Karate belts, your Students’ Prized Possessions

I don’t know about you, but one of the most irritating things for me as a karate teacher is having to tie kids’ belts every 2 minutes.

Yes, I know, I hear you saying, “Just make them tie it themselves!”

And for the most part they do, but there are times in my youngest class where 4 and 5 year olds have a hard time especially when they are beginners.

Now I could always go for one of those “Velcro belts” (pre-tied) that just wrap around your karate kids’ waists and never come undone, but that really wouldn’t be karate now would it? Part of the discipline is learning to be responsible and tie your own belt.

I REFUSE to go down that Velcro-belt path and you should too… (To quote my daughter, “If you do that then I won’t be your best friend!” – not sure where she got that from, but that’s 3 year old negotiation skills at their best).

Now I’m sure you ask your karate kids to practice tying their belts at home, and maybe some of them will, but you’ll always be faced with those lazy kids with over compensating parents who always tie their belts for them.

Well, last week I came up with a little incentive for my youngest kids to keep an eye on their belts and make sure they don’t come off.

I told them, “Sensei just made a new rule. If your belt comes off, then it belongs to Sensei for the rest of class!”.

A few of the litte ones laughed, some looked at me with wide eyes, and some probably wondered why I talked about myself in the third person.

Anyway, as soon as the first belt hit the floor, I quickly snatched it up faster than a magician in a coin-snatching contest and tied it around my waist, over my black belt.

The class errupted with laughter and the student who just lost their belt stood there in shock. His precious belt, his most prized possession now was tied securely around Sensei’s waist.

Not 3 minutes later the second belt hit the floor. I pounced on that one like a cat and tied that sucker on top of the other.

This time there was less laughter, some concerned looks and a lot of focus on the state of their own belts.

When the 3rd belt came off just a couple minutes later during an exercise we were doing, I claimed that one too. At that point every child checked the status of their belt. Every student pulled on their belt to make sure it was tight!

The kids without belts had anguished looks on their faces and the others realized that pretty soon Sensei would have more belts than the rest of the class if this trend kept up.

Toward the end of the class I returned their kidnapped belts, and those kids who “didn’t know how to tie their belt” suddenly learned how.

And I’m happy to report since that class, we have less belts coming off, more self awareness and less interruptions.

This little trick worked well for me, and feel free to use it too.

What methods do you use to ensure belts stay tied?

– Jason

Kinesthetic Learners, Repetitions and Socrates…

So today I want to finish up with our 4 part series on the different learning types, and how you as a teacher of a karate class can help each student.

So far we’ve covered visual and auditory learners, which you’ll recall make up the majority of our students. However there is one group that requires a different approach to learn. This group makes up about 5% of the population and learns best through “doing”. Often these students appear as the “odd ones out” in class because they learn differently. These are our…

Kinesthetic or Tactile Learners

If we go back to our simple tests to help determine learning types, you’ll notice people who learn mostly through the kinestheic process have a few common traits. Kinesthetic learners tend to fidget during visual and auditory instruction, look down as they internalize and work through their thought process, and use words and phrases that are action-based like “I understand”, “I feel”, “Let me try that”.

Some instructors mistake this as “a lack of confidence” when they see a kinesthetic learner looking down when practicing kata for example. When really, they might be thinking through and internalizing the actions of the movements. (Contrast this with a visual learner and might see them looking up left when trying to think of the next move.)

Ok, so how do we teach Kinesthetic Learners if they learn only by doing?

First off don’t expect your KL to participate in a group discussion, or listen and repeat what you just said. In my experience KLs will often be off in their own little world.

Fortunately for us as instructors, KLs are actually fairly well suited for martial arts since it’s action-based. Repetition is key and this is exactly how a KL learns best. So don’t be afraid to have your KL practice something over and over again. And dont’ be afraid to have them practice by themselves – they like it. Where as those VLs will be too busy messing around or easily distracted by the group if you ask them to do individual kata practice for example.

Also you can challenge KLs by asking them to practice something a certain way and then change one of the variables and ask them to “figure it out” for themselves. Example: Have your KLs practice a kata application but change the attack to use the other side of the body. Does the bunkai still work? In a lot of cases it will with slight modification. Have them discover it for themselves.

When KLs ask you a question, fire it back at them and ask them using the Socratic method, “Well how do you think that could be achieved?” and “Why do you think that?”, and “Based on what you just said, how does that make sense?”

This helps them learn because they will think through the challenge, feel it and understand it. (Contrast to VLs who just want you to show them!!)

Wrapping it up…

So we’ve learned more about each of the learning types in this 4 part series, and you’re now better equipped to teach. The challenge for you now is to take this knowledge and use it. As instructors we should always be looking for ways to help our students learn faster, retain more and improve their skill sets, as well as our own!

One final point:

It’s important to realize that just about everybody uses a mix of learning processes, and very rarely does a person rely solely on ONE learning process. Nearly everyone has ears and eyes and will use them. However, most people have a dominant learning process and it’s up to you to discover which process works best for each and every student.

Since you’re probably teaching mostly to a class of karate students (versus private instruction) you’ll need to incorporate ALL of the teaching methods for visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners to cover your bases. Adopt a “no student left behind” policy. If you do have the opportunity to work in a private-class scenario, be sure to predominately use the teaching method that works best for your student.

Apply these ideas and you’ll see results quickly.

Until next time…

– Jason

Kids Karate Game: The Safe Game

Here’s a great kids karate game you can use as a warm-up or a reward at the end of class, that kids go crazy for…

It’s called “The Safe Game” and here’s how it works:

  • It’s basically a game of tag / cat and mouse with a bunch of “safe groups”, and requires 10 or more  students for best results.
  • Students pair-up and stand side by side at random locations on the floor, with a minimum of about 5 feet between groups. These are the “safe groups”.
  • Then choose one student to be the Cat (the tagger) and one other to be the Mouse (the runner).
  • On your command the game begins and the Cat must catch the Mouse. The only way the Mouse can be safe is to run to a safe group and yell, “SAFE!”.
  • This action releases the person on the far side of the safe group, who now becomes the Mouse. The Cat must now catch this new person, and the new Mouse must run to another group and call “SAFE”.
  • In the event the Mouse is tagged by the Cat, roles are reversed and now the person who was being chased is now the chaser.
  • The game continues until students pass out from exhaustion, or you decide that it’s gone on long enough!

Some rules:

  1. There can only ever be 2 “safe” people in a safe group. The person on the outside is ALWAYS the person who is released.
  2. If the person on the closest end of the group accidentally runs (instead of the outer person), the game stops, the person who broke now becomes the Cat, the original Cat becomes the Mouse, and the original mouse is safe.
  3. To make this more challenging you can allow/deny “tag-backs”. You can also have 3 Mice and one Cat, so there are fewer safe groups.
  4. To make it more karate-related, have each of the safe groups stand in a different karate stance.

Try it out and let us know how it works for you!


~ Jason