Posted tagged ‘young martial artist’

Should assistant instructors be paid?

July 16, 2017

A colleague from South Africa asked this question in response to our post, The Role of Assistant Instructors:

I have a brown belt, whose father has, after I gave him one month free as gratitude for his assistance now asked that I actually pay him per week for his assistance. I have never heard of this and was quite shocked (as his dad was also an old regime karateka). How would you treat this and do you actually pay assistant instructors?

I have some opinions myself, which I will share, but I’d love to hear from others, so please comment!

I come from a traditional point of view in which students are required to do assistant instructing as a part of their training. It’s quite valuable for the student, and it can be quite helpful for me… but it can equally be of concern. These assistants, lacking the judgment and experience of a seasoned instructor, are frankly, at times, as likely to lose a student as to help them. To ensure one doesn’t lose students due to bad handling by inexperienced assistants, one must provide training, instruction and supervision to those assistants. Sometimes you must do this on the fly during class, when you see things going awry. One could easily make the case they should pay extra for the privilege, rather than being paid. In any case, I always hope my students will appreciate the gift of training and be humble about their own abilities and position.

On the other had we do want to appreciate our helpers. A colleague of mine lets his helpers earn scholarship points toward training camps and seminars. I’m sure others have creative ways of showing appreciation (please post!).

You must have appreciated your assistant’s help, in wanting to give him a free month. Now the father has put you in an awkward position. I suggest you go back in time (ha ha), and create an assistant instructor program in which you state clearly what is desired and expected from assistants, set learning goals for them, and make it clear that while they are helping, they are also students. Then perhaps set up a system of rewards that you feel are appropriate, which show appreciation, but which don’t promote the idea that every helper should be paid. Set this forward for all now-and-future helpers. And decline to pay this fellow, while stressing how much you do appreciate the help they provided. Offer to let them continue on your newly-defined program, and be prepared for the dad to be unhappy.

That would be my advice – but what say the rest of you out there?

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.!

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?

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 — 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!

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?

Kids’ class vs adult class: What’s the difference?

April 1, 2010

It goes without saying that teaching martial arts to children is different from teaching it to adults. And then again- what are the real differences?

My question is prompted by a comment from a fellow instructor about what a great workout she had when she used some of the drills and games from kids’ class when leading the adults. I’ve experienced this, too, and it has occurred to me that in many ways, the adults in my classes are just like the kids: they thrive on fun and excitement (even while being serious); they have fantasies about gaining supernatural powers and performing amazing feats; they crave praise, recognition and advancement; they can be whiny and petulant (although they’re usually better at hiding it than the kids). And sometimes they just can’t line up straight.

In all seriousness, though, there are real differences, and they have consequences. There are physical, mental and emotional differences between children and adults, and surely they have an impact on curriculum and practice. They also have an impact on the instructor’s experience on the job. Perceptions about this affect attitudes in several ways. For instance, many instructors who are comfortable working with adults are quite apprehensive about trying to teach kids. Some simply don’t want to. On the flip side, many people don’t feel kids’ class can possibly be “real martial arts,” and find it hard to take seriously either the program or the instructor who devotes energy to it.

So let me throw it all open to discussion: What are the important differences between kids’ class and adult class? No answer will be considered too obvious, too humorous, or too serious.

Celebrate Kids Who Train in Martial Arts

January 5, 2010

Updated January 14, 2010

photo by Linda Nikaya

Happy New Year, everyone!
Let this be the best year yet for your training.
May you build strength, stamina, discipline and focus.
May you feel the joy of good health and physical expression.
May you have more fun than ever, pursuing an art that provides such serious benefits in your life. Have some serious fun.

Let’s celebrate in pictures. Send me a great picture (or two) showing kids in action, training in martial arts. Include appropriate credits (your school and instructor, and the photographer’s name). We’ll add it to the photo gallery here on this site. Pass the word to anyone you know who teaches martial arts to kids– or who has kids who train in martial arts.

A few folks have already responded– I have some pictures from Germany as well as the U.S. Let’s get as many schools, styles, states, and countries on here as we can!

Send your photos to I look forward to seeing and posting them!

A Book for Karate Moms and Dads, Kids of All Ages

October 15, 2009

When I tell people I’ve written a martial arts book for kids, often their first question is “What age group did you write for?” The publisher has categorized the book for ages 9 to 12; however, I have a much different view of the matter.
Front Cover
I believe kids of all ages can benefit from the book. It has over 200 illustrations, and these can be enjoyed– and even, if you like, colored in– by younger readers who aren’t yet ready for the sentences and vocabulary.

More importantly for the younger kids (age 5 & up), their parents can benefit from helping them read the book. In fact one of the main reasons I began the project was that parents of younger students asked time and again for such a book– something that would help them understand what their children were learning, so they could be supportive of their practice at home. They wanted a book they could enjoy together with their children while learning about martial arts.

The more parents know about their children’s training, the better they can support it. I think most instructors would agree with that. Parental support is a key factor in success. Parents shouldn’t try to take the place of the instructor, but they should try to understand what the instructor wants from the student. Then they can be supportive in appropriate ways.

And what does the instructor want from the student? Instructors want kids and parents to know that karate and taekwondo are fun, but they’re also serious. They require commitment, dedication, exactness, and an ongoing desire to improve. The great thing is that these are all “attitudes for success” that will help kids in many areas of life.

Commitment, dedication, seriousness– those are big words for 5-year-olds. But they’re important lessons kids start on as soon as they start school. And they are at the heart of martial arts. So if a child is old enough to be in a martial arts class, they’re old enough to begin learning about those ideas (in age-appropriate terms, of course!).

I’ve never gone wrong by taking kids seriously and letting them aim high. In all the years (more than twenty) I’ve been teaching ages 5 & up, I’ve avoided talking down to my youngest students. Sure we have fun, we sometimes laugh, and the youngest go at a different pace from the older kids. But we are all learning the same lessons, and working on the same material– the material of martial arts. Martial arts is an individual pursuit where every student, regardless of age, must proceed at his or her own pace.

I’ve written my book in the same way, as a handbook for all ages that doesn’t talk down to anyone. Students must use it at their own speed and in their own way– with the help of instructors, the help of their parents, and when they’re old enough, on their own.

Click here to buy from Amazon, or ask for the book at your local bookstore:
The Kids’ Karate Workbook: A Take-Home Training Guide for Young Martial Artists