Attendance Cards and Taking Responsibility

Lately I’ve been thinking about ways to get my young martial arts students to take more responsibility for themselves, for each other, for their training and their own progress. Of course I talk to them about these things, instruct them about doing so, urge them during class to be that kind of student. But words don’t always sink in; you just can’t assume they will get it. And this is doubly so with the younger kids.

There are always a few who seem born with the right attitude. They focus, they work hard; they practice with the intent to make progress.  These students are gems in the dojo; they would probably excel in any setting. Probably, too, their parents are reinforcing this ethos at home.

Then there are the students who attend class with enthusiasm, but when the hour ends, they drop it like a toy left in the middle of the floor and move on to the next activity. Come the next class, they don’t remember what they practiced. It’s as if they have to learn everything anew, every class. Some of these kids will happily tread water forever, if someone doesn’t come along to push or pull them toward their next rank. Yet they want that rank. They just don’t understand they have to earn it; they don’t get it that they aren’t earning it simply by showing up for class.

Practice with the intent to make progress. That’s what every student must learn to do, and what quite a few kids in my crowded younger-age classes have seemingly not been doing lately. So I did some thinking and decided, among other things, it was time once again to implement some form of Attendance Card/Test Card system to get them focused on what they need to do. I spent time on the recent holiday designing a new card to my liking, and more time over the weekend printing and cutting a set of color-coded, rank-specific cards. I’ll begin phasing in the new system today.

Mind you, I have used various forms of “test cards” and “rank checklists” over the years. These new cards combine familiar old components. But I’ve made an important mental shift. In the past, no matter how I might have described it, I was treating them as tools to help me keep track of all the kids, their attendance, and their progress toward rank. I was bearing full responsibility for tracking the students, then providing the necessary motivation as needed. The tools were helpful at times, but when I found they were more trouble than help, I dropped them, picking them up again only when I had a suitable (or troublesome) group in class.

This time around I realize the tools are for the students’ benefit, not mine. They are a visual representation of attendance and progress that can – and hopefully, will – begin to show even the youngest kids a connection between their own efforts and their progress toward rank. They’ll begin each class now, by getting & looking at their card, before bringing it to the instructor for use during class. It’s just one more component in an ongoing emphasis on taking responsibility for oneself.

I want to credit Kelly Muir’s attendance-card system, as described in her book Instructor Revolution, for sparking this mental shift for me. (Her student-run dojo is all about taking responsibility!) My review of her book can be found here

Instructors: What tools do you use to help kids learn to take responsibility for their training? Please post your thoughts and methods in the comments section.

Here’s a fictitious sample attendance card. The name and dates are made up, of course. A few things to note: The number of boxes in the attendance grid increases as rank increases (the first few levels have only 24 boxes). The number is higher than the minimum requirement for the rank. However, I’m not highlighting the minimum requirement, because it’s not important. Don’t focus on the minimum; rather, meet the minimum and keep training! On back, two levels of rank requirements are listed, and can be signed off by the instructor if desired.

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2 Comments on “Attendance Cards and Taking Responsibility”

  1. Neil R. Hall Says:

    We introduced attendance cards for 4th Kup and upwards in LCTKD a year or so ago, and it has been really successful. The instructor has to sign the card each class, which gives a chance to speak to the student about attendance, and other things. From the beginning, we’ve emphasised that it is to help the student to keep an eye on whether they are doing what they need. We have had a very slight problem with students thinking that they were ready to grade when they were not; although the fact that they had logged the hours was part of that, it was not the only part. So we’ve also introduced an instructor mentor scheme for higher grades, to increase the interaction with younger students.


  2. “Yet they want that rank. They just don’t understand they have to earn it; they don’t get it that they aren’t earning it simply by showing up for class.” So true Didi! They sometimes come in the week after they missed a grading and say, “I need to get my orange belt.” I tell them, “You have skipped a few steps. First of all, you ask if you can make up your grading. Second, you do your best on your grading. Third, if the other two steps are done correctly, you will be awarded your orange belt.” It is not automatic.


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