996). The changes occur at their own rate, which means parts of the body may be out of proportion. Thus, adolescents experience awkwardness and clumsiness. Agility, strength and flexibility eventually return. Additionally, adolescents experience the development of sexual characteristics, which leave the adolescent feeling self-conscious.

Tip: Instructors can promote positive self-esteem during this awkward time of life by complimenting the student on skill development and offering the adolescent age-appropriate leadership responsibilities (that is, assisting in the younger children’s classes, performing on the demonstration team).

3. Social/Language. 

The language abilities of adolescents are comparable to those of adults. With the exposure of education and culture, the adolescent’s vocabulary and eloquent use of language expand.

During adolescence individuals develop a renewed self-centeredness, characterized by self-consciousness and self-criticism, because they’re in in search of an identity. It is as though they imagine an audience watching their every move.

Adolescents are susceptible to peer pressure. Most of the conformity to peers is usually restricted to fashion, music and social activities. Family attitudes about careers, politics and morality typically influence the teen. (Sebald, 1986; Wilks, 1986).

More specifically, 13-year-olds struggle with independence versus dependence. Fourteen-year-olds challenge authority, and vacillate between being reasonable and competent to rebellious. Fifteen-year-olds present a range of behavior described as that of admiring adults alternated with arguing with adults about unimportant details. Sixteen to 19-year-olds adopt adult responsibilities with sudden, short episodes of regression to typically younger behavior.

Tip: At times, the attitudes of adolescents can appear less than respectful of adults. It would be natural to respond to this disrespect by harshly punishing or speaking to the student. However, a more beneficial response, which addresses his/her developmental level, would be to clearly and firmly state a more appropriate way for the teen to speak to you or other members of the school. Give the teen a chance to correct the mistake. If the teen continues to be defiant, request that he or she “cool off” and return to class on another day. Speak to the teen in private. Confronting the teen in front of peers will promote humiliation and continued disrespect.

For Your Information

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder involving self- starvation. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which the individual eats a lot of food and then vomits to rid oneself of the food. Obesity is an eating disorder which involves overeating (Papalia & Olds, 1996).

These eating disorders commonly occur during adolescence and have life-threatening consequences. Anorexia and bulimia are more commonly seen in females, but males can also be affected. If you suspect a martial arts student suffers from one of these disorders, discuss the matter with the student and parents. You could save a life.

Module 11 – Lesson 5

Adults (Ages 18+) 

1. Thinking (Formal Operational). 

As indicated in the previous section, it is estimated that one-half of all adults reach Formal Operational Stage of cognitive development. With more cultural experiences, opportunities for experimentation, and educational experiences, one can expand knowledge and wisdom. In general, adults have the capacity to understand abstract information, incorporate various pieces of data to form conclusions, and consider alternative resolutions.

Tip: The “Tunnel of Doom” exercise described in the adolescent section can be modified for adults to promote thinking development. This activity is called “The Box”. The Box exercise for adults requires the students to stand in groups of five. Four students form a box, and one student stands in the middle of the box. The box is formed by having two students stand on the side, one student stands in front of, and the other student stands behind the person in the box. The identified attackers randomly grab the student, and he or she must react with a self-defense technique.

2. Physical. 

Physicians and mental-health professionals recommend exercise as an adjunct to medical treatment and the overall health benefits for a variety of medical, physical and mental-health reasons. Research has indicated that health is an important predictor of life satisfaction as people age (Chappell & Badger, 1989; Willits & Crider, 1988). Therefore, martial arts instruction can become an integral part of an adult’s health regime.

Studies have indicated the physiological benefits of exercise for pulmonary, cardiac, and flexibility and strength (Kastenbaum, 1993). Research has also indicated exercise has a positive benefit for the mental health of adults (Kastenbaum, 1993).

The mode of exercise most commonly prescribed for adults is a low-intensity, rhythmic activity which uses all the muscle groups (Kastenbaum, 1993). Walking and jogging are commonly-prescribed activities. Martial arts provide the added benefit of mental exercise by focusing on the use of concentration and meditation.

The physical abilities of an adult are most dependent on how that individual has cared for himself or herself. The martial arts instructor needs to consider the adult’s overall health and encourage the adult to work consistently at his/her own pace. This attitude is likely to reduce the incidence of injury and keep the adult engaged in the martial arts experience.

3. Social/Language. 

Language skills are well-developed. Adults are able to use language to communicate and entertain.

In general, an adult has typically developed the ability to engage in meaningful interpersonal relationships, read social cues, and display appropriate manners.

In Early Adulthood, the establishment of intimate emotional bonds is the main developmental task. During Middle Adulthood, the focus for adults is to be committed to future generations. During the later years of adulthood, one begins to focus on a sense of integrity and coming to terms with one’s own limitations (Papalia & Olds, 1996).

Module 11 – Lesson 6

Piaget’s Stages Of Cognitive Development

1. Pre-Operational (Ages 4-6): Concrete, simplistic thinking.

2. Concrete Operational (Ages 7-12): Transforms and manipulates information.

3. Formal Operational (Ages 13-Adult): Abstract thinking, logical problem-solving.

Module 11 – Lesson 7

Kohlberg’s Stages Of Moral Development

Pre-conventional Morality (Ages 4-10)

Stage 1: Punishment and Obedience Orientation. Focus on avoiding punishment.

Stage 2: Instrumental Hedonism. Obtain rewards and satisfy personal needs.

Conventional Morality (Ages 10-13)

Stage 3: Good Boy/Good Girl. Behavior is linked to acting how others approve or like.

Stage 4: Law and Order. Follow rules set by legitimate authority.

Post-Conventional Morality (Ages 13, Young Adulthood, or Never)

Stage 5: Morality of Contract, Individual Rights, and Democratically-Accepted Laws. The right action is the one that is consistent with democratically-determined law.

