Sugar and spice and all things nice? Not quite!

Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of… right?

Well, the experience I had last night would suggest otherwise…

Since I began teaching almost 18 years ago I’ve run across my fair share of students who were:

  • unfocused
  • badly behaved
  • disrespectful
  • obnoxious
  • loud
  • bossy
  • strong willed
  • argumentative
  • talkative

And rarely have I had a situation where I haven’t been able to pull them in line within half a class or so. But last night I had a student, a young female student (which was even more surprising) who displayed ALL of these qualities and more…


Little Jacklyn arrived for class early, and while her mom filled out the paperwork, the 7 year old  terror ran onto the tatami and starting causing havoc, throwing balls, screaming, and shouting at other kids.

Man, this was going to be a challenge.

“Yame!”, I shouted.

All the kids stopped and looked. “Ok, you guys, please put the balls away and line up for class!”

14 kids immediately ran into position, while Jacklyn continued doing what she was doing… running, throwing balls and being obnoxious.

I asked her to line up, showed her where to stand and gently led her to that spot.

Within 3 seconds she’d moved, and started messing around again. I went back and reset her in her position.

2 seconds later, she was back to her same tricks.

Yikes! Class hadn’t even begun.

I got down to her level and kindly explained that’s not how we behave in class. I let her know that when I ask her to do something, she needs to do it quietly. As I was about to ask her if she understood, she gave me the thousand mile stare, completely distracted like there were 100 cars, trains and buses rushing through her mind. Jacklyn then blinked so hard I thought her face might fold in half.

To cut a long story short, within a few minutes of class beginning Jacklyn was placed in “time out” for misbehaving. Less than 1 minute later she threw a fit in the corner, crying, kicking, screaming at which point I picked her up and escorted her out of class to her mother.

Wow! Only twice before have I had a kid throw a tantrum like that but never has this happened with a child during their very first lesson.

Now why am I telling you this? I’m sure you’ve had kids act out in class too.

The reason is this… years ago I thought it would be a good idea to run an introductory program. A few classes where the prospective student is on probation. If they follow the rules, try their best and not disrupt the class, they pass the test and are welcomed to join as a full member. If they don’t, we part ways. There’s no hard feelings, it’s just karate at my dojo isn’t going to be the best thing for them.

Some people will argue, “Well, this is EXACTLY why she needs karate. To discipline her!

My counter argument is this…

After a few lessons if the student can’t follow basic rules, be courteous and respectful then the problem lies far deeper than the level at which karate can help.

Discipline starts at home.

There’s only so much we can do 2-3 hours per week in karate to combat the other days of unregulated behavior. For me I see our jobs as karate instructors to teach karate. Disciplining students is PART of the program, not THE program.

I explained to Jacklyn’s mother that maybe she had a rough day (we all have those, right?) and gave her the benefit of the doubt. I also told her that she’s welcome to try again another time.

However, I also explained what had happened and the reason for the expulsion was for bad behavior, talking over me, ignoring instructions, etc. And that she might like to reinforce those things again before Jacklyn try class again. Because I can’t TEACH her anything until that happens.

I really hope this little girl gets the help she needs because if yesterday was anything typical of her regular behavior, this kid is on a train with a one way ticket to disaster.

In the 10 minutes she was in class, NONE of the other students received ANY attention. For me helping 14 students achieve their goals takes precedence over one. This is the exact reason for the intro program – to see if it’s going to work out for everybody concerned.

Do you run an intro program? If not, it might be something you’d like to consider…

8 thoughts on “Sugar and spice and all things nice? Not quite!”

  1. Kids don't join my dojo, I allow them to become a member. I invite the perspective to watch a class. If they can behave and watch the class they are given an invitation to become a member with full rights and privileges. If they can not I tell the parents that their child is not ready for Karate instruction. I am not a baby sitter nor anything else but a Karate Sensei.
    Frank Thomas

  2. Having taught Karate for the last ten years I've come to the conclusion that I will teach those that want to be taught. I ignore bad behavior. If you have to tell a student to line up pay attention, repeatedly takes away from the students that do pay attention and do follow along with the class. If they like this girl continue to disrupt class I have them wait in the waiting room, if the parent is not there and send them home if the parent is. I will gladly refund any tuition. Doing less does not benefit good student behavior.

  3. Jason, I am not an Instructor yet I do know what you are saying. I just am starting to be Assistant Instructor since I am a Red Belt. We have 2 Students that are Brothers and even though they have been coming to many classes for past 2 tests they themselves have not been allowed to test. They have more time in class than many of our Green Belts yet they do not pay attention nor do they comprehend what is going on in class. Though I am not able to ask them not to attend I would like to. When I am teaching it makes it very difficult since I am trying to do my best with students that have seen the techniques done by our instructors and I want to be a good example yet they stop me and keep asking the same questions over and over on simple techniques like Front Stance , Center Punch. I get why are we doing this or why do we have to stand in front stance is this really needed? My answer is always this is what our class is doing today and if you would like to participate your are always welcome yet I sometimes wish they would decide it wasn't for them. I do feel they don't want to be there and their Mom is the reason they keep coming. I have studied several styles with different instructors and disciplines I have always WANTED to be there so I listen. I feel the key is if a student cannot show respect and listen to instruction they are never going to grow into anything more then a weed. The Tree comes from a strong root if the root cannot be nourished it will never grow.

  4. I've never had this type of child enter my dojo before, however i'm sure it's the inevitable. At my dojo, troublesome students (children) are given one verbal reminder from (teaching the class distance), then it's push-ups for the amount of there age, beginner students are given a few verbal reminders from teaching distance, then depending on the student, it's either age push-ups or a personal walk towards the student for a closer chat (usually I'll say around the lines of "this is not the behavior of a future black-belt", this will "normally" put a smile on their face or again it depends I may say "this is not the behavior of a student interested in karate, etc".

    I don't believe a one size punishment fits all. Whilst I give out my verbal reminders, I'm buying myself time to think up what is the best approach for the student if the discipline needs to go further.
    I should tell you, I used to warn students and only "hope" that a warning or two was satisfactory enough as I wanted it to STOP right there an then (and still do) but I thought that it would be the end of it, when I had done this I wasn't only unprepared but I also didn't want to show my ugly side to the other well behaved students and waste my time and their time! I have a pretty good system in place, however as for little Jacklyn, I'm guessing non of the above would have worked, which would have led to calling her mother or if her mum was watching, I would have explained the situation in a similar fashion – which is NEVER comfortable thing to do for a teacher because you subliminally explaining that it's the parents fault! through the behavior of the child. I hate it when the parents simply then "DON'T GET IT" and continue to blame the child.

    Great work Jason – my first post, but I read your threads every time they enter my email.

    – Jeff from down under.

  5. I teach at my student´s houses, to three or four kids at a time.
    Neverheless, if I have to cope with a little twister, I let the parents know that their child needs them more than they need karate.
    So far I agree with you sensei.
    Thanks for your insights.

  6. I have taught many little Jacklyn's some had to leave and some figured it out and became great martial artists. It sounds like you kept the door open for her to return when she could behave or matures a bit more. That is all you can do. We allow the parents to stay for our younger students. This helps with separation anxiety issues and behavioral issues. However make it clear to new parents that you are in charge and any questions should be discussed after class.

  7. This is wonderful, but how do you actually address and explain to the parents that their child is just too disruptive, and karate at this dojo isn't going to be the best thing for them? How do you do this tactfully do it without getting them upset? I'd rather have student that WANT to be there.


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