Two karate stepping exercises…

If there is one thing that drives us karate instructors insane, it’s trying to get some consistency across our classes, particularly with basics (kihon). Here are 2 simple exercises you can do in your classes to help your students with their stepping, stance posture and transitioning.

Have your students pair up and tie a belt between themselves, attaching the 3rd belt to their own so there is a distance of about 3 feet between each other. Now your students will face each other and distance themselves so the belt is tight. The objective is to step forward/backward from one side of the room and back again, keeping the belt taught.

The second exercise is very similar but this time instead of a belt tied between the students, they must balance a stick (bo, jo, etc) between themselves. This time the stick pushes against their tummies and they must tense their abs and try to develop some abdominal tension while stepping.

Now these 2 exercises seem almost identical, yes?

Well, yes and no.

They both help students work on posture, focus and transitioning. However they do it in different ways. In the first exercise the student who is stepping back must INITIATE in order to keep the belt tight. But in the second exercise that same student must RESPOND to their partner as the stick will drop if they move first.

Same deal vice versa for the student who is stepping forward. In the first exercise they must RESPOND to their partner and in the second they must INITIATE as the belt will flop or the stick will fall respectively.

Why is this important? Why the 2 versions? Both help students realize that their bodies should be held upright (and not leaned), but do it in different ways. And as individual students tend to hold themselves differently, these exercises help form some consistency across your class.

(For more karate drills and exercises click here)

Try it out and post your comments!


– Jason

I felt like a white belt all over…

I like to think I’m reasonably coordinated at most things as I’ve played sport all my life and taken martial arts for the best part of 25 years. So there isn’t too much that I feel completely uncordinated with…

But in recent years I’ve discovered two things at which I’m completely and utterly useless.

  1. Playing the guitar (Guitar hero ok, real guitar not ok)
  2. Golf

Since it was Father’s Day last Sunday, my wife bought me a round of golf with my father in law Doug, and my brother in law Dave.

“Cool!”, I thought, “Golf! Yeah!”

I vaguely remember playing about, oh, um…. 10 years ago was it? Geez, I don’t even remember the last time I picked up a golf club. Ah, but what the heck this was going to be fun!

We were scheduled to play Sunday, so on Saturday Doug and Dave decided to go to the driving range and get in some extra practice. Unfortunately, I had another commitment so I couldn’t attend.

I wasn’t particularly happy they were going to be at a considerable advantage, both experience-wise AND the fact they’d also get in some pre Father’s Day Golf Challenge practice.


Oh well, this was still going to be a fun day, right?

So at 7:28am on Sunday morning we tee’d off.

“Just make sure you make it past the ladies’ tees on your first swing!”, laughed Doug.

“Yeah, yeah…”, I replied as I focused on the ball and lifted my club. I was sure I was going to smack this golf ball straight down the middle of the fairway and Doug would be eating his words.


I swung the club hitting the top of the ball, causing it to shoot off to the side of the fairway. Not only didn’t it make it past the ladies’ tees, the ball bounced into a ditch and lay in 3 foot of scrub.


The roar of laughter behind me and the wisecracks that followed were enough to last me the rest of the day.

“Way to go Tiger!”

“Nice one!”

“You need some help up out of there?”

For the next 18 holes I struggled. Dave gave me pointers all day long about how to stand, club selection, swing technique, the position of the ball relative to my feet, how to follow through, etc, etc. I could UNDERSTAND perfectly what he was saying.

And I could do the things he said, but I just couldn’t do them all at once. And on rare occasions I’d hit the ball like I’d been playing for years… but I couldn’t REPRODUCE the same shot twice.

I knew I wasn’t any good a golf so I didn’t have any expectations. But after 15 holes, seeing no noticeable improvement, I was becoming frustrated and I realized exactly why when I used karate as an analogy.

I was unable to get any REPETITIONS of the same technique, before having to change and do another. It was like doing a single punch, then a different punch, followed by a few different strikes and then a block.

Then at the next hole, I’d have to try to remember how to do the first technique I’d done and reproduce it again. But by that stage I’d forgotten all the pointers Dave had given me… and I’d probably mixed up a few of the things he told me too.

It was like I was trying to block up when I really should have been blocking down, and then wondering why it didn’t work. 

Man, for the first time in a long time I felt completely uncoordinated!

This experience reminded me just how important it is as a karate teacher that you work with your students on just a couple of things at a time.

Unfortunately too many karate teachers have their students do too many different things in any one class. They might begin with some basics, then some impact training, then some self defense applications, followed by a new kata, then some sparring.


My golfing experience reminded me to mention how important it is to build skill on top of skill, and then move to the next skill set, rather than working on 6 different skill sets at once. I’m sure you realize this, but do you do it? Do you give consideration to the structure of your class and how the next thing should build on the previous?
Whether you’re doing basic repetitions or using drills to disguise those reps, planning your class so students can build the muscle memory before changing to some other skill set is critical. As trying to work on 7 different things at once, leads to frustration and virtually zero accomplishment…

It’s kinda like playing 18 holes of golf without spending any time practicing putting, or an afternoon at the driving range hitting balls, and then expecting to do well…

How do you teach those irritating students?

We all have students who we enjoy teaching…

You know the ones I mean, right?

There are certain students who simply try their best every time, pick up things quickly and do it well without a complaint. I love to teach karate to students like this who are enthusiastic to learn!

Then there are those students who for whatever reason grate on our nerves. These are the ones who are easily distracted, don’t listen very well (if at all), have sloppy technique no matter how many times we correct them, guide them and help them, and it’s questionable whether they actually want to be in class.

However as professional instructors it’s important that we are able to effectively teach the good, the bad and those who lie in between.

So the other night I realized that every time I walked past one of my students who fits in to the first group, I found I was in a good mood and enjoyed helping him.

Conversely every time I passed one particular student who is the leader of the second group mentioned above, I found my physiology changing. Immediately I noticed I was less friendly, more stern and more easily frustrated when he’d make the same mistake we’ve been working on fixing for months now.

When I realized this I immediately wanted to correct that issue and give my troubled student the same good vibes as my talented student. I made a conscious decision that every time I approached the difficult student that I would pretend he was my model student, thus changing the way I reacted to his lack of focus, and found I was more enthusiastic in the way I helped him.

This in turn changed his physiology, his enthusiasm and willingness to try harder.

The result?

Well, sure not everything is perfect with his form yet. And I certainly wasn’t perfect in they way I taught either, as I could still feel that underlying, nagging feeling of aggravation when I’d see him making the same mistakes.

But it was far easier to WANT to help him than previously. And he was more receptive and felt better about himself as class continued.

So I throw this idea out there to you…

Next time you’re teaching a student who is getting on your nerves, think of him or her as one who you love to teach. Change your approach and you’ll most certainly change the results – for both of you.

Until next time,

– Jason