Stage 6: Morality of Individual Principles of Conscience.

Right and wrong are determined by self-chosen universal principles.

As Kohlberg’s system suggests, preschoolers and early elementary-school students are motivated to behave by avoiding punishment. Therefore, when teaching martial arts to this age group, focus on clearly defining the consequences of misbehavior, such as time out. (See also Discipline, Praise and Punishment in the Martial Arts School.)

As indicated by Kohlberg’s system, older elementary-school students will likely be influenced by their concern to please others and obey authority. Therefore, an instructor can focus on the use of the relationship with a child as a way to manage behavior in the martial arts school.

Adolescents and adults make moral decisions based on obeying laws or their own universal principles. To facilitate a positive experience for adolescents and adults, clearly display and define the “laws” of the martial arts school.

Moral Development

Since much of martial arts training emphasizes character development, a discussion of moral development will be presented here (see also Chapter 17: Teaching Character Skills).

Lawrence Kohlberg created a system for understanding the stages of moral development, or how people determine exhibiting appropriate behavior. Criticism has followed Kohlberg’s system because he based his ideas only on Caucasian males. Therefore, disagreement exists as to how the information applies to other cultures and to women.

Gilligan (1982) stated that women are more likely to define morality based on their relationships to others and their sense of caring and responsibility within relationships. Both Kohlberg’s and Gilligan’s theories are presented in chart form in this chapter.

Module 11 – Lesson 8: Memory

Memory capabilities are different for the various age groups.

Tip: When asking a preschool student or early elementary school student (7-8 year olds) to remember a move, display the move and then ask the child what it is you are demonstrating.

At all ages, recognition memory (recognizing a familiar concept, word or movement) is better than recall (pulling it from the recesses of one’s mind), but the difference is more pronounced in younger than in older children.

With development, children’s memory relies more on symbolic concepts. Their ability to remember information and access their strategies for remembering information improves with age. Problem-solving strategies become more efficient and flexible as children age. (Mussen, Conger, Kagan, and Huston, 1986).

Children do not use rehearsal and memory strategies until age nine or ten. Thus, a child under the age of nine will not utilize special ways to remember information. Singing a song or stating the information in a rhythm can facilitate remembering for younger children. Under age seven, children overestimate their ability to remember information, but by the ages of nine and ten, they remember as accurately as adults (Flavell, 1986).

Tip: Use memory aids such as acronyms, which are defined as using the first letter of each phrase or word to make a word that reminds the student of the concept. For example, when teaching the five tenets of taekwondo, which are Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control and Indomitable Spirit, the instructor tells the students to think of “CIPSI,” which sounds like Pepsi. The children are now given an acronym to help them remember a large chunk of information.

Module 11 – Lesson 9: Learning Styles

When teaching the student, not only does the martial arts instructor need to consider developmental level, one needs to address Learning Styles as well. The title, Learning Styles, refers to how a person receives information and the mode in which the information is perceived and organized internally (Gittins, 1995).

The different styles of intaking information include:

1. Hearing (auditory).

2. Seeing (visual).

3. Doing (kinesthetic).

We all have preferences for how we incorporate and learn information. It is likely that we all use these senses in some combination with a preference of one of the senses.

The two styles of perceiving and organizing information are referred to as:

1. Global.

2. Analytic.

As you read this chapter, consider your own style of learning. The more you understand about your Learning Style, the better prepared you will be to teach.

1. Auditory. 

Auditory learners understand best by hearing information presented to him or her. The use of clearly-spoken, specific directions allows the auditory learner to be successful. Instructors need to provides such details as left, right, high, low, foot, hand, forward, back, and the name of the stance (Gittins, 1995).

Auditory learners tend to talk to their instructors, to their neighbors, to the audience members, etc. While this may appear disrespectful, an instructor needs to consider that the student is attempting to process the information. One way to minimize disruptive behavior is to have the learner participate in a question-and-answer time. Other ideas include having the auditory learner count during training or explain a technique (Gittins, 1995).

2. Visual. 

Visual learners need information presented in clearly observable methods. Watching how a technique is executed by a role model is the easiest way to teach visual learners. Gittin (1995) suggests staggering lines to allow visual learners to take advantage of role models. The use of assistant instructors as role models (see Chapter 23: Proper Use of Student Instructors) can be immensely helpful to a visual learner.

3. Kinesthetic. 

Kinesthetic learners acquire information by participating in the activity. To effectively teach a kinesthetic learner, demonstrate the technique and have the student practice the skill. Once the student starts to “get the feel” of the technique, the instructor needs to explain the concept behind the technique and make corrections (Gittins, 1995).

This teaching sequence is important to ensure that the information is fully comprehended by the kinesthetic learner. It is suggested that the kinesthetic learner needs to gain a little competence or, again, “get the feel” of a task before verbal information is meaningful (Gittins, 1995).

Kinesthetic learners need a variety of activities to maintain their interest. Pairing a kinesthetic learner with an advanced martial arts student is a winning combination because the kinesthetic learner will acquire new skills (Gittins, 1995).

Kinesthetic learners are active people. Standing still is not part of their nature. They are not exhibiting disrespectful behavior, just attempting to learn. Therefore, you will want to keep lectures relatively short and include numerous opportunities for movement and practice.

4. Global. 

Global learners take in and organize information in an overall manner. They observe connections between concepts and try to understand the “big picture”. Global learners prefer an overview of the information.

While they take in all of the information, global learners have difficulty organizing and structuring the data. Therefore, the instructor will need to provide the structure and organization. Setting and meeting goals along their martial arts training can provide the necessary structure. Furthermore, global learners comprehend information best if the instructor can explain how the technique or philosophy can be applied to the student’s life outside of the school.

Global learners can work well in groups and with partners because the interactions further assist their learning. Global learners respond well to external rewards, such as praise and promotion.

