The star of the show…


“Hey karate-man!! whaaaaa!”

The class walked by and while most smiled and waved, a couple of  young boys made karate chops in the air while simultaneously running their mouths.

What the hell? Was I being heckled by 4th graders? You bet I was…

Part of me wanted to walk over and break the kid’s elbow. Then in my best Austrian accent drop a cool Arnold Swarzzenegger-style one-liner, “Better catch up to your class…. chop chop!”


My inner-adult however decided that might not be the best action, and so I chose to ignore the hecklers and smile at the friendlies.

Incidentally when did it become okay to be disrespectful to adults?

Oh wait, yep… I can’t pretend I never did it, but I tell you the day I got chased down by some older teenagers, one of who gave me a well placed uppercut to the solar plexus, fixed my attitude problem.

So anyway, back to my story….

I was invited to a career day at an elementary school along with some firefighters, paramedics, air force mechanics and wait for it – a UFC referee. (Super nice guy, but am I missing something here or do all kids from kinder to 4th grade watch the UFC?). We were invited to talk to the kids about the importance of hard work, continued education and commitment.

For 3 hours I did the same 15 minute presentation to each group, explaining to them what it takes to follow your dreams, how you should endeavor to be a good person, always do your best and learn something new every day. I intertwined the presentation with some basic karate exercises and techniques to keep the classes engaged and learning. For the most part it went nicely and the students responded well.

So after 8 classes and a couple of hours, guess who arrived?

Yep, you got it. My hecklers.

Oh, this was gonna be fun!

So I begin and I ask the class a few questions to which one of my 10 year old hecklers bucks the system – he disagrees with EVERYTHING I say (as expected). He’s got it in his head that he knows it all and has life all figured out.


I mean, who doesn’t at 10 years old?

So anyway I continue my class and Mr Interuptus interjects again. So at that point I ask for a volunteer – several hands shoot up, but not his… but of course I choose him. (Heh, heh, heh!)

I reach over and take his baseball cap off of his head (his security blanket) at which point he becomes compliant. He doesn’t want to be the volunteer but he’s not going to back down either.

“What’s your name?”, I ask.

“Alex. Well, Alexander”, he says sheepishly.

“Ok, thanks Alexander”

I ask Alex to bow as I bow to him, and he gives me a nod of his head. I pause and explain that respect begins with doing your bow properly, etc, and finally he executes a nice bow. Aha… we’re getting somewhere.

I say to the class, “Give Alex a clap!”.

The class cheers. Alex smiles bashfully.

“Now Alex is going to show the rest of you guys how to do a PERFECT pushup!”, I announce.

Alex’s eyes widen and he swallows hard.

Think about the psychology here – he’s been called out to perform, but doesn’t really want to, but doesn’t want to back down either. Seems like a good time to step up to the plate and show the class what he’s made of…

Alex drops and gives me 10 perfect push ups. Man, this kid is an over-achiever… could make a black belt one day with the right training. I congratulate him and tell him he did an AWESOME job!

We bow and I ask the class to give Alex a round of applause. He again smiles bashfully and I return his hat.

Alex is now on cloud 9.

The naughty kid just became the star of the show. At the same time he learned a little about respect and got a much needed self-esteem boost.

If you ever have disruptive students, this concept is key to unlocking their good behavior. Instead of coming down on them and lecturing them on what they SHOULD do, which they hear countless times a day, flip everything on it’s head and make them the star of the show. It’s amazing how well this works.

Pretty soon your disruptive students will become role models for the rest of your class.





Simple Karate Kumite Drill [Video]

We all want our students to be accurate with their technique, right?

And we’ve all got karate drills to help our students hit targets, yes?

However some drills, while they might help with one aspect of training fail in another.

For example, you might have one person holding focus mitts, while their training partner hits them with certain combinations. Or if you don’t have focus mitts, you might simply hold your hands up as targets for your partner to hit. These are both drills I’m sure you’ve done over the years as I have. And they are fine to develop some basic skills, however they have their downfalls which I have pointed out below.

  1. Targets In Incorrect Positions

    The target holder must be acutely aware of where they are holding the mitts in relation to the real target position. In other words, focus mitts must be held exactly on  the intended target, otherwise proper distance, accuracy and timing will be incorrect.

