The star of the show…

“Waaaa-taaaah!”

“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!”

whaaataaah

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.

Excellent.

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.

 

 

 

 

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!

Thanks

 

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.

“Hajime!”

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.

“Go!”

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…

perspective

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.