5. Analytic. 

Analytic learners examine the parts or details of a situation and then make their decisions. They prefer accurate, detailed, organized information (Gittins, 1995). They prefer to work alone and require time to perfect their skills.

This emphasis on the details of a technique can impede progress. The instructor will need to monitor the pace and find ways to encourage the student to move on to another detail.

Analytic learners take apart a skill to understand precisely where an arm is placed in, for example, a high block and the exact angle one should have the base foot in a roundhouse kick. The instructor will need to encourage the student to understand that while there are some precise expectations, individual differences may result in a wide range of correct techniques.

Analytic learners may become overwhelmed learning a martial arts form all at once. Therefore, an instructor needs to break down the task into smaller parts. Analytic learners will feel most comfortable with time to work on the technique alone. This makes them faithful, hard-working students.

Module 11 – Lesson 12: Tips for Teaching 

First and foremost, discover your learning and processing styles. Such awareness will provide you with valuable information. When teaching class, you will have a variety of learning styles and processing styles present among your students. Adopt a style of using a variety of techniques and modes of information delivery (visual, auditory and kinesthetic) to convey martial arts concepts. By using a multi-modal approach, you will likely appease most of your students.

1. Just for Fun. 

The next time you are learning to play a game — any game — with a group of friends, listen to how each player wants to learn the rules. You will likely hear someone say, “Tell me how to play.” This person is probably an auditory learner. Someone else may say, “Let me read the rules.” You probably have a visual learner in the crowd. Another friend may say, “Let’s just play a round and see how it goes.” This person is likely a kinesthetic learner. Have fun with the investigation!

2. Gender Differences. 

When teaching martial arts, gender differences are an important consideration. An instructor needs to acknowledge the differences and strengths of each gender.

Research indicates that males and females differ little with regard to cognitive ability. When gender differences are noted, they generally do not appear until preadolescence. However, males score higher on tests of visual-spatial abilities and, at age 12, on measures of math (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974).

Between the ages of ten and 11, females tend to score higher on verbal-ability tasks (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974). During adulthood, females display superiority in verbal reasoning and word fluency while males continue to excel in tasks involving numbers and spatial relationships (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974).

Hyde and Lin (1988) report that gender differences have declined in the last decade or two. Much of the difference between the motor abilities between boys and girls has been the expectations and level of coaching and the rates of participation (Hall & Lee, 1984).

Module 11: Summary and References

As this chapter has presented, there exists a vast amount of information regarding cognitive, physical, social, language and moral development.

Young children are more simplistic in their understanding and processing of information. They look to their family for comfort and values. Preschoolers are talkative and active. Elementary-school-aged children begin to internally manipulate and transform the information they receive. Socially, they begin to notice differences between themselves and others. They tend to spend some time alone and develop a best friendship.

Adolescents experience a growth spurt, which assists in the development of more abstract reasoning and physical maturation. Such bodily changes can create self-consciousness. Adolescents may test the authority of teachers and parents. It is their avenue for defining themselves by rejecting or challenging the values presented to them.

Adults have the ability to think abstractly and problem-solve. Generally, they have well-developed social skills and tend to establish relationships with others.

Moral development spans from behaving to avoid punishment to making decisions based on one’s own principles. Furthermore, learning styles and different ways to perceive information challenge the martial arts instructor’s lesson planning.

Given all of these differences between the age groups, it would be quite a challenge to teach a martial arts class that met all of the learning needs of various-aged students. When a class is taught at a level beyond or below the capabilities of the student, he or she may become frustrated or discouraged. The instructor is then at risk for losing a student.

There may be types of classes in which it would be enjoyable and appropriate for a mixture of age groups. The age groups designated in this chapter serve as guidelines for instructors to implement in their schools. At times, because of a student’s level of physical and social maturity, an instructor may decide to place the student in a class different from his or her same-age peers.

For example, Joshua was a 13-year-old male who was 5’8″ and 160 pounds. He towered over his same-age peers and certainly imitated a few of his fellow students! Due to his size and level of maturity, his instructor decided to place him in the adult classes.

Understanding the various developmental tasks of the different age groups will assist instructors in creating lesson plans that truly meet the needs of their students. When you meet the learning needs of your students, you will likely retain happy, well-trained, devoted students. Consider all of the developmental aspects presented in this chapter, and you will increase the probability of effective, well-designed lesson plans.

Demo the Steps a Once or Twice

Demonstrate the Steps Once or Twice

“It will look like this. ‘Knee out’ and ‘Kick!’

Cite Some Common Errors

Cite One or Two Common Errors

“Common error is to bring the knee inside and through. That makes the kick weaker. We want the full force of this big thigh coming out and then tearing through our opponents leg.”

Wander and Correct

Have Them Do the Entire Technique While You Wander And Correct

Make no more than one correction per repetition and say it loud enough for everyone to hear. “Let’s put it together now. When I say Kick I want to see this (demonstrate the kick all the way through) Ready…Kick! Keep that knee outside. Kick! Land in good balance. Kick! Pivot all the way around. Kick! Keep those hands up…”

The Principles of an Authoritative Instructor

Your words are the most important words in your class. Make sure you respect them and use them well.

Module 1 Lesson 3: No Competition

When you speak, every student should be able to hear you. Make it a rule that as soon as you start to speak to the entire class, everyone turns to you and listens out of respect. Then, make sure what you say earns that respect.

Wait until every student has turned to you before speaking and that you are not competing for attention. If you have to repeat something because they turned late or you started too soon, you are wasting everyone’s time.

If students continue to talk, you might start your statement, but then pause it and look at them. This takes time away from the class, but it’s also a good indirect communication that you will not talk over students. They will listen as you speak and you will not go on until you have their full attention.

Controlling the class is the mark of your authority and necessary to be a good instructor.

Module 1 Lesson 4: No Rescues

When you ask a question to a student or the class, make sure you know what the minimum acceptable answer is. Too often, we see instructors ask a question and then finish the answer for the student.