    You may have seen targets (of course you’ve never done this)  held in a lazy fashion maybe 12-24  inches away from the real target (such as in front of the face, or to the side of the body). This mistake by the target holder directly affects the technique of training partner.Often, especially with kids, the targets are nowhere near where they should be. As karate students we should be a little more intent on the accuracy of our techniques… wouldn’t you agree?

    (In MMA you see this all the time – jab/cross/jab/cross types of drills where the coach holds mitts up to either side of the face and the fighter is throwing punches wide of the real target (the head), while the coach swats their punches with the mitts.)

  2. Holding Hands As Targets

    This is another common mistake when doing these kinds of exercises. Doesn’t it make more sense that we train our students to hit real targets (head, body, back, etc) instead of hand targets?

    The problem that arises from this type of exercise is that students (especially kids) will default to throwing their techniques at their opponent’s hands when sparring. I used to see this all the time with my own students, so that’s why I’ve moved away from such exercises and now make sure they are hitting the real targets instead.

    I want their default action/subconscious to instantly hit the real target when it becomes available (such as when their opponent drops their hands or when they do something unexpected like slip over). I want my students to be on that target in a split second like a frog’s tongue snapping up a fly.

Here’s a quick 2 minute video I shot last night to show you a very simple drill that develops awareness of the real targets, improves reaction time and develops “clean hitting” for the attacker, while the target person works on covering the exposed target. We do several drills like this, each with it’s own emphasis, but this is a good one to start the process of developing a fighter’s affinity for open targets.


Kata Bunkai Drill

So you’ve seen 5 year old kids pull off remarkably sharp kata like this:

And you’ve seen competitors jump high like this (2:20):

And you’ve probably got a handful of students who are *really* sharp too…

But as aesthetically pleasing as these examples are, it surprises me how many students can’t actually apply the movements of the kata in a realistic and effective manner against another person. Fresh air techniques can look sharp and powerful, but lack of understanding and being able to actually make the techniques work are two completely different things.

Random thought…

Remember that movie “Days of Thunder” with Tom Cruise? He was ultra fast on an open track – faster than everyone else. But he had to learn to deal with other drivers pushing and nudging him, and that wasn’t so easy.

It’s the same deal here. Students might look great, but can they apply?

Here is a little bunkai exercise to help students bridge the gap between technique and application.

It works like this…

  1. Pick a random sequence of kata. To keep it simple, let’s say the first few moves of say Pinan Shodan / Heian Nidan.
  2. Have one person stand in yoi dachi (ready stance) and have their training partner approach from the left with a punch or shoulder grab.
  3. Now the first person must turn to their left, shift away and apply their bunkai. Once complete return to yoi dachi.
  4. Now the attacker approaches from the right side. The defender applies the same sequence again, but this time using the opposite side of the body.
  5. Now the attacker approaches from directly in front. The defender shifts back (or moves left or right relative to the incoming attack) and makes the application with either side of the body.
  6. Now the attacker approaches from behind and the defender must turn, shift back, left or right and apply the bunkai once more.

Advanced methods:

  1. Attacker approaches from any angle. Defender must apply using whichever side of the body that makes sense. As a general rule move to the opposite side of the incoming attack.
  2. Defender starts with their eyes closed. Attacker approaches from any angle and as soon as they begin their attack, the Defender opens their eyes and applies. The attacker can kiai to alert the Defender before the attack to give them some time to respond. (As opposed to stepping over and punching the defender in the face while their eyes are closed, and THEN then making kiai).
  3. Defender may apply any kata bunkai you specify (example – they can do any application from a chosen Pinan kata), attacker may attack from any direction.
  4. Defender my apply any bunkai they know from any kata, attacker may attack from any direction.

This is all just a precursor (as are ippon kumite, and regular kumite) to more realistic personal defense. An attacker might throw any technique from any direction at any time. The purpose of training is to be prepared for that. This exercise helps students get one step closer.



You’ve got to market and market and market and market and market and market and market…

This year to date I’ve enrolled 20 students… roughly 6 per month.

Guess how much I’ve spent on marketing during that time?


I’ve been lazy.

