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Instructing tips

Intro

The following are some instructing tips that have worked for others.

Instructing tips

  • Don't mistake activity for achievement. Just because students leave class soaking wet and exhausted does not mean they learned anything about their martial art.
  • Tell, demonstrate, show, do. First, tell students about the technique you are going to teach them. Demonstrate the technique. Then show them how to perform the technique. Finally, have them do the technique, while you give them positive reinforcement and constructive criticism. 
  • Have fun. Instructing the martial arts should be fun. Learning the martial arts should be fun. If the instructor is not having fun, he or she should quit teaching. If the students are not having fun, it is the instructor's fault. Hard work and near exhaustion are not disqualifiers for having fun. 
  • Distract students from discomfort. Instructors must learn to distract the physical discomforts of students by diverting them mentally. Humor is a good way to distract student's thoughts from physical discomfort, but make it appropriate and try not to be the only one laughing. If you are not a witty or humorous person, do not use humor, instead, try asking questions to divert student's thoughts about their physical state. Mental distractions of students may be diverted by increasing their physical efforts or having them do drills or skills that require numerous, precise movements.  
  • Keep it professional. Make class a formal, professional event. Formality will keep the "in class instructor" separate from the "after class friend or associate." Formality lets the students know they are being taught and their attention is required. 
  • Never let students win a battle of personalities in a class. Remember: you are the captain of the ship and your control must remain inviolate. Find the ways to control or reshape students with strong egos.
  • Do not tolerate dishonesty, disloyalty, or brutality. Demand respect for the student-instructor relationship. Maintain strict dojang etiquette and protocol. Deal swiftly and justly to any disruptive, aggressive, or disrespectful behavior.
  • Command attention. Command attention by using a "command voice," something which military boot camp recruits are familiar. Speak with force from your diaphragm just as stage actors do. Relax your larynx and allow the force of the air to flow and sound the words, like the kiai. Sometimes you may need to sound each word as a kiai for emphasis. Use of the command voice when giving commands gives your soft, caring voice more meaning when you use it. When directing students to do something, don’t ask, give commands.
  • Speak distinctly. Tailor your voice to the number of students and the sound characteristics of the room. Speak distinctly to overcome an echo in the room. Tailor your pitch to the resonance of the room. 
  • Keep it simple. Keep your instructions simple and to the point. Don’t ramble; it causes students to lose the mental and physical level they have built during class. 
  • Be an authority. Present information with authority. Present yourself as an authority on your martial art and present information as fact. Remember most people cannot differentiate between instructors who know what they are doing and instructors who act as if they know what they are doing. 
  • Non-verbal communication. While instructing, much of your communication is non-verbal. Make eye contact with as many individuals as possible so it seems as if you are speaking directly to them. Touch students in a caring professional manner to move an arm, hand, etc. into the correct position. This shows students you are personally concerned about them. Demonstrate techniques slowly. Use your hands freely when speaking; use broad gestures so the student in the back of the class may see your meaning.
  • Be tough, be caring. When dealing with students on an interpersonal level, sometimes you must be tough, sometimes you must be caring. Sometimes you start in the tough mode to get your point across, and, as the student begins to understand your point, you switch to the caring mode to express your concern with their welfare. You should challenge the superior performer with tough criticism and encourage the marginal performer with caring praise.
  • Simple to complex. Start students with a simple explanation of a technique. Explain why the technique is used and the reason why the technique is better than another technique in the situation. As students become more proficient, give more detailed explanations that point out the subtleties. With advanced students, it is sometimes necessary to reemphasize the basics. 
  • Minor improvements. When working with an awkward student who is having difficulty with a technique, try to get at least some improvement in one area. Praise the student for the improvement and then try for some improvement in another area. Eventually, it is possible that the student will perform the technique as well as other students. 
  • Use student demonstrators. You are an instructor, not necessarily a master technician. You do not have to demonstrate every technique yourself. If you are weak in a technique, find a student who is strong in the technique and let them demonstrate it to the other students.
