Where do you look?

Many new instructors are as nervous as a lambs going to slaughter when they’re asked to stand up and instruct a class. Thoughts start racing through their heads like…

“What if I forget what to say?”

“What if I forget what do do?”

“What if I freeze up?”

“What if…. [insert favorite fear here]?”

Truth is all of those things happen to every new teacher at some point…just the same way as you’ve frozen in front of the class when doing your kata. And one of the most unnerving things for new instructors is when their students stare back at them like the snake-haired Medusa of Greek Mythology turning them to stone right there in their gi.

To avoid freezing up the most common reaction to the “death stare” is to avert the eyes and look away, or at the ground.

However these two options don’t really instill confidence in your students that you’re a self assured instructor if you can’t maintain eye contact when addressing your class.

Fortunately after teaching a few thousand classes, I’ve been able to try a few different things over the years that help with avoiding direct eye contact (if that freaks you out, like it used to do for me) but allows you to look confident even when you’re not. Here are some options…

Method # 1 – Look at the back wall at head height 

I used to do this when I first started teaching and this was a helpful start. When using this method it’s important to move your gaze from side to side as you instruct, so as you don’t appear to be zoning out and disengaging from your class. Do it right and it won’t look like you’re lacking confidence. However if you’re looking in the same spot every class, your students will pick up on this and wonder what’s so interesting behind them. 

Method #2 – Look at your student’s mouths

Body language experts like Allan Pease (The Definitive Book of Body Language – excellent book by the way), have revealed that most people tend to look at each other mouths when engaging in conversation, and not the eyes. Yet I’m sure you’re parents said to you as a kid, “Look at me when I speak to you!

It’s kind of ironic that speach/hearing have far more to do with using the mouth and ears than looking someone in the eyes don’t you think?  

Nevertheless confidence is often associated with making eye contact when talking. So if you have trouble looking at someone in the eyes when you talk, look at their mouth instead. Apply this method and it’ll appear that you’re displaying confidence and making eye contact, even if you’re doing neither. 

Try these ideas next time you teach and you’ll notice your students will be more attentive and receptive to you. You’ll appear more confident and through the process will gain more natural confidence over time, until nervousness in front of the class will be a thing of past…

– Jason


There’s a exercise I do with my junior students from time to time where I give them 15 minutes to make up a kata…

Basically they pair off and work together to create a short kata of 10-15 moves which they’ll come up and demonstrate in synchronized fashion for the rest of the class. The only guidlines I give them are these:

  • be creative, try to think of something unique yet practical
  • you may take sequences from other kata, so long as it doesn’t exceed 3 concurrent techniques
  • it must make sense application-wise (and I might ask them to demonstrate the bunkai after their performance)

So last year when I asked my class to do this simple exercise, for the most part the boys were horrible at it. They had a hard time getting it together, some completely freaked out about the idea they would be demonstrating for everyone else, and this paralyzed them taking action and creating something.

However, the girls on the other hand got to work. They talked, they practiced and they created. And when they came up to demonstrate they were fast, sharp and crisp.

I chuckled when the winning pair (Amanda and Sophie) announced their kata, while other kids in the class were confused.

Their kata’s name? 


Customer Review of 125 Dynamite Drills

I just wanted to share this review that a customer emailed me recently…

Thanks Paul!

“Good Morning Jason,

My name is Paul McCartan and I run a dojo in Alberta, Canada. I purchased your ebook [125 Dynamite Drills] the other day and I’m extremly happy that I did. Not only is the book very will thought out, it is easy to follow with each page having a separate drill, and I also really enjoyed the bonus material as well.

I have so many great ideas running through my head as to changes I would like to make in order to have classes that are split up into the three age groups with some fun for the children. I cannot express enough how pleased I am that you under took such a project for some of us “struggling sensei.”

I run my dojo in traditional way and although that has worked for me and a handful of others I do have a hard time with the smaller children who want to play games and teenagers that need to be motivated through some thoughtful drills.

Being able to teach them their basics while they are having fun is a great way for me to keep them motivated and still learning.

Thanks again,

Paul McCartan