Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Self Defense and Kids Continued

First off, sorry I am so late with this post. Also, before I begin I'd like to remind you that my experience is the basis for most comments you will read on this blog. Please remember that the children change drastically between the ages of 5 and 13. Most of our new students are between the ages of 5 and 8. Once they are older, and / or more experienced, their learning curve will reflect that. Now, on to the self-defense:
Did you try the experiment I recommended in my last post? Either way, read on.
When children are young, and new to training, learning their self defense can be confusing.

All of us, as black belts, have favorite follow up techniques. Who doesn't love a well placed empi or a timely used earclap!

It has been my experience that too many choices in follow up strikes can cause confusion, and lack of spontaneity in new, young karateka.
I have had really good results by using the same follow up strike series with all their techniques. It sounds boring to us, because we thrive with many options. However, too many options with young, new white belts is an invitation to confusion. Students age 5 – 10ish, rank 9th kyu – 7th kyu (the first year of training) could build a strong defensive plan based on a few follow up ideas.

The strikes I use are the shotei and a heel stomp.

However, there are many simple combinations you could use. If you are not already incorporating this idea, try this experiment:
As I mentioned in the last blog. Go into your dojo and do some self-defense with your beginners. Then do a “game” of reactionary drills at the end of class. Pay specific attention to the follow up strikes. If the strikes are slow to come, or tentative, try teaching the same strikes on EVERY grab for the next month. Then play the “game” again. Hopefully, you will see a difference in the young, novice’s ability to retain this important information.
Two of my favorite ways to practice (and observe) what self-defense has been memorized are reactionaries and bunkai.
This is simple. Place all the children in a circle. Using yourself and your helpers walk from person to person and do all the grabs you are teaching (front extended, rear extended, wrists, bearhugs, and the punch). Don't tell the kids which one you are going to do, of course. See which children remember what. I like to encourage children to run after they hit back (follow-up). This will be a necessary addition in the event of a real danger.
We all know what bunkai is. However, where kids building bunkai with kids is concerned there are a few pointers that might come in handy. Keep it simple. Let them do the inventing. Let them have fun. Don’t think too much about how it reflects on you. If it seems silly to you, it is probably pretty cool to them. I would like to remind you to teach your children two of the old traditional ideas regarding bunkai. The first one is: whoever starts the fight loses. We all know this. It is a basic in karate because karate is defensive. The second tradition is that the higher ranking person is the defender / winner. Once the kids understand that rank traditionally wins, I break the rule often. I do, however, think it is important to pass those traditions on to the next generation.
Now I'd like to digress in two directions. First, I would like to talk about the younger child.
Have you ever had a problem making the child understand if he (she) was the uke (bad guy) or the defender (good guy)? I call self-defense good guy / bad guy for the first year of training. I have noticed a specific pattern where children age 5 and 6 have trouble understanding which roll they are in and what to do in that roll. One trick I have used is to “mark” the bad guy (uke) with a piece of tape. (Look closely at Brandon's gi in this picture.)
Then the beginning child knows that when he is wearing the tape, he is the bad guy (ike) and he doesn’t do the follow-up strikes. This has cut down on chaos.
Another area that I have modified for my younger kids is aim and follow through. It is my opinion, that when kids are very young, they don’t know (nor maybe should they) how to pull or control their strikes to the face. To that end, when I am having the children aim shotei strikes, I have them aim beside the face and use complete extension of the arm. I tell them this: “Fake bad guy, fake face; Real bad guy, real face.” Has your experience in children’s self-defense been very different?
Now I would like to spend a minute on older children. These kids have been training a year plus and are 6th kyu or higher.
The first thing I’d like to cover is that it is definitely time to add variations to the follow ups. I have done this with older children (9 – 12) that are still quite young in rank with good results. I like to have the basic follow-up strike pattern memorized as a back up. However, older children like everything from ear-claps to elbow strikes, to groin strikes. They get psyched at the idea of defending themselves.

With the 6th kyu and older, I have also had good results when I began adding new techniques. An example of this is in the wrist grab. My standard technique for a wrist grab is “point upward” with a heel stomp, palm heel follow up. The next addition, when the child is ready is two-fold.
1. I explain how the point technique works, move the thumb placement as the uke (bad guy) and begin the road to understanding technique. The photo shows a reverse wrist grab.