For instance:

Instructor: “What is integrity? Sally.”

Sally: “Ummmm. Integrity is when you so something good…”

Instructor: “Right…when you do something good whether or not someone is watching.” Good job!”

Sally didn’t answer the question, the instructor answered it for her and then told her she did a good job.  That is not teaching. That’s called pulling up or rescuing the student. The message to the student is that half-answers are considered good jobs.

Teach the exact answer to the question and repeat it enough so that there is no excuse for Sally to only know half of the answer.

Module 1 Lesson 5: False Praise

Nothing steadily erodes your credibility with a student like false praise. If everything that a student does is a “Good Job” or “Awesome,” how will he know if he’s improving or not? Why would he be motivated to improve if he is getting the highest possible praise now? What’s higher than awesome?

When you praise, be specific. When your praise is believable the follow up suggestion is as well. For instance, “Nice jab. Let’s see if you can put two together.” Or, “I like how your side kick is coming along. Be sure to recoil it as fast as you locked it out.” Or, “That kick has potential. Just roll your hip a bit more to make it more powerful.”

Avoid blanket, false praise. It will only make your job more difficult. Students, especially children, need to face adversity and have someone be honest with them. The participation trophy days have created a generation of students who have never been corrected or criticized.

Module 1 Lesson 6: Name Question or Question Name?

If you simply ask the class a question, the same students (usually girls) will shoot their hands up with the correct answer. This accomplishes little for the class, so it’s important to have some additional techniques to use when asking questions.

Name Question or Question Name?

When you have a question that you want answered, you have two choices. You can call out a student to answer the question such as, “Sally, what is respect?” Or, you can state the question, and then call on Sally. For instance, “I want someone to tell me, ‘What is respect.’”…… “Sally, what is respect?”

There is a big difference between these choices. If you ask, “Sally, what is respect?” the majority of the class will sit and wait for Sally to answer. They’re off the hook. Conversely, when you ask the class, “What is respect?” they all start thinking about the question and answer. You’re engaging the entire class, not just Sally. Be sure to insert a short pause between the question and designating who is going to answer to give the class more time to think how they would answer.

Module 1 Lesson 7: Concise Language

Teaching with fewer words is stronger than using more words. Using concise language shows that you are prepared and professional. It also shows that you know your purpose or goal in the lesson.

Avoid Slang words

Using useless, adolescent slang words and tags weakens your authority. “Stand up and walk over here,” is a more authoritative command than, “Hey guys. Can I get you to, like, move over here? That would be awesome.”

Slang words are popular highly informal words that are typically used by younger people in an unconscious effort to put space between them and their parent’s generation. A century ago, the use of slang was considered vulgar and unacceptable in the company of adults.

As a martial arts instructor, it’s best to eliminate any slang from your language patterns while teaching. If part of the Black Belt Attitude is excellence, that would include excellence in speaking skills and vocabulary.

Some of the more common examples of slang to avoid would include:

Like. Something either is or is not. For instance, “You need to, like, put your guard up.” Do I need to put my guard up? Is there something that is “like” a guard up that I can do? It’s vague and adolescent.

Awesome. Awesome is a great word, but today it’s used in terrible context. “That punch was awesome!” No, it wasn’t. Ali’s right cross was awesome. The 9-year-old green belts’ is not. Why would a person practice hard if their first few attempts are already awesome?

Man. Few things grate a baby boomer more than a much younger person calling them “Man,” as in, “Hey man.” Replace the urge to say, “man” with “sir.”

Avoid Using Tags

When you ask a child or teen about something that requires a descriptive response, it’s not unusual for them to finish with, “…and stuff.” For instance, “Today we played soccer in PE class and stuff.”

The child doesn’t quite know where to end the description so he clumps the finish together with, “and stuff.” That is a tag.

For instructors, the tag is typically an unnecessary question at the end of a statement. For instance, “When you throw the right cross, always come back with a left hook or ridge hand. Okay?” Okay is the tag.

Tags signal a lack of confidence in what you just stated. You’re asking permission to continue. You’re asking if what you said is valid. Make your statement and carry on without the tag. You can certainly ask for questions, but be careful with your tags.

Some of the more common examples to avoid would include:

“Got me?”


“Make sense?”

Tags can also precede the statement. With many instructors, the first word out of their mouth when teaching is, “Okay. We’re going to learn how to jab. Okay?” This sounds weak because the instructor starts by asking if it’s okay to teach and then asks again if what he taught is okay.  That is the definition of weak teaching.


Untrained instructors, especially when they start out, will tend to over-explain. For instance, in teaching a class how to tie their belts, the instructor says, “This is your belt.” That is insulting to the class and sabotages his authority. Of course, it’s a belt. That’s like saying, this is your foot.

Instead, start with, “Take your belt and wrap it around you like this…”

Limit to One Correction Per Rep

When teaching and drilling a technique, it’s the mark of the amateur to try to squeeze in a half-dozen corrections at once. For instance, the instructor calls one skip-up sidekick. He/she then explains/reminds the class to: “Be sure to pivot. Pull that heel up. Get your knee in tight. Don’t jump up, skip forward. Blade your foot. Hit with the heel. Keep your guard up. Be sure to skip back out again. Change alignment in between kicks….”

It’s not professional or reasonable to expect a student to remember all of those points in between kicks 1 and 2. Instead, drop in 1 correction per rep. For instance for skip-up sidekick, “One! Be sure to pivot.” “Two! Pull that heel up.” “Three! Get your knee in tight.” etc….”

Pacing Power

Many instructors equate teaching with formality. They sound “official” throughout the class. This kind of teaching gets boring fast. Instead, learn to match the volume of your voice and the speed of your delivery with what you are teaching.

