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!