Posted tagged ‘martial arts for kids’

Attendance Cards and Taking Responsibility

July 10, 2012

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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Belt Tests/Gradings – What’s the Best Way?

June 3, 2012

Earning rank, in the form of belts and/or stripes, is an important part of the martial arts experience for many children who train. Instructors who test children for rank handle it in many different ways. Some offer tests on a set schedule, for any students deemed “ready;” others schedule a test only when there are students clearly ready. Some have special test-only days; others integrate testing into regular class time. Some tests are by invitation only; others permit students to make the choice. Some schools fail students on a regular basis, while others preclude failure by pre-selecting well-qualified candidates. Some schools I have heard of test and promote the whole student body every couple of months. Still others eschew testing and simply promote students when it seems right.

How is testing handled at your school? Why do you (or your instructors) do it that way? Tell us the pros and cons. Let us know, too, how big your classes are and how many students typically test or are promoted at a time.

Check Your Holiday Gift Guide!

November 13, 2011

We’re pleased to see The Kids Karate Workbook is now listed in the Century Martial Arts Catalog. It appears in their Holiday Gift Guide, too! As holiday season rushes toward us, keep in mind that a book makes a great gift on many levels. The Kids Karate Workbook helps kids love training (even more than they already do), promotes reading, and brings parents and kids together to discuss important topics like self defense (besides bringing them together to practice martial arts, which is a great family pursuit).

Click here for Century’s online catalog.

Or click here to order from Amazon.

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?

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!

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.