How to get through to students who don’t listen…

“Yoi!”, I commanded.

Osu!”, the class responded.

“Bassai Dai”, I said.

“Bassai Dai”, they announced.


My advanced junior class began their kata. Two or three looked super sharp, crisp with their technique, fast with their turns and with a visual intensity strong enough to burn holes.

Then there were students whose techniques reminded me of drowning men, arms flailing as they tried to keep up with the higher ranks.

They were speeding through their kata without focus or connection, bouncing from one stance to the next, colliding like pinballs during multi-ball bonus time. I was frustrated because I’d reinforced the importance of good solid basics when practicing kata many times in the past. I pinched the bridge of my nose and closed my eyes as I thought how best to address this debacle.

“Yame!”, I said. “Come over here to the white board and take a seat.”

(Yes, I have a white board at the dojo – and it’s a great idea to write notes and explain things from time to time)

“Ok… I need a volunteer please”, I requested.

Several hands shot up and shouts of “Me, me, me!” could be heard.

“Ok, David, (name has been changed to protect the innocent) would you come up here and write your name on the board as nicely as you can please?”

David wrote his name nicely as requested.

“What do you guys think? Did David do a nice job? I think so. Now this time David, I want you to write your name a quickly as you can as soon as I say go. Got it?”

“Yes”, he replied.


The scribble that came out from his marker reminded me of Mr. Messy from the Mr. Men book series.Mr._Messy

“Ok, thanks buddy. Would someone else like to have a turn?”

I chose 3 more students to come up and try the same experiment. And guess what… all had similar results.

“So what did you guys just learn?”, I asked.

“When you write fast it’s messy?, a student replied with a silly grin on his face.

“Kind of like rushing your kata, right? When you don’t take time to complete your technique and you try to keep up with other students, your kata kind of looks like that.”

An “a-ha” moment washed over some students’ faces.

“Remember kata is an INDIVIDUAL thing, not a group thing unless you’re competing in a synchronized event. So take your time to do your technique properly and completely. Don’t worry about keeping up with anyone else. Do it right, then later on once your technique is solid, we’ll work on the speed and timing. Got it?”

“Osu!”, responded the class.

Sometimes all it takes is a little analogy or a different perspective to get through to junior students.

Let me give you another example…


In the same class I have  student who is constantly overly-dramatic with everything he does. If he falls over (which he seems to do quite often) he lies on the floor like he’s been mortally wounded. When the class is doing basics, he struggles to keep still after he completes his technique. I had talked to him about it loads of times but it just wasn’t getting through.

So earlier this week during the basics portion of class, I asked him to stand next to me at the side of the tatami while the class continued. After each oi-zuki (lunge punch) I asked him, “Do you see that?”, as I quietly pointed another student whose technique was a little shaky.

“Yes”, he replied.

“That’s what your technique looks like. Now take a look at Joseph, and watch his technique”, I whispered. At the completion of the next technique I asked him what the difference was. He identified the first student as shaky and the second one as perfectly still.

“Ok, so I want you to be like Joseph from now on. Can you do that?”

“Osu!”, he replied.

Contrast these approaches to simply barking orders, “C’mon faster! Stronger! Sharper!”. Worlds apart in teaching methodology and can you guess which gets better results?

Sometimes students think they’re doing everything perfectly until they realize they’re not. These teaching methods are powerful tools to help students come to their own realizations about their technique….. and that, is the most powerful teacher of all.

Kids Karate Game – Thieves

Here’s a quick karate game for you kids’ classes.

Use this as a warm up, a challenge or an end of class reward.

It’s called “Thieves” and works like this:

Place some cones in a large circle that spans the training floor. Each student stands next to their own cone.

Now place 20 or so extra belts in the center and make sure they’re all tangled up.

On your command, students must run to the center grab a belt and return to their cone and place the belt on the floor. Then they run back and grab another belt and so on until all belts are gone.

If two students grab the same belt, it turns into a mini tug-of-war. The first to touch their own cone while holding the belt, retains the belt and places it with their other belts.

beltscircleOnce all belts are gone from the center students must begin to tie the belts one at a time, around their waists as quickly as possible.

As soon as they are done tying they are free to run to another student’s stash of belts and steal any remaining belts, and return to their cone and start tying. If during a “steal” more than one student grabs the same belt, the first to touch their own cone keeps that belt.

Once all belts are tied and none are left on the floor the person with the most belts wins.

Couple of rules:

  1. Students can only steal belts on the floor, not from another student’s waist.
  2. Students may not steal from anyone else until all of their own belts are tied.
  3. During a “steal” students may only take ONE belt at a time, and not the entire stash!
  4. When the game is complete, if there are multiple winners then move to a second round with only those students. All other kids are eliminated.

This is a fun karate game for 5-12 year old kids. You decide how well you want the belts tied. For younger students just a single wrap with a single knot is sufficient in my experience. For older/more advanced kids make sure their belts are tied properly.

Do you have any variations or ideas for this game? Post them below!