Ten Tips for Teaching Martial Arts by KJN Ronald W. Stone
Despite the multitude of videos demonstrating the various techniques of martial arts, in reality very little is beneficial to students who are serious about learning the true arts. Nothing will ever really replace hands-on person-to-person instruction offered by a qualified instructor. The truth, however, is that while today it seems like there is a dojo on every street corner much of the instruction offered is far less efficient than it could be. It is said that of every 10,000 students to enter martial arts only 100 make it to black belt. While this may seem impressive to those who reach dan rank, it is an awful indictment of the quality of instruction at schools across the country. Perhaps it would benefit us all to review some of the more useful tips for offering quality instruction to our students. As a fifty-four yearlong practitioner of the arts who has obtained grandmaster rank in one, master rank in another art and dan rank in a third, I feel I may have some useful
insights into what makes a good instructor.
1) Respect is earned not commanded: It is not enough to wear a uniform and shout orders. A good instructor must have put in the time and
effort to first learn before even considering instructing. There is a reason the legitimate traditional arts have age limits for rank. It takes time to learn and then to gain experience. Military combat troops often refer to new inexperienced officers as being “green,” and the men are usually reluctant to follow their orders until experience is gained. The same obviously would hold true in an art based on martial training. If your credentials are fraudulent or your rank was obtained by purchasing it rather than by earning it, your PR may attract students but sooner or later they will compare and catch on to your insufficiencies.
2) You attract more with honey than vinegar: Much of the early western martial arts instructors were ex-military personnel who brought back the arts they had learned while serving abroad. One thing they failed to understand however is that even as strict as Asian culture can sometimes be with children.
They do not teach them as an army sergeant might instruct his recruits. Many of these early schools mistook discipline with brutal rigidity and while they may have produced a few iron men they lost more students than they would have liked. The old “drop and give me fifty” way of demanding obedience may work
with soldiers who are required to obey a superior as part of their job description, this mentality simply will not work with civilians who pay you, let alone be an effective teaching method for timid or shy children.
3) Get your butt out on the mat: Far too many instructors think it is sufficient to merely accept the bow and then wander off to the office to play on the internet while some brown belt demonstrates the technique of the day. How do you expect your students to boast that they trained with you
if they don’t even see you for more than a couple of minutes each day? No one seriously expects an 80-year-old grandmaster to be doing somersaults on the tatami, but at least you can demonstrate verbally and correct the students’ deficiencies. They pay for and expect a personal touch.
4) Address students by their names: One of the most pleasing things a person can hear is his name pronounced correctly and repeatedly, especially when accompanied by praise. PC pronouns aside, "This student here" or "this one here" will never inspire one as much as "Let's watch Joey or Sally perform the technique." 5) Encourage don't keep criticizing poor performance: Your job as instructor is to teach students the proper way of doing things, not to constantly
pointing out errors and deficiencies. Instead of saying “Wrong leg” or “You are doing it all wrong” over and over try saying “Nice try but how about using the
other leg next time for a better result?” Better yet demonstrate the technique yourself repeatedly and then do it with the student. You will be surprised at the
6) You are an instructor not a buddy: Do not mistake lax friendliness and slovenliness for effective teaching techniques. Children and adults alike tend to respond better to someone who inspires them and who deserves respect. People tend not to want to follow directions from someone they see as an equal. This was realized centuries ago when rank was established formally. While as we said, rigid brutality is wrong, requiring respect and pride is not.
For this reason, it is always a good idea to dress formally and cleanly while in the dojo and to request the same from your students. Kids don’t like to make their beds or clean their rooms, but they love and respect the parents who make them do so. In fact, when explained correctly having the students participate in
cleaning the mat and the dojo may in fact make them develop a sense of pride and a feeling of belonging to the place.
7) Leave your personal problems at the door: Once you step on the mat you must have a positive and enthusiastic attitude. Students will usually mistake an instructor's sullen or grumpy attitude for something they did wrong. They will wrongly take it personally and will tend to be confused and upset.
If you must have a joke of the day, tell a short story with a moral to it to get you going so, be it, but leave the bad attitude out of your teaching regime.
8) Professional Teachers prepare handouts. Updates for the parents and monthly detailed progress notes and schedule occasional parent meetings where you should stress the positive things their child is doing not complain. Parents want to see the benefits of their investment and will take pride in your positive feedback. They especially like hearing their child's name called out often in class with a positive spin. Make it clear, however, that while you are always welcome to discussion and feedback it should not happen while class is in session. Explain that nothing is more distracting to a class than having a student pay more attention to the parents shouting from the sidelines than to the instructor. Let the parents know often that you appreciate their support and help as long as it doesn’t interfere with the other children's instruction time. Signage listing such rules can even help prevent verbal misunderstandings between parent and teacher. `9) Break the routine and monotony: I cannot tell you how often I have heard that parents pulled their child out of school because it was boring and
repetitive. Research and create games for kids and adults that utilize their martial arts skills, like running and jumping over obstacles, high jump kick competitions etc. Mix up the routine but stick to a rank curriculum while doing so. Nothing is as frustrating to someone as learning that you have been awarded rank for time served not for what you have learned and that others of the same rank are far more advanced.
10) Never assume that you know it all. There is always something to learn. Continual education for the instructor will stress the lifelong study that is
the martial arts and will encourage those who respect and admire you to pursue the same goals.
Hopefully some of these tips will be useful but remember the most important thing is to put instruction and education above the almighty dollar.
You should strive to be profitable because you are good, not good because you make a lot of money.
About the author: R.W. Stone is currently a practicing veterinarian in Central Florida. He is an avid horseman, a master-ranked martial artist, a best-selling western author, and a firearms enthusiast. After joining a martial arts school in 1970 Stone started studying Yudo with a Korean grandmaster. He eventually became a member of the Judo team of the University of Illinois. It was at the University that a Korean classmate and friend introduced him to Tae Kwon do. After graduating veterinary college, he found the martial arts becoming too sports oriented and eventually after moving from Miami to Central Florida he sought out a Hapkido grandmaster. Currently, Stone is ranked 8th dan in Haemukwan Hapkido, a 4th dan in Daehan Yudo and a second dan in Kukki Taekwondo. He is the Hapkido instructor at the American Dragon Martial Arts Academies.
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