Is This Really Your Best Effort?

“Is this your best effort, Thomas?”, I ask.

A somewhat nervous purple belt glances at me. Disappointed. He knows he could be doing better.

“No”, he answers slowly.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know”

“I don’t know either…”, I reply.

This dialog is familiar. It’s not the first time we’ve exchanged these words. Yet for whatever reason Thomas tends to make half-hearted efforts most of the time. Occasionally he will give his best but more often than not, he doesn’t. It’s disappointing to me to see this with a talented student.

Sound familiar?

If you’re anything like me you explain to your students how important it is to give your all when you train. You and I both know you’ll do what you know best under duress. Practice to be slow and you’ll be great at being slow. Practice with great effort accompanied by an attitude for continual improvement and you’ll develop skills that will serve you well.

As instructors, we realize this relationship between effort and results but many students don’t yet possess the experience to connect these dots; particularly beginners and kids. Some students believe that they can cruise through class like they’re driving a convertible Mustang, one hand on the wheel with the wind blowing through their hair. They come to class regularly so they think they “know it all”. They also believe when it comes time to race that Mustang they’ll know what to do.

Not true.

You are what you practice to be.

That’s why champion sports teams adhere to the old adage,

“We train like we play, and play like we train”.

So after class recently it got me thinking…

“As an instructor do I practice what I preach? Do I give my best effort in every class?”

If we’re going to ask our students to give their best while training, I believe we ought to do the same while teaching. It’s only fair to walk the walk if we’re going to talk the talk.

I’ve spent the last 15 years building my dojo and have taught over 15,000 classes during that time. I’m always analyzing each class for things I could do better from the words spoken, to the way content is presented and taught, to the individual coaching a student receives. Always looking to set a new gold standard.

However like Thomas, from time to time I get preoccupied with the business details of the dojo, the craziness of the outside world or little things going on in life and I know I can do better.

Can you?

As a professional certified trainer I’ve acquired the tools, techniques and methods for public speaking, body language and communication… but occasionally (most often when I’m tired and feeling unresourceful) I’ll slip back to doing what’s easiest and not what’s ultimately best practice.

This led me to look for a solution. An introspective search for a mental trigger I can press before and during class to bring out my best as an instructor.

What I discovered was a simple question that focuses my attention. The question is this:

“How can I make this class the best class ever?”

Sure, this seems a little too simple at first glance but asking this before class stimulates my creative mind and helps me search for an answer based on my past experience. It helps me make a mental plan of what to cover content-wise, what structure my classes might take and what drills and exercises I might employ.

It’s also useful to ask this question during class when things aren’t going as well as I’d hoped. My mind immediately starts to look for ways to reignite the class. I may have to present/explain something in a different way to get my point across. I may create a new exercise on the fly to help students join the dots. More often than not, it may help me avoid a tailspin. And if my students sense my 100% engagement, they’re more likely to put forth an effort as well. All thanks to a simple question.

That’s the wonderful thing about the human mind… when you ask it a question it looks for an answer whether you like it or not.

So…in an effort to bring out your best as an instructor my question to you is, “How can you make your next class your best class ever?”

And my next question to Thomas will be, “How can you make this your best effort ever?”

Until next time…

Stay safe. Train hard.

– Jason

3 thoughts on “Is This Really Your Best Effort?”

  1. I can honestly say, I’ve never had that problem. Because, my students were paying for the class, and, I knew that they would quit if they found no value in my teaching methods.

    I also always paired them with someone who was really hungry to learn, and was very serious in their approach.

    Students on the receiving end, were not eager to be struck no matter how lightly the aggressive student might strike them. The more aggressive students really blocked hard, motivating the other students to strike fast and hard.

    With every training session, everyone in the gym would stop even to watch the ferocity of the five (5) and six (6) year old students (they were so cute), especially when they performed kata. These were good kids who were not bullies.

    I cannot take any credit for the superb performances of my students, because availability to classes in Japanese Karate was rare in my area. I therefore continued to get students who wanted to take advantage of any opportunity to learn Japanese style Karate.

    • Hi Jose, it sounds like your students are probably more the “exception than the rule”. Congratulations! You must be engaging your students very well never to have had the issue of a flaky student.

      I’ve found with smaller class sizes it happens less often as students know they’re the focus of my attention and there’s nowhere to hide… so they give their best more often than not. With a larger class it’s more frequent for a small percentage of students to slack off.

  2. I always believe in quality not quantity, over the last 20+ year as an instructor i always maintained a small class approx 12 students, this way allows to focus on each student and help them develop the best way they can, obviously they are different in their ability physically and mentally, therefore as a teach you adapt your approach accordingly to get the best out of each student. I always state to them, “the end result is rewarding, push, push and keep pushing” and also “No pain, No gain”.


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