Posted tagged ‘taekwondo for kids’

Can my black belt help get me into college?

February 14, 2013

collegeadmissionsAs a martial arts instructor, I’ve heard many students say they hope having a black belt will look good on their college applications. (Equally often, I’ve heard kids or parents say a student can’t come to class because of all the other activities they’re pursuing for their college applications!) Of course, “putting it on the resume” is a poor reason to train for black belt. At the same time, the personal qualities forged in the process of earning that belt can be good indicators of college success.

So, can your black belt really help get you into the college of your choice? We at Kids’ Karate Workbook decided to ask an expert. The result is some excellent advice for college applicants on how to present themselves and their martial arts achievements in the college admissions process. Stephanie Bertagnole is an Admissions Officer and Freshman Advisor at the University of California, Berkeley, one of the nation’s top universities. She has also trained in Cuong Nhu karate, along with her husband and son. Here’s what she had to say in answer to our questions:

How common is it for a college applicant to list “black belt” as an achievement?

We see numerous college applicants list “black belt” as an achievement. However, what sets one applicant apart from the others is the level of detail they provide regarding their achievement.

Is martial arts training considered a good extracurricular activity to have on one’s application? Do some admissions officers look down on it as “violent”?

The UC Berkeley admissions office views the martial arts as an excellent extracurricular activity. Martial arts training is not regarded as violent by our admissions officers and we are aware that martial arts training is both an excellent physical activity and that training can improve academic performance (according to our applicants). There are several martial arts clubs on campus including Judo, Tae Kwon Do, and Wushu. Additionally, martial arts training offered as a recreational activity for students, faculty and staff. For more information about our martial arts programs, please visit

How much do admissions officers know or find out about different martial arts, or different degrees of black belt?

As with many extracurricular activities, clubs, and competitions, we learn about martial arts training and achievements from the applicant. The applicant should assume that the application reader knows nothing about their martial arts training. It is their responsibility to impart detailed information about their training and the level of their achievements. Just as academics will vary from applicant to applicant, individual extracurricular activities such as martial arts training will vary as well. The level of detail one provides about their martial arts training and achievements will help make their case for admission.

Does it count for more if I’m in a martial art that emphasizes sport competition? Does it help if I’ve won a lot of championships?

Not necessarily—many applicants may not have access to competitions or simply choose not to compete for a variety of reasons. Competing can add value to an application but so can leadership roles such as instructing, serving as a role model in your community, or service to others.

I’ve heard I should have lots of different extracurricular activities on my application to make it look better. I have so many different activities, I can’t practice martial arts as often as I want – but I want my application to look good. Am I doing the right thing, piling on activities?

We see a variety of applicants including those who are involved in many different activities to those who are dedicated to one activity. For UC Berkeley, the quality of the program or activity is a key factor in the admission process and will significantly influence the application review. A student who piles on activities or simply participates in a variety of activities radically differs from one who dedicates a significant amount of time to their activity and has earned a high level of achievement within their sport, club, or volunteer work. If an applicant dedicates themselves solely to one activity, it is important that they understand how to convey their dedication to the application reader.

I often see martial arts applicants break down their martial arts training into several components. If they are an instructor at their dojo, they list these hours as a volunteer activity or work (if paid for their instruction). Their martial arts training is listed as the primary activity and the hours dedicated to their training should be listed here—applicants should remember to include the time spent outside the dojo conditioning and practicing. Achieving the rank of black belt is an honor; this and other related achievements could be listed as honors or awards. Martial arts training camps a student has attended could be listed under special program participation. Applicants should use the college application to their advantage—especially the essays or personal statements to provide in-depth information about their training.

There are so many young people doing martial arts and earning black belts as kids or teens. How can I make my achievement stand out from the crowd?

Every applicant is unique and so are their individual life experiences. Applicants can make their achievements stand out from the crowd through their essays or personal statements. I find it especially helpful when an applicant talks about challenges they have faced in their training or opportunities that have arisen as a result of their training. What is their response to these challenges and/or opportunities? How does the applicant apply their martial arts training off the mat and outside the dojo?

Can you give some examples of what an admissions officer likes to see/doesn’t like to see?

The college applicant pool is as diverse as the criteria by which a school reviews and selects students. I advise students contact individual colleges and universities to learn about their review and selection process. For UC Berkeley, each applicant starts from a neutral standpoint and our admissions officers look for items within the application that add value to one’s application. We like to see students who go above and beyond minimum requirements in academic or personal achievement. We do not penalize an applicant if critical information is missing or if they missed an opportunity to convey information in their personal statements. These applications simply remain at a neutral standpoint. We make the best possible case for admission to our school based on the information an applicant provides in their application.

Without revealing anything confidential, are there any good “martial arts applicant stories” you can tell?

There are so many who come to mind but the following two examples did a fine job presenting crucial information in their application and personal statements.