2. I start to work some standard adult information. Examples include a traditional Goju technique called tiger neck takedown (a child favorite) and an old straight punch technique where the follow-up is four elbow strikes.

All the while, with kids of all ages, like you, I’m working traditional mat work: break falls and rolls. This will prepare them for the falling that is involved in the harder techniques and the wrestling that is to come.
I’d like to close by listing some bullets:
1. When children are new to karate and under the age of 12, it might help NOT to allow too many choices in their follow-up strikes. Keep it simple and build confidence for the first year.
2. The two “games” that test how they are doing are one where you are the attacker and they must react without previous knowledge of which attack is coming and bunkai.
3. Continue to do basic mat work, of course.
4. Just like the kata become more difficult with time, the self-defense becomes more intricate as the rank and age increase. This intricacy is two fold: more techniques and more variation on each technique.

Please write me at and give me some feedback. My next two posts should appear much more quickly. I will be sharing some of your comments. Also, I will post a flyer I handed out to some of my first helpers in the late '80's.
Let's keep creating strong children through karate.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Self-Defense and Kids 1

Wow, it has been so busy and I have been hard pressed for time to post. Bummer! I will have a post up, regarding self-defense and kids, within three weeks. In the meantime, I'd like to propose this idea:

Go into your dojo and create a game where you test the reactions of your kids (age 6 - 10, rank 9th - 5ht kyu) to grabs and punches. See what is consistent, and what is forgotten.

My next post will cover my experience with children and self-defense and the resulting self-defense protocol I have created.

Thanks for your patience.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Oos, Thanks to those who have been writing me. Keep my email in mind ( – still no change on the ‘comment’ link.
Ironically, I got the most feedback from the post on the games (drills). It turns out that many of you knew about spin and find the knife, but had forgotten it existed. According to your feedback, the kids are psyched that it is back!

Now… we push on……..

The three big pillars on which training is based are kata, sparring, and self-defense

My last post on kata gave you one workout to keep the kata repetition interesting. There are many other ways to change up the kata repetition. In future posts I will brainstorm some. In the meantime, write me with your ideas.

Today let’s begin to talk about sparring. The first thing I’d like to do is list the ways children grow from sparring. Sparring teaches us to:
Keep our hands up
Block, punch, kick, and move around all at the same time. (Keep both an offensive and a defensive mentality running simultaneously.)
Stay calm and allow for spontaneity in the midst of chaos.
Learn techniques and set strategies.
And finally, sparring gives us a superior aerobic workout

Next, let’s review the place of light contact and hard contact in sparring. When I was a kyu, Master Kelljchian used the terms ‘Go kumite’ and ‘Ju kumite’ to describe what he wanted us to do on any given day. All competitions that I have been attending in recent years have encouraged Ju kumite with the children.

I have been playing with the difference in hard contact, and soft contact with my children’s classes for years. Here is the compromise that has been working best for me. When the children are sparring the teachers, it is a good time to practice their hard contact. When they are sparring each other, they need to use control.
The biggest obstacle in getting them to use control is that children think that they must hit slower in order to hit with control. (And conversely, when they go fast they lose everything BUT power. They often forget to aim, or plan their technique.) In order to work on controlled hitting, I tell the kids to imagine the opponent is on fire and when you touch them pull away like you’re getting burnt. It is a slow and tedious learning curve, but we all get there.

WARNING - Anecdotal Story: I remember being a kyu and watching as Master Kelljchian had an adult student try to use focus on a concrete wall to try to teach the adult student to pull his punches. I don’t use that method with kids, but it proves that Ju kumite has been around a very long time and has a place in training.

How and when do I let the children begin to do harder contact on each other? I like to wait until the children are 10ish, or brown belts, or both. Then, the first step for me is to gear them up with chest pads and head gear with face masks. By putting the extra padding on them, I remove some of the fear of getting hit. Since the children have had practice hitting us hard, they don’t really have trouble hitting hard. Very few people like getting hit hard when they first experience it. It takes getting used to. Hence, the added gear. I encourage face masks for most of their teen life because broken noses, and black eyes are unacceptable to me for children and teens.

