How to teach karate

This is a post for the junior black belts and black belts who wonder – how do Miss Steph, Master Matt, and Master Fuller teach class all the time? How do they know what to do and how to handle so many different situations? This will be important to learn, because teaching is a required part of being a black belt at David Fuller Karate.

While I cannot answer these questions for Miss Steph or Master Fuller, I can tell you how I prepare for teaching. I use the following checklist.

  1. Warm ups
  2. Content
  3. Life lesson
  4. Praise-criticize-praise
  5. Game

Warms ups are usually the same from class to class, as is the opportunity to “praise-criticize-praise”. This is a way to give feedback to students. An example could be “Great job on that front stance. It would be even better with a straight back knee!”. This is a part of class that cannot be prepared for, really. This is simply a reminder to myself to do it.

Because I’m usually teaching a full day, the next thing I do is decide on a theme for the day – hand techniques, forms, sparring, kicks, weapons, and so on. I do this because it is much simpler to pick a focus area and then tailor the content for whatever class I am teaching. Content is the main lesson – teaching techniques, reinforcing existing techniques, and so on. It is derived directly from the theme I choose and the particular class. Clearly, I will go into much more detail and advanced content for Teens and Adults than I would for the Little Ninjas.

The life lesson is a talk about whatever the life lesson is that month. I usually fit this in during the middle of class. I think this is ideal because it lets the class get off to an energetic start, and end energetically as well. When there is no life lesson, I talk about all 5 of them and try to connect the 5 to each other. I rarely recite from the homework or lesson sheets. I try to give my own personal take on the life lessons and why we talk about them in a karate class.

I’ll save the game for the end of class, and I try to tie it to the content, if possible. An example may be if the class was about getting power out of hand techniques, maybe we will play a game of tee ball target kicking. Other times, this may not be possible, and a generic game is appropriate, like geometric sprints.

Finally, I will post 3 microblog posts on Twitter and Mastodon that outline the plan. Each post will discuss a variable part of the plan – the game, the content, and the life lesson.

This is all well and good, but sometimes, plans don’t work out. Sometimes a game doesn’t go the way I think it will. Or perhaps I overestimate or underestimate the abilities of the students with regards to the exercises I had planned. I don’t want students to be too bored or too frustrated because of difficulty level.

Sometimes, we have anywhere from a black belt to a student who is in class for the first time in the same class, and I don’t want the black belt bored or the first-timer left behind. While I cannot give a guide on how to deal with all unexpected changes in a class, I can give some general advice – this is something that is gained from experience and confidence in your own teaching ability. Here are some strategies I use.

  • Dividing the higher ranks and lower ranks in partner groups and having them each work on different-but-related content – the higher ranks work on more advanced content
  • Dividing the groups into forms groups and having the idle group answer questions about the performance of the active group
  • Enlisting the higher ranks to help the lower ranks, or even help you teach. They could teach individual lower ranks by being partners, or sometimes could even be assigned a group of lower ranks to teach/supervise

This list was specific to the diverse rank issue, but hopefully it gets the point across about adapting to the situation as best as you can as an instructor.

Finally, you must realize that teaching is a performance as much as it is about delivering content. The students are both students and an audience. If they are not entertained, the delivery of the content will not be as effective. To this end, there are a few different aspects that you must develop on your own, because they will each be expressed differently by each instructor.

Humor – Try to not take yourself too seriously. Have fun with the students. Make fun of yourself. In this respect, I try to copy Master Fuller as much as I can. An example is making fun of how sometimes my brain gets too far ahead of my mouth and I trip over my own words when talking during class.

Volume – You need to be loud. The louder you are, the clearer it will be for the students, but it will also energize them. If the instructor is sleepy, the students will be sleepy as well and not put as much into the class as they could.

Authority – Don’t let humor delegitimize your authority as instructor. The students will overrun you if you give them the chance. Make sure they are staying in line standing at attention. If not, stop the class until this is the case. Hand out push-ups for repeated class disruptions, and explain why you are doing it. This is crucial to maintaining control of class.

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of everything needed to be an effective instructor. It is an ever-evolving art. I am still learning and practicing it myself, and I come up with new techniques and approaches each day. I also learn a great deal from Miss Steph and Master Fuller, and I will borrow techniques from watching them.

Hopefully this post has demystified the art of martial arts instruction a bit!

(Image attribution)

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