  • Stay on track. Once you have the attention of a class, don’t lose it. Stay focused on the subject. Sometimes it is easy to get off the subject while instructing. A small deviation is okay, such as a short telling of an experience, but get back on track quickly. Once you lose the attention of a class it is difficult to regain it and you use up valuable time trying to regain it
  • Use assistants. Every class has blind spots that make it difficult for instructors to see all the students, so use assistants to help monitor the class. Assistants may also help by pointing out things you left out of your instructions. Actively question assistants for their opinions, since their volunteering options may be awkward or seem disrespectful. Use guest instructors occasionally; often another instructor may say the one thing differently enough about a concept for it to become clear to a struggling student. 
  • Only one instructor should be in control of a class. Assistants should only assist, never interfere. Don’t tolerate conflicting or coincidental instruction. If students receive differing information at the same time, it confuses them.
  • When guest instructing. If you are a guest instructor or teaching a seminar, ask the regular instructor if there are any specific topics he or she would like you to address. Caution the students that you are merely giving them a different perspective and that, if anything you say conflicts with what their instructor has said, the student should obey their instructor's teachings.
  • Repetition is the secret. The secret to proficiency in the martial arts is repetition. Repetition develops trained reflexes, control, and accuracy. To paraphrase President Coolidge, nothing takes the place of practice and persistence in practice. Repetition is used extensively in class, but you should stress that students use it extensively in their personal training. Students are shown new techniques in class, but they learn to perform the techniques by repetitious training at home. 
  • Repetition may become boring. Repetition drills may be made more challenging by frequently changing the parameters, such as changing the stance or changing the speed of execution. You may incorporate a drill into games or contests, such a last to finish must do extra repetitions or must designate the next technique for a drill. 
  • Be innovative. Repetitive exercises may be made more interesting by modifying them for stance, speed, direction, or number of opponents. Old exercises may seem like new ones by making small changes, such as arranging students into groups of three or four, in a circle, in concentric circles, or in interlaced groups. 
  • Experiment. Design exercises that demonstrate the beauty of the contrasts and symmetries in the martial arts. Sometimes an idea may pop into your head during class. Try it out. If it does not work, immediately jump back into a known exercise so you do not lose class momentum. Write down your innovations as soon as possible so you will remember them and use them again.
  • Stay interesting. The same techniques are usually taught over and over in class, so long-time students have seen the technique taught many times before. Keep techniques interesting by approaching them from various angles and perspectives. Sometimes, instead of starting with a technique demonstration and repetition training on the technique, you may start with seemingly unrelated exercises that lead up to the technique; a back-door approach that keeps things interesting
  • Conduct special events. Encourage special events, and delegate responsibility for them so all students feel more responsibility for the class. Tournaments, camps, seminars, holiday parties, bake sales, and outings are all great ways to stimulate students and break the routine of class.
  • There is always the basics. When stumped for something to teach, there is always the basics: the primary stances, blocks, kicks, and punches. Everyone needs to train on the basics. The beginning students need to learn to do them correctly and the senior students need to refresh themselves on how to do them correctly. 
  • Keep it short. Provide adequate explanations. Provide examples of your experiences and toss out bits of martial arts knowledge, but keep it short and simple. Too much talk may kill the mood. The class is a learning environment but is a basically a physical environment. Do not take too much of a break from the physical action.
  • Perception and action. Student actions are sometimes much different from what they perceive are their actions. Students may perform continuous right front kicks when the instructor is commanding left front kicks. Until the problem is pointed out, students perceive they are performing the kick properly. For beginning students, instructors must concentrate on training students to correctly perceive their actions. Don’t give detailed explanations to beginners; keep it basic. Do not try to teach everything about a technique to beginners at once, it may be confusing, boring, and even misleading. Instead, concentrate on helping them correctly perceive their own actions. 
  • Look for potential. Instructors must assess each student's ability and potential and strive to narrow the distance between the two. In large classes, observing and responding to the gaps in each student's abilities is a matter of balance. A balance between the needs of many graceful students versus the needs of a few awkward students. Some students only need to be directed through a series of exercise while others must be prodded, challenged, and carefully observed. Balancing the two situations is difficult but doable. Customize your solutions for the individual student. While it may seem you are spending too much time on an individual student, the class as a whole may be rewarded through the experience you gain from working on solutions for the one student.