Once the teens move up to the adult class, they become more focused, serious, and willing to take risks. (I encourage this transition at around age 12 and expect it at age 13, but have had a few exceptions in all directions over the years.) Adult training makes practitioners more aware of their power, the use of technique and setting up techniques with a strategy. At this point the facemasks, and added chest protection probably aren’t necessary. This shot shows Kyle (age 11) and Cody (around 16) sparring in adult class.

All of us spar the kids, and have the kids spar each other. I always put gloves and heads on kids sparring other kids. Sparring without gear allows too much chance for injury.
Here are a few variations on sparring for kids:

2 on 1
Description: This is a standard drill in the adult class. When I do it with kids, I make the adults the “1” and two kids go against him / her. Expect chaos and a lot of laughter.
Details of Interest: When the kids are advanced, I’ll let them take the role of the “1”, but I still keep an adult in the mix – to keep things under control. I also keep these matches 30 to 45 seconds, for safety.

Team sparring
Description: Depending on the amount of kids in class, I create teams consisting of 4 – 6 kids. I start with a brown or purple belt captain. Then I choose from the green belts and put an equal amount on each team. Then I do the same with the three stripers, the two stripers, and the beginners. I like to keep the talent split evenly within all the teams. (Occasionally I have uneven numbers, but that is easy to fix. Just let one team member spar twice.) I set the matches at 30 – 45 seconds. Each team is encouraged to come up with a name. (Some of the names I have heard over the years…….Yikes!) Then I let the kids send in one fighter and the other team tries to send in a match. Sparring continues and we add up the team score. My favorite ending is when we get to the end of the last match and the score is tied. Next point wins. I get to explain that the outcome is going to be what it is going to be. However, both teams sparred well. That is how the score got so close. This subject (winning, losing, what is learned and what is lost) is an entire blog, let alone another post. Write me to talk about it. After we determine the winning team, I give the losing team donkey kicks. Then I turn around and give the winning team 5 more donkey kicks than the losing team. (Usually 10 and 15) My reasoning here is two-fold: First, I want them to remember that I am unpredictable, and will do things that don’t make sense to them. And secondly, the backwards reward makes everyone talk more about how weird I am than about who won and lost. I love to get my kids to think about the adventure more than the outcome.
Details on Interest: An additional benefit to running this game is that I can use this venue to teach my adult kyus to judge and keep score, and I can teach my new black belts to center rings! This game (drill) builds camaraderie among the students, and gives them a chance to practice their sportsmanship (karate courtesy) when there is nothing at stake. This game takes almost an entire class – about 45 minutes. One more thing: You can do this game with kata as well!

The “One Step” Game
Description: Place each child around the room with about 3 feet of space around them. (In large classes, I have to divide the class into two groups to play this game.) Then explain how to play: The children will remain in their spots. We adults will walk around and touch or grab their arms, shoulders, and tops of their heads. When they feel us there, and taking ONLY one step in any direction, the child will try to hit, kick, or escape. They should use lots of kiais. The trick is that the child will pull their headband over their eyes. They won’t be able to see us. For safety, explain that if ANY adult voice yells “yame / stop”, everyone in the room should freeze because one child could be about to hit another child and we need a minute to reset the spacing. Then play!
Details of Interest: This game doesn’t require sparring gear. Also, I am a strict teacher where cheating is concerned. I explain to the kids NOT to try to peak, but instead enjoy the adventure knowing they are safe with us. If they continue to try to cheat, I have them sit down and watch the rest of the game. I try to be very consistent in my expectations where courtesy, honesty, and character are concerned.
Thanks for taking your time to read this post. Please keep making our kids into strong karateka. Oos,

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kata and the word "No"

Here is a challenge for all of us: Watch yourself teach kata – either in group or individually – How often do you start your corrections with the word “no”. (The sentence looks something like this: “No, use the other hand.” Or “No, you were supposed to double stomp there.” Or “No, you weren’t supposed to double stomp there.” You get the idea.)