For instance, when teaching a jab, you might speak slower with longer gaps between the sentences when you are introducing the jab. “Start moving your hand towards the target…Keep your elbow down as you lock it out. Now we’re going to snap it back home safely really fast, ready SNAP! This time, extend the jab, turn your body, and snap it back at about 50% speed. Ready….jab…jab.” As the student gets more comfortable with the skill, you increase volume and speed, “Jab! – Jab! – Jab!”

If you want them to execute with speed and power, make your commands fast and powerful. If you want them to execute at a slower pace, slow down your words, insert a pause, and reduce your volume.

Square Off

When addressing a student, face that student in the same manner you expect them to give their attention to you. Square your shoulders to the student and make clear eye contact.

Module 1 Lesson 8: Know and Use Your Tools

When teaching, you are using your eye contact, vocal qualities, body language, gestures, facial expressions, verbal and physical pacing, and the rhythm of language. As a professional, your understanding and ability to control these elements will impact your effectiveness.

There are times when you have to be 100% authoritative and a leader of men. Let’s use the belt exam and graduation as an example. With an audience of parents and family watching, you have to be highly authoritative with the examinees and then turn to the parents with an authoritative tone that is lighter and more conversational but leaves no question as to who is in charge.

For instance, to the students you say, “You have been training here for the past 12-months. Today, your performance will show us if you’ve worked hard or if you just expect us to give you the belt for just for showing up. Let me be clear, we do not give participation brown belts. You will have to earn it.”

The instructor then addresses the parents: “As you know we take great pride in our student quality. Today, you will see your family members pushed and challenged to be their best. We’re confident your child will meet the test. We appreciate your support and attendance. We’ve locked the doors and expect to be finished by midnight.”

If that last line is delivered with a smile, it relieves pressure. If you look deadly serious (not recommended), that will increase pressure. Learn how to control your delivery to maintain authority even in lighter moments like this.

Testing Your Compliance Standards

Students will often try to get away with the least amount of effort. This is a test of your compliance standards and needs to be addressed. The message should be, “What we do, we do right because it helps us on the path to black belt.” Excellence is the habit: what you do, you should do well, and the easiest way to do it well is to do it well every time. If the instructor has set raising hands as the expectation, he/she should stand by it.

Establish Who is in Charge.

Achieving compliance is an exercise in purpose, not power. Students need to follow directions quickly and completely so that they can be assured of having the best chance to succeed. Although that often involves absolute responsiveness to their instructors, this responsiveness is the means, not the end. “I need your eyes on me so you can learn,” is a more effective statement than, “I asked for your eyes on me because when I ask you to do something, I expect you to do it.” While you should expect students to do something when you ask them to, it’s not really about you in the end; it’s about them and their path to college. Command obedience not because you can or because it feels good but because it serves your students. Make that distinction evident in your language, tone, and demeanor.

Keep it Impersonal.

Stress the importance of universal compliance as something the students need to succeed. The more time spent on intervention, the less time there is to learn and succeed. How you respond to maintain your 100% compliance standard is important. The less personal it is, the more effective the outcome.

For instance, “I need your eyes on me so you can learn and earn your orange belt,” is more effective than “Jim, I want your eyes on me because I told you so. Do what I say.” Remember, it’s always about the student in the end. It’s not about your ego as a master martial artist. By not using Jim’s name in the first example, the instructor was keeping it impersonal though if non-compliance amplifies, using his name will zero the response in.

Eyes on You!

A common technique to gain the attention of the class is for the instructor to teach the class that when he says, “Eyes on who?” They respond with a loud, “Eyes on you!” Then stand and turn to face the instructor.

Avoid marginal compliance. It’s not just whether your students do what you’ve asked but whether they do it right. A certain number will complete a task only as fully as you show them you expect it completed. They’ll rightly want to know what exactly “eyes on me” means. Eyes near you? Eyes on yours for a fleeting second and then make faces in the mirror? Eyes locked on yours while you’re talking? The difference among these three interpretations is night and day.

Dealing with Misbehavior

A common misperception is that ignoring misbehavior—or addressing it by praising students who are behaving—is the least invasive form of intervention. But ignoring misbehavior is the most invasive form of intervention because it becomes more likely that the behavior will persist and expand. Like a small fire in the classroom, your goal is to address misbehavior quickly—the first time it appears and while its manifestation is still minimal and the required response still small.

The Six Levels of Intervention

NOTE: This are not in order, but the first two is the sweet spot to start in. However, some cases require skipping down the list.

1. Nonverbal intervention. Gesture to or eye contact with off-task students while doing something else, preferably teaching the others. By many measures, instructors interrupt their own lessons more than students

2. Positive group correction. Quick verbal reminder to the group about what students should be doing and not what they shouldn’t be doing: “We’re practicing our forms”; “Everyone is practicing their forms.” It is used just as student attention appears on the brink of wandering.

3. Anonymous individual correction. Quick verbal reminder to the group, similar to positive group correction, except that the anonymous individual correction makes it explicit that not everyone is where they need to be: “We need to focus.” “Please check yourself to make sure you’ve got your eyes on your partner.”

4. Private individual correction. When and if you have to name names (you will have to, especially when you are setting expectations for under-ranks), seek to correct privately and quietly. Walk by the off-task student. Lean down confidently to get as near to him as possible and, using a voice that preserves as much privacy as is possible, tell the corrected student what to do quickly and calmly. Something like, “John, I’ve asked everyone to focus on forms, and I need to see you doing it too,” will usually be enough. If you need to return, it’s time to put the student on notice about consequences. Again you want to do this privately: “John, I need you to focus so you can learn. If you do not focus, you will have to do 10 burpees and say “focus” every time you come up. Do you want that? I don’t, so please show me your best so you can learn this faster.”

Keep the focus on purpose not power. You’re not exerting your authority as much as helping John to succeed.