There first was an applicant who was competing at an international level in Tae Kwon Do. Their application stood out because of the level of detail provided regarding their achievements, training, and competitions. The student used the extra-curricular page of the UC application to their advantage by using key words or phrases to describe an honor, award, or competition. Furthermore, the applicant informed us that they often completed school assignments and papers on the plane or in a hotel room. We learned that they were an independent student, self-sufficient, and demonstrated impeccable time management skills required to succeed in both their martial art and in school.

Another applicant that stood out was 3rd degree black belt who achieved this rank by the age of 17. This applicant was an assistant instructor who helped manage the dojo but never competed for personal reasons. This young person took on a high level of responsibility for the students within the dojo and community as well as maintaining a high level of academic achievement within the school. Their application provided details regarding time spent training, instructing, managing the dojo, as well as time spent conditioning and practicing outside the dojo.

Thanks, Stephanie Bertagnole, for sharing your advice and expertise with the Kids’ Karate Workbook blog. And good luck to this year’s young martial artists applying to U.C.!

What to do about persistent talkers and goof-offs

February 5, 2013

bpostureA colleague has asked us to revisit the topic of misbehaving and “low-effort” students. The students they describe are ones we all have in our classes from time to time: Those whose effort is minimal (loose fists, weak stances, lazy posture) even though they are capable of good technique; who talk and goof off with whoever is around them, as often as they can get away with it; and who don’t improve their behavior in response to any of the standard approaches (ranging from “catch them doing something good” to “sit out the fun stuff” to whatever your most serious discipline happens to be).

Let’s add that, in spite of their exasperating behavior, these are not kids who “hate karate” and really just want to quit, nor are they malicious trouble-makers – they disrupt by socializing too much, not by being anti-social.

So, my colleague asks, are some kids just too immature to understand the required behavior – and we have to put up with it till they begin to grow up? What approaches have other instructors tried for handling and motivating these 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.

Being Positive is Not About Being “Nice”

January 27, 2012

“Any eight-year-old can point out someone else’s mistakes.”

That’s a quote from my 1991 article, “Learning from Children: Five Easy Lessons for Teachers,” in the book Martial Arts Teachers on Teaching. And, as anyone who works with kids knows, they do it frequently, often calling other kids on mistakes they don’t realize they are also making themselves.

I went on to say, no offense to eight-year-olds, but that can’t be what good teaching is all about. I stressed that it takes more skill to discern what students are doing right, than what they are doing wrong. Mistakes are obvious; pointing out mistakes is shallow teaching.

A similar subject recently came up in my parallel life as a writer-slash-poet. I was discussing with some writer friends an approach used by a successful local workshop leader we know. When writers in his groups comment on each other’s work, he requires them to begin with those things they liked, before launching into weaknesses and negatives. Many assume our friendly workshop leader uses this approach in order to be nice – to make people feel good, so they’ll be more likely to keep coming to the workshops.

I disagree, and I link it back to what I said about those eight-year-olds, twenty-some years ago. Requiring a reader to say something positive is a way of ensuring the critic has taken more than a superficial look at the work, before going for the negative critique. Criticism (the negative kind) is all too easy – and all too satisfying for some people, given the human trait of feeling superior when putting something down. By requiring the positives, our workshop-leader friend is raising the quality of instruction, by requiring would-be instructors to examine the work more carefully before speaking.

And, yes, it is more pleasant for the writer to hear some good things before the bad. This may make them more receptive to criticism, but more importantly, the criticism that comes through this process will often be deeper, more honest, and more useful.

Now let’s get back to the topic of teaching martial arts. There are those who confuse positive instruction with being nice – catering to students feelings, lavishing praise while avoiding critique, never saying anything that might (supposedly) harm their self-esteem. This is a mistake.

Positive instruction is not about being nice. It’s very pragmatic. It works, for one thing: Thanks to years of research in coaching and human behavior, it’s well understood now that the mind more easily processes, and the body more easily acts upon, instructions framed in positive (“do this”) rather than negative (“don’t do that”) terms.

And it helps you be a better instructor. What, after all, is your job as instructor? It’s not to correct mistakes day after day (though admittedly, you will spend some time doing that). It’s to guide students on a path from where they are now, to where they could be at their best. The ability to see what they are doing right is essential to both those things: seeing where they are now, and understanding where they could be. You’ll use that knowledge to build upon and to mold. It’s essential, then, that you take the time to see it – and express it.

Being nice is something altogether different. It’s about demeanor, personality, maybe personal style. Martial arts instructors come in all varieties, and I must say some of the most successful, effective instructors I know – experts in positive instruction – are the most hard-nosed, demanding, no-nonsense personalities on the mat. And they are beloved, not because they are warm-fuzzy-nice, but because there’s no question they care deeply about their students’ progress. On the flip side, although I won’t make a blanket statement, some of the warm-fuzzy-nice guy instructors I’ve seen have also been some of the least effective. The students are smiling and having fun; they leave the mat happy, and eager to come back; but on the other hand, they don’t learn much of what I’d call martial arts.

Where do you fall on the scale, fellow instructors? Warm-fuzzy? Tough meanie? – And how do you integrate positive instruction into your style?

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?

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!

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.