After having watched children’s eyes for years now, I’ve decided that starting my corrections with the word “no” is negatively distracting to them. It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? However, try as I might, it is a habit I find hard to break!
Here are a few other choices to try instead of starting with the word “no”.
1. Looks good so far, I want you to try this.
2. Alright, let’s start again and when I say the word ‘stop’ - freeze right there so we can try something.
3. Hold on; switch your hands, oos?
4. Let’s do it again and this time, just copy me. (My favorite)

Have you ever noticed that when kids are really young, 6 and under, they have a lot of trouble telling their left from their right. (So do I, maybe that is why I noticed.) I put a sticker on their left hand so they don’t have to manage which hand is which AND my corrections! Here, Anthony and I both have stickers on our left hand while practicing a form.

Kata training is a large part of traditional karate training. Peter Urban mentions in his book, The Karate Dojo, that a practitioner is drawn to either sparring or kata, but not usually both. I always try to break that stereotype myself, and get my students to break it. This creates the challenge of making kata training a little interesting. One easy way to do that is to let students build their own kata. I like to put that into lessons that are near the holidays. Since the classes are small (because everyone is busy), it is a great time to try something creative.

Below you will find a few more variations on how to play with kata. (For those of you who prefer it, we can say "work kata".) Let me know if you see a difference in how the kids react to kata training after trying a few of these ideas.

Do you agree with this statement: When teaching kata to kids you have to divide the work into two big categories: 1. The moves of the kata in the right order. And
2. The details. Details include stances, gaze control, breathing, chamber hand and fighting spirit, in no particular order. This photo shows Sensei Jackie working with some beginners on moves in the right order.

When I am working with a group of students, some who know the kata and some who are learning it, the first thing I do is put the kids who are learning moves into the center of the group so they can copy the students who know the moves.

This photo shows purple belts leading a group learning their first kata.

I tell the students what my plan is. Including the kids in this puts the new ones at ease and makes the children who know the moves feel important. The children who are being copied will work harder knowing they are an example. While we are practicing the kata moves, I will give extra corrections to the kids who know the moves. Another important thing I have learned to do is use less words, almost just ‘cues’ to describe the moves. I have found that while the kids are moving AND listening, using too many words causes them to get lost. Also, with ‘cue’ words, I can give them hints when they forget moves and let them come to the information on their own. If you want a few examples, write me.

After 3 - 5 times through the kata, the children start to lose interest. One way to change things up it to switch to using sticks to mean “do the next move”. This will do a few things: 1. It will cause the kids to prick up their ears and listen again. 2. You can use your words for corrections, and the kids will be able to differentiate between the command to move and a correction.

Finally, after a few times using sticks, I like to divide the group into “those that know the moves and those that are learning". I let one group do it from beginning to end, trying to stay together while group 2 watches. When group two does the kata, I give them reminders using the ‘cue’ words along the way. This photo shows the advanced group watching the beginners do the form with me.
A variation on this ‘game’ (or drill if you prefer that term) goes like this: After I divide the kids into “old timers and newer kids” I sit one group down to watch the other. With the new kids we do a review of moves in the right order. With the more experienced group I play the game where they only move if I say the right term. For example I might say ‘break’ when their eyes are still closed. Then I will say block instead of strike. Those that move do just a couple of push-ups. I don’t give 10 push-ups to kids in this game because I want them to like the game and want to play again. Also, it is important to me that the kids learn to tell themselves the truth. (I’ll come back to this one day in more detail). It is easy for me to get them to want to take responsibility for their actions if the price is only 2 push-ups. Everyone has fun, laughs, and wants to ‘do it again’. Leaving the kids wanting more is exactly what I am after.

The above workout is about 12 or 15 minutes long. That is about the amount of time kids age 6-12 can concentrate on one subject. (Children younger than 6 have a much shorter attention span.)

After you all read this, let me know if you would like another post on more ways to work kata .
Thank you for spending time reading this blog.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Five Drills for Variety in Training

Welcome Back
I hope that some of the hints that I’ve mentioned in the previous posts have come in handy and that you and your students are having an adventurous time in the dojo. This post will be an easy read.