(Actually I’ve been extremely busy with another business. I just have fallen behind in marketing my dojo this year.)

The funny thing is that even though I’ve done nothing in terms of dojo marketing, it’s nice to know that my school is at a point where it just ticks over like clockwork bringing in new students without lifting a finger.

And I am extremely grateful for that.

However it wasn’t always that easy.

You see when I first started I was working my tail off, promoting left and right. I was doing events, posting ads, doing demonstrations, joint ventures, mailings, and doing loads of internal marketing.

I was doing exactly what a mentor of mine says, “You’ve got to market and market and market and market and market and market and market <take a breath> and market and market and market and market and market and market and market and market.”

martial arts marketing

But with so many different people telling you different things on what works and what doesn’t, how do you ever know what’s true?

Here are a list of things I’ve done over the last 12 years in terms of martial arts marketing:

  • Flyers
  • Door hangers
  • Direct Mail
  • Demonstrations
  • Joint Ventures
  • Signs
  • Bring a friend day
  • Karate parties
  • Cold calling door to door
  • Vendor booths
  • Hand out business cards
  • Web site
  • Coupon books
  • Online ads
  • Newspaper articles and ads
  • more

And you know what? Guess how many of those things I do now?


That’s 3 out of 15.

Or 20% of the things on that list.

Funny how the 80/20 rule works.

80% of your students will come from 20% of your marketing!

And I estimate the other 20% takes 80% more effort, more money and more time to acquire.

Seems like a good idea to focus on what works best, right?

But how do you know?


Test it.

What works in my community might not work for you in yours. So test what works and what doesn’t. When you find the things that work best for you, invest your time, energy and marketing budget into the things that bring you best results.

However, before you start marketing drinks for sale in 100° F weather, you might want to consider if it’s hot cocoa or ice-cold lemonade you’re going to sell.

Same holds true for martial arts. You’re not going to have a hugely successful kids program in a 55+ community. (In fact you’re not going to have much of a martial arts program at all in a 55+ community, but you understand my point!)

When I first started teaching here in the US, I didn’t want to teach kids… but because of the location where many adults commute and get home late, getting them into class has always been a challenge. However, getting kids has been easier than shooting fish in a barrel. My dojo demographic is about 20% adults (16 years and up), 80% teens and kids.

Yet back in Australia, friends of mine run dojos where their adult / kid ratio is about 50:50.

It just depends on your market, and how well you position yourself in that market.

“But I just want to teach karate… enough of all this marketing stuff!”

Yep, I hear you. But that’s why your dojo hasn’t grown in 4 years….

Truth is, if you want to grow your school or have a full time club, you’ve got to market and market and market and market and market and market and market <take a breath> and market and market and market and market and market and market and market and market.

Until you get to a point where your dojo is self-sustaining through passive marketing methods.

It took me 3 about years. Then a funny thing happened. I reached a stable 100 student strong base. And now it just seems to take care of itself with minimal effort. My active student count is around 125 right now and it goes up to as high as 140 and drops back down with seasonal changes.

And it’s been like that for the last 9 years.

Could I grow it bigger?

Of course.

Do I want to?

Not particularly. There’s a point where you need more infrastructure and employees… and it takes a lot more effort to take it to the next level. I would rather serve 125 students to the best of my ability and maintain high skill standards, than have an overcrowded dojo with massive classes and poor skills.

But if I did want to grow bigger… can you guess what I’d have to do?

I’d have to market and market and market and market and market and market…

The Kata Lottery

lotteryAs a student you’ll remember what it was like when you first were asked to make your kata in front of the class.

It’s a nerve-racking ordeal for most.

But as you know it’s one you’ve gotta overcome to progress.

For me I shook like a leaf… I was asked to perform the kata Jiin (which I’d just learned) in front of the entire school. I’ll never forget that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Looking back all these years later, I’m glad our sensei asked us from time to time to perform our kata solo. It’s one of the first steps of conquering unwarranted fear.

So once a week I run a Kata Lottery! It’s just like being audited by the IRS – you never know when it’s gonna happen, but if/when it does you just got to deal with it!

Before class begins I’ll take my students attendance cards, shuffle them and then have another student randomly pick a card. The chosen student must come up and do a kata of their choice for the class. And it might be at any time during class, so nobody has had a chance to prepare.

