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.

4 thoughts on “Subscriber Q & A”

  1. Hi,

    I used to conduct karate classes 2-3 years ago. Most of my students were of the age group 3-7 years old. Yes, in a way it’s somewhat difficult to keep your students on the right track, but this technique worked for me very well. I used to tell them some short historical stories of some martial arts figures and their lightning speed actions. Though it was a kind of fiction but still I used to make it more dramatic and ask my students, “let’s see who kicks faster and harder like Bruce Lee”.

    To make this more productive I showed them some martial arts movie scenes on a projector once in a month. And yes, it should not be too violent! Kid’s love such things and we need to give good examples of discipline maybe through a movie scene and make them understand peacefully that they can also follow this! We need to be very enthusiastic while dealing with kids under 7-8 y.o. and motivation is always needed.

    Thanks Jason for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts! 🙂

  2. Keith, what you need is a SWAT TEAM special winning attitude team
    We run a class for 4-6 yrs
    We hold it for half an hour only, twice a week
    Our swat team ( wearing a red Gi) to distinguish them help out with the ‘leg holders’
    They develop a relationship with them and the little ones begin to trust them

    We start this off by having an intro lesson 1 to 1 with the swat member, parent can be there and straight away that student knows one person. The intro lesson lasts 15 mins and covers the bare essentials. Block, punch, kick and a simple escape technique.

    Then after the intro lesson the student joins the class with that SWAT MEMBER by their side for the whole lesson and I’d need be for the next few lessons. Works for us.

  3. I agree with most of the answers that have been given, and would like to add a suggestion or two. Breaking the class into 3, 5, and 10 minutes segments, with different material is clutch. Clearly defining that change with something like push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, etc. is perfect. I would suggest games for kids this age: for example Simon says, only it is sensei says, is a great way for you to see what the kids know, “sensei says horse stance,” any student who didn’t do the correct stance sits and waits for the next round. I suggest the number of rounds is always the same and never exceeds 3 rounds.

    You should find games that either do or can enhance karate skills and/or build strength ie: tag; if you use one of those pool noodles for your tag game, they are hard pressed to really hurt each other. The little “sting” they might feel is building toughness. Also as they are “frozen” have them stand in a horse stance wide enough for another student to “unfreeze” them by doing an “army man crawl” between their feet – note it only works if the horse stance is wide enough.

    Good luck with your little ones.

  4. I currently teach a class through the local parks and Rec. My class age bracket is 6-12 and the majority of my class is under 8. I agree with a lot of what Jason wrote. For me the most important factors are structure, consistency and fun. Structure for the sake of the students knowing what to expect. I begin my class the same way, doing the same format and stretching exercises. I am consistent with review at the beginning and the end. Of course there needs to be some fun. Much of it is to hone the things i am teaching them and some is just to burn off energy.


Leave a Comment