I am going to make a list of drills (I call them games) you can put into different portions of the training. Try one or all of them and let me know how they work for you. Some of these drills were used when I was a kyu, in an adult class. I will mark those with an asterisk.

Shark and Eagle*
Description of Drill: Place one student in a ground fighting position and one in a fighting stance. Have the standing student try to tag the ground fighting student with a kick or a punch in the belly or the head. Have the ground fighting student use his guard position, movement on the ground, and kicking / grabbing to defend.
When to use it: This one works at the beginning, middle, and end of class. There is no end to the uses of this game.
Other details of interest: Everyone loves this game, even adults. This drill really improves the student’s ability to move in the ground fighting position and the attack from the ground.

Spin and Find the Knife*
Description of Drill: Get a rubber knife. (This also works with a wooden gun and even karate weapons.) Have all the kids stand in a circle and explain how to play: One child will go into the middle of the circle and start spinning around “helicopter” style. While he is spinning, you drop the knife somewhere in the circle. After he is sufficiently dizzy, have him stop and try to find the knife, pick it up by the handle, and take his guard position. Let everyone have a turn.
When to use it: Good at the end of the day, or after working knife techniques. It really opens the door for discussion on the danger of weapons.
Other details of interest: This is a popular game. As an adult kyu, we played this game to simulate what it feels like to have your ears boxed. That came in handy later when I did have my ears boxed. What a case of vertigo!!

Description of Drill:
The blocker is a staple when teaching blocking systems to anyone under the age of 8. After the repetition of the blocking system, use the blocker to hit the children. I hit them, first in the order that I worked the blocks and then randomly, strictly for the laughter. All ages like it, but under the age of 8 it is the ‘reward’ for staying focused.
When to use it: Obviously, this drill fits best after working repetition on blocking, whether at the beginning, middle, or end of class.
Other details of interest: Although the blocker wasn’t around when I was a kyu, it is a daily tool in my teaching bag. I try to bring it to every class and miss it when I forget. Even though this photo shows one student and teacher. More often, I am using a blocker on 10 or more kids at the same time. I am running up and down the rows and they are blocking and laughing. Everyone is getting stronger.

Blocker vs. Blocker
Description of Drill: Hand each child a blocker and let them strike at each other. Before you let them start, explain that the soft part of the blocker is the hitting part. If they hit with the handle it will hurt them both. (Inevitably, someone will catch their finger in the clashing handles, but at least you warned them.)
When to use it: This game fits in the middle and at the end of class. It is a great stress reliever if you have been focusing on technology for a long period. Or, it is a treat instead of sparring at the end of class.
Other details of interest: The kids call this playing “star wars”. Try it once and watch their excitement. Let me know if your kids love it as much as mine.

Double-Ended Blockers
Description of Drill: Each participant has a double ended blocker and they block and strike each other for an allotted period of time. I keep my matches under 45 seconds to keep the injuries down.
When to use it: It is an end of the day game. I use it about 4 times a year as a special event.
Other details of interest: In this picture, Cody and Kyle are having some fun, don't you think?This game requires 4 blockers and 2 couplers. This is about a $50 or $75 investment. (I have tried making my own out of PVC and padding, but they don’t hold up, they are too heavy, and they don’t work very well.

Jump rope
Description of Drill: The jump rope I am referring to is about 10 feet long. Hook one end to a chair and hold the other end. Have the participants earn their jump rope turn by answering a karate question or showing a karate skill. I give them three choices of how to pass through the rope:
1. Just run through the turning rope.
2. Just jump rope and run out when you have jumped 5 or more times. (That is up to the teacher. Make sure everyone is allowed to jump the same number of times).
3. Run in and jump rope (5 times). Run out when you are done.
When to use it: This game fits in all parts of training. I use it almost exclusively at the end of class. I use the game to review history and philosophy of karate by having the students answer questions in order to get their turn.
Other details of interest: This drill is as popular as any of the drills I use. It is, as all my drills are, a way to vary the repetition of training. It also builds timing, speed, and agility in movement. The first time I ever saw anyone using the jump rope was while teaching with Sensei Nick Brown over 20 years ago. I have tweaked it a little over the years, but have been using consistently throughout my teaching.
One quick note: If your class is oversized (30 kids) it might take 25 or 30 minutes to do some of these drills. Therefore, I recommend that you divide the children into groups of 10. One group can work stretch, exercise, basics etc. One group can work technology. One group can “play” with one of these drills. If you try to do 30 children in the jump rope game or the spin and find the knife game or the blocker vs. blocker game, the kids have too much down time and it isn’t good use of the time.
Use the drills and let me know if you have questions, failures, or successes.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Using Assistant Karate Teachers

