Archive for the ‘Martial arts instruction’ category

The “Deck of Cards Class” and Other Tricks for Making Hard Work Fun

July 3, 2011

"Six push-ups!"

Instructors: What tricks do you use to make the workout fun? I don’t mean “playing games” so much as making a regular workout seem like a game, or giving it an aspect that keeps kids engaged through many necessary repetitions.

The “Deck of Cards Class” is something I picked up years ago from a member of an adult class I was teaching. He got it from a Hapkido instructor he’d trained under in college. I stole the basic idea–which was to use the suits and numbers to determine the repetitions done in class–and adapted it to my tastes. It goes like this: I shuffle a deck of playing cards, and designate meanings for the four suits. Clubs mean ‘hand techniques,’ spades mean ‘kicks,’ hearts mean ‘exercises/calisthenics,’ and diamonds may mean different things, depending on the class and my whim– maybe partner work, rolls and drops, or performing in front of the group. Aces and twos of any suit usually mean ‘kata.’

Class proceeds by letting a student draw a card, and having the whole class perform the repetitions suggested by the card. For example, if the first card drawn is nine of spades, I’ll choose a kick, and we’ll do a count of nine (or perhaps, nine on each leg) with a kiai on number nine. Then the next student draws. In a class with older or more advanced students, I’ll let the kids choose the techniques, jumping in only if someone is taking too long to decide. (It’s important to keep things moving!) Even with the younger kids, I’ll let them choose for hearts – push-ups, frog jumps, jumping jacks, etc. When clubs are drawn, the technique might be a hand combination (as opposed to a single technique), as appropriate. If the card drawn is a low number, I might make the most of it by tripling the technique done on each count. The possibilities are endless, really.

In a good Deck of Cards Class, each student will get to draw twice or more. Even when they don’t get to choose the techniques, they feel a sense of excitement and control when they’re drawing from the deck. It’s fun!

Do you use any similar devices to keep things exciting? Please share.

The “Mat Chat”: What to Talk About with the Kids

May 20, 2011

Rachel left a note on the “Suggest Future Topics” page, asking this:

I have just become a junior instructor and one thing that I am most unsure about is the ‘mat chat’ for the youngest kids class. What topics and themes should I use?

Great question. The easy answer would be, talk about the same things you discuss in the older kids’ classes: respect, etiquette, perseverance, all the martial arts values. But discussions with 4- and 5-year-olds can be a little different.

I remember, early in my experience with that age group, I asked, “Can someone give me an example of using good manners in the dojo?” One hand shot up, and I called on her, “Yes, Kayley?” She announced loudly, and with great pride, “My brother is seven!”

One thing I do with my youngest kids is begin class by choosing a “word of the day,” discussing it a bit, and revisiting it throughout class. These include things like teamwork, fitness, balance, safety, and of course my favorite, respect. Sometimes I talk about the Five A’s of Self Defense: Aware, Alert, Avoid, Anticipate (what?! that’s a really big word!), and Act. (I might not get through all five in a day.) I try to fish for what the kids know and can contribute, while sharing what I think, what I’d like them to remember, and what it would be great to talk about with their parents.

Instructors, what topics do you use with your youngest? And, maybe more importantly, how do you go about discussing them in an age-appropriate way?

Working with blind or visually impaired students

April 26, 2011

I received an inquiry from Sensei Cris in New Jersey:

I’m wondering if any of the instructors out there have worked with blind/visually impaired students. We have been asked if we can teach a six year-old who is blind, and we are exploring the possibilities.

I’ve been aware over the years of adult martial artists with visual impairments training successfully in various schools and styles. Working with a 6-year-old would pose different challenges. This inquiry got me wondering how I would handle it.

Undoubtedly, there are instructors out there well-trained and experienced with this issue. Any suggestions?

When Well-Meaning Parents Impose…

April 21, 2011

A colleague sent me this scenario, wondering how all of you instructors out there would have handled it:

A little 5-year-old girl walks out onto the mat to start class. She has been in the dojo for 9 months already. Today, her mother follows her, holding a medium-sized stuffed animal. The mother says, “Mr. Cloud will watch you from here,” and she starts to put the stuffed animal on top of a pile of kicking targets that are on the mat. As the instructor, how do you respond?
A) No, I think Mr. Cloud will watch you from the visitor area with mom.
B) Oh, look we have another student for today! Hello Mr. Cloud.
C) [fill in your response here].

Personally, I’m pretty strict and serious about the training area, so I know my first impulse would be to do something like A) – although I would try my best to be gentle and courteous with the parent. B) has possibilities, though…

How about the rest of you? I’m very curious to hear. And my colleague won’t reveal how he or she handled the situation until we hear from some of you, so please post your thoughts!

Does your school do public demos?

April 6, 2011

I recently posted on my Facebook page – with pride, amazement, and a good bit of concern – that 53 students from my dojo would be participating in an upcoming demo at a local school. (The final number was 48 — ranging in age from 4-and-a-half to fifty-something — and the performance went fine, thank you.)