5. Quick public correction. You will be forced at times to make corrections of individual students during public moments during class or in exams. Your goal is to limit the amount of time a student is “onstage” for something negative and focus on telling the student what to do right rather than scolding what he did wrong. This also helps remind the class of your expectations as the instructor.  Saying something like, “John, I need your eyes. Thank you, John. Much better,” is quick, confident, and more effective than a five minute speech to the class on the importance of eye contact and focus.

6. Consequences. The ideal is to solve a case of noncompliance quickly and with the least possible disruption to the class. In the long run, it makes an instructor stronger when he/she only occasionally uses external consequences. Solving issues without external consequences reinforces the instructor’s position power. However, if a situation cannot be addressed quickly and successfully without a consequence, the consequence must be given so that instruction is not interrupted.

Ideally an instructor has a scaled series of consequences from which to choose, so he can match the significance of the response to the disruption and, in so doing, ensure he/she own ability to administer it quickly, decisively, and without wavering. Minimum consequences include sitting out a drill or game to more serious consequences like being held back from testing or expulsion.

As professional instructors, we’re in a delicate place where the parent of a student may object to our consequences and pull the child out. Parents do not like to pay for their child to sit in the corner so make time out short. Many instructors resort to push ups or some kind of physical consequence. The danger is in making exercising a bad thing rather than something fun and healthy. However, there are some exercises like a plank or burpees that are simply not fun for even the most enthusiastic people. They seem like they were designed to be punishment, so use them in small doses.

How Students Learn


When students are taught a new technique, they start with the base mechanics of the skill. At this early stage, they do not have a “feel” for the technique. They are in the early stages of mechanics.

With practice, the mechanics are usually gradually replaced with a more natural, thoughtless execution. The focus transitions from the base mechanics to adjusting for targets, distance, offensive and defensive applications etc…

This scenario is an example of how students learn motor skills. What is important here is that you, the instructor, learn how to effectively guide your students through the three stages of learning.

These stages will vary with each class and even each student depending on motivation, quality of instruction, and student initiative.

Module 1 – Lesson 1: The Three Stages Of Learning

1. Beginning Stage — Cognitive (Thinking)

A. Give a brief explanation with a demonstration.

B. Provide “cue words” for important points to remember.

C. Give the students practice time.

D. Provide feedback to students.

This stage can be just a few minutes. More complex forms or skills will take longer. Younger students will also take a little longer to get through this stage.

2. Intermediate Stage — Associative (Getting it)

A. Demonstrate and encourage “perfect” practice. Perfect practice is attempting to do the skill as perfectly as you can at that stage of learning. Perfect practice will evolve as the student progresses.

B. Teach students how to self-correct the skill.

C. Provide reinforcement and encouragement.

An example of how to teach a student to self-correct a skill would be to have students round kick over a chair to make sure their knee is coming up and around for power rather than under and across the body. If they hit the chair, the know to raise their knee higher.

Motivation is always a factor in learning. Much of that motivation will come from the instructor’s class management and skill teaching both of which will be covered in this course.

How long a student spends in this stage depends on the quality and quantity of perfect practice and instruction.

3. Advanced Stage — Autonomous (Without thinking)

A. Increase the conditions of the class to be more competitive (sport) or realistic (self-defense).

B. Teach more advanced applications of the skill when applicable.

At this stage, the student thinks less about gross mechanics and should be fluid in execution. Focus shifts to the little tweaks that can improve the skill and its application.

Instructors continue feedback and creates conditions where the student has to use or demonstrate the skill in a more competitive or realistic situation.

Motivation is still important at this stage. A good instructor creates new challenges for the skills that keep the students interested and coming back for more.

* Adapted from the work of Fitts, 1964; Fitts & Posner, 1967.

Module 1 – Lesson 2: Skill Explanations and Demonstrations

1. Get the students’ attention before delivering any instruction. One technique is to teach students that when the instructor starts talking, everything stops and all eyes go to the instructor. This can be reinforced by teaching to respond to, “Eyes on who?” with “Eyes on you!”

2. Organize the students so that everyone can see and hear.

Organize a class by height and make sure the beginners have a clear view of the instructor(s).

3. Utilize the KISS principle (Keep It Short and Simple) — spend no more than a minute on the explanation and demonstration of simple skills. Use the one correction per repetition rule.

4. Remind students of a previously learned skill that is similar to the one you are currently teaching (Example: when the students already know the back kick, but you are attempting to teach them the spinning back kick).

5. Demonstrate the skill or have a student demonstrate it while you provide the explanation.

6. Demonstrate the skill several times and have students observe the skill from various viewpoints (from the side and front) to give them a better idea of what the skill looks like.

7. Provide a few “cue words” that relate to the key components of the skill which will help the students focus on what is important to remember when performing the skill (Example: when teaching a front-leg front kick, the cue word could be “lift knee, extend, re-coil, and down”).

8. Use mirrors during the demonstration and explanation phase to provide students with an image of their own performance.

Module 1 – Lesson 3: Other Factors for Demonstrating

1. If the instructor demonstrates the skill, it helps to establish credibility. If the instructor is highly proficient, the students will view a model who has the standard for form, which will give them a good “snap shot” of how the skill should look.

Sometimes the instructor can help students get a grasp on a new technique by having another student demonstrate. This can help students to create a mental bridge from just learning the skill to proficiency.

2. In some cases, the instructor may want a student to demonstrate a portion of the skill, provided the demonstrator has some degree of mastery of it. The student may have more flexibility to chamber a side kick tight than the instructor has. So, to help students see what the instructor is talking about, it may make sense to call up a student to demonstrate.

3. The Time Machine Effect. Using a student who is 6 – 12 months ahead of the class to demonstrate is an excellent way to paint a picture in the student or parents of the level of skill that can be achieved with regular class attendance and perfect practice.