Tip: Watch the eyes of your students. You can tell right away when students are saturated with technology, when they don’t understand the words you are using, when they are glued to your energy and ready for more.
Keep An Eye On The Eyes.
Here you can see Yoli keeping an eye on Stephanie’s eyes.

Oos to all who are still reading, and those who are here for the first time. I recommend reading past posts, just to get an idea of things we have been discussing.

Here is an example:
You have 20 kids. The ranks are 5 beginners, 3 are 7th kyu, 5 are 6th kyu, 2 at 5th kyu, 2 at 4th, and 3 are 3rd through 1st kyu. Set the workout to run all the way to the end of class. Have your assistant take out the small groups quietly. He / she should drop kids back in and remove new ones without interrupting the flow of the class. (The first time you are going to do this, tell the children what you are doing so that they are ready to walk away from the group quietly and THEN turn and do the courtesy bow to you. This will allow you to keep the flow going.) The helper should start by figuring out how much time to spend with each group. If they begin 5 minutes after class starts, and go to 10 minutes before class ends, they will have 45 minutes for 6 groups. That will give them a little more than 5 minutes per group. They have to hustle. I suggest the individual instructor start with the ‘brown’ belts (3 – 1 kyu). You and your helper need to decide in advance what technology each rank should be working on. It flows well. He or she will keep trading one group for the next. The time will fly.

In this shot Sensei Jackie is helping one student, while the others work in the background.

Meanwhile, you have an hour long class set up in your head. Of course, you can start with a few minutes of meditation. Then do 15 minutes of stretch and exercise and another 10 minutes on stances, blocking, striking and history. Then you can go to bag work, or self defense or kata basics for another 10 – 15 minutes. Now it is time to spar, with just enough time to do meditation and announcements before bowing out.

This class structure works really well. If your helper comes on time, you can have him / her run the class while YOU look at individual growth and technology.

Now that I have given you a structure to try in your dojo (Let me know how it works.), I would like to talk a little about how to get more people to show up as helpers. Here are some ideas that have worked for me:

Take a minute in adult class to:
Talk about the benefits of coming in early and helping. Remind them that they will master ONLY through teaching. Publicly recognize the people who showed up and helped. (“Thanks to John and Sally for showing up and helping”)
Spend a minute at the beginning of adult class talking about what worked and what didn’t work when they were working with the kids. That will make the other students care. In this shot I am going over a chasing game with some instructors:

Take a minute at the end of kid’s class to:
Have the kids thank the assistant teachers that aren’t black belts. Give them their props.

Finally and most importantly actually USE the helpers that do show up. That means that occasionally you won’t get to run the show. They get to warm up class (see below), be in charge of the end of the day event / sparring / whatever it is, and teach something other than blocking and Tekkie 1. It took me a few years before I became even slightly comfortable managing helpers instead of running class. It was a big change for me, but a huge plus for the children to have small work groups with a teacher instead of being lost in a sea of kids who already know the material.
Let me know if any of these pointers help out.

In my dojo, these days, it is unusual for me to have only one helper and even more rare for me to be alone. I make it a point to give the helpers teaching jobs that will let them grow. I take on the hard to teach students myself. I use my peripheral vision to watch the other groups and give my helpers pointers on how to keep the kids attention or use words that the kids will understand when I notice they had a problem. I always thank my helpers for showing up.

Here is a photo. Look closely and you will see 4 different groups; in the front you can see Randy and Isaiah, behind him are Andrea and Andrew, I am in the far right with a new student and the bo kids are on the far left.