  • Make some allowances for student physical shortcomings. Don’t place tight constraints on techniques that do not allow for individual physical differences. If you do, you may discourage students whose physical limitations do not allow them to perform the technique as described. A technique may be precisely defined and still allow for its use by most students. For some disabled students, techniques may require modification to fit their needs. However, don’t lower the standards for certain students. When standards are lowered to meet the student instead of the student rising to meet the standards, everyone is shortchanged, and the martial arts reputation is diminished. Sometimes students cannot meet the standards no matter how hard they try due to health, physical, or mental problems. That’s life.
  • Martial arts training is a self-actualizing process. No student should be given any slack because of age, gender, or background. Anyone may achieve their highest martial arts potential through hard work. This does not mean you can’t make certain accommodations based on individual student situations. Only injury and actual physical limitations (determined by you) should be allowed as grounds for accommodations.  Do not tolerate a spirit of victimization by any individual or group. Victimization is an excuse for shortcomings in character. Victims blame their own shortcomings on others. Do not tolerate students who persist in being victims. Teach them to stand up for themselves and not make excuses for their inaction.
  • Be prepared to deal with each student as an individual as needed. Try to do whatever is needed to make it easy for the student to train hard without overly disturbing the rest of the class. However, remember that you cannot solve every student problem. Some students experience money problems, but regardless of the problems, everyone must pay. However, a student's finances are their own business. Do not get involved in their financial problems. What matters is that they maintain respect for you and that they keep training. Be flexible in payment amounts and due dates, but do not be foolish. Work out something for true hardship cases and temporary embarrassment cases. 
  • Do the unexpected. When students begin to anticipate your commands, they plan in expectation of the commands. They may work extra hard at one technique because they expect the next technique to be easy. Do the unexpected so students are kept on their toes
  • Guide vs. sage. Be a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage. It is better to stand near students while they perform and give them individual help than it is to stand in front of the class and tell students what to do.
  • Know your students. When setting up one-on-one exercises, know your students so you may anticipate bad pairings. For example, expect conflict when you pair up a student with poor control with a student with a short temper. The conflict may be good, but it must be carefully monitored. Students must learn to survive conflict, but they will never learn it if they quit the class.
  • To deal with complaints. To hear the last of a complaint, remember the acronym LAST:
  • Listen carefully to the complaints.
  • Analyze the complaint and what may have caused it.
  • Solve what caused the complaint.
  • Thank the person for bringing the complaint to your attention.
  • Rank. Rank is a tool that instructors use to guide students through the martial arts. The belt structure is a rough guide of student proficiency. For beginning and intermediate students, it is an incentive to continue their training. It is a way for students to achieve some measure of self-confidence and to gain some perspective on their progress. Since your goal is to help students achieve their potential, you must use belt promotions wisely; awarding when deserved and withholding when necessary. You do not want to discourage students by not promoting them, but you also do not want to give them false expectations by promoting them when it is not deserved. Promoting undeserving students cheapens the promotion value to deserving students.
  • When you are teaching a class of unknown students. In cases like this, belt colors should let you know the proficiency of each student, so you will know how to teach the class. Regrettably, in many classes, this is not the case. With so many social promotions where students are promoted for simply trying, belt ranks are not necessarily a good indication of proficiency. Ideally, all the students could remove their belts and at the end of class after watching each student perform, you should be able to match the belts to the students, but this is not the case.
  • A school can’t exist for long without new white belts coming in and it can’t exist indefinitely without experienced black belts. Many incompetent white belts won’t ruin a school, but one incompetent black belt put it out of business.
  • When praising a student:
  • Tell stduent up front that you are going to let him or her know how they are doing.
  • Praise the student immediately.
  • Tell the student what he or she did right—be specific.
  • Tell the student how good you feel about what he or she did right and how it helps the school and the other students.
  • Stop for a moment of silence to let the student "feel" how good you feel.
  • Encourage the student to do more of the same.
  • Shake hands or touch the student in a way that makes it clear that you appreciate his or her efforts.
  • Student loyalty. Is it disloyal for your students to study another martial art while also studying with you? No! As long as your students are honoring their contract with you and are not using your teachings in an illegal or immoral manner, it should not matter what they do with their lives. When they are in your school, they will do what you teach and how you teach it, and will not deviate except with your permission. Just like a college professor once told me "You may disagree with what I teach but, if you don’t answer test questions according to the way I teach, you will fail the course." 
