Recently one of my subscribers, Michael, asked:
“My sensei had me teach some kids the first taikyoku kata last night and he told me that whenever one of them did a movement incorrectly to make them do pushups. So we get going and I have them drop down to do pushups a few times before I realize that one of the youngest kids maybe 10 or 11 isn’t even trying and getting it wrong all the time.
I ask him if he is sick and he says he is tired so I ask him if he wants to sit down and he says no. So we keep going and he still isn’t even trying. Every time the group has to drop down to do pushups he lets out an upset sigh and is dragging the group back. It got to the point to where I just didn’t even focus on him and focused on the rest of the group. But I’m not sure how to deal with kids like that who don’t really want to be there.
What’s your take on it?”
I told Michael I’d answer his question in today’s post since this type of thing, seems to be all too common in martial arts. My answer is below:
First, thanks for your question Michael.
This type of an approach for correction is a low level response to the real problem. Sure there are times when I use pushups to motivate or incentivize students to do better, but I do this sparingly. I use pushups usually to “amp up” their energy, or on the rare occasions I have a group of students who insist on being apathetic when I know they’re capable of better.
In a beginner class however, patience is required as basic skills haven’t yet been honed. Giving students pushups because they keep making mistakes doesn’t usually make them any better. It makes them feel badly and makes them more tired. It also takes away from their practice time in which they could be practicing the correct way to do their technique.
It reminds me of a t-shirt I have that states, “The beatings will continue until morale improves”.
Maybe it should read, “The pushups will continue until the kata is right”. Doesn’t make much sense, does it?
An alternative to pushups whenever there is a mistake is to start the kata over. That way, students feel the pressure of needing to perform but aren’t physically exhausting themselves. I’ll use that approach every now and again, however realize there is a mental fatigue point also.
The longer this process goes on, the more likely mistakes are going to happen. However, this approach does get students thinking about making the right movements, and it also reinforces the repetitions.
If you simply have a student who keeps making mistakes you need more information before choosing a course of action. Is he making mistakes because he hasn’t learned the skill yet? Or is he making mistakes because he’s feeling apathetic?
These are 2 completely different issues and should be addressed as such. One requires more or better instruction, while the other is motivation related.
If it’s the latter, then you need to find out what’s going on. Is he generally a good student, but he’s been up since 6am and his Dad yelled at him before class? Or is he nearly always lethargic and really doesn’t want to be there? (Sometimes this can be diet-related, or lack of water / sugar to the brain.)
However it usually comes down to interacting with students in a way they can relate to. Some respond better to the carrot, some respond better to the stick. Also it would be helpful to know what kind of learner he is. This will help you understand him better, which will allow you to teach better. You can read up on my series about the different kinds of “learners” below:
Great question, hope this helps!
P.S. For anyone else who has a question you would like answered please email me. Maybe yours will be featured here on the blog…