So here is the bottom line:
To get helpers you are going to need to encourage them, motivate them, thank them and give them jobs that challenge them (not like in the old days when we sat and waited for Sensei to give us a job, remember that?) Everyone wins when adults show up for the kid’s class. The adults are pumped for their class, already warmed up, the kids get the attention they need and attach themselves to people other than you. (That is awesome the first few times you see it, by the way.) Last, and very importantly, you are free to see the big picture and figure out where to go from here.

Please let me know how this works out for you. Next post I am torn between talking about how to use more than one helper (do a lot of you have more than one?) and talking about ways to vary the repetition in the dojo.

Keep on teaching the punch and keep in touch,

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Grouping Karate Classes

Try These Changes to Start Your Class:

1. Playing Sensei Says

2. Taking numbers up and numbers down (ex: 10 jumping jacks, 20 pushups, 30 mountain climbers…then when you get to a certain number start going down; ex: 40 front kicks, 30 toe touches, 20 front punches.)

3. Turn a certain word into a “key” word: ex: Karate would mean 5, jumping jacks, 5 pushups, and 5 mountain climbers, and Rules would mean 5 sit ups, 5 leg lifts and 5 calf raises. Do basics and stretches. Every few minutes yell out one or both of the word to get the exercises in.

4. Use a medicine ball game in between each exercise.
Try one or all four and let me know how it works out.

I highly recommend that you read my first blog post before picking up here. That way you will have an idea of where I am coming from and going to…..

I need to digress into the word osu for a moment. I love the word, and I love it’s meaning of “I understand, let’s push on.” Here is my dilemma: although I know the proper spelling of the word is “osu”, I love the word spelled oos. I came to karate spelling the word oos, and for sentimental, nostalgic reasons, will continue to spell it that way when I use it in future posts. I hope this isn’t a deal breaker for you, and that my quirkiness will not turn you off to this blog.

Now let’s get down to the business of separating the children into classifications for future discussions (refer to my first post 6-13-09):
When I teach children age 3-5± I call it “pre-karate”. You can see a few in this photo.

This group does not get rank, is non-competitive, does not have to bow at the dojo door, learn Japanese, and does not do push-ups for punishment. I’d like to mention why I don’t have my ‘babies’ do push-ups for punishment: My goal with these youngsters is to make them LOVE exercise. Therefore, using push-ups as punishment is contrary to my goal. It seems pretty logical to me. What do you think? You can get a clear understanding of my view on these little guys from my book, Kicks with Kids, Martial Arts for the Very Young.

Age 6-12± - Begins the pathway to serious training. I call these children mainstream because they are easily capable of understanding the rules and etiquette in the dojo and they are completely capable of being competitive and reaching goals, both personal and rank oriented. Here is a photo with a few kids who have just begun this journey:

Age 10 - 13± with the rank of 3rd Kyu or higher is a tough group to teach. These children have been training for anywhere from 4 to 8 years. They are not qualified to test for black belts yet and are no longer interested in the same training games the little children experience. At some point they will join the adult class and begin rigorously preparing for their black belt test. However, for a few years between reaching brown belt (in my Japanese system) and being mature enough to want to be in the adult class, they require some interesting teaching tactics. I won’t spoil them. Yet, it is important that I treat them like young adults and keep them knowledgeable of everything that karate has to offer them. I have found this to be challenging. I will detail more on this in a future post. Write me if you have any specific ideas you would like to see in that post. In this action shot (hence the blur), one of my 10 year old brown belts spars with an adult student.

I have had a significant number of special needs children travel through my dojo. (I bet you have too!) I keep them with the mainstream group and we find very little adjustments need to be made for everyone to be comfortable. Have you had the same experience?

So, that is how I see the different levels of children I teach. (I also teach adults, and black belts. But, that is another blogspot altogether, don’t you think?) My next few posts will focus on mainstream kids: how to manage assistant instructors, how to change up the routine repetition of basics, kata, and even sparring, how to work the discipline necessary in a dojo while keeping their spirit strong and viable.

