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

Will you teach anyone?

What’s your policy when it comes to teaching karate?

Will you teach anyone?

Or are you selective when it comes to choosing students?

I run a trial program before accepting students into my dojo to ensure they’re a good match for our program. So long as they get along with my other students, aren’t disruptive, are respectful and follow the rules, then I’ll welcome them to our school with open arms.

Otherwise… it’s the highway…

Now this isn’t an elitist standpoint where I only accept the very best. It’s very simple really – be nice, follow the rules and it’s no problem – it’s not too much to ask.

However some instructors believe that everybody should have the opportunity to learn karate no matter what. They see it as their duty to turn the lives of wayward students around and give them some structure in an otherwise structureless life.

When I first started teaching I believed in this noble cause also, but after running my own place for the last 7 years I’ve a very different opinion. Here’s why:

Some students are problematic, disruptive, high maintenance, time consuming and emotionally draining. If you accept anyone into your program, you’re going to get these types of people show up from time to time. And when they do, it’s bad news everyone concerned.

  • First, your existing students will lose out since you’re spending so much time with the bad apples in your group that the good one’s growth will suffer.
  • Second, you’ll be frustrated with disruptive classes and high maintenance students. You’ll be spending more time disciplining students than teaching karate. Disciplining students should be PART of what you do, not ONLY what you do.
  • Third, the morale you’ve built up at your club will take a dive when Mr. TalksaLot won’t shut up and just train. He’s gonna get on other people’s nerves and your existing students will become frustrated also, some to the point where they’ll leave.

I love helping other people, but not unconditionally. I will give more than what they ask for, spend extra time with those after class who need it and be grateful for the loyal students I have. But when it impacts me, my existing students or my dojo in a negative way that’s where I draw the line. 

By being selective in who you choose to teach you’ll be much happier, more successful and your loyal, hard working students will appreciate you more as a quality instructor. Accepting anyone and everyone into your dojo is a sure path to long term frustration, increased stress and a decline in the standard.

What about you? What are your thoughts?

The Kick Pod

Today is May 4, it’s my birthday and I’m feeling pretty happy. So I went to a little extra effort for you, to explain with diagrams, a simple drill I came up with last week in class to help my junior students develop their side kick…

(Yes, I know stick man pictures are awesome! )

I decided to name this one, The Kick Pod.

Here’s how it works…

Each student stands between two kick pads which lay on their side. The pads almost enclose the student with just enough room for them to be able to pick up their knee an kick outward and to the side, over one of the pads. As soon as they’ve executed the kick, they must recoil their foot to clear the pad and put their foot back down.

Now they switch legs and kick with the other side of the body, over the other pad. Have students do 20 kicks and then switch out of the kick pod with a partner. Repeat 3 times each.

Another variation is to make this a dynamic / plyometric type of exercise in which the students must jump with their feet together over both pads, then perform a side kick back over the pad before jumping back over both and repeating the kick with the other leg. Again do 20 kicks and then switch with a partner.

This is a great exercise to build strong hip flexors and develop good technique. It’s just one example of the types of karate exercises and drills that I’ve included in my 125 Dynamite Drills ebook, that I use with my students to develop their side kick. In fact you could do this drill with virtually any type of kick you like…

What variations can you come up with?


– Jason