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Instructor considerations


A yellow belt walked up to the Gates of Heaven and asked to be let in. "Tell me one good thing you did in your life," St. Peter asked him. "Well," replied the yellow belt, "One time I saw my instructor yelling at a white belt, so I stepped up and told him that he shouldn’t do that." "When did this happen?" asked St. Peter. "Oh, about 30 seconds ago," said the yellow belt.
A martial art instructor's job is to teach you to become proficient in a martial art and help you become the best martial artist you can be. Nothing else really matters. How physically fit the instructor is, how many trophies the instructor has, how educated the instructor is, how successful the instructor is, how wealthy the instructor is, how nice looking the instructor is, how old the instructor is, etc. do not matter. If these things are of more concern to you than becoming a great martial artist, then it will be easy for you to find an instructor. However, if finding an instructor that is capable of and willing to mold you into a great martial artist is your goal, then your task will be tougher. Great instructors are difficult to find.

Instructors are like coaches. They do not have to be able to perform what they teach, but they must have the ability to get students to perform what they teach, and perform it well. Some instructors may be tournament champions, which is great for them, but it does not necessarily mean they are good instructors. Students hire instructors for what the instructors can teach them to do, not for what the instructor can do. Many times, a good instructor may also be a great technician, but this does not necessarily make him or her a good instructor.

Good instructors love teaching the martial arts and can motivate students to love training in the martial arts. Good instructors can point out specific things each student may do to improve his or her techniques. They can see the small problems that, when corrected, can make a good performance a great performance. Good instructors motivate students to do more than the students ever felt possible.

Teaching style

If an owner’s name is on the door, then he or she should do most of the teaching. If you are paying to be taught by the owner, the owner should do the teaching.

During a class, observe the differences between exercise, practice, and instruction. Some instructors are like drill sergeants, they emphasize the lengthy repetition of techniques that seldom vary. Other instructors conduct a brief warm-up, vary the types of drills and repetitions according to class needs, and they teach how to perform the techniques. Other instructors expect their students to warm up before class, frequently surprise students with variations on the basics, and teach concepts.

When looking for a martial arts instructor, observe the teaching style of several instructors before picking one.

