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Criticize Once. Praise Twice.

As teachers of martial arts we need to be able to readily identify an error in technique. We also must be able to communicate the correction to our students effectively,  in ways that make them feel good, so they stay involved in their learning process.

Failing to correct effectively, or in ways that make them feel stupid or inferior, does little for their development. And at the same time does little for our teaching and communicative skills.

There’s a saying, “Criticize once. Praise twice.”

I believe this is a good concept, and  a good starting point with the following caveats.

  • It’s important that before your criticize, let your student know something good they are doing with their technique.

“You’re making a lot of power with that punch Joe because of the way you use your body. Nice job!”

  • Now ask for permission to help further and add your constructive criticism.

“You’re making a lot of power with that punch Joe because of the way you use your body. Nice job! Would it be ok if I showed you how you can make it even better?”

Stubborn instructors might argue, “Why should I ask my STUDENT for permission??! They should listen to me and do what I say! I don’t need to ask for permission. I’m the sensei, they’re the student!”

Well, remember if you’re feeling like that, that’s your ego talking. Teaching is not about you being the bigger, better, stronger alpha male! Teaching is about coming from SERVICE. It’s about developing your students skill sets.

  • Praise again after your student shows an improvement, so long as there is improvement.

“You’re making a lot of power with that punch Joe because of the way you use your body. Nice job! Would it be ok if I showed you how you can make it even better?”

At this point teach the correction, and have your student repeat and reproduce with improvement.

“That’s it Joe. Do you feel the difference in your technique? Nice work!”

Do you see how this method eliminates ego, makes Joe feel good about himself and has Joe develop his skill in a positive light?

It’s a higher level approach to teaching rather than saying something like:

“Don’t be so stiff Joe… that’s why your technique lacks power. Try to relax.”

Wouldn’t you agree?

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