  • Drills
  • Make drills attractive. Competitive drills, such as relays, are especially fun for younger students.
  • Don’t linger too long on any one specific drill or exercise. This is monotonous and causes a lack of interest. It is much better to return to an exercise later than to continue it for a great length of time.
  • Explain the technique briefly first. Keep the explanation simple and to the point. Keep the voice at a conversational level and directed at each student.
  • Demonstrate each technique as slow and as perfect as possible. If desired, you may explain as you demonstrate. Demonstrate each part of a drill separately with an explanation of its purpose in the whole.
  • Safety. Stress safety as related to the performance of the drill.
  • Start slow. Practice new drills slowly with close supervision until students feel confident.
  • Critique. Constantly critique the drill to eliminate imperfection and incorrect learning. Do not tell students they are incorrect, instead, show them how to do it correctly.
  • Don't stop too soon. Continue the drill until students perform it without problems. This may take some time and tend to be tedious, so offer support and encouragement. It may be necessary to alter or vary the drill temporarily to aid the learning process.
  • Praise. Give recognition as often as possible to motivate students. 
  • A good instructor:
  • Always has his or her heart and mind in the class.
  • Is always on time.
  • Is friendly and cheerful.
  • Is polite and respectful.
  • Is always prepared.
  • Is a good listener.
  • Does what he or she preaches.
  • Is a hard worker.
  • Is a risk taker.
  • Is a success.
  • Train your successor. You must create instructors if you are ever want to take a vacation and one of these instructors will probably be your eventual replacement. As your students near the black belt rank, you should begin assessing their potential as an instructor. Look for a student who has a friendly rapport with other students, who students go to for advice, who accepts leadership and who students naturally follow, and one who enjoys teaching and assisting fellow students. Find these potential assistants and begin to develop them as instructors. In training potential assistants, tell them that as they continue to train as students they should constantly assess what you say and do and what occurs in class from the viewpoint of an instructor trainer. They should not just listen to what you say but also listen to the way you say it. You must be careful when instructing potential instructors because they will be passing on what you say to their future students who will pass it on to their students.
  • You are being watched. You will be watched all the time, even when you are not aware of it, so you must always exemplify what you want in one of your assistants. Instructor trainees should be silently analytical and appreciative of any instruction they observe. Encourage them to respectfully ask questions. Let them know that instructing is itself an art and, just as with any other art, it takes years to develop good teaching techniques.
  • The three T's of a quality martial arts instructor:
  • Technician. Ability to perform techniques in a technically perfect manner.
  • Tactician. Ability to adapt techniques to every situation and every opponent.
  • Teacher. Ability to teach others to become technicians and tacticians. 
  • Keep your best talent. Talent, like hearts, goes where it is appreciated. If you want to keep your best students in hopes they will become instructors in your school, you must make sure their efforts are appreciated. This does not mean you have to pay them, just thank them a lot, praise them personally, and praise them publicly through plaques or letters of appreciation. Provide tasks for students that match their skill levels. If students do not feel appreciated, they may go to another school. 
  • Other tips:
  • Provide tasks that match the lesson objectives.
  • Provide the opportunity for each student to get a maximum number of appropriate practice tries.
  • Monitor student activity by moving among students.
  • Identify critical aspects of a student's movement and make appropriate corrections comments.
  • Conduct a lesson closure by having students physically or verbally demonstrate their learning.
  • Show enthusiasm toward students and the material being covered.
  • Communicate clearly that learning is important.
  • The more women in your classes, the more men you will have in your classes.
  • Be especially helpful to beginning students; they are the future of your school.
  • Don’t accidentally hit beginning students, they may stop training.
  • Don’t hit on students; they came for martial arts instruction, not a date.
  • Don’t permit students or instructors to stare at new students.
  • Don’t partner new good-looking students with known lecherous students.
  • Don’t partner new, smaller students with larger students or with aggressive students.

SOURCES
  • Borba, M. (1992). Strengthening At-Risk Students’ Achievement and Behavior. Bureau of Education & Research.
  • Estes, M. and Fisher. L. (1995). Hints in Teaching Judo: A Motor Skill. The Kiai Echo, Summer 1995.

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