Instructors>Instructing techniques>Self-assessment

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All martial arts students should practice self-assessment of performance and correction of deficiencies. These skills should be taught by instructors just as they would teach any other techniques. However, many instructors have not learned these skills themselves. Therefore, when teaching, most instructors correct errors or give praise, but neither is conducive to teaching the student how to self-correct errors. In fact, these responses tend to create excessive dependence on the instructor’s feedback and presence.


For effective learning to occur, students must receive feedback regarding performance. That feedback can be external from the instructor, or it can be internal from self-observation. Without feedback, students may learn incorrectly or not learn at all. However, feedback from just the instructor may make the student more dependent upon such feedback. Past research has mostly focused on external feedback; however, recent research indicates that internal feedback may be even more important than external feedback.

To help students develop internal methods of feedback, the first step is to provide the student with a standard of correct technique and show the student how to perform the technique. Once the student has learned the basic skill and is in the process of perfecting performance, self-correction becomes crucial.


The following suggestions may be useful in teaching students how to self-access:
  • If instructors notice students reacting to an error, such as through a nonverbal grimace or a verbal statement, they can ask the students what they noticed and how the error may be corrected. This forces the students to focus on the internal information that was apparent to them and to develop a plan for solving the problem. In addition, it lets the instructors assess the students’ internal demands of perfection, so the instructors may help the students refine those self-criticisms.
  • Ask the student questions regarding his or her performance prior to giving the student feedback. At first, these questions need to be very specific to help the student focus on different aspects of the performance. For instance, questions could include, “Did you maintain a low stance?” or “Did your punch fully extend?” If the student is unaware of certain performance errors or incorrectly identifies errors, the instructor may then explain proper performance. This method allows the student to become more observant and aware of their movements and performance.
  • An extension of the above process would be to have the student evaluate his or her performance by using a videotape or mirror as a source of feedback. However, these methods are external sources of feedback similar to an instructor’s feedback and should not be relied on to the exclusion of internal feedback. Some students may be initially unaware of internal cues and may need the assistance of the visual information.
  • By following the above procedures, the instructor is also reducing the need for external feedback. However, the instructor still needs to provide encouragement by praising proper performance by providing specific information such as “You are increasing the speed of your punches” rather than a generic “Good punch.”
Using this type of teaching requires more work on the instructor’s part and may be more difficult to implement in a group setting. However, it pays off through greater student motivation and accurate self-assessment even when the instructor is not present.

  • Frank. M.A. (2002). Mindful Practice, Using Sport Psychology Skills to Improve Martial Arts Training: Teaching Self-Correction. Physical Training. July 2002.

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