Posted tagged ‘karate for kids’

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!

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!

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?

Discipline versus Punishment, and other topics

August 18, 2010

There’s a guest post on the Martial Development blog by Matt Klein on the subject of teaching kids; I encourage you to read it and comment if you have time. It echoes many of the principles and techniques we’ve covered here in various posts. It also raises some topics worth revisiting.

Matt teaches in Australia, where he has a chain of schools specializing in children and youth. He also has a nice blog that came online a few months ago, and is well worth a browse; you’ll find it on our blogroll.

The opening paragraph of his post made me think perhaps things are a little different in Australia. While it was once the case (perhaps 20 years ago) that good children’s programs were uncommon here in the U.S., it’s no longer typical for kids to be thrown in with adults and taught as “miniature adults.” There are nowadays so many excellent kids’ martial arts programs available, it has become quite a competitive enterprise in many towns. It’s true that children’s classes are sometimes used to keep adult programs afloat financially, and also true that instructors teaching kids need to learn how to work with children (hence this blog, among other things), but dojos and dojangs with ongoing children’s programs generally have instructors who enjoy what they’re doing and are motivated to do a good job. Of course, as in all fields, quality varies–and opinions vary as to what constitutes quality! Rather than saying “few get it right,” I’d say many are getting it right; there are many ways of getting it right; and more are learning how every day.

The question of push-ups as discipline

Under the heading “Discipline,” Matt raises an issue I’ve talked about with fellow instructors many times over the years, and I thought I’d raise it again here to provoke more discussion. It concerns the use of push-ups as a disciplinary tool. Matt takes the view that exercises shouldn’t be used as a punishment, because exercises should be a positive–something the student should want to do and feel good about doing. I don’t disagree with this position, yet I continue to use push-ups for discipline in my classes. This issue has been around for ages; in fact, I discussed it at length in the early 1990’s when I wrote an essay for Carol Wiley‘s book, Martial Arts Teachers on Teaching. My piece was called “Learning from Children: Five Easy Lessons for Teachers,” and lesson 3 covers this very topic. You can read it at this link on Google Books. To put it briefly, I think there’s a difference between discipline, a positive, and punishment, a negative; and it’s all in the delivery. My students love doing push-ups, and they know we sometimes use them for serious purposes, like showing our respect for the rules, helping us remember things, and sometimes for dissipating anger or excess energy.

But what do you think, readers? Do you make a distinction between discipline and punishment? What kind of tools do you use? Post your ideas here, and don’t forget to let Matt know you appreciate his blog, too. The more voices in the discussion, the better!

Added on August 24—just for the sake of argument 🙂

It’s worth remembering the original context where experts stated what’s so often repeated now—that it’s wrong to use exercise for punishment. It was in discussions about corporal punishment in the schools, and school gym class; and they were talking about “forced exercise” administered in physically abusive and humiliating ways. If you read discussions surrounding corporal punishment laws, you’ll see phrases like “forced to do push-ups beyond their capability” (forced via physical threat or humiliation), or, “run laps to the point of exhaustion or collapse.”

It was like that back when I was in junior high. The coaches, some of whom doubled as teachers, had paddles (two-by-fours with a handle sanded at one end) with which they would “bust” unruly students. The “jocks” considered it a badge of honor to endure a busting, but it was humiliation for the non-jocks – the awkward, the overweight, the “nerd,” the outsider. Gym class was already a humiliation for those kids, and the threat of further punishment could make it unbearable. I remember one kid who, when he complained he couldn’t do some part of gym class because he had a sprained wrist, was ordered to do push-ups on his sprained wrist (under threat of the paddle)!

Clearly this is unacceptable. No one should be humiliated or abused—ever. And in a school population that includes many kids who are reluctant to exercise or go out for a team, to add more fear to the situation goes against a society that values physical health for all its young people.