The post prompted my colleague Michael Hornback from Hero Academy in Florida to ask for more details about our dojo demos:

I’d love to hear what you do before, during, and after your demo… Who’s the audience? What’s your purpose for the demo? – that kind of thing.

Let me put those questions to all you instructors out there on the world wide web. Does your dojo put on public demonstrations? What are your goals for these demos, and how do you carry them out? Does it work? – for example, if recruitment is one of your goals, have your demos gained you some new students? What was it about the demo that drew them in?

As for Redwood Dojo, our demos are for the purposes of community spirit, dojo spirit, and student pride in accomplishment. We perform two or three times per year: at the annual school fair for the elementary school adjacent to the dojo (many of our members come from that school community); at the annual open house for the community center that houses our dojo; and, in a new tradition, we hold an annual in-house demo and party for dojo members, their families and friends.

Our demos are open to any member who wishes to participate, regardless of rank or ability; in other words, we don’t have an elite “demo team.” And there’s minimal rehearsal outside regular class time. To pull this off, we select drills and activities from each group’s regular training curriculum, and make sure each performer is doing things at which he or she can excel. Older kids, adults and teens can be more creative — if they take responsibility for their own preparation.

Based on who signs up to be in the demo, I impose a structure and order on the events. This has on occasion meant staying up late the night before writing names on vinyl spots to be placed on the floor to get the younger kids lined up! Teens and adults help with the kids’ demos, either playing a role in the performance or organizing them on or off stage, in addition to performing their own demos.

While recruitment has not been a major purpose for us, I do of course introduce the performance by talking about the history of our dojo, what we teach, and why it is valuable. At the community center open house, we pass out flyers, and make sure more flyers are available inside the center (that demo is outside in the park).

Recruitment is an area where we could stand to improve, so I look forward to hearing more about what the rest of you do. So let me repeat the questions:

Does your dojo do public demonstrations? When and where?

What are your purposes or goals? How do you achieve them?

Do you have any advice for the rest of us?

Please post!

Martial Arts Values in Everyday Life

February 14, 2011

I came upon this discussion topic in an unusual setting: a book fair dedicated to hand-made, hand-printed editions. I had not expected martial arts to come up as a topic, but in a conversation with one of the book artists, I learned she had a young nephew back east who was studying martial arts. What she liked best about his dojo, she told me, was that the children were asked to keep a journal in which they were to relate what they learned at the dojo to other parts of their lives, and also keep a record of their acts of community service.

What a great idea (I thought); and it spurs me to ask all of you:

What do you do in your dojo to help students see the connection between martial arts values, good citizenship, and everyday life?

I think we all talk from time to time about these connections, and aim for our students to understand that martial arts is a way of life. But what are some ways to go beyond the occasional lecture? Do you use regular discussions? Homework? Words of the month? Organized community service? Tell us how you approach it at your school.

Placebo Discipline

January 28, 2011

The ‘placebo’ in medicine is the sugar pill—the non-remedy against which a real medicine is compared. But the placebo can cure, as well: A certain number of patients will get better because they believe their pill has the power. Though they don’t realize it, their cure comes entirely from within.

Cut to a dojo in a western town, where children’s class is going on. The kids are looking weak and lazy, whining about how tired they are. They aren’t, of course, whining out loud; they wouldn’t dare. But you can see the whine in their faces and body language.

I kid with the children sometimes, and now is a good moment. “Did I ever tell you about the children I saw practicing martial arts in China?” This is all true: On a martial arts-based tour several years ago, we saw kids as young as 6 lined up on fields by the hundreds, performing intricate sets, with great intensity, in perfect unison. “Those kids practice four or five hours a day. Every day. And that’s after five or six hours of school. Maybe you guys should practice four hours a day. Can you imagine how good you’d be by now?”

There is general disbelief and shaking of heads. They can’t imagine how they’d have time to practice that much, with their busy lives.

I continue, “And you know what happens if a student gets lazy, or doesn’t feel like it, or isn’t doing their best stances?” Our tour-guides were quite matter-of-fact about this; the kids get smacked, spanked, hit with a stick. The word ‘beaten’ was used—which conjures a terrible image in the western mind, so I’ll stick with the more colorful ‘smacked.’ But one thing is certain: Not all cultures regard corporal punishment as a bad thing. And our guides believed the results spoke for themselves.

“So maybe we should do that here, guys. Maybe when you’re not trying hard, or your stances aren’t right, I should smack you with a stick.”

“No! No!” the children cry, but they are also laughing and giggling. Corporal punishment has been so far out of favor for so long in our culture, the kids just assume it is a joke. (Once in awhile I’ll see a child turn red and look scared when I suggest it, and I’ll have to wonder what goes on in their home.)

I go pick up my tambo (rattan stick) and begin tapping it menacingly against my other hand. “Alright, guys, let’s see some better effort here, and much better stances!” They giggle and smirk, but when practice starts again, with me walking around tapping my stick, they suddenly look ten times sharper. They’re showing their best effort again—better even than I expected. The threat gets results—and that’s even though they know I’m not going to follow through.

It’s “Placebo Discipline.” Now if we could just get them to do it without the sugar pill.

Kids Karate Workbook featured on Karate Cafe podcast

November 26, 2010

The Karate Cafe podcast recently featured the Kids’ Karate Workbook and author Didi Goodman, in an hour-long interview about the book, how it came to be, and various topics related to teaching and training in martial arts.

Karate Cafe was founded five years ago to broadcast the kind of after-workout discussions martial arts enthusiasts love to have — talking about anything and everything martial arts, and continuing the conversation till all hours through an on-line forum.

For the recent podcast, Episode #66, co-hosts Gene Myers of Auburn, NY, and Paul Wilson of Dallas, TX, had read the book carefully, and both had plenty of good things to say about it. One thing both hosts remarked on is how the book is not style-specific, but succeeds in spanning many different kicking/punching arts, from taekwondo to various styles of karate. Gene is a yondan (fourth degree black belt) and instructor in Chibana-ha Shorin-ryu karate, and also studies Two-Circle Jujitsu and Hakutsuru (White Crane) Kenpo. Paul holds a yondan in Shoryin-ryu Kenshin Kan, and is founder and head instructor of White Rock Kenshin Kan. Paul has also studied Tai Chi, Wing Chun, Aikido, Jiu-Jutsu, and Escrima.

Gene noted that, in addition to being a great book for students and parents, The Kids Karate Workbook is also a useful guide for instructors who teach kids. He himself had used it to find new ways to explain things, and come up with new activities and training ideas. Both Gene and Paul remarked on the book’s straightforward style of explanation–clear enough for kids (without talking down to them), but also very readable for adults. They also praised the quality and clarity of Linda Nikaya’s illustrations (over 200 of them!) for conveying the techniques explained in the text.

To hear the full interview, visit http://www.karatecafe.com/ — click on ‘podcast’ and listen to Episode 66. And while you’re there, check out all the other good stuff on the Karate Cafe site!

Check out the Karate Cafe Podcast!

November 12, 2010

This coming Sunday, November 14th, at 5:30 p.m. Pacific Time, 8:30 Eastern, and everything in between, Kids’ Karate Workbook author Didi Goodman will be appearing on the Karate Cafe live podcast to discuss “Teaching Kids: Tips, Tricks and Traps.”

The Karate Cafe crew – Gene Myers of Auburn, NY; Paul Wilson of Dallas, TX; and Dan Williams of Lansing, MI – host regular online discussions of all things martial arts, and invites the public to join in. Check out their archives at the Karate Cafe website, and you’ll find friendly, wide-ranging conversations among true martial arts devotees – the kind of people (like us) who leave the dojo wanting to keep thinking, talking and trying things out till late into the night.

You are invited to join in the live podcast by phone, text or email this Sunday. Follow this link for details on getting connected. If you miss the live event, you can still tune in by visiting the Karate Cafe archives.

The Role of Assistant Instructors

September 29, 2010

The most frequently asked question about teaching martial arts to kids is how to maintain order and discipline in class. The answer almost always has to do with disciplinary tools — things like rules and guidelines, targeted praise, push-ups, time-outs, and the like. (See the comments section of our previous post for some views on this topic.)

But let’s not overlook the single most wonderful and valuable tool for helping maintain order: The assistant instructor. Assistants benefit class and the dojo in many other ways, too; and teaching experience is vital to the assistant’s own training.

Often we’re so eager to get some help that we forget to consider the who, what, and how. Who is qualified to be an assistant? What exactly will be expected of them? What kind of training and preparation might they need? How will they carry out their duties in your class while being helpful and not disruptive?

If you have a large class, you might be tempted to send your assistants off to teach smaller groups. Have you made it clear what you want them to do? Are they capable and prepared? Keep in mind, you’re asking them to fill your shoes.

Some instructors use kids and teens as assistants. They can be great role models, but they might need close supervision and guidance before they’re ready to help teach.

Sensei Joe Varady of Satori Dojo in Pennsylvania gives this excellent description of one version of the assistant instructor role:

Assistants do not need to be black belts, but they should be at least brown belts if possible. My assistant’s job is to quietly hover at the back of the class and look out for problems. Sometimes it’s a problem with a technique, or just telling a child to switch sides or lower a stance, but the biggest job is wigglers. My Sempai, Dawn White, calls it “whack-a-mole” duty. Often just a hand on their shoulder will be able to fix a wiggler and help them to focus. Other times it takes more. If there is a persistent behavior problem, at my nod, the assistant quietly sweeps in and pulls the student to the back of the class. She might give them some push-ups, and a reminder, and ask if there is anything wrong and if they understand what is expected of them. She also tells them that if Sensei sees that behavior again, they will have to sit out.

I like this approach because the assistant’s job is clear and well-defined. It’s supportive of the head instructor without being obtrusive. It lets the assistant observe how the head instructor runs class, so they can call on this knowledge if later they are given a group of students to teach.

Tell us about your school. Who can be an assistant instructor? What is their role? Do you have an instructor training program, either formal or informal? What problems (and solutions) have you encountered in working with assistants?