For example, a children’s white belt class is learning sidekick for the first time. The instructor might call up a brown belt child to demonstrate the kick and its components. This sets the stage for the instructor to point out that, “Billy has been training for a year. This is what your kick will look like if you keep coming to class and practice.”

4. Cue words are used to clearly label the segments of a form or skill. For sidekick, “chamber, pivot and lock it out, recoil, set down to balance.” These cue words are repeated with every step-by-step repetition of the skill.

When the instructor is making corrections, the cue words help to specify what part of the skill needs attention. For instance, “On the pivot and lock, make sure you pivot 90-degrees.”

Some instructors count students through a technique. For instance, “When I say 1, raise your knee. 2 kick. 3 recoil and 4 set it down. Ready 1-2-3-4.” This is a mistake because the numbers are not cue words. “Knee up” has more meaning and sticks in the memory more than “One.”

When varying the context of the practice, these cue words work to establish a baseline of measurement. For instance, practicing the jab can be done:

a. In the mirror

b. With a partner blocking and maybe countering

c. On a bag

d. On a mitt held by a partner who may be stationary or moving

Each instance may have a primary focus, but the application and reminder of the cue words will create a “language” for that skill. For the jab, cue words might be, “snap it,” “chin down,” “recover straight back to guard,” “elbow down,” “turn your shoulder,” “step in and point your front toes at the target,” “fist first” etc…

Using the same cue words every time reinforces the important components of the skills

5. Cue Word Instructor Role Play has the students partner. Like an instructor, the student states the cue words to the other. The actual instructor gives the class common errors to look for in each stage of cue words. Then, when student A calls out the cue words to student B, he or she looks for and points out any of the common errors he or she sees. This has three advantages:

a. Each student gets a rest while playing instructor.

b. Playing instructor forces the student internalize the key points, cue words, and common errors.

c. Students are more motivated to correct their own technique since they’ve, in a sense, set a standard of performance.

Module 1 – Lesson 4: Perfect Practice

Practice is the single most important variable affecting learning (Schmidt, 1988). The old saying that “practice makes perfect” is only partially true. The research on how students learn motor skills has found that “perfect practice makes perfect.” Perfect practice is striving to achieve mastery by executing with the best form possible.

The task for the instructor is to teach practice in a way that makes learning new and/or difficult skills as easy as possible for the student. This can be accomplished in several ways:

1. Teaching whole and part practice methods.

2. Selecting appropriate skill progressions.

3. Choosing a suitable teaching format.

4. Teaching for transfer.

Whole and Part Practice Methods

“Whole” can refer to a single skill (Example: a front kick), or whole can also refer to a series of skills (Example: a form or a series of movements in a sparring sequence — spinning hook kick, jab, hook punch).

“Part” can be a component of technique. For instance, shifting weight on a hook punch. Essentially it’s breaking down the skill into smaller, bite sized pieces.

In the part method, practice of each part is performed before the parts are recombined into the whole skill.

The part method is best for introducing more complex skills.

The downside to part teaching is it can become boring to the students. It slows down the learning process if overdone. In order to get to the thoughtless, fluid execution the whole method needs to the predominate method in the level 2 and 3 of learning as explained earlier.

A combination of the whole and part methods may be the best choice. This a “modification” of the “whole-part-whole” method.

This method has the instructor structure class so that the entire skill “whole” is taught first, and then teaching and practicing the component parts follows. Once all parts are mastered then the whole movement is practiced again.

Progressive Part (AKA Stacking)

When learning longer forms or more difficult skills such as an escape from the mount, “progressive part” teaching is a great option. This is also referred to as stacking because each part is progressively stacked upon the other.

The instructor progressively adds movements or saves corrections for later in the lesson when they will be more readily understood by the students. For example, teaching a mount escape, the instructor may start with a “part” of grabbing to the opponent’s elbow. After letting the students try the escape with their partners, some are experiencing their partners “undo” the escape by pulling their arm out from the grasp of escapee. The instructor then gives them a specific technique for grabbing the elbow that instantly solves that problem.

The instructor could have shown the elbow grab at the beginning, but by waiting until the students experienced the problem, the grabbing of the elbow technique has greatly increased in value to the student. Students will be more rapt in their attention and appreciation of the importance of the skill than if it was just part of the opening series of things to remember.

Module 1 – Lesson 5: What to Teach and When to Teach It

It makes no sense to teach students a jump round kick before teaching them round kick first.

Curriculum will be covered in more detail later in this course, but for now, skills should be taught from simple to complex i.e. round kick before jump round kick.

For sparring, the progression process is also covered later in this course, but students have more success reaching competence in sparring when they are introduced to contact over time. Limited sparring drills, blocking contact only, no-head contact are just some of the stages students can be led through to feel comfortable with sparring.

Skill Progression

1. Start with basic technique with an emphasis on form.

2. As competence and experience with the technique increases, the skill is expanded in application. For instance, foot work options are added to the skill i.e. a sidekick is expanded to a skip-up sidekick or defensive sidekick.

3. Techniques are combined into combinations. When techniques are combined, form tends to suffer so reminders about perfect practice are important.

4. Skills are practiced on the pads and with partners but have no “reality or competitive stress” attached to the practice.

5. Pad and shield drills increase in complexity. For instance, defensive sidekick against a partner advancing with the shield.

6. Larger targets are replaced with smaller targets to improve accuracy.

7. Teaching students the defense against each offensive skill.

8. Combination exchanges between partners where each student is working either the offensive or defensive skills.

9. In combination exchanges, students start slow but as they progress the speed and intensity increases within safe parameters.

10. Impact progresses from low to medium to full power (on pads).

For expanded lists of variables, instructors could review: 1) Graham, Holt/Hale, & Parker (1993) (see Appendix A); and 2) Rink (1993) (see Appendix B).

Module 1 – Lesson 6: Class Structure

Typically, class activity is in:

1. Whole Group

Students performing same skills as a group.

2. Stations

Students break into smaller stations.

