Four Basic Rules for Teaching Martial Arts to Kids

When I first started teaching karate to kids I had a hell of a time trying to control the class. They would be talking and messing around, rolling on the floor, pushing each other and all that fun stuff. I had no idea teaching martial arts to kids would be so challenging…

I mean adults didn’t screw around like this, why would kids?

Didn’t they know there were rules and regulations?

And why weren’t they following my directions?

Uggh! Sometimes I felt like I was herding cats.

With a dozen or so 5 year old white belts in class I quickly realized they needed a lot of individual attention to keep them interested, entertained and motivated. The dilemma of course was there was only one of me and 12 of them. As soon as I’d give attention to one kid, another would be interrupting. Like most new instructors I had no clue what to do.

Some days I would get so frustrated I’d want to scream and felt like throwing in the towel with this whole “teaching karate” thing. Thankfully I persisted and refined my methods over time. After teaching 10,000+ classes over the last 10 years I realize how important experience is for a teacher. But when I was starting out, I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight and it was tough.

If you’re lacking that experience and are in that same boat like I was all those years ago and are struggling to stay afloat, here are a few tips that will help you navigate the waters more easily.

  1. You must keep kids OCCUPIED. If you don’t they’ll find their own way to entertain themselves. Usually this won’t be helpful.
  2. You must keep kids CHALLENGED. If you don’t they’ll find their own way to entertain themselves. Again, this won’t be helpful.
  3. You must keep kids FOCUSED and avoid distractions. Keep them away from mirrors, equipment and other students as much as possible. If you don’t they’ll find their own way to entertain themselves. Are you getting it yet?
  4. Have FUN as you teach. Your students will pick up on your personal energy and reflect what you radiate. When students enjoy class, they tend to LISTEN and PERFORM better.

There are dozens of ways to structure classes, hundreds of drills and kids karate games to get your points across. Right now I want to share with you one exercise I did last night that incorporates all the points above. It’s a simple obstacle course that gives you a chance to work with each student individually, while keeping the others occupied. The trick is to keep them moving, and have multiple students running the course at any one time. This cuts down on the “wait time” at the start of the course. See the diagram below.

karate obstacle course

This is something any instructor is capable of setting up no matter your experience level. If you find that your students are becoming bored while waiting in line, have them do jumping jacks, sit ups or practice their stances until it’s their turn. REMEMBER, you must keep them OCCUPIED! So long as you do a good job, you can run this exercise for 20 minutes or more…

It’s a simple way to run a good portion of your class, especially if it’s just you and them.

How could this obstacle course be improved? What other things could you add or change to keep your students occupied?

Try it out and let me know how you do…

5 thoughts on “Four Basic Rules for Teaching Martial Arts to Kids”

  1. I love it I have collected other material from you Sensei, and my class is enjoying all I am thankful for the help as I was also left in charge of a School, now have moved on and I teach about 45 kids in a village in Greece for free to help keep the kids busy and off the wrong path I hope, I teach Shotokan Karate and keep me in shape as I am in my late 50,s but you can not tell I feel great there, is no jobs for the people I am from Texas but live abroad in Europe for over 35 years. Ex-military so I am enjoying myself.

  2. I love it I have collected other material from you Sensei, and my class is enjoying all I am thankful for your help I will add. Ladder drill for the legs in Junior class

  3. Have tried this strategy before and know it works. Why couldn’t I think of it last night when half the class didnt turn up and I suddenly found myself landed with a class of 5 – 6 year olds who just wanted to play

    Thanks for the reminder

  4. When I was teaching children,I really enjoyed it as it sets up a challenge,not like teaching Seniors.What the main function I focused on was after the warm up etc then some basics,I always had them playing Karate games including kicks blocks punches etc it works very well and they did not get bored but enjoyed my classes


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