Qualities of good instructors

  • Good instructors use structured classes. They start and end class with a formal salutation and demand formal courtesies during class.
  • Good instructors use exercises judiciously. They use short periods of warm-up exercises before class, and a few cool-down stretching exercises at the end of class. They only use medically correct exercises. They don’t just blindly use outdated exercises they learned from their instructors; they investigate the purpose and effect of each exercise and discard any that are useless or potentially harmful. They encourage students to do warm up, stretching, and conditioning exercises before class and at home. Good instructors stress to students that it is their responsibility to maintain themselves in top physical condition. 
  • Good instructors encourage team spirit.
  • Good instructors maintain strict, but not overbearing, discipline during class.
  • Good instructors are always concerned about safety.
  • Good instructors explain proper techniques and why they must be performed in the manner they are taught. They explain the physics behind each movement and explain each movement's component parts. When students correctly understand the physics of techniques, it makes it easier for them to understand why they must perform the techniques in the prescribed manner.
  • Good instructors encourage students to ask questions and always answers questions to the best of their knowledge. When good instructors do not know the answer to a question, they tell the student that they will find the answer and get back with the student, and then they will ensure they do get back with the student.
  • Good instructors teach the best techniques that they know. They tell students when they are teaching modified techniques or techniques that are replacing older techniques. They try to teach each student something new every class; but not more than the students can absorb and remember. They allow adequate class time for students to practice new techniques.
  • Good instructors make step-sparring, self-defense, patterns, and free-sparring a part of every class.
  • Good instructors try to make each class an enjoyable experience for students. They appreciate the emotional thrill that students experience when they do things that they had previously thought they were incapable of doing.
  • Good instructors encourage students to help each other learn. They pair senior belts with junior belts to reinforce proper techniques and behavior.
  • Good instructors use positive reinforcement—the most productive teaching method. They praise good performance when they notice it. When students perform a technique incorrectly, they avoid giving criticism and explain to the students how to improve the technique. If students must be criticized, good instructors do it in private. They explain to students that undesirable behavior will not be tolerated because it is discourteous, wastes other students' time, makes it difficult for others to learn, and may result in injuries to others as well as to themselves. 
  • Good instructors never ridicule or embarrass students; they know it can destroy the self-confidence of students. They try to build self-confidence and self-esteem in students since it is essential to producing excellent martial artists. They complement students repeatedly for some attribute, action, or accomplishment, so the students feel good about themselves. After a promotion test, they acknowledge and congratulate each student in front of the entire class. After a tournament, they complement each student for every award and, for those who did not win an award, they acknowledge their courage and initiative for participating.
  • Good instructors treat students with respect and ensure student dignity is maintained. Students refer to the instructor and each other as mister and miz, and answer as sir or ma'am. This helps all students, especially children, learn to be respectful of others. They never use punishment as a teaching tool because it is degrading and counterproductive. Good instructors attribute student misbehavior to their own failure to motivate the student to be a good student. When students exhibit undesirable behavior, it usually indicates insecurity, especially among children. 
  • Good instructors try to praise something positive that students do, even if it is difficult to find something, to encourage positive behaviors. If students obviously do not want to participate, instructors may eventually have to ask them to leave. Then they may have to explain to the parents that the student really does not want to learn the martial arts and should try another activity.
  • Good instructors never tire of teaching.
  • Good instructors never abdicate the role of instructor, even outside the school. Students, and the public, watch everything instructors do, both inside and outside the school. Good instructors always present themselves as the epitome of martial arts values.
  • Good instructors teach to the best of their ability and continually strive to improve their knowledge and skills. They constantly seek the latest techniques and teaching methods, and incorporate them into their instruction.
  • Good instructors are eager for their students to surpass them, since this is the ultimate compliment. They never hold students back just because they are advancing too quickly. They send their students to a higher instructor or a different school if the students develop beyond their teaching capabilities.
  • Good instructors encourage students to visit other schools, or even other martial art styles, where they may observe techniques more suited to them and may compare their own techniques to those of the other styles.
  • Good instructors feel responsible for the welfare of their students. They encourage students to associate with their classmates and they help students develop good contacts outside the school that may be beneficial to them. They place student development ahead of commercialism; instructors who are too concerned with materialism will lose the respect of their students.
  • Good instructors maintain a formal relationship with their students and avoid social or personal familiarity. Instructors who have personal affairs with students lose student respect and may create uncontrollable situations that develop a dishonorable reputation.
  • Good instructors never take advantage of their students by way of positional authority. Good instructors are not "power hungry." They exercise their authority to maintain control of their classes, but they do not abuse their authority.
  • Good instructors never betray a trust given in confidence. They always set a good example. They continuously work to earn the respect of their students and never take the respect for granted.
  • Good instructors have the highest level of personal integrity. Good instructors are always honest and never attempt to defraud students. They always make decisions based on what is best for their students and the school.
  • Good instructors treat all students equally and show no favoritism. They ensure individual attention is distributed evenly amongst all students during a training session. They never strike or abuse students under any circumstances.
  • Good instructors display a quiet and calm demeanor. Good instructors never appear frustrated or temperamental, even when under duress or in pain.
  • Good instructors learn from their students. An instructor is merely a student of his or her students. Good instructors are guided by their students and are only as good as their students.

  • Aymar, E. A., Beveridge, C. R. and Coleman, J. (1999). How to Choose the Right Martial Arts School
  • Pipkins, J. The Newbie Guide to Martial Arts Training. [Online]. Available: [1999, December 5].
  • Wong, D. L. (1974). Shaolin Fighting. Theories and Concepts. Hollywood, California: Curtis Wong Enterprises.

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