Each structure has its place. For example, a choke escape is taught to the class as a whole. The students are then partnered up to practice on each other as the instructors wander and correct.

Another example of stations would be a circuit of stations each with a different skill. Station 1 jab on pad and 10 push ups. Station 2-cross on pad and 20 crunches. Station 3-jab-cross on pads and 20 squats.

When you have students of different skill levels or rank, stations can be established that focus on the appropriate lesson for that rank or skill level.

A whole or station formats doesn’t have to be used throughout the class. Instructors might start working as a whole and then use stations and return back to whole.

Module 1 – Lesson 7: Teaching for Transfer

One way to make learning of new skills easier is teaching for transfer. Transfer is defined as “the gain or loss in the capability to respond to one task as a result of practice or experience in some other [task/skill]” (Schmidt, 1991, p.218).

Many skills have similar components or principles. Teaching for transfer uses that similarity to help a student grasp the fundamentals of a new skill faster.

For instance, the action of weight shift and body torquing for a cross is similar to swinging a baseball bat or a golf club. A hook kick is like a sidekick that hooks instead of recoiling in a straight line. Stomping a can on the floor is similar to the line of a sidekick.

The Steps for Effective Teaching for Transfer

1. Figure out the similarities between the old and new skill.

2. Explain and demonstrate the similarities.

3. Use cue words that emphasize the similarities of the old and new skill.

4. Make sure that the old skill components have been learned well enough to make a help with learning of the new skill.

Module 1 – Lesson 8: Feedback

A students’ proficiency in learning a new skill can be accelerated by immediate and specific feedback from the instructor. One of the most important roles of the instructor is to evaluate the student’s skill performance and to provide feedback. This role is especially crucial when an inexperienced student is attempting to perform new skills for the first time. The inexperienced student may not be capable of evaluating his/her own skill performance.


There are two types of feedback:

1. External (augmented)

2. Internal (intrinsic)

External feedback is information that the student would not normally receive as a result of the skill performance.  Two examples might be:

a) Verbal feedback from the instructor on some aspect of the skill performance (Example: when performing a front kick, “thrust your hips as the kick extends to create more power and added range.“

b) Visual feedback that is provided to the student by viewing his/her performance on a video or in a mirror.

Internal feedback is information that the student receives as a normal consequence of a movement. Example: the student can “feel” if his/her foot made solid contact with a shield or can “see” if the foot landed with accuracy on the target.

Module 1 – Lesson 9: Instructor Feedback — Skill Correction

One of the instructor’s primary roles is to provide feedback to students who are attempting to learn a skill. This feedback should function to correct the past skill attempt and to give information to help students perform the skill in a more correct manner on the next attempt.

When delivering feedback to students, the instructor should consider the following:

1. Give feedback on aspects of the skill that aren’t already known. Example: if the student missed the target during a kicking drill, he/she already knows that; instead, tell the student that he/she is standing too far to the left or right of the target.

2. Be positive. Start off with a statement that reinforces what the student is doing right and then move to the correction phase of the feedback. Example: on an inside crescent kick, the instructor might say, “Good, you are delivering the kick toward the center line of the body, but you need to strike the target with the side of the foot instead of with the heel.”

3. After giving feedback, don’t walk away from the student. Stay there and check to make sure that the student is attempting to make the correction to the skill that you just suggested.

4. Give brief and concise feedback related to the cause of the error. Example: don’t focus on the fact that the student just was hit in the face during a sparring situation; instead, tell the student to keep his/her hands up.

5. Provide the student with immediate and specific feedback on the skill.

6. If there are many components wrong with the skill, focus on the major skill problems first and, after the student corrects that problem, then move on to the minor corrections. Example: since stance is very important to the execution of many martial skills, that is usually a good place to start.

Module 1 – Lesson 10: Instructor Feedback — Motivating Students

Feedback can motivate students and it can also demotivate students. Good feedback should a student an idea of his/her present level of performance and what to work on to improve. Good feedback is defined as honest, quality, skill-related feedback delivered with some encouragement. Example, “I like how you fire your sidekick, but you gotta bring it back home safe or it might be caught. Let’s see you snap it back as fast as it went out.”

If the student’s execution is in serious need of help, break it down into parts. This gives the student a chance to at least improve some aspect of the skill. Example: Let’s review your sidekick real quick. First, pull your heel up and aim it at your target. Let’s just do that a few times. Okay, now extend and pivot. Now work on snapping it back and setting down into good balance in your stance.”

This example allows the student to focus on small parts rather than the whole skill. In a kata example, an instructor might have the student simply work on the first four moves and then add four more (progression) until the form is looking better.

That reduction to parts and/or progress helps the student to stay motivated. It makes the skill easier to digest by creating smaller bites.

The instructor also must provide students with concrete suggestions on how to improve. If not, then the student will either try harder or give up completely. Remember that once a student reaches a higher rank, the progress is measured in small increments.

Module 1 – Lesson 11: Feedback: Self-Correct

Teach students to self-correct with ways they can confirm they are in the correct position. Example: Teach students to to tap their temples with their fingers to ensure the guard is high enough.

Many skills have corresponding feedback related to how the skill should feel. This type of internal feedback can be extremely useful if the instructor takes the time to teach them about the “feel.”

Example: When explaining a spin back kick, the instructor might say, “The timing of the kick is related to the amount of pressure built up in the lower back (internal feedback), similar to a twisted rubber band.”

Instructors can teach students to use mirrors to self-correct movement (external/augmented feedback), after they are taught what to look for during the execution.

Example: a student could look for the following components when performing a side kick at the mirror:

a) heel of supporting foot pivoted toward target;

b) heel of kicking leg raised and aimed at the target;

c) foot position of kicking leg;

d) full extension of leg;

e) heel strike;

f) recoil with knee pulled back toward body; and

g) return to a good fighting stance.