Kata Mentoring Method

Have you ever taught a class where you’ve simply had too many students for you to teach effectively? You feel like you’re being pulled in 10 different directions at once? Everyone is crying out for your attention and you’re spread too thin…

Let’s say you have 16 students but you need to work on kata, but you have a mix of grades, black belts, white belts and several colors in between. If you just work on the simple kata as a group, the black belts get bored. If you work on the advanced stuff, the others become overwhelmed. If you start with the simple kata and work your way to the advanced kata, eliminating students as you go… well you’re excluding students, and wasting valuable time in which they could be learning or practicing.

karate kataWhat to do?

When I’m confronted with such a scene I often use a method that makes the higher grades feel important, helps the lower grades gain a different perspective and simultaneously helps everybody learn. It’s kinda like a “big brother” program where an older person volunteers to mentor a younger person. I call it the  Kata Mentoring Method (KMM).

The way I use this method while teaching a karate class is to have the higher grades partner with lower ranked students. I then assign a kata for the less experienced student to learn or refine and make it the higher belt’s job to teach it to them. After all students have paired off, I give them 15 minutes or so to work together to improve their kata. At the end of the time, both “mentor” and “student” will present the kata they’ve been working on for the rest of the class.

Sometimes I have them do the kata in synchronized fashion, and sometimes they might demonstrate the bunkai / application.

This method has so many wonderful benefits.

  1. Lower ranked students learn from someone other than you.
  2. Your higher ranked students (mentors) impart with some of their knowledge, which also helps them learn.
  3. Your higher ranked students are acknowledged and feel significant.
  4. Your higher ranked students learn to develop leadership, communication and teaching skills.
  5. Students work together with each other which forms bonds and friendships.
  6. It takes the pressure off of you as a teacher.

Have you tried this method before?

If not I highly recommend you do… and don’t be concerned if your mentors aren’t perfect. They aren’t. Neither are you or I. The important thing is that something will be learned by both mentor and student, and nobody is excluded during class. You’ll also see an improvement in morale and develop a group that supports each other.

– Jason


9 thoughts on “Kata Mentoring Method”

  1. Jason,

    This is a fantastic method that I’ve also used, and which I highly recommend.

    I’ve also used it successfully with kumite – pairing students who then think of 2/3 step combination. They practice on each other, then demonstrate to the class. The students love it!

    Keep up the good work.


    Nigel Kersh

  2. Have used this method for many years successfully ~ have found as the Senior Students breaks the Kata down to the lower Grade they themselves learn and understand more of the Kata ~ the teacher is teaching the teacher.

    Richard Holdstock ~ Sensei
    Goju Ryu Bushido Karate Academy
    Blacktown City NSW Australia

  3. Thanks guys. As Nigel said, you can use this method for not just kata, but kumite, combinations, self defense application, etc. You’ll just have to change the name of the method… 😉

  4. As much as I love to say to my higher belts “to teach is also to learn”, how do you get them (the mentors)to learn their kata using this method if they are teaching all the time? Some higher belt students love to help out but others will (and do) say “I came here to train and learn, not to teach”. How do you accommodate those students using this method?

    Sensei Matt Cutler
    National Karate Academies
    South Australia

  5. Hi Matt,

    It’s a good question… I don’t use this method “all the time”, just every now and again when the time is right, so the mentors aren’t always teaching.

    I use this in a situation like described in the post, but I try to find extra time somewhere during class or hold a special class for my higher grades where we work exclusively on kata for them only.

    Of course if your mentors are teaching basic kata all the time they’re not learning their next kata – so it doesn’t work in that instance.

    However if a student is telling you “I came here to train and learn, not to teach”, it sounds like you might be having them do too much on that front. If they’re not doing a lot of teaching and giving you a hard time, they’re out of line… we all know you learn so much through teaching others.

    Your mentors might also be uncertain of their roles at the dojo. Are they students? Are they recognized instructors? Do they know where they fit in?

    I clearly define which senior students are “assistant instructors”, (through an application and careful selection), then put them through a teaching program and give them defined responsibilities. I don’t recall ever having an assistant instructor tell me they’re not there to teach.

    I hope this helps…

    – Jason

    • Thanks for the clarity Jason. ‘Those” students are no longer with me and classes are better for it. I always felt honoured to be asked to help teach in class in my early training as I’m sure your readers did/do and as you say, my selection of helpers/mentors now is very careful.



  6. I think this way of instructing creates class bonds. The new student gets to mingle with the more advanced students. The new student becomes more comfortable with the class dynamics. The more advanced student grows their leadership skills along with understanding their katas. It is a wonderful way. This has been going on for as long as I have been in the martial arts, 1973. I have had people confront me as well over the years. Most people love it they see it aids in speeding up the promotion process along with aiding in self esteem. Some people do not understand it so I offer them private lessons. They normally stick with the original program!

  7. Thank you for this post and the responses. I have been doing this with both kids and adults (directly following a kyu exam). It is beneficial to everyone. And as was discussed it can’t be done all the time. Sometimes I mix it up too – having all ranks do Heian Shodan for example. Basics are always important and it is good to return to the basics (as if we really ever left them!). It helps with remembering katas too.
    I think we do have to be careful who teaches however. It’s not a great idea to have everyone as a teacher. We all need to know our roles and respect our ranks. Just because you attain Shodan does not make you a teacher for example. We have to keep our egos in check. Even as a sensei I am also a student. This is very important and keeps me very humble.


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