Muhuhuhahahaha! Evil, right?

I know. =)

But it’s a good thing so long as you are judging to assess and give positive feedback, not to condemn or humiliate in front of the group.

Try it next time in class – tell your students you have a surprise for them. It’s something new that they’ve never done before. Let them know they’ve been entered into the kata lottery and that they might just be the lucky winner!

Karate Sparring Drill to Improve Awareness and Agility

Here’s a video from earlier this year of some of my junior students showing a fun yet challenging sparring exercise.

As you can see the floor is covered with cones. The objective is to spar without knocking over a cone. So the rules for this particular match were you score a point for every technique you landed on your opponent, and also another point for every cone your opponent knocked over.

This exercise helps develop spacial awareness and agility. Surprisingly my students rarely knocked over any cones which got me thinking how could I make this sparring exercise even more challenging?

Here’s a few more ideas for you…

1) Add more cones

2) In the event a cone is knocked over, the other person wins by default.

3) Make the sparring area smaller

(For a full list of my awesomely creative skill building karate drills and exercises check out 125 Dynamite Drills here)

Can you think of other ways to enhance this exercise? If so, post ’em below!


– Jason

Subscriber Q & A

Keith writes…

“I have just started a new class for 4-7 year olds. To say they are bundles of energy is an understatement. I seem to spend the lesson with one or more of them hanging off one of my arms while another hugs one of my legs. I’m loving teaching them and getting some great things out of them and the parents tell me that they love coming to the lessons and practise what they have learnt at home. I was wondering if you had any new tips for guiding that energy and enthusiasm into direct focus and the actual karate!



Hi Keith (name has been changed to protect the innocent),

It appears you’re doing a great job “bonding” with your students and families. This is great! Every instructor should strive to create an environment that is uplifting and positive for all students. It shows you care and that you are more than just another karate instructor. It’s one of the keys to a creating and maintaining a successful dojo. Nicely done.

The flip side of becoming friendly with your students is controlling it within the context of what you do. Otherwise it makes it very challenging to do your job.  Here’s a few things to get in place so you can teach more effectively.

  • Set Boundaries

It’s great to have students who love you as their sensei but you don’t want them “loving on you” for a couple of reasons. First, as you pointed out it makes it impossible to teach the class, so you’re not really serving them in any constructive way.

Second, you don’t ever want anything being misinterpreted or misconstrued by a parent or child for that matter. As instructors it’s very important for us to establish a professional sensei-student relationship where we should only be physically making contact with a student when correcting technique.

Of course high-5s and fist-bumps are ok, but hugs or touching a student unnecessarily or in a way that might look suspect when correcting technique should be avoided.

  • Friendly Power

One of the core concepts I teach my instructors is that of Friendly Power. It means be friendly yet assertive. Set boundaries and don’t allow people (students, parents or anyone else for that matter) to overstep the mark. That means as soon as they do, you must remind them of the boundaries and enforce the rules.

I make sure my students understand this right from the beginning, and occasionally if I have a student who oversteps the boundaries, I tell them “Hey, let go of my leg! Don’t make me mess you up! Next time just give me high-5, ok?”

I do it with a smile of course, but it gets the message across.

Also you might like to create and enforce a disciplinary policy for your dojo. I wrote about this year’s ago here.

  • Structure

Once you have  points 1 and 2 above all squared away, you’ll find it much easier to teach, as students will respect you more. Then it’s time to add structure to your classes. The Golden Rule of Karate Class Structure is this..

“The less mature or the less experienced the class, the more need there is for structure.”

So for 4 year old, you best break your class up into 3-4 segments of 7-10 minutes each. Anything longer than that and they’ll lose focus. In between those sections have them do some pushups, situps or something else physical before commencing on the new section. This gives them a chance to reset their brains before having to concentrate again.

Of course there is a lot more to all this and not enough room or time for me to write a hundred pages of detailed explanation, but these three things should get you pointed in the right direction.

Hope this helps, Keith!

For anyone else who has questions that you’d like me to answer, use the contact form here to email me and I’ll do my best to feature your question on the blog. I’ll start a “subscriber Q&A” category especially for this purpose.

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!