That does, however, mentally segue me to one of the axioms I teach my assistant instructors:
In a children’s class, children come first, and technology is second. In an adult class you reverse that. A brief explanation: My goal with the kids is to make them feel stronger, more capable, and more empowered when they leave class than when they arrived. If, in order to achieve that, I have to let a stance correction slide till another lesson, no problem. In reverse, the adult training is all about the technology. We work and improve from the beginning to the end of every lesson. “Feeling better” about yourself (I smile when I type that, it is so silly), is the responsibility of the adult practitioner – not the responsibility of me, the instructor.
On that note, I will say “oos” to all until the next post.
(Don't forget to write me at until I figure out how to get comments on this blog.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Welcome to the first post at Kicks with Kids. My intention here is to create some thought and even a little debate about how we teach karate to our kids today. If you have trouble posting a comment, write me at

In this first posting I want to start, as I do when I teach a seminar, by posing this question:
What are you trying to accomplish with the time you spend teaching students ranging in age
3 – 13±?

Having posed the question: here is my answer:
I want to create the opportunity for a practitioner to become strong, smart and capable enough to stand up for him (or her) self, while being simultaneously courteous, patient, and self-disciplined enough not to abuse his (or her) skills.

This is a lofty goal by any measure. To accomplish this, I need to know my students for many years. Changes and growth of that proportion won’t happen in 6 months or a year. Even though most children don’t make it all the way to black belt (For those of you who do not know it, I teach in a Japanese system where a student must be 17± to test for a black belt.). If I can allow karate to influence their lives for 4 – 6 years, they have a chance of attaining strength of body, strength of technique, and strength of character.

Years ago, when I realized that my goal was to keep, influence, and affect this person (people really) for years, I began thinking how the boring redundancy of old fashioned repetition can cause children to walk away before they have learned the many things that karate has to offer them. (You have probably changed up your teaching routine, just because you got tired of the sameness… Do you know what I mean?)

Future postings will detail changes you can try -- changes that can be made without losing the integrity of the dojo. I will also detail how teaching kids 3 – 5 years old is significantly different from the students that are 6 – 10 years old. Last, but most difficult, I’ll brainstorm ideas on holding the attention of the elusive 11 -15 with the attention span of a gnat (unless they’re playing video, right?)

Today’s thoughts are about general class structure and management:
Each one of us has to find our own voice. I like to teach with laughter:(without letting the students start talking and joking among themselves and without making jokes at the expense of the students. What works best for you? Try different approaches for example:

  • Sometimes let the students copy you and sometimes let them work independent of you.

  • Yell to elicit a strong spirit but not to humiliate. Then go immediately to a quiet voice and watch the kids strain to listen and stay with you.

  • Be consistent in your discipline. An inconsistent example I see often is a boy and a girl do the same crime but don’t get the same punishment. Fit the punishment to the crime. Remember that pleasing the karate teacher is tantamount to most of these kids. Some of you could be having the opposite problem (animals running the farm). I can go to that on another post, ok?

  • Make breaches in courtesy as important (or more important) than movement mistakes. That will begin the character development of the student.

  • When you are in a stand off with a student over some sort of dojo etiquette, try to find a way where you can both win. Try to stay away from the “if / then” type of solution. Instead, try to come up with an idea where the person can choose which destiny he (or she) wants. Here is an example: In our dojo, you have to call the sensei “Sensei”. A student loses his temper and turns on me and says “yeah”. A few assistant instructors correct him by saying “Yes Sensei” and the child stares at me, unyielding. I can say “If you don’t say “Yes Sensei you have to do 50 pushups.” Or I can say “Johnny, you choose: say yes Sensei in any voice you need to and let’s all move on, or don’t say yes Sensei, do pushups, and then spend the rest of your night mad and bored – it is up to you.” The out I gave him was that he could stay in his hostile voice and that the decision was his. I’ve never had anyone choose not to say the correct words in the incorrect voice. I immediately do something that makes us all do some pushups. Johnny has a chance to get rid of some of his anger with the exercise and we all try again. I will tell you, this one is a little difficult, but it is worth it.

My teacher taught me to teach with benevolent dictatorship.

That ought to be enough to start some interesting conversations. I welcome questions and comments. Instead of just keeping on punching, let’s keep on letting our kids punch!