Sugar and spice and all things nice? Not quite!

Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of… right?

Well, the experience I had last night would suggest otherwise…

Since I began teaching almost 18 years ago I’ve run across my fair share of students who were:

  • unfocused
  • badly behaved
  • disrespectful
  • obnoxious
  • loud
  • bossy
  • strong willed
  • argumentative
  • talkative

And rarely have I had a situation where I haven’t been able to pull them in line within half a class or so. But last night I had a student, a young female student (which was even more surprising) who displayed ALL of these qualities and more…


Little Jacklyn arrived for class early, and while her mom filled out the paperwork, the 7 year old  terror ran onto the tatami and starting causing havoc, throwing balls, screaming, and shouting at other kids.

Man, this was going to be a challenge.

“Yame!”, I shouted.

All the kids stopped and looked. “Ok, you guys, please put the balls away and line up for class!”

14 kids immediately ran into position, while Jacklyn continued doing what she was doing… running, throwing balls and being obnoxious.

I asked her to line up, showed her where to stand and gently led her to that spot.

Within 3 seconds she’d moved, and started messing around again. I went back and reset her in her position.

2 seconds later, she was back to her same tricks.

Yikes! Class hadn’t even begun.

I got down to her level and kindly explained that’s not how we behave in class. I let her know that when I ask her to do something, she needs to do it quietly. As I was about to ask her if she understood, she gave me the thousand mile stare, completely distracted like there were 100 cars, trains and buses rushing through her mind. Jacklyn then blinked so hard I thought her face might fold in half.

To cut a long story short, within a few minutes of class beginning Jacklyn was placed in “time out” for misbehaving. Less than 1 minute later she threw a fit in the corner, crying, kicking, screaming at which point I picked her up and escorted her out of class to her mother.

Wow! Only twice before have I had a kid throw a tantrum like that but never has this happened with a child during their very first lesson.

Now why am I telling you this? I’m sure you’ve had kids act out in class too.

The reason is this… years ago I thought it would be a good idea to run an introductory program. A few classes where the prospective student is on probation. If they follow the rules, try their best and not disrupt the class, they pass the test and are welcomed to join as a full member. If they don’t, we part ways. There’s no hard feelings, it’s just karate at my dojo isn’t going to be the best thing for them.

Some people will argue, “Well, this is EXACTLY why she needs karate. To discipline her!

My counter argument is this…

After a few lessons if the student can’t follow basic rules, be courteous and respectful then the problem lies far deeper than the level at which karate can help.

Discipline starts at home.

There’s only so much we can do 2-3 hours per week in karate to combat the other days of unregulated behavior. For me I see our jobs as karate instructors to teach karate. Disciplining students is PART of the program, not THE program.

I explained to Jacklyn’s mother that maybe she had a rough day (we all have those, right?) and gave her the benefit of the doubt. I also told her that she’s welcome to try again another time.

However, I also explained what had happened and the reason for the expulsion was for bad behavior, talking over me, ignoring instructions, etc. And that she might like to reinforce those things again before Jacklyn try class again. Because I can’t TEACH her anything until that happens.

I really hope this little girl gets the help she needs because if yesterday was anything typical of her regular behavior, this kid is on a train with a one way ticket to disaster.

In the 10 minutes she was in class, NONE of the other students received ANY attention. For me helping 14 students achieve their goals takes precedence over one. This is the exact reason for the intro program – to see if it’s going to work out for everybody concerned.

Do you run an intro program? If not, it might be something you’d like to consider…

Raising the concentration level

First off, my apologies for the elapsed time since my last post…

Things have been a little crazy. In all honesty I’ve barely had time to write leading up to last month’s WEKAF Stickfighting World Championships – a lot of hours being eaten up right there…

And today I’m off to Australia for 10 days so there’ll be another break from posting here, but before I go I wanted to share with you a little exercise I did this week with my 5-7 year old class and then again with my adults. Surprisingly the little guys did this better!

If you teach kids you’ll know how challenging it can be for both you and them to hold their concentration when doing basics, especially line work (stepping forward/backward making basic technique). It gets repetitive. It gets boring. And with the level of ADHD out there these days, it’s even harder than ever for kids to focus while they step and punch.

One of the ways I get students to stop tilting their head down is to have them balance something on the top of their head as they step from stance to stance. A pad, a pillow or a paper cup work well. But this time I dared to try something that would for sure increase their concentration level. And for me I was wondering if I would regret my impulsive decision to have them attempt this…

This time I gave them the paper cup filled with water. I had my students line up at one side of the room and carefully placed the cup of water on their head and asked them to practice oi zuki (lunge punch/step over punch) very slowly and carefully from one side of the room to the other.

The rules were simple… make it across the room without spilling the water then step backwards making gedan barai (lower block) to the start position. You spill it – you get wet. You spill it – you wipe up the mess.

What followed was the highest level of concentration I’ve seen from my 5 year olds. Very carefully they moved back and across the room with more focus than a guided missile. And the joy on their faces after they successfully completed the task was priceless.

Later that night my adults tried the same exercise, and again the concentration level was raised. I guess spilling cold water down the back of your gi, having to clean it up or being the first to fail at the task was incentive enough for students to give their best.

This exercise was a huge success with only a couple of casualties from the cup o water concentration exercise!

Try it if you dare…

– Jason