Tips for instructors who teach martial arts to kids

Ricki Kay, chief instructor at Fairwood Martial Arts in Renton, Washington, kicks off our series on how to teach great kids’ classes, offering this fundamental advice:

One of the most important things to remember when teaching kids is to touch each child with a physical correction while working with them. Move their fist, or their knee. Don’t teach from a “dais” at the front of the room.

Physical interaction with the students has multiple payoffs. It keeps kids engaged, and lets them feel noticed and included. Physical correction makes a deeper impression, too, especially for those students who may respond less well to verbal explanation.

Instructors: What do you think of that advice? How do you interact with your students in a typical class? What keeps you from just standing up front counting off the repetitions?

I look forward to hearing your perspectives.

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9 Comments on “Tips for instructors who teach martial arts to kids”

  1. Kirk Farber Says:

    ALWAYS glad to share comments with others that truly ENJOY teaching children. Having taught Martial Arts to children for 20+ years, I started a Fitness (Martial Arts, Jump Rope, Juggling, animal games, conditioning) and Character Education (public speaking on a different word/theme each class) program 7 years ago … and now teaching F.A.C.E. during the school day with over 25 different locations over the years. THE MAIN focus in all the years is to have “vignettes”, where the children do something different every 10 minutes or so … thus keeping them excited and entertained.

    I always make sure that every name is mentioned during the class, so they have positive feedback (not only on technique, but also hearing their name). I also make sure that the ‘weak’ get mentioned for not giving up.

    Having a reminder, about what we did in class or the word for next week or a topic from the workout … is always good for the children to hear/speak prior to bowing out of class.

    The Bottom Line is simliar to “If mama aint happy, then no one is happy” …if the Teacher is not having FUN and enjoying class .. then the students will pick up the energy. Once that process is a PART of class, then everyone thrives to improve and can share a positive energy for all to appreciate!

    When Teaching children – Appreciate, Have Fun, Enjoy and Laugh/Smile … it truly makes a difference!


  2. I agree with the post 100%. One natural way of being a part of the workout (physically, mentally and emotinally) is to actually “work out” with the kids. Be interactive. Be playful, be silly, be energetic and passionate and they usually follow your lead. I like to lead by example – If I am “flying” up and down the floor with double flying front snap kick – the kids usually try to “fly” along with me. If I am slithering along the floor like a snake, they want to beat me to the other side. Kids are able to mimic your movements better than any adult I have ever met. If we have a “face off with Sensei Heidi” at the end of class with double ended boppers – after a good deal of repetition of the “duck, jump, retreat” drills – they will usually catch on and start to duck, jump and retreat because they “see” that it is working for me and they want to avoid getting tagged with the bopper. The number of times they get tagged with the bopper equals the number of push ups everyone has to do after the match. I also like to get the kids to physically correct me. I will pose in a really bad forward stance with reverse punch and have each child come and fix ONE thing to get me to a “10” (ie perfect) forward stance reverse punch – they really like to be the teachers too!! And all you teachers out there know how much we learn just from teaching – I love it!

  3. redwoodojo Says:

    Sometimes it’s worth remembering simple, obvious things. Like: Taking a hand-held target and walking through the lines when you’re leading basic practice. Each child gets turns striking or blocking to the target, and that puts you in range to make direct physical corrections. Nothing fancy, but it keeps kids engaged, and you get those much-needed repetitions in.

  4. Chris Baglieri Says:

    I think Sensei Ricki’s advice is central to what makes for a good class. Others have commented on how important it is for the instructor to be -in- the class with kids, and I agree.

    Some other points:

    Touch communicates on a level that kids are often more in tune with than adults, so I make it a point to touch when praising as well as correcting.

    I might reach out and grab a kids fist, giving it a little shake along with, “There! That’s a punch!”

    Touching to reinforce correct technique adds kinesthetic (muscle-sensory) feedback, in effect giving them a “snapshot” of the correct moment.

    And it’s fun! I pretend to sit down on a kid’s lead knee once it’s properly bent. (“Boy am I tired! Good forward stance!”)

    Also – a good practice is to compile a HUGE list of ways to say “Good Job!” and to try to use as many as possible during one class. I know it sounds silly, but we often underestimate just how important -individual- positive messages are to kids.

    Last one – Children learn well by analogy and metaphor, so I use a lot of images in my teaching and correction. Horse-stance is NOT hippo-stance, so we keep our spine straight, and it’s not giraffe stance, so we bend our knees, and it’s definitely not monkey-stance, so put down that banana and get serious!

    As I type – I realize that the kids have taught me sooo much!

  5. Kathy Varady Says:

    I love all the ideas being presented. I will make sure our black belts and others in the region read this as well.

    I like to keep one “theme” in my mind for a class whether it be chops or upward knee strikes or whatever. I then do a variety of different drills with that motion in mind. They may not realize they are repeating the same motion because it’s hidden in targets/balls and before or after rolls. I think it’s important when teaching adults or kids to keep it moving and challenge people on the level they are on. One kid may just be getting the right gross motor movement for which they should be praised while another has mastered the big picture and you need to challenge them with perfection or moving back a few inches and still hitting the target….

    I also get more out of it if there is a connection and I’m assuming they do to. They know someone is interested in them “getting it”.

    Much more could be said but the big picture is to be positive.

    • redwoodojo Says:

      Kathy, you read my mind; I want to do a future post and discussion on “disguised repetition.” (Don’t tell the kids!) I’m sure people will have lots of great ideas on the subject.

  6. Joe Varady Says:

    SMILE!
    When teaching kids (or anyone else) I keep in mind O’Sensei Ngo Dong’s “Five Firsts for Friendship” and try to make a connection with each student as soon as possible, often as they walk in the door. Sometimes it’s as as simple as “Cara, good to see you! Hey Drew, ready to work hard?!” or sometimes it’s more in depth, asking about school or whatever. By necessity you need to stay in charge of the conversation and keep it short, but taking that time to make a personal connection can mean a lot, and get a student to engage on a level they may not otherwise have. I don’t necessarily get to every child every class, but once they know you care about them, they begin to care about you and what you are teaching, not to mention that the parents eat it up! It’s time well spent.

  7. mp Says:

    I like the approach of contact with kids. As well as keeping the class high energy and that usually starts with the instructor. Another aspects is what you do with the kids as well. Your activities have to have a point as well as be fun. So there are three aspects i see that are important for a kids class. One your approach. I mean that you seem happy and want to be there just as much or more than the kids. Two teaching to all the ways of learning. That is Visual, audio, kinesthetic, and the combination of the three. The third is to have a high energy class with great activities that keep the class moving.

    • redwoodojo Says:

      mp – thanks for coming by and commenting. I’m glad you mentioned teaching to the different ways of learning. I hope we can have more discussion on that topic in the future.


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