The context of the dojo is somewhat different. Here, we have kids who are already proud to be part of an activity that glorifies physical prowess, and helps them to gain it by increments. (The kids’ fantasies about physical prowess are a powerful part of the appeal of martial arts.) Some parts of training are hard, but that doesn’t deter the kids from their overall enthusiasm. Learning to work through difficulty is part of what training is about. The kids’ feelings about push-ups don’t change when they’re used (in small, non-abusive sets) as one tool for discipline, and I say this because I’ve seen it, with hundreds of kids over many years. Their feelings about push-ups have to do with how hard they find them, and their attitude toward doing hard things. But they are universally proud of themselves as they see their abilities improve over time (push-ups are a belt requirement in our style).

Of course if an instructor encounters students who have a strong negative reaction to push-ups, or to any tool used for discipline—or if the tool isn’t working for someone—we need other tools in the bag.

So, back to the original question- What are your tools for discipline? Or, when and how do you ‘punish’?

How Good is Good Enough?

July 6, 2010

Back in May, at a symposium on teaching kids organized by Madeline Crouse of Satori Dojo in Pennsylvania, many instructors raised the question,

How do you judge the quality of a child’s technique? How good is good enough to promote a child to the next rank?

Implicit was the understanding that young kids can’t meet the standards we apply to adults. Not even our best child-students can be expected to perform like adults.

Heidi Goldstein of Concorde Martial Arts in New York writes,

It seems we all get stuck on the “how good is good enough” question. It would be great to hear from other instructors on this issue. People say things like, “When he can do a good lower block;” or, “When her forward stance looks OK.” What does that mean? We need to define these terms so they are measurable in some way.

In my own experience I’ve noticed a principle at work that’s akin to the old adage, “Work expands to fill the allotted time.” It goes:

Perfectionism expands to make any step impossible to reach.

When we try to get young kids to learn the amount of material we expect from adults, we find they can’t do it—or it takes them many, many times as long. But when we break the material into smaller bits—manageable steps—the next thing we notice is that many of them can’t perform those steps to what we thought were reasonable standards.

So… What standards can we reasonably apply?

Tanner Critz of Unity Martial Arts in Arkansas writes:

I have a list of principles that go into making techniques good. My goal for kids at lower ranks is that they can show a certain number of those principles, and then the number needs to increase but not in any particular order. This allows kids to advance in different ways towards the same goal. The principles on the list, though, are far from standardized. I’d love to know what other people would put on their list (even if they don’t do it this way).

We’d love to know what Tanner puts on his list, too, and I bet he’ll tell us if we get a good discussion going here.

Ricki Kay of Fairwood Martial Arts in Washington writes:

I look for whether kids can consistently do the technique without any prompting from the instructor, and with about 50% good form. The forward stance may not look like a black belt doing it, but they have the basic form. At the lower ranks and ages, I look at their consistency in showing their knowledge of the technique. Do they do a middle block when asked, or do they just put their hand out?

Instructors: Please join the discussion, and forward this link to your colleagues so they too can tell us, How do you decide when a child’s technique is good enough to move him or her to the next rank?

Symposium on Teaching Children

June 2, 2010

I recently had the pleasure of participating in a mini-symposium on teaching martial arts to kids, organized by Madeline Crouse of Satori Dojo in Pennsylvania. It took place at the annual training camp of Cuong Nhu Martial Arts, IATC 2010, in Raleigh, North Carolina.

One thing I took away from the symposium is that there’s a real hunger among martial arts instructors for knowledge and shared experience on this subject. We barely scratched the surface in two hours. Many subjects came up that will make good blog posts & discussions; I’ll get going on that asap (any suggestions where to start?). It made me feel, even more strongly, that we need more people posting on this blog, more people blogging on their own about teaching kids, and everyone linking to one another so instructors surfing the web can tap into a wide network of high-quality, practical information.

What do you say, folks? Who’s ready to help make it happen? If you want to share quick ideas or an occasional rant, please post on this blog whenever a subject interests you. And feel free to suggest subjects or propose a “guest blog” if you want to write about a special topic. If you have a lot to say and want to write on your own terms — start your own blog (it’s easy), let me